How do Local Authorities comply with publicity requirements for planning applications in light of Coronavirus?


29 May 2020

The Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure, Listed Buildings and Environmental Impact Assessment) (England) (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 came into force on 14 May 2020 to support timely decision-making, and avoid delays to development as a result of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, while maintaining public participation in the decision-making process.

The temporary changes give local planning authorities (and in the case of certain applications for EIA development, applicants) greater flexibility in relation to the way they publicise the planning applications if they are not able to comply with a particular requirement because it is not reasonably practicable to do so for reasons connected to the effects of coronavirus, including restrictions on movement, in accordance with the guidance on the Planning Policy Guidance suite.

The changes give local planning authorities greater flexibility in how they publicise certain planning applications during the response to coronavirus.

The Planning Policy Guidance states:

If a local planning authority is able to comply with one or more of these specific requirements to publicise an application by site display or by serving the notice on an adjoining owner or occupier, or publishing the notice in a local newspaper, the authority must comply with that requirement.

However, if the authority is not able to comply with a requirement which applies to that application because it is not reasonably practicable for reasons connected to the effects of coronavirus, including restrictions on movement, the authority must take reasonable steps to inform any persons who are likely to have an interest in the application of the website where notice of the application can be found. Those steps may include use of social media and communication by electronic means and must be proportionate to the scale and impact of the development...’

And

If a local planning authority is not able to comply with a particular requirement to give notice by these means, the authority must take reasonable steps to inform any persons who are likely to have an interest in the application of the website where details about the application can be found. Those steps may include use of social media and communication by electronic means and must be proportionate to the scale and impact of the development.

Forms of electronic communication might include, but are not limited to:

  • council mailing lists
  • using social media such as Facebook and Twitter
  • using the local authority’s website
  • using local online newspapers
  • issuing a weekly press bulletin
  • informing local neighbourhood forums and parish/town councils by email
  • informing local community, amenity and environmental groups by email

Local planning authorities will also wish to consider other methods of local communication to bring applications to the attention of those who are likely to have an interest in the application but may not have internet access. This will help to provide them with information that would enable them to make relevant representations. Examples could include local community newsletters, local radio stations, adverts outside council offices and other public buildings, and the use of community notice boards at supermarkets and other local centres or a method of publicity which is one of the existing statutory methods of publicity even though it is not required for that particular application.’

The relaxation of the requirements will no doubt be welcome to local authorities who are having difficulty in complying with the usual requirements. Care will need to be exercised, though, to ensure that they have a record of why it was not reasonably possible to comply with the usual requirements as a failure to comply with the publicity requirements can be a ground for challenge to a planning permission if this means that a person who might have objected is deprived of their right to make representations.

Councils will also need to take care in their selection of social media used to publicise applications as, again, objections may be made that those who needed to know did not have a realistic chance of being made aware of it. Some developers may want to make suggestions as to how their development is publicised – to ensure that it is advertised widely enough to avoid a challenge, but to perhaps avoid, for example, an announcement on local radio that might lead to a storm of comment from a wide area.

If you need any advice with any aspect of Planning please do not hesitate to contact Steven Bell a Senior Associate in Birketts' Planning and Environmental Team.

The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at May 2020.