In response to the spread of Coronavirus, the Planning Inspectorate has published updated guidance on site visits, hearings, inquiries and events.
Following the Prime Minister’s recent announcement, the Planning Inspectorate is making a number of changes to procedure to try and tackle the spread of COVID-19 and to protect Planning Inspectorate staff.
Changes which take immediate effect are:
- There are no Planning Inspectorate staff working from the offices in Bristol and Cardiff;
- As a result of no staff working in Bristol or Cardiff, the Planning Inspectorate has requested that no hard copy appeal forms or evidence is sent to them by post;
- All previously arranged site visits will be cancelled;
- Hearing and inquiries will not be proceeding at the present time.
The Planning Inspectorate has confirmed that they are looking into whether it would be feasible to utilise technology to enable some events to proceed. They are also inviting parties to consider whether appeals could be decided by written submissions following questions from the Planning Inspector.
Given that appeals which are deemed suitable for a hearing or inquiry are often complex in nature and involve evidence which requires testing under cross examination it is unclear as to how much take up there will be of the offer of a written representations appeal.
To try and keep the planning system working and to allow planning appeals to progress, barristers from Kings Chambers and No.5 Barristers Chambers have come together, and this week submitted proposals to the Planning and Environmental Bar Association (PEBA), The Planning Inspectorate and the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government.
The proposals look at allowing hearings and inquiries to proceed using technology which includes video conferencing and document sharing. While arguably the proposals will be not be as effective as parties being in the same room, they would provide a short-term solution for those time sensitive planning appeals as well as helping the continuing effort to address the housing crisis.
While only time will tell as to whether the proposals are accepted and put into practice, what can be seen is that there is a collective effort being made across the planning industry to keep the planning system working and any backlog of undetermined appeals to a minimum.