Opinion

The Planning Cost of Covid-19

So for this post I wanted to reflect upon the Raglan Gatehouse development and it’s journey through the planning system. This application is particularly pertinent as it was submitted and dealt with within the throws of the pandemic and is indicative of the additional efforts it took to get to a successful decision on the first run through planning.

Pre-application

Raglan is a special Listed Building and an important case study in how to get engagement from the LPA at an early stage. We applied for pre-application advice in June 2019. We needed pre-app advice because we were going to be proposing something that was very different to the norm and so we needed council involvement from the start! We received a warm answer to the proposal in November 2020 after two meetings with the Council and Councillors on both the proposals and the state of the building.

First Application – Getting the site secure

The LPA wanted an application for Listed Building Consent for site hording. This was submitted as requested and in parallel to the pre-app on the 25 Sep 2019 and approved on the 06 Nov 2019.

Second applications – The development itself

Following pre-app we got ourselves prepared for the main application. Getting prepared for any planning application is difficult but one of this complexity is hard work. By March we were ready…and then Covid arrived! We were gearing up for an application when Covid appeared within the UK. Whilst our applications were received on the 10 Mar 2020 they were not validated until Wed 10 Jun 2020. This was due to the Covid preventing registration of applications in Plymouth until site notices could be posted.

Covid also played another dimension within the LPA. For those who have read my post of planning as a team sport you will understand that the Council Planners do not like operating in isolation. Working at home meant just that! so normally efficient discourse between officers within the LPA and latterly between the LPA and us fell by the wayside. Agreements and amendments that should normally take weeks to resolve actually took months. Some 29 individual pieces of correspondence and 5 substantive amendments later planning permission was granted in November 2020.

Now I know this experience was not isolated to this one case study. In our home authority of Portsmouth registration of applications was put on hold for 6 months due to Nitrate and than a further 3 months for Covid. Suffice it to say that the Council has clawed some of this back and are now just 5 months behind on everything!

By means of comparison on this case study I wanted to compare the experience to the ideal reality. This is how it all looks:

Pre-Application: Covid Reality – 5 Months vs Who Knows!

Whilst most council’s have some guidance on how long pre-app can take it is a shot in the dark as to whether they can keep to it and on cases as complicated as raglan it is better to keep the conversation going rather than be combative.

Applications: Covid Reality – 10 Months vs Statutory time period of 2 months

This is where Covid really hit! Delays in registration, negotiation and the council seeking multiple amendments really hit the time periods for this application and as such what should have been a statutory 2 months became 10 months.

Whilst the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government made clear that Planning Authorities were to attempt to keep calm and carry on the truth of the matter is that Council’s have all struggled to keep the system going during the pandemic.

If making applications today our current advice is to double the statutory time periods at least! Hopefully when the vaccinations come a sense of efficiency will return!

by Jon McDermott