COVID-19 is already starting to have an impact on the planning system and has left many in a state of uncertainty. New legislation and guidance are emerging, but with planning deadlines continuing to apply, businesses and developers need to be aware of the potential impacts.

New legislation to support businesses in view of COVID-19

The government has brought in new legislation to support businesses through these uncertain times. Below are the legislative changes that have already been put in place as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Changes of use for restaurants, cafes and drinking establishments

• Legislation allowing a temporary change of use to enable restaurants, cafes and drinking establishments to operate as takeaways came into force Tuesday 24th March 2020.

Ordinarily planning permission would be required for this change of use, but this legislation is to support businesses that are no longer able to open and to help people self-isolate and avoid contact with others outside their home.

• Exceptions to the changes Business owners must be aware that their premises may be subject to planning conditions preventing their use as takeaways and some businesses may have clauses under their lease preventing this use.

Overnight deliveries for food and essential products

• There has been a temporary relaxed enforcement restriction to allow overnight deliveries of food, sanitary and other essential products to supermarkets and other food retailers.

This relaxation has been authorised for drivers undertaking carriage of goods by road in all sectors, between 23 March and 21 April (continuation of the relaxation past 5 April is subject to review)

Keeping the planning system moving and participation in decision making

An innovative and pragmatic approach to decision making:

• Local Planning Authorities are asked to be pragmatic, work proactively with applicants and where necessary, agree extended periods for making decisions.

Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government chief planner Steve Quartermain has asked Local Planning Authorities to ‘take an innovative approach, using all options available to you to continue your service’.

Councils are also reviewing their decision making processes to consider delegating decisions to smaller groups of councillors or officers. Some are also now starting to hold virtual committee meetings.

Virtual planning committee meetings

• New legislation came in to force 4th April 2020, to allow Local Authorities the ability to hold virtual planning committee meetings, for meetings scheduled before 7th May 2021.

The new act allows meetings to take place where not all of the attendees, or any of the attendees, are present in the same place. Similarly, the definition of the place where a meeting is held can include more than one place, including electronic, digital or virtual locations.

Local Plan hearings postponed  

• The Planning Inspectorate has postponed all local plan, appeal and NSIP hearings and inquiries until further notice.

Their guidance states that local plan inspectors “will continue, where possible, to progress the pre and post-hearing stages of the examination, depending on the stage reached. However, it is inevitable that the progress of some examinations will be delayed.”


• Wherever possible use electronic means of communication to contact planning departments and when submitting planning applications or additional information.

The current circumstances bring many challenges to the usual ways of working and how planning applications are validated, assessed and determined. As many officers will now be working from home email is likely to be the best way to get in contact. The planning inspectorate have also advised that appeal forms and evidence should not be sent by post.

Further information on these legislative changes can be found via the links below :

• Government to grant permission for pubs and restaurants to operate as takeaways as part of Coronavirus response

• Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on drivers’ hours relaxations

• Chief Planner’s planing update newsletter – 20 March 2020

• Royal Town Planning Institute – Planners ready to support communities and businesses

• Royal Town Planning Institute – Sharing experiences


How Paris Smith can help with your planning issues in light of COVID-19

  • Preparing for the future

Perhaps you are considering diversifying your business to offer additional services or looking to expand, or perhaps you are a housing developer considering potential new schemes.

Although there is currently uncertainty, this time can be well used to put plans in place, preparing your business for when normality returns.

Obtaining planning and planning legal advice

  • We can provide you with advice and support to ensure that you are well placed to submit your proposals once the time arrives.

At Paris Smith LLP we are working hard for our clients to continue to deliver the results they need. Whilst working remotely and avoiding all social contact, we remain open and available to assist clients via teleconferencing, emails and telephone calls. Please do not hesitate to contact the Planning Team who are able to continue to provide an exceptional service in these uncertain times.

For any further information on the above issues or for advice on planning more generally, please contact either :

• Janet May, Partner and Planning Lawyer

• Bev Harding-Rennie, Planning Consultant

Our dedicated “Coronavirus – Legal advice and guidance” page has been set up to keep businesses, employers, the self-employed, employees up-to-date with the current legal position on Coronavirus related issues with advice from our expert team. It will be regularly refreshed as and when new updates are issued by the government and other regulatory bodies.

Bev Harding-Rennie, Planning Consultant, Paris Smith

023 8048 2393