As you will be aware, Central Government have imposed significant restrictions in response to the ongoing Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. These restrictions are impacting on all aspects of life, including the construction industry. Like all local authorities, Wakefield Council is heavily involved with the response and this includes essential frontline services such as adult social care. All areas of the Council have changed their ways of working – as have individuals and companies across the Wakefield District and country as a whole.
This page is intended to provide information on how the ongoing pandemic is affecting the Planning department, and to outline the measures that have been put in place to maintain service levels within the constraints imposed by the current restrictions.
Staff Working Arrangements
On the 23rd March, the Prime Minister announced an unprecedented set of measures designed to tackle the pandemic. This included the requirement that anyone who can work from home should do so until further notice. As a result, all staff within Planning Services are now working from home, and the Wakefield One building is closed to the public. Where possible, Council telephones have been diverted to the work mobile phone of the relevant staff member. However, it has not been possible to do this in every instance.
Furthermore, staff are now working different hours, and this includes evening and weekend working in some cases. As such, staff may not be contactable immediately by telephone but we are endeavouring to respond as soon as possible. Where possible, we advise that contact is initially made by email and staff will return any telephone calls or messages as soon as possible.
As the Government relaxes restrictions, the Council is looking at how some access to its Offices can be restored while maintaining a safe working environment. This means that limited access has been provided to allow Planning staff to attend Council offices when absolutely necessary but working from home will remain the default position until further notice.
Submitting Planning Applications
The Council is still accepting new planning applications and comments on planning applications. Wherever possible, we are asking that comments, enquiries and new applications are all submitted electronically.
The Council's Post Room is still open but is operating on reduced hours and days. This means that there will be additional delays in processing paper submissions. New applications can be submitted electronically via the
Planning Portal (recommended option), or by email to
Payments for planning applications (not submitted through the Planning Portal), CIL, and Section 106 contributions can all be made on the
Council's website. It is not currently possible to make cash payments at Wakefield One, and we ask that payments by cheque are only made when absolutely necessary, as this can cause processing delays. Payments can be made
online to speed up the process.
Site Visits and Publicity for Planning Applications
For most planning applications, it is necessary for the Planning Officer to undertake a site visit. In addition, there are statutory requirements for the type of publicity that must be undertaken. These requirements depend on the application type and specifics of the proposal, but publicity takes three main forms: (1) Site Notices, (2) Neighbour notification letters, and (3) Newspaper advertisement.
Some applications may require advertising using just one of the above methods, others require more than one of the above. The Council cannot determine a planning application until the necessary publicity has been undertaken and it must have regard to any comments received in response.
Given the restrictions on movement during the early stages of the pandemic, it was not possible for site visits or publicity to be undertaken. This meant that it was necessary to delay determining affected applications until it became possible to undertake site visits and publicity. In recognition of the difficulties faced by Local Planning Authorities, Central Government
did introduce some flexibility in the manner by which applications are to be publicised.
Following the relaxation of some of the restrictions, the Council has now been able to resume site visits and application publicity in most cases. Please note, however, that the impact of the restrictions has created a backlog which will continue to delay the determination of some applications.
Before undertaking site visits and publicity, the Council must consider the health and safety of its Officers and members of the public. This includes assessing whether a site can be safely accessed without breaching rules on social distancing etc. and whether the occupants of a site are at greater risk. (For example, individuals may be shielding as per government guidance.) Each site will be assessed on a case-by-case basis and Officers will make contact with applicants and/or agents in order to assess any particular risks. If a site visit cannot be undertaken safely, the site visit will be postponed until it is safe. This may impact on the ability to determine affected applications.
Planning and Highways Committee
Most planning applications are determined by Officers under delegated powers. However, some applications are called in by the Chair and Vice-Chair of the Planning and Highways Committee to be determined by elected Members.
The Planning and Highways Committee normally meets in person. However, due to the restrictions imposed by government, in-person meetings are not currently possible. Council meetings are subject to statutory requirements and these initially prevented meetings taking place if they were not in-person.
However, pursuant to powers granted by Section 78 of the Coronavirus Act 2020, the Secretary of State has made
Regulations allowing for virtual meetings.
Following the adoption of these Regulations, the first virtual meeting of the Planning and Highways Committee took place on the 11th June 2020. This meeting was made available for viewing on the Council's website. It is anticipated that the Committee will continue to meet virtually until further notice. Where an application is due to go to Committee, interested parties will be contacted with details of the arrangements.
Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL)
Given the current Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, the Council has reviewed its instalment policy for CIL. The Council recognises the pandemic's significant economic impact, and the disruption of activity across the construction sector. It was considered appropriate to amend the instalment policy to extend the period of time before instalments become due.
