Survey: Councillors support planning committees continuing during pandemic

Three-quarters of UK councillors believe planning committees should continue to determine applications during the coronavirus pandemic, while two-thirds believe that a failure to carry on deciding applications would damage the economy, a survey has revealed.

Committees: legislative tweak has allowed remote sessions (Pic: John Hickey, Flickr)
Committees: legislative tweak has allowed remote sessions (Pic: John Hickey, Flickr)

The survey of 429 UK councillors, conducted by research consultancy Savanta ComRes on behalf of built environment communications consultancy BECG, found that 75 per cent believed that planning committees should continue to take place "in some format", while 25 per cent said they should not be held at all.

In addition, 65 per cent believed a failure to determine planning applications during the pandemic would have a negative impact on the UK economy.

Seventy-seven per cent of councillors surveyed said applicants should adopt remote consultation methods during the pandemic.

However, one in five councillors said they believed consultations should not be taking place at all.

According to the survey, telephone or videoconference consultation sessions are perceived as an effective consultation method by 68 per cent of UK councillors.

Sixty per cent said they believed email would also be effective and 48 per cent supported virtual public exhibitions.

Forty per cent said social media would be effective for consultation and 34 per cent supported postal mailings.

Max Camplin, director at BECG, said: “The tools exist to engage, consult and make effective and democratic decisions on those projects that will help prepare us for the post Covid-19 world.

"It is clear from this survey that this is a view shared by the political firmament across the UK – the virtual world must be utilised to keep the real world moving forward.” 

In the weeks since social distancing measures were introduced, some councils have continued to make decisions on planning applications via scaled-down committees or by granting delegated authority to officers.

Earlier this month, the UK government passed emergency legislation allowing councils to hold ‘virtual’ committees with the power to make decisions on matters including planning applications.

Housing minister Christopher Pincher said: “This research shows councillors are keen to keep the country building and so I encourage them to use technology and the freedoms we have given them to continue their important work safely.”

Councils including Waltham Forest and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea have since issued planning decisions agreed using part or wholly virtual planning committee meetings.

Clare Coghill, leader of the London Borough of Waltham Forest said: “It is vital the housing crisis isn’t exacerbated by unnecessary delays to the provision of good quality affordable homes and other appropriate development that benefits our community by shutting down planning processes.

“We are therefore committed to adapting our processes to ensure as far as possible this doesn’t happen so we can continue to build a better borough for our residents.”

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