Barristers have advised Planning at least one inquiry has been adjourned after concerns about health and safety raised by an interested third party while others have been postponed because witnesses or advocates are in self-isolation and unable to attend.
One of the adjourned inquiries involved an appeal by seafood firm the Whitstable Oyster Company against enforcement notices issued by Canterbury City Council in Kent.
Lawyers acting for the appellant wrote to the Inspectorate last week to propose that issue-specific hearings could be held via telephone or video conferencing in the event that the government escalated its advice regarding ‘social distancing’ in a bid to stall the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, PINS emailed interested parties yesterday to advise that the inquiry was to be postponed. “The inspector is of the view that, whilst extremely regrettable, it would be unacceptable to continue with the event in its proposed form,” the inspectorate said.
“The difficulties in ensuring acceptable health and safety standards in the current Covid-19 outbreak would be such that many prospective attendees and witnesses might be deterred from taking part.
"The risks involved and the prejudice to those in vulnerable groups who would not feel able to attend would outweigh the inconvenience of postponing the ‘live’ event.”
Meanwhile, Paul Tucker QC, of Kings Chambers, said he is acting in two inquiries that have been adjourned due to witnesses self-isolating.
Yesterday, it emerged that two local plan examinations had been postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.
A PINS spokesman said: “Following the government’s latest advice we have advised our staff to avoid unnecessary travel and social contact.
“Our focus is on immediate arrangements for our inspectors and participants in the events we are conducting this week and for our office based staff. We will be considering all the options for progressing casework over the coming weeks.
“We are preparing updated advice which will be published on our website very soon.”
Last week, PINS issued advice to inspectors on working practices during the ongoing crisis.
This afternoon, PINS published updated guidance for participants in appeals, NSIP and local plan examinations conducting site visits, hearings, and inquiries in light of recent government advice.
Yesterday, English planning authorities were instructed to avoid enforcing controls that "unnecessarily" restrict the time and number of lorry deliveries to retailers and distributors of food and other "essential" deliveries during the coronavirus disruption.