Temporary Covid Planning Measures – What measures are still in place and when are they set to expire?

Policy Update
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It has been nearly a year since the government started to introduce various temporary measures to make it easier to operate the planning system during the coronavirus outbreak and to support businesses and developers through these challenging times.

Here is a quick re-cap of those measures still in place and when they are due to expire.

Takeaway Deliveries – Until 22 March 2022

Permitted development (PD) rights were introduced at the start of the Coronavirus outbreak allowing restaurants, cafes and drinking establishments to temporarily change their use to a hot food takeaway. This has helped to support businesses across the country by allowing them to trade throughout national lockdowns and various other restrictions imposed on them.

The rights were initially scheduled to expire on 23 March 2021, however, it was announced on 11 November 2020 that restaurants, pubs and cafes will have their automatic freedoms to provide a takeaway service extended for another year, therefore allowing businesses to provide a takeaway service until 23 March 2022. The government are also considering whether to make the reforms permanent beyond this date.

The PD rights are subject to the condition that the local planning authority must be notified if a takeaway service is to be provided from the premises, and that the property will revert to its lawful planning use when the takeaway service ends, or otherwise on 23 March 2022. It should also be noted that not all premises benefit from these rights. For example, if there are historic planning conditions or a Section 106 Agreement that prohibit the use of the premises for takeaway sales then this overrides the newly introduced permitted development rights. If this is the case, then a S73 planning application may be required to vary a planning condition, or a deed of variation to amend a Section 106 Agreement.

Cultural Venues & Caravan Parks and Holiday Centres – Until 31 Dec 2022 

On 14 July 2020, the government published a Written Ministerial Statement (WMS) to support the culture and tourism sectors by both preventing the loss of theatres, concert halls and live music performance venues, and encouraging local planning authorities to exercise their discretion in relation to planning conditions for caravan, campsites and holiday parks.
Cultural Venues

Cultural Venues

The WMS confirms that LPAs are expected to have due regard to the current circumstances of a culture venue when considering whether to grant planning permission for a change of use or demolition of a theatre, concert hall or live music performance venue that has been made temporarily vacant by Covid-19 business disruption. However, where the site has been vacant for a long time and its vacancy is unrelated to Covid-19 business disruption, applications should be considered in the normal way.

The Theatres Trust have been made statutory consultees for all applications that seek to develop land where there is a theatre and will have an opportunity to comment on any application relating to theatres.

Permitted Development Rights for the demolition of buildings have also been updated so that they no longer apply to theatres, music performance venues and concert halls. This gives an additional layer of protection to those venues which have had to close as a result of restrictions required due to the coronavirus pandemic, requiring a planning application for demolition in all circumstances.

Caravan and Holiday Parks

The WMS also encourages LPAs not to undertake enforcement action which would unnecessarily restrict the ability of caravan, campsites and holiday parks to extend their open season. The WMS sets out that where LPAs consider it appropriate to require a planning application to vary relevant planning conditions (where for example there is a risk of flooding or where parks are situated close to protected sites), these applications should be prioritised as an early decision will provide certainty to park operators.
The WMS will remain in place until 31 December 2022, therefore providing opportunities for holiday parks to extend their opening seasons for the next two years.

Extension to Construction Site Hours – Until 31 May 2021

In May 2020, the government issued a WMS on the situations in which a local planning authority should allow a construction site to extend its working hours. Whilst the statement is in place, local authorities are expected to approve requests to extend construction working hours temporarily until 9.00 pm, Monday to Saturday, unless there are ‘very compelling reasons’ against it.

The flexibility given to LPAs by the written statement covers the planning system only, and currently only extends until 31 May 2021.

This is due to expire shortly with no sign of being extended at the time of writing.

Relaxation of Supermarket Deliveries – 31st March 2021

A WMS was published on 13 March 2020 relaxing delivery restrictions to supermarkets, food retailers and distribution centres in response to coronavirus. This has helped to ensure that planning controls are not a barrier to food deliveries throughout the pandemic.

It was originally intended that the statement would be withdrawn ‘once the immediate urgency has subsided’, however it was confirmed on the 29th November 2020 that the WMS will remain in place until the 31st March 2021. Whilst the statement is in place, local authorities are expected to continue to avoid enforcing controls that unnecessarily restrict the time and number of lorry deliveries to retailers and distribution of food and other essential deliveries.

This is due to expire shortly with no sign of being extended at the time of writing.

