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Architect Bulletin - June 2020

Published: Tuesday, 30th June 2020

Features: Business and Planning Bill looks to help boost the construction industry, Housing Minister, Christopher Pincher, announces "bold" Planning White Paper to be released "soon", And more stories

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick MP announced on 22 June that the Government is introducing new actions to reinvigorate the building industry, to help boost the economy and ensure a safe return to work.

This was followed on 25 June by the introduction and first reading of the Business and Planning Bill in parliament, and the publication of a collection of draft guidance on

The bill, which Government is asking to be fast-tracked through parliament, contains a range of measures. Planning is the main focus of this article, but the bill also covers ‘Bounce Back Loans’; alcohol licensing; outdoor seating; and goods, passenger and public service vehicles.

One major initiative included in the bill that has been widely requested is the extension of planning permissions. This is intended to allow more time to complete developments and to ensure building works aren’t permanently disrupted by the pandemic.

Statistics on the number of residential planning permissions that were due to expire between 23 March 2020 and 30 June 2020 can be found on the website. In June alone, this is anticipated to be around 400 residential projects, exceeding 2,400 new dwellings.

Based on the current version of the bill, once it comes into force it will both:

  • Extend the deadlines on certain planning permissions and listed building consents that are due to lapse before the end of 2020, until 1 April 2021.
  • Allow certain planning permissions and listed building consents that have lapsed during the lockdown period (from 23 March 2020) to be granted extensions, until 1 April 2021, on request.

Such requests are to be made as applications for “additional environmental approval” that will allow the Local Authority to ensure that requirements for Environmental Impact Assessment and Habitats are met.

Local Authorities will have 28 days to determine these applications (unless a longer period is agreed), and any refusals may be appealed.

Secondly, the Government wants to prioritise the safe return of workers to construction sites, supported by a charter with the Homes Building Federation.

This includes implementing new temporary strategies such as extending the hours of operation for construction sites, if agreed with local councils.

This is expected to help with the implementation of staggered working hours so less people are on site at one time, making it far easier to follow social distancing guidelines. Varied working hours should also help reduce overcrowding on public transport. 

As it stands, the bill will introduce a “fast track application process” to either “extend the permitted hours, or to allow construction activity to take place on a day that it is not presently permitted.”

Any changes granted to operating hours will be temporary and can only last until 1 April 2021.

Local Authorities will have 14 days to determine these applications, and any refusals may be appealed.

Additionally, in order to speed up the planning appeal process the Planning Inspectorate will be given permanent powers to more flexibly use one or more determination procedures (written representatives, hearings and inquiries). This was proposed in the Rosewell Review, piloted in 2019 and saw some appeal determination periods halved. 

Pincher announced the Planning White Paper on 25 June at Planning’s online National Planning Summit, including proposals for a new application payment structure. He said the paper would "look at a sensible fee structure which will make fees more transparent and [make sure] that planners and local authorities can do the jobs that they need".

Pincher claimed that the white paper, which should be published later this year, is based on the Planning for Future document that was issued in March, with features also being taken from the Building Better Building Beautiful report.

Pincher also suggested that the innovative ways in which the planning industry has adapted to the pandemic will be incorporated into its ongoing running, claiming “they will be a very effective way of managing our planning system". This includes social distancing measures such as online site tours and virtual planning appeals. Additionally, the new national design code, which was announced in October 2019, is “on track” to be issued this year. 

Joanna Averley is the first female Chief Planner to have been appointed in England by the government, working with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). Starting in September, Ms Averley will be taking on a vast number of duties, including leading national planning guidance and the Ministry of Housing’s design policy advice, and connecting with the larger planning and development community.

The equivalent positions across the rest of the UK are all held by men and Victoria Hills, chief executive of the Royal Town Planning Institute said; “I’m delighted that the job has gone to a woman as the top table in planning needs greater diversity”.

Ms Averley boasts a wide-ranging career in planning, spanning nearly 30 years, including her most recent role as the Head of Urban Design and Integration for High Speed 2, where she worked for two years. Prior to this she worked as the Director of Design at the London 2012

Olympic Delivery Authority and managed the Housing and Planning programme for Transport for London and Crossrail 2.

Ms Averley said: “We have many challenges to address over the coming months and years – how we meet the needs of our communities in delivering good quality homes and neighbourhoods, underpinning the economy and jobs, delivering sustainable patterns of growth, addressing the climate crisis and adapting to the realities of the pandemic and its consequences”.

She replaces Steve Quartermain who previously held the position from 2008 and retired at the end of March 2020.