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Oliver Bussell

Partner - Sevenoaks and Ashford

Covid-19… and changes to the planning system in response?

…well, “up to a point”.

The policy guidance issued by Government last week aspires to help small and medium-sized developers with CIL by allowing charging authorities:

  • to defer payments
  • to temporarily supply late payment interest and
  • to provide a discretion to return interest already charged

Although we do not yet have the regulations bringing this into effect the guidance suggests this is to be allowed according to a developer’s “turnover” – for those with less than £45m.  Also note that these concessions will be time limited.

There is also a question about whether regulations will even be brought forward as the guidance strongly implies that the government’s intention ought to be sufficient:

“[this] should give authorities confidence to use their enforcement powers with discretion and provide some comfort to developers, where appropriate, they will not be charged extra for matters that were outside of their control”.

Much more straightforwardly, new temporary publicity regulations will be brought forward giving local planning authorities the ability to allow alternative reasonable steps to be taken to publicise applications where they cannot discharge the exact requirements for neighbour notifications or newspaper publicity – essentially, the use of social and other electronic media.

Greater flexibility in the mechanism for collecting CIL is of course always to be welcomed – especially given where we started from with CIL ten years ago.  But are exemptions based on a turnover threshold a good idea?  Unprofitable developers with high levels of turnover will find no help here.  As for making publicity requirements simpler, government needs to tread carefully.  Keeping the planning system moving is obviously crucially important as we emerge from lockdown.  But consultations that don’t properly engage with local communities risk legal challenges, whether under planning legislation or related law such as the Equality Act.  That would lead to further cost and delay.

So, so far so good.  But as we move forward many of us will be hoping that there will be more substantial movement in reforming planning as set out in my earlier blog on planning in the Covid-19 world.

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