Heads of Planning
Local Planning Authorities in Wales
24 September 2021
CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) RESPONSE – UPDATED GUIDANCE
On 7 August, Wales moved to Alert Level 0. There are now no legal limits on the number of people who can meet, including in private homes, public places or at events. In addition all businesses and premises may open. The current general guidance on Coronavirus (COVID-19) is available on the Welsh Government website.
For Local Planning Authorities (LPAs), the removal of restrictions provides a basis for returning to a pre-pandemic planning service. This advice provides an updated position regarding a number of temporary measures introduced by the Welsh Government over the past 18 months.
The Minister for Climate Change has written to LPAs on a number of occasions throughout the pandemic setting out how a pragmatic approach should be taken to planning enforcement for certain sectors. In light of Wales moving to Alert Level 0, this advice has been reviewed.
Construction working hours
Where working hours are restricted by planning condition, in the Minister’s letter dated 20 July 2020, LPAs were advised not to refuse informal requests to extend working hours without very compelling reasons for rejection.
This position has been reconsidered in light of feedback from Environmental Heath Officers, the move to Alert Level 0 and the increase in the number of people permanently working from home as part of hybrid working arrangements. Accordingly, all informal arrangements which extend working hours should end. Instead, to vary hours of working developers must submit a planning application under section 73 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to enable the impact upon residential amenity to be fully considered and consulted upon.
Where an informal extension has been previously agreed and substantiated complaints have been received, LPAs should discuss with the developer what could be done to mitigate the planning impacts before a planning application is submitted. Enforcement action should be considered if development continues in breach of the permitted working hours prescribed in the original planning consent.
Temporary permitted development rights were introduced in April to support the hospitality industry. In my letter dated 30 March setting out the new permitted development rights, I also advised that a flexible approach should be maintained where businesses seek to utilise their curtilage for the provision of food and drink, including the erection of temporary structures until 3 January 2022. LPAs should now encourage businesses to submit planning applications to retain development where the planning impacts are acceptable (or could be made acceptable through conditions) to allow plenty of time for consideration before the deadline. Otherwise businesses should be reminded temporary uses will need to cease and structures be removed by 3 January 2022 or they will become at risk of enforcement action after this time.
The latest position regarding planning conditions relating to retail distribution remains as set out in my letter dated 28 July.
At the beginning of the pandemic, amendments were made to the Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) (Wales) Order 2012 (“DMPWO”) and the Developments of National Significance (Procedure) (Wales) Order 2016 (“DNSPWO”) in response to the challenges presented by COVID-19. These amendments were introduced due to the difficulty for developers to comply with the requirements as a result of restrictions upon non-essential travel and the closure of non-essential public buildings.
In relation to pre-application consultation, the requirement for developers to make copies of documents associated with a proposed planning application available locally for inspection, was replaced with a requirement to make such documents available on a website and in hard copy on request. Associated changes were made to the requisite site notices and notification letters.
The Planning Applications (Temporary Modifications and Disapplication) (No. 3) (Wales) (Coronavirus) Order 2020 extended the period during which the temporary procedures applied to the 8 October 2021.
In light of the country being in Alert Level 0, with all restrictions that impacted upon compliance with the requirements prescribed in the DMPWO removed, I can confirm that these measures will not be renewed. From 9 October, when undertaking pre-application consultation, developers must comply with Article 2C(1)(b) of the DMPWO that requires information to be made available for inspection at a location in the vicinity of the proposed development.
Community Council Consultation
The period during which community councils may make representations to the local planning authority on applications for which they are consulted was extended from 14 days to 21 days as part of the changes made to the DMPWO referred to above. This amendment also lapses on 8 October. However, the Welsh Government will be seeking to reinstate the 21 day period, making it permanent, once a legislative opportunity arises. For the time being, as best practice, LPAs should continue (where possible) to provide community councils with an extended timeframe to make representations.
Developments of National Significance
In addition to changes to pre-application consultation and community council consultation, the Planning Applications (Temporary Modifications and Disapplication) (Wales) (Coronavirus) Order 2020 (and subsequent Orders) disapplied the requirement in the DNSPWO for developers to deposit a hard copy of an application for planning permission for Developments of National Significance (DNS) where an application has been submitted by electronic communication.
This disapplication also ceases on 8 October, after which all DNS applications submitted electronically must once again include a hard copy to be deposited with the Welsh Ministers and the local planning authority.
All site visits can now be undertaken, however, LPAs should make prior appointments where possible. This is particularly important when visiting domestic properties to ensure the occupier does not have coronavirus symptoms or is self-isolating. Authorities can continue to view application sites remotely where they are satisfied the benefits of reduced carbon emissions, staff time savings and other benefits outweigh any risks of missing unauthorised works or site conditions which may be material to the determination of the application.
LPAs should continue to prioritise applications directly relating to responding to the COVID-19 emergency, including applications for the retention of development undertaken under Parts 3A (Temporary Building and Changes of Use for Public Health Emergency Purposes) and 12A (Emergency Development by Local Authorities) of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 (as amended). These applications should be processed as a matter of urgency.
Annual performance reports
Your efforts in adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic has ensured the planning system was able to respond to development proposals despite the restrictions preventing usual working practices. However, some impact upon service provision was unavoidable. The unprecedented health emergency and the measures taken in response, mean the performance of local planning authorities may not be representative of the progress made pre-pandemic. Now however, is a good time to reflect on what needs to be done to return to a good planning service. Whilst we would encourage all LPAs to prepare Annual Performance Reports as a matter of best practice, we will not require the submission of reports to us this year. Full reporting and submission will commence again in respect of 2021-22.
Annual Monitoring Reports of Local Development Plan implementation are required to be submitted in October.
Temporary permitted development rights introduced by the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Amendment) (No.2) (Wales) Order 2021 are due to end so LPAs should help businesses who wish to retain development beyond the relevant dates. The additional 28 days for temporary uses ends on 3 January 2022 while temporary town centre uses end on 29 April 2022.
A consultation on making some of the temporary permitted development rights permanent, in addition to other minor amendments, will be published shortly.
Please circulate this letter to your stakeholders. Any queries should be directed to email@example.com.
Chief Planner, Planning Directorate