The latest Instalment Policy is available to
view on our website.
However, due to the Regulations which govern the CIL process, it is only possible to apply the extended payment periods to chargeable developments with a commencement date on or after the day on which the new instalment policy took effect (20th April 2020). For chargeable developments which commenced before this date, the instalment policy is that shown on the Demand Notice and cannot be changed. While the Council will consider flexibility in applying late payment surcharges, it must apply late payment interest. Missing an instalment also results in the remaining CIL liability becoming due in full for immediate payment.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has
announced its intention to review the CIL Regulations in order to provide greater flexibility due to the current pandemic. However, MHCLG is yet to publish the proposed amendments and any changes to the CIL Regulations are likely to require parliamentary approval. For now, the Council must apply the Regulations as written and cannot provide any further flexibility without statutory changes.
Extension to construction working hours
In May, the Government announced that temporary extensions of construction working hours would be supported as part of wider efforts to restart the housing market, and to enable social distancing on construction sites. The Government expects local planning authorities to approve requests to extend construction working hours temporarily until 9pm, Monday to Saturday, unless there are very compelling reasons against this.
The Business and Planning Act 2020 has now introduced a new fast track application process for temporary extensions to construction working hours. If such an application is approved, it will permit a temporary extension to construction working hours to no later than the 1st April 2021.
Applications cannot currently be made via the Planning Portal and you are asked to email any applications to email@example.com. This should be clearly marked as an application to extend construction working hours.
In line with the Government Guidance, applicants will need to provide details of:
- the planning permission to which the application relates
- the existing agreed construction working hours
- details to identify the condition or approved document such as construction management plan which details the working hours
- the proposed revised construction working hours
- the date the revised construction working hours should take effect
- the date on which the application is sent
- the date on which the revised construction working hours should cease to have effect (no later than 1st April 2021)
To aid swift decision making, applicants should also provide:
- a short justification on why extended hours are necessary to enable safe working practices on site
- a list of the primary construction activities, expected to take place during the extended working hours, including plant and equipment to be used
- a proportionate assessment (where relevant) of the likely impact of noise upon sensitive uses near to the site (e.g. dwellings, hospitals and, care homes)
- details of their mitigation plan as set out below.
If the working times at your site are not subject to a planning condition then Environmental Health can restrict hours of work if necessary. The Government guidance on working hours will be taken into account when any complaint is being considered but contractors are advised that noise should be minimised in accordance with best practice.
Expiring Planning Permissions
The Council fully appreciates that the current Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic is having a significant impact on the construction industry and the wider economy. We know that this means that it is not currently possible for many developments to proceed – and that the pandemic's impact on finances may introduce further delays even once the situation begins to improve.
While the Planning department is willing to take a flexible approach wherever possible, we are still required to act in accordance with the legal requirements on planning matters.
Normally, the relevant planning legislation establishes that it is not possible to extend the time limit attached to a planning approval. Therefore, if the development has not lawfully commenced within the relevant time (as set out in the Decision Notice granting planning permission), then the planning permission will expire. Once a permission has expired, it cannot be lawfully implemented and you will need to make a new planning application which will need to be accompanied by the relevant fee.
However, the Government has made statutory changes (through the Business and Planning Act 2020) to provide for an extension of the time limit where the pandemic has prevented works from commencing. In some cases, an automatic extension of the time limit is granted by the terms of the legislation. In other cases, however, an application for Additional Environmental Approval is required. This depends on the type of planning permission and the date on which the permission expires.
Additional Environmental Approval can be refused and in such cases the time limit for lawfully commencing the permission will not be extended. More information can be found in the Government Guidance.
Applications for Additional Environmental Approval cannot be made via the Planning Portal and you are asked to complete this form and email this to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please provide all the requested information (including any supporting documentation) and clearly mark your email as an application for Additional Environmental Approval.
If a planning permission has been lawfully commenced within the relevant time limit, then this permission remains valid even if the development has not been completed. The question of whether a permission has been lawfully commenced involves a number of considerations and must be assessed on a case-by-case basis. As a general rule, for a permission to have been lawfully commenced, a material operation must have been undertaken in connection with the approved development and within the relevant time limit. (Material operation takes the meaning set out in Section 56(4) of The Town and Country Planning Act 1990, as amended).
Before commencing, you should ensure that all pre-commencement conditions have been discharged. This requires a formal application to the Council and you should ensure sufficient time between submitting an application to discharge conditions and the expiry date of your permission.
If you want the Council to confirm that a permission has been lawfully commenced, then it will be necessary to apply for a Lawful Development Certificate. The grant of Additional Environmental Approval does not constitute confirmation that a permission has been lawfully implemented.