Councils can hold planning meetings via video conference for the first time as part of changes brought in by the Coronavirus Act 2020
Before last week’s legislative changes, councillors all had to be in the same room for meetings under rules spelt out in the 1972 Local Government Act.
This had prevented councillors from making decisions under the national lockdown, with councils across the country cancelling planning committees in the past week to adhere to social distancing measures.
Now a temporary amendment to the rule has come into force as part of sweeping new powers introduced to help authorities deal with the crisis caused by the Covid-19. These received Royal Assent on 25 March.
Under section 78 of the legislation, all council meetings can now take place without members being in the same location. The new rules will run until 7 May 2021, subject to Parliament approving the act’s renewal every six months.
Last week Steve Quarterman, chief planner at the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, wrote to councils urging them to ‘be pragmatic and continue, as much as possible, to work proactively with applicants and others [and] where necessary agree extended periods for making decisions.’
He added: ‘We ask you to take an innovative approach, using all options available to you to continue your service.
‘We encourage you to explore every opportunity to use technology to ensure that discussions and consultations can go ahead. We also encourage you to consider delegating committee decisions where appropriate.’
The rule change will prevent a backlog of planning applications piling up under local authorities.
However, developers who get planning consent may struggle to move to the construction site given many contractors have downed tools following government guidance on social distancing measures.