Will site visits, hearings and inquiries still take place?
Due to the new guidance on social distancing and remote working, the Planning Inspectorate initially stated that site visits, hearings and inquiries would be cancelled. However, there is very much a push from the Secretary of State to keep the planning system moving notwithstanding the requirements to adapt to new ways of working. The Government now expects all hearings to be conducted virtually and where a virtual hearing is not possible, the expectation is that alternative arrangements will be put “speedily” in place and in accordance with social distancing requirements.
The Planning Inspectorate have been exploring ways of conducting hearings and inquiries remotely using technological means and conducted their first “digital” hearing on 11 May .
The Business and Planning Act 2020, which entered the statute books on 22 July 2020, includes provisions which allow more flexibility in relation to how appeals are determined including an ability for the Secretary of State to decide to adopt a procedure which is a combination of written representations, a hearing and/or an inquiry.
Site visits have re-commenced where it is safe to do so. The Inspectorate is looking at whether a site visit is necessary and has conducted a trial of “virtual site visits” where sites are assessed by means of photographs or video evidence.
The Planning Inspectorate have subsequently been scaling up conducting digital hearings, which also includes holding virtual local plan examination hearings.
The majority of hearings are taking place by video or phone.
Court guidance has been issued on telephone and video hearings during the coronavirus outbreak:
Where a Judge orders “teleconferencing”, it will take place using BTMeetMe, or video conferencing using Skype for Business or Cloud Video Platform.
All hearings are subject to the relevant jurisdictional rules and practice directions and usual court etiquette, including wearing appropriate attire and not eating or drinking during a hearing.
Electronic bundles of documents and authorities (if required) need to be prepared, indexed and paginated and sent to the Court well in advance of any hearing.
A new Permitted Development Right has been introduced providing restaurants and cafes, drinking establishments with expanded food provision to temporarily provide takeaway food. The new right came into force on 24 March 2020 and expires on 23 March 2021. The right is subject to three conditions:
- The developer must notify the local planning authority if the building and any land within its curtilage is being used, or will be used, for the provision of takeaway food at any time during the relevant period
- Change of use to the provision of takeaway food under the Right, does not affect the use class which the building and any land within its curtilage had before the change of use
- If the developer changes use to the provision of takeaway food under the Right, the use of the building and any land within its curtilage reverts to its previous lawful use when the Right expires or, if earlier, when the developer ceases to provide takeaway food.
Alcohol will still be subject to the same licensing requirements. At this stage, it is not clear how the Right will interact with any current planning conditions placed on an establishment. Enforcement however remains discretionary. A link to Statutory Instrument 2020 No.330 is below.
Lay off is a temporary measure where an employee is required not to do any work by their employer in any given week and does not receive any salary for that period. This is sometimes used interchangeably to refer to redundancies; however, this is not correct and lay-off is different to redundancy.
Lay-off may be very useful to achieve short or medium-term cost savings in response to a temporary reduction in demand for products or services. Whether the employer has the right to implement lay-offs and how swiftly they can expect to be able to do so will depend on whether the relevant contracts of employment have specific provisions which deal with lay-off.
Short time working is where an employer temporarily reduces an employee’s working hours, with a corresponding reduction in their pay to less than 50% of their usual salary. This could be through reducing the number of working days, reducing the length of working days or a combination of both.
Short time working provides the employer with the ability to reduce staffing costs whilst providing flexibility in deciding the form of working pattern. As with lay-off, whether the employer has the right to unilaterally impose short-time working and how swiftly they can expect to practically implement this will depend on whether the relevant contracts of employment contain a short time working clause.
Where there is a contractual right to lay off or impose short time working: There is no strict process which has to be followed. We would advise transparent communication and confirmation in writing.
Where there is no contractual right: Imposing these options without a contractual right to do so will be a fundamental breach of the employee’s contract of employment. In these circumstances the employee’s options are: accept the situation and keep working; claim for lost pay; resign and claim constructive dismissal. The best approach for employers in these circumstances is to instead seek to agree lay-off or short-time working arrangements with employees.
Selecting employees for lay-off or short time working: There is no prescribed method for selecting which employees are to be laid-off or placed on short-time working, provided that the employee cannot argue that the method of selection is discriminatory in some way. We would advise selection based on objective business reasons.
Entitlement to pay during lay-off or short time working: Employees must be paid for the time they work. Additionally, while on lay off or short time working, an employee is entitled to receive statutory guarantee pay for the first 5 workless days in any 3-month period. The maximum statutory guarantee pay in any 3-month period is £150 (i.e. £30 for each workless day up to a maximum of 5).
Entitlement to statutory redundancy pay: Once employees have been on lay-off or on short-time working for 4 consecutive weeks or for a combined total of 6 weeks during any 13-week period, they may seek to claim a statutory redundancy payment (provided that they have two years’ service). There is a prescriptive process for this – please seek advice.
Employers had until 31 July 2020 to make any claims for claim periods up to 30 June 2020. That was the end of the old scheme.
From 1 July 2020, claim periods must start and end within the same calendar month and must be for at least 7 days unless you are claiming for the first few days or the last few days in a month.
You can only claim for a period of fewer than 7 days if the period you are claiming for includes either the first or last day of the calendar month, and you have already claimed for the period ending immediately before it.
For example, if an employee is furloughed for 7 days spanning a month. You can claim the last 3 in one month, and 4 from the next.
The crucial point is that you cannot make claims that cross calendar months.
The first time that you could make a claim for days in July 2020 was 1 July 2020. You could not claim for periods in July 2020 before this point.
A quicker and more cost-effective option may be the involvement of the police given their recent allocation of emergency powers to disperse, fine or even arrest persons who flout these rules. Nevertheless, it appears that the Court is willing to support housing providers in their efforts to tackle anti-social behaviour during this time.