In updated guidance for inspectors on the coronavirus published yesterday, the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) said that two local plan examination hearings which were due to take place this week "have both been postponed" adding that "local plan hearings cannot currently take place".
It added: "At this stage we do not know when they may be able to resume, but it is unlikely to be soon."
The guidance says that local plan inspectors "will continue, where possible, to progress the pre and post-hearing stagesof the examination, depending on the stage reached. However, it is inevitable that the progress of some examinations will be delayed."
For appeals hearings and inquiries, the advice states: "Because of the likelihood of social contact with multiple parties these will not proceed at the present time."
The advice said that PINS is considering "technological solutions" to allow appeal and local plan hearings to go ahead.
However, the appeals advice note said this was "not straightforward given the need to ensure fairness for all parties, especially third parties".
The local plan advice note said that technology would only be "an option in a limited number of cases", because of "the number of participants, the legal right to be heard, and [the need] that local plan hearings are conducted as a structured conversation".
Meanwhile, all NSIP hearings and preliminary meetings are also "postponed until further notice" for the same reasons, the advice said.
Yesterday, planning barristers called for the better use of technology to allow appeal inquiries and hearings to continue and to avoid a "standstill" on major decisions during the coronavirus outbreak.
PINS said it was considering "all the options" necessary to maintain its momentum on appeals.
Also yesterday, the government announced that planning rules will be relaxed so pubs and restaurants can operate as hot food takeaways during the coronavirus outbreak.
On Friday, ministers instructed English planning authorities 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. Similar measures had also been introduced in Scotland.