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How the coronavirus outbreak has affected Local Authority Planning and Environmental Health services

During this unprecedented time of social distancing due to the coronavirus (COVID-19), many millions of people in the private and public sector are now having to work from home and/or self-isolate. This includes a large number of local authority employees. This has led to disruptions to local authority services due to depleted numbers of staff who may have been repurposed to other departments and due to the general limitations of working from home. Every local authority has been impacted differently and they are updating their websites as they adapt to the dynamic changes as we move through the crisis.

Many local authorities are still offering Environmental Information Request (EIR) services, a main component of regulatory enquiries but are advising that there may be delays in handling requests. This means responses may exceed the standard of 20 working day responses.

Planning departments are being impacted largely, due to the potential need for site visits and meetings with applicants. Many local authorities are continuing to consider live applications but with likely delays. Some local authorities such as Portsmouth have suspended new or invalid planning applications. Torbay Council are still accepting online applications but only a limited number of decisions are likely to be issued, and Sheffield City Council have suspended all work on neighborhood planning.

Despite potential difficulties of applying for new planning applications, many local authorities are adapting and trying to continue with normal operations. Waltham Forest have recently given consent for a 750-home development through a virtual committee. Local authorities such as Westminster, Hackney, Epping, Wandsworth and Richmond have also stated they will be holding virtual planning committees to facilitate planning decisions in the near future. 

At Argyll Environmental, we have seen some planning departments willing to accept virtual site visits as part of evidence for assessments to satisfy contaminated land conditions. We recommend contacting your planning officer to determine if adaptive measures can be implemented to help progress planning applications during this time. Alternatively, we are happy to help you get in contact with your local authority to discuss possible options regarding site assessment. 

The current situation is continually changing as new national advice is being updated.  We recommend visiting your local authority’s website, on how coronavirus measures have impacted their services. 

Eleanor Tilley, Environmental Consultant BSc (Hons) MSc