Application fee refunds and five-year consents included in Merseyside council's Covid-19 planning package

Refunds of application fees for developers whose schemes begin work within a year of a consent renewal, free pre-application advice and five-year consents for new schemes are among a package of temporary measures announced by a Merseyside council in response to Covid-19.

Southport Town Hall in Sefton district (pic: Alexander P Kapp, Geograph)
Southport Town Hall in Sefton district (pic: Alexander P Kapp, Geograph)

In a statement, Sefton Council announced the introduction of a raft of planning measures to help support the development sector during the pandemic.

A council document seen by Planning said these would include "free meetings for investors and developers".

It states: "We will facilitate meetings with developers and investors who wish to promote schemes in Sefton and to discuss their projects and ideas at an early stage.

"We will ensure that the relevant technical experts from the council are present, with the aim of providing sufficient guidance and advice for developers and investors to make informed decisions on how to proceed."

It added that the council will also provide free pre-application advice for schemes that "can demonstrate ... that they will bring reasonable benefits to the local economy of Sefton".

The council will also "refund the planning application fee for schemes that seek a renewal of consent, and commence development within 12 months of approval".

The document said: "We recognise that COVID-19 has delayed some projects, and in cases permissions are likely to expire as a result of this, as an incentive to encourage applicants to make up for lost time, we will refund the planning application fee on schemes that commence development within 12 months of a renewal of consent."

The council has also pledged "speedier decision making", adding: "We will undertake to determine all planning applications within statutory timeframes or sooner, where with supporting evidence, they can demonstrate to the satisfaction of the local planning authority they will bring reasonable benefits to the economy of Sefton".

Along with the measures above, this provision will remain in place until 31 October 2021 "and will be reviewed at that time as to whether it is necessary to extend this period".

Elsewhere, the document said the council will "attach a five year timeframe on all new consented schemes to help combat lost time due to COVID-19 restrictions". An English planning permission would normally last for just three years, excluding reserved matters permissions which have a two-year duration. 

Sefton will also "take a flexible approach to uses which may be required to adapt to circumstances presented by COVID-19, and in particular, in helping in the fight against it".

The document said the council is aware of emergency permitted development rights granted by central government for Covid-19 health facilities on "land owned, leased, occupied or maintained by a local authority or health service body".

The authority, it adds, will in addition take "a flexible approach where such development is proposed that pursues this goal on non-local authority/health service land. This measure will remain in place until April 2021 and will be reviewed at that time as to whether it is necessary to extend this period".

The council is also pledging a "flexible approach to breaches of planning control".

While the council "takes breaches in planning control seriously, it will be unlikely to take action against breaches of planning conditions and other breaches where they relate to activities necessary to respond to the challenges of COVID-19, and provided they do not result in significant nuisance or impact on neighbouring users", the document adds.

The authority will further consider the use of "temporary development orders" to allow "greater flexibility for businesses to carry out works such as change of use to adapt to COVID-19 and where this will assist with economic recovery".

Such orders will run for a period of 12 months and be reviewed annually.

Cheltenham Borough Council in Gloucestershire last week 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.

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