New regulations easing application publicity requirements to last until end of year

New regulations that enable councils to use social media to publicise planning applications during the coronavirus lockdown have now come into force and will last until the end of the year.

A local authority's application site notice. Pic: Getty Images
A local authority's application site notice. Pic: Getty Images

The statutory instrument was published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) on Tuesday and became law yesterday (Thursday).

The changes introduced by The Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure, Listed Buildings and Environmental Impact Assessment) (England) (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 expire on 31 December this year.

The new regulations implement measures announced earlier this week by the government allowing planning authorities to publicise applications through social media to keep the development management process moving during the coronavirus crisis.

According to an explanatory memorandum issued alongside the regulations, the temporary regulations supplement existing statutory publicity arrangements, such as site notices and newspaper advertisements, for planning applications.

Under the regulations, authorities have the flexibility to take "other reasonable steps to publicise applications" if they cannot meet the requirements for site notices, neighbour notifications or newspaper publicity.

These steps can include the use of social media and other electronic communications, the memo says, and "must be proportionate to the scale and nature of the proposed development".

The regulations also temporarily discharge local authorities of their obligation to make their planning application registers available for physical inspection.

The memorandum says councils will not have to maintain a physical register if it is not "practicable" to do so due to the coronavirus and if they maintain a version available for inspection on a website.

The temporary closure of many council offices and travel restrictions means that it is currently "difficult" for members of the public to view physical registers, the document adds.

The memorandum also encourages councils to support local newspapers by continuing to use their online versions to help publicise applications, if print copies not currently circulating due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

It states: "In the case of local newspapers that are no longer in circulation, local planning authorities should have regard to the fact that a local newspaper may have an online version that could be used as a form of digital publicity.

"This will help to ensure that public participation in the planning application process continues during the response to coronavirus and would support local independent news reporting."

It also says the changes to the publicity requirements do not apply to special development orders, local development orders, simplified planning zones and enterprise zones, according to the memo.

The temporary changes are a "proportionate" response to the special circumstances thrown up by the coronavirus crisis, the memo goes on to say.

It states: "The changes could have the potential to reduce access to information, and the ability to make representations, for those people who do not have internet access at home. The effects of coronavirus, including restrictions on movement, have made it practically difficult for these people to access the traditional publicity routes."

New Planning Practice Guidance setting out further advice on the new rules was also published this week.

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