Cheltenham temporarily eases planning rules to help businesses with social distancing

A Gloucestershire council has introduced a new 'light-touch' planning regime to allow businesses to erect temporary structures to assist with social distancing in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Temporary structures: Gloucestershire council eases planning restrictions (pic: Steven Lilley, Flickr)
Temporary structures: Gloucestershire council eases planning restrictions (pic: Steven Lilley, Flickr)

In a statement issued last week, Cheltenham Borough Council said it was to become "one of the first local authorities in the country to accelerate applications for temporary changes to the use of public areas and private land".

This would "make it easier for businesses to accommodate more physical space for social distancing purposes, for example to place tables and chairs on a footpath or public square", the statement said.

Under the changes, which do not apply to residential properties, the council will now allow temporary structures or buildings to be placed on land without planning permission for up to six months.

"This is a proactive approach to enforcement of planning controls and not a planning permission", the council said.

Businesses and organisations will need to make a request to the council outlining their proposals, and council officers will then undertake a "brief assessment" of the request.

Guidance issued by the authority says it will aim to make a decision within five working days.

The guidance says the council will approach assessments "in a positive and proactive manner, although a positive outcome is not necessarily guaranteed".

The document says that, after the six month period, the council will "review its position and the Covid-19 situation".

Following this, the guidance says the council may ask that structures be removed; it may ask for applications for planning consent for the temporary structures to be submitted; or the initiative may continue "for an extended but finite period of time".

Outlining how the changes would work, David Oakhill, the council's head of planning, gave the example of a light industrial business "which may need more office space to accommodate staff and ensure social distancing".

"They may want to locate a temporary building on hardstanding alongside the industrial unit to accommodate staff who cannot work from home. If the temporary building does not compromise the car parking or operation of the site ... in principal, this would be supported," he said.

In April, a new emergency permitted development (PD) right allowing English councils and health service bodies to create new facilities to combat the spread of coronavirus without the need for planning permission came into effect.

In March, the government announced the relaxation of planning rules so pubs and restaurants can operate as hot food takeaways during the coronavirus outbreak.

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