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Do the usual publicity requirements for planning applications still apply?

The Government has introduced new regulations, which took effect on 14 May 2020, to relax the publicity requirements in respect of planning applications.

Planning applications are usually required to be publicised by way of site notices and local newspaper notices and applications are to be made available for public inspection. The Government has recognised that these actions may not always be possible in accordance with social distancing guidelines and in order that Councils do not delay applications as a result of an inability to comply with the publicity requirements, the Government has relaxed the requirements.

A Local Planning Authority is now required to “take reasonable steps” to publicise a planning application, which may be through use of online newspapers, social media, or other electronic measures. What is considered reasonable will depend upon the circumstances of an individual application and will be proportionate to the scale and impact of the development. A large development that has previously generated significant interest will require more steps to bring the application to the attention of all of those with an interest than a householder application. The guidance emphasises the role of the publicity requirements, namely to enable those with an interest to make representations and to effectively participate in the decision making process and therefore community engagement remains key. It is recommended that the officer’s report refers to the steps taken where a Council has relied upon the temporary publicity arrangements.

The requirement to make planning applications available for public inspection has also been temporarily suspended providing that the applications are available for online inspection. In reality most LPAs already provide such an online facility. Where individuals are unable to access an application online LPAs should make alternative arrangements, for example providing information over the phone or providing a hard copy set of documents by post.

The regulations however only amend the statutory publicity requirements. In addition to these, all LPAs are required to have a Statement of Community Involvement which may provide for additional publicity requirements and the LPA will be bound by these regardless of the temporary relaxation of any statutory requirements. Where a Statement of Community Involvement does go beyond the statutory requirements, the Government guidance suggests that LPAs update these to ensure that local communities can continue to be consulted in the current climate.

The regulations are currently due to expire on 31 December 2020.