Planning and COVID-19 – time sensitive matters to be mindful of


15 April 2020

With regulations made under the Coronavirus Act 2020 now in force allowing greater flexibility for local authority meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic, it should be noted that there is still a number of different statutory requirements which have not been covered off or amended. For these deadlines it is very much still business as usual, with developers and local authorities duty bound to comply regardless of any complications or delays brought on by COVID-19.

Both developers and local planning authorities should be mindful of the following deadlines (please note this list is not exhaustive):

  • Judicial review of planning decisions – must be brought within 6 weeks (can be extended by court but rarely done so). 
  • Appeals against enforcement notices – An appeal must be received before the enforcement notice comes into effect. This date will be on the enforcement notice, and should be at least 28 days from the date of issue of the enforcement notice.
  • Challenges to appeals against enforcement notices – brought within 28 days (can be extended by court but again rarely done so).
  • Claims/Challenges under s.288 TCPA, s.113 PCPA, s.118 PA – must be brought within 6 weeks and there is no discretion to extend.
  • Deemed discharge of conditions – a person can serve a deemed discharge notice 6 weeks after an application for discharge of certain conditions has been received by the LPA, if the LPA still fails to respond then 2 weeks after this, discharge is deemed to have taken place.
  • Permitted development rights prior approval - deemed approval if the LPA fails to respond within the statutory deadlines under the GPDO or eight weeks if no period is specified.
  • Time limits under Section 106 Agreements. 
  • Time limits under and for implementing planning permissions.
  • Time limits for enforcement action for breach of planning, a continuous period of either 4 or 10 years in breach provides for lawfulness to arise. Will COVID-19 break the period of continuity?
  • CIL payments – especially worth noting if one is commencing development just to keep a planning permission alive. There may be the potential for LPA’s to amend their instalment policy but this will take time.

The deadlines that existed before the pandemic are still in place so priority needs to be given to ensuring these are met, as in the majority of cases there is unlikely to be any relief for missing these.

It is recommended, where enforcement of deadlines is a matter of discretion, to initiate frank and open discussions between enforcement teams, local planning authorities and developers to reach agreements and understanding where possible. Whilst the Government is asking for local authorities to be reasonable and consider extending time periods and deadlines where they are able e.g. neighbourhood consultations, LPA’s will still need to take enforcement action to uphold the law and abide by the statutory restrictions.

Courts are readily moving towards remote conferencing and electronic working so there is little in the way of argument for not following the time limits above. Relief and adjournments may well be granted for reasons of exceptional circumstances and health grounds but this is yet to be seen. These carry with them their own procedural implementation issues and some would require amendments to primary legislation. 

It is reported today that the Government is considering deferring the payment of planning obligations and extending planning permissions that may otherwise lapse as part of a range of measures to ease the impact of COVID-19. But until such time as the Government confirms otherwise, those involved in the planning system will continue to be bound by the strict procedural deadlines and must adhere to these or risk potentially costly consequences.

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 April 2020.