Extension of Retail Opening Hours – 31st January 2021

On the 29th November 2020, the government issued a Written Ministerial Statement to relax local restrictions and allow retailers to extend their daily opening hours from Monday to Saturday in the run up to Christmas and throughout January.

The WMS sets out that from the 2nd December until the 31st January, Local Authorities should take a positive approach to their engagement with retailers to ensure planning controls are not a barrier to the temporary extension of retail opening times. The WMS also confirms that LPAs should not seek to undertake planning enforcement action which would result in the unnecessary restriction of retail hours during this period.

This relaxation period has now ended and the WMS is no longer relevant.

Extension to Planning Consents – Until 1 May 2021

The Business and Planning Act (2020) came into effect in August 2020, temporarily allowing certain planning permissions and listed building consents in England which have lapsed or were due to lapse during 2020 to be extended. The measures allow permissions for development which have already received the grant of planning permission or listed building consent and would lapse between 23 March 2020 and 31 December 2020 to be extended until 1 May 2021, therefore offering a 4-month extension period.

Planning permissions with time limits for implementation which were due to lapse between 19 August 2020 (when the provisions came into force) and 31 December 2020 are extended to 1 May 2021 automatically, without the need to obtain additional environmental approval. Permissions that lapsed between 23 March 2020 and 19 August (when the provisions came into force) are subject to an ‘additional environmental approval’ by the local council before the automatic extensions can take effect. The local authority has a 28-day window to grant or refuse the environmental details, with the details deemed to be granted if the council do not issue a decision within this period.

We have now passed this date and there are no plans to extend provisions any further.

External Seating – Until 30 September 2022

The government has introduced provisions through the Business and Planning Act (2020) to make it easier for premises in England serving food and drink such as bars, restaurants and pubs to seat and serve customers outdoors through temporary changes to planning procedures and alcohol licensing.

Pavement licences are usually granted under Part 7A of the Highways Act 1980, with the fee and determination process varying between local authorities. The temporary measures introduced provide a cheaper, easier and quicker way for businesses to obtain an external seating licence, with the fee for applying for a new licence capped at £100, and the determination period reduced to 14 days. The measures were initially scheduled to remain in place until the 30 September 2021, however, it was announced on the 5th March 2021 that the government intend to extend pavement licences for a further year until the 30 September 2022 (subject to parliamentary approval). This will make it easier and cheaper for restaurants, pubs and cafes to continue to make al fresco dining a reality with outside seating, tables and street stalls to serve food and drink.

A number of local authorities have introduced their own external seating measures to support businesses throughout the pandemic. For example, Westminster City Council introduced a winter hospitality scheme between 2 December 2020 and 30 April 2021, with over 40 road closures in the central areas to facilitate larger external seating areas for businesses.

It was announced on the 23rd February 2021 that Westminster will be extending their al fresco hospitality scheme until the 30th September 2021. This will allow businesses to apply for enlarged external seating areas throughout the summer months, with the use of electric heaters, barriers, umbrellas and gazebos supported.

Markets and Stalls – Until 31 December 2021

It was announced in June 2020 that Councils will no longer need planning permission to set up outdoor markets, and that landowners will be given more time to use their land to host events. Temporary permitted development rights were introduced allowing markets to be held on behalf of a local authority on ‘an unlimited number of days’, and also extending the amount of time that landowners are allowed to hold outdoor events, such as car boot sales, summer fairs and motor racing events, on their land. Previously permitted development rights allowed landowners to use their land for ‘any purpose’ for up to 28 days, but the new rights double this allowance and allow land to be used for any purpose for 56 days.

These rights were due to expire on 31 December 2020, but it was announced on 11 November that PD rights allowing local authorities to hold a market for an unlimited number of days have been extended until the 23rd March 2022, and that rights allowing landowners to use their land for ‘any purpose’ have also been extended until 31st December 2021.

Additional Development from the Crown in Response to a Pandemic

Permitted Development rights have been introduced allowing land owned by the Crown to be used for purposes such as preventing an emergency, controlling or mitigating the effects of an emergency or taking other action in connection with an emergency. Similar permitted development rights have also been introduced allowing development by, or on behalf of, the Crown on Crown land for the purpose of preventing a pandemic, or taking other action in relation to a pandemic.

Local Election & Neighbourhood Plan Referendum Delays

In March 2020 it was announced that local elections and referendums scheduled to take place on 7 May 2020 would be delayed by a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Cabinet Office has now confirmed that elections and referendums will now take place on the 6th May 2021.

If you have a query on any of the temporary measures in place, please feel free to contact one of the Firstplan team.