The Chief Planner, John McNairney, has issued a letter of direction to local authorities’ Heads of Planning in response to Coronavirus (COVID-19).

The letter deals specifically with the relaxation of enforcement of planning conditions relating to retail distribution.  Many supermarkets, other retailers and distribution centres are subject to controls which restrict deliveries from lorries and other delivery vehicles to within set hours.  The Chief Planner has recognised that as part of tackling the developing Coronavirus emergency Local Authorities will need to take a sensible approach to the enforcement of planning conditions to ensure that essential supply chains on which our communities depend are not disrupted.

The Chief Planner’s specific direction is that:

“Given the exceptional challenges from the Coronavirus and the result and temporary pressures placed on relevant retailers and distributers, Planning Authorities should not seek to undertake planning enforcement action which would result in unnecessarily restricting deliveries of food and other essential deliveries during this time, or in regard to extended store opening times, having regards to legal obligations.”

The Chief Planner recognises that this is likely to have a temporary impact on people living in the vicinity of retail premises, and his guidance is subject to review after three months.

It is good that the Chief Planner is taking steps to ensure that planning officers in local authorities will deal sensibly with the risks and challenges posed by Coronavirus.  However, there needs to be a joined up approach with licensing and environmental protection so that operators and local authorities know exactly where they stand.  The Chief Planner’s direction has been made in the public interest, and that should be a key consideration when local authorities are considering any connected licensing or environmental protection issue.

The planning (and licensing and environmental protection) system will need to keep an eye on the impact of Coronavirus to see if other measures need to be put in place.  For example, if the construction sector workforce and supply chain is disrupted, there may need to be a relaxation of the enforcement of conditions to allow project timescales to recover.

Whatever happens next, clear messaging and collaboration will be key.

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Planning