COVID-19: Guidance relating to the Planning Process

We all find ourselves in uncharted times and so must adapt our procedures to ensure that the safety of all people is paramount in our considerations, whilst still ensuring we continue to operate as many Local Authority services as possible. With this in mind, and following discussions with senior management and members, the Planning Service will adopt the following procedures as from 8 April 2020.

The District Council is following general Government guidance on public movement and essential travel and this does have a major impact on our ability to meet with applicants and attend site for planning or enforcement purposes, therefore this document is designed to address the reasons for many of our revised procedures listed below. It may be that these procedures will be modified as circumstances change and we will do our best to keep the Website and other communication channels up to date.  Please note, where relevant, this comprises an emergency amendment to our Statement of Community Involvement.

1.  New Planning Applications - we strongly advise that these are submitted via the Planning Portal  (https://www.planningportal.co.uk/apply ) or via email. The Shape Mendip site is closed to the public and staff are working remotely as well as being redeployed to support the community where necessary. Post is still being checked and processed, however there will inevitably be delays in the postal service and in ensuring that the Planning Applications are processed as efficiently as possible in the current situation. 

2.  Accepting Cheques for Planning Applications - as the Shape Mendip site is closed to the public, we are unable to accept cheques for Planning matters and these may be returned.  If you are submitting an application, once checked, we will contact you with details of how to pay via internet banking.

3.  Publishing Applications received

a)  Site Notices - on some applications it is a legal requirement that a site notice is erected, we will continue to seek to erect site notices where we are statutorily required to do so.  If the Applicant is based at the site, the laminated site notice will be sent to the applicant for them to fix in a prominent position and take photographs as evidence of doing so. This is a process used by other Authorities as standard practice. If the site notice cannot be erected by the Applicant, subject to a suitable risk assessment an Officer will visit the site to erect the notice as soon as possible following validation.

Officers can now carry out site visits, subject to a suitable risk assessment.

b)  Publication - applications will be available via the Council's website  to view and, where we are statutorily required to do so, we will also publish in the local newspaper.   

c)  Neighbour Consultations - these will be posted out to individuals via the District Council post room unless the situation changes. 

d)  Parish Council Consultations - Mendip District Council Planning Officers will be as flexible as possible and understand that Parish Councils may have difficulty in meeting as normal at present.  Now that further central Government guidance has been received, it will be up to the Parishes to decide how they meet and consider applications. Some Parish Councils have already developed methods of ensuring consultation can take place and we are happy to assist where we can. Again, if a site notice cannot be erected, a further 21 day consultation period to Parish Councils will take place when the site notice is erected.  We must acknowledge however that, if Parish Council's cannot currently meet, some decisions may need to be issued without a comment from the Parish Council, although hopefully these will be limited. Parish Councils can contact the Planning Officer to agree a date when comments can be made on an application. Unfortunately, we cannot provide hard copies of applications to Parishes until further notice, however, all details are available on the Council's website.

4.  Public Comments on Applications - we are unable to accept comments in hard copy.  We advise that any comments on Applications are submitted through the Council's website or via email (details can be found View and Comment on Planning Applications) because we cannot guarantee that hard copy comments will be received in time.  Officers are unable to redact documents currently so, in accordance with Council procedures, we are unable to publish any comments with personal information, for example addresses or signatures.  As we are statutorily required to publish all comments in respect of an application this has led us to the conclusion that we are unable to accept hard copy comments.   

5.  Prior Approvals - we will follow the guidance in the Chief Planners letter which states:  'We recognise that there may be circumstances where a local planning authority is unable to consider a permitted development prior approval application within the deemed consent period. It remains important to prioritise these so that important economic activity can continue. In these exceptional circumstances the authority can, if necessary, seek to agree an extended approval date with the applicant. Where agreement cannot be reached an authority may need to consider whether prior approval is refused if the application cannot be considered with the requisite attention'.

6.  Permitted Development - as part of the response to the pandemic, pubs/restaurants are now able to operate as takeaways under permitted development rights, restrictions on food deliveries to shops have also been relaxed.  We are aware of these issues and confirm that we will not investigate enforcement complaints in this regard. 

7.  Planning Enforcement - as we will not be undertaking site visits except in the case of serious breaches, please bear this in mind when reporting any concerns. We can only respond to the most urgent but will note/ record all notifications. In the first case, please email Planning Enforcement.

8.  Planning Board - following Central Government legislation received in April 2020, we are holding Planning Board meetings virtually.  More information on the next virtual Planning Board

9.  Extension of Construction Working Hours - On 13 May 2020, the government published a written ministerial statement on planning and construction working hours. This statement expects local planning authorities to approve requests to extend construction working hours temporarily to ensure safe working in line with social distancing guidelines. Any temporary changes to construction working hours agreed by Local Planning Authorities should not extend beyond 13 May 2021.

10. New Pre-Application Enquiries - We will not accept new pre-application submissions other than enquiries for businesses or related to economic development. Any business or economic development related submissions should be made via email. The Shape Mendip site is closed to the public and staff are working remotely as well as being redeployed to support the community where necessary. Post is still being checked and processed, however there will inevitably be delays in the postal service and in ensuring that submissions are processed as efficiently as possible in the current situation. 

We are unable to hold face-to-face meetings at this time, so if you select the "meeting" option the planning officer will arrange a telephone call or conference call with you to discuss your business or economic development related proposal.