The Council's Planning Response to Covid-19

In response to the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic a temporary range of measures have been introduced to assist in the operation of the city's planning function.  For example, a temporary revised scheme of  delegation has been introduced. This can be viewed here (pdf)  and here (pdf).

The Planning Service relies on a number of prepared letters, emails and other notifications. Given the speed of change it has not been possible to update these documents and they may refer to ways of working which have been temporary suspended or changed. The keys changes in our working practices are captured in these FAQs.

General operational information

Is the Planning Service still operating?

Yes. We are trying hard to keep the Planning Service operating effectively in the face of unprecedented challenges. We are continuing to respond and bring forward different ways of working as quickly as possible as the situation changes. Please bear with us whilst we put plans in place, we will continue to update the website as often as we can. More details on our actions so far is in our Planning response to Covid document.

Will officers continue to be contactable?

We are following the government advice and our officers are working remotely from their homes. There will be no planning presence in offices. Most officers are enabled for home working and are therefore contactable from home via email. Not all officers are equipped with mobile phones but you can contact officers by individual email address or via planning.control@newcastle.gov.uk. Please be mindful that many officers are balancing work with caring responsibilities.

Are the council offices still open to the public?

No. Our offices are closed to the public to ensure the safety of our staff and our residents.

Are you determining planning applications? Are officers still undertaking site visits?

Yes. We have been focusing on determining applications where we have already visited the site. Not all applications will require a site visit as we may have sufficient knowledge or can access information on our systems to allow us to properly consider the proposal. However we are now starting to do essential site visits on a case-by-case risk assessed basis and where all options to assess it virtually have been exhausted. We will not delay our decision-making unnecessarily. In the event that a site visit is necessary but we cannot visit the site, we will work with the applicant to agree a suitable extension of time for the application and to explore other means whereby we can gain an understanding of the site and the proposal. For pre-application enquiries, we will offer either the desktop option, or where a visit is requested it will be an unaccompanied visit and a virtual meeting or telephone call.

Will my application take longer?

It is likely that there will be some delays as we are working under very different circumstances. Please bear with us while we introduce new processes for validating and determining applications as we are working remotely with limited travel. Furthermore, despite our best efforts to keep our staff safe and working at home, there is a risk that we might experience increased levels of sickness. Therefore we will be asking applicants and agents for extensions of time on applications where necessary.

I’ve received a letter from  Planning department that says I can visit a Council office/library send my comments by letter. Is that right?

No, not at present. The Planning Service relies on a number of prepared letters, emails and other notifications. It has not been possible to update all of our standard documents and they may refer to ways of working which have been temporary suspended or changed. The key changes in our working practices are captured in these FAQs.

Submission/validation

Can I still submit a planning application in hard copy?

No, we apologise but we are unable to accept hard copy applications at this time because we have no way of collecting incoming mail for the time being. If you have posted a hard copy application to us from 23 March onwards you may wish to consider emailing planning.control@newcastle.gov.uk direct to ensure that we have received your written submission. All hard copies posted since the above date will be on hold. You may wish to consider resubmitting online via the Planning Portal. 

I am an agent who usually receives hard copy correspondence. Will this continue?

To reduce risks to our customers and staff we need to process electronically as much as possible. If you have submitted an application a Validation Officer may contact you and request an email address to use on a temporary basis. If you are an agent who doesn’t usually accept email but can on a temporary basis, please get in touch by emailing planning.control@newcastle.gov.uk.

I am an agent working from home and not sure when I will be returning to the office. Can my contact details be amended on your system to send correspondence to my home address?

Yes, we can update our records. Therefore if you plan to continue to work from home, please contact planning.control@newcastle.gov.uk and the system will be updated. This will ensure all correspondence will be sent to the new address until directed otherwise.

What happens if I need to submit additional/revised information?

We understand that it may take longer for our applicants/agents to provide additional/revised information. Therefore until further notice we will cease returning applications after the 21 days if information requested is not received. Additional/revised information should be emailed to planning.control@newcastle.gov.uk.  Applications can also be amended via the Planning Portal, however please notify us by emailing planning.control@newcastle.gov.uk

How can I pay for my planning application?

If you have submitted your planning application via the Planning Portal please arrange to pay the Planning Portal direct. If you submit by email to newcastle city council payments for planning applications should be made online via the Council’s website and other fees can also be paid over the phone, more details here .  If  you pay your planning application fee by phone, please email planning.control@newcsatle.gov.uk to advise that you have paid to help reduce delays.

How should I submit an Environmental Statement? How can this be viewed?

Government Environmental Impact Assessment guidance does not require this to be submitted in hard copy.  They need to be submitted electronically so it will be available on the Council’s website in the usual way.  The guidance states that applicants should also make copies of the Environmental Statement available to the public.  Either free of charge or at a reasonable cost reflecting printing and distribution costs, which is not part of the Council’s procedures.  Interested parties may wish to check the online planning register for details and contact the applicant or agent direct to arrange.  We recognise that EIA applications can contain a large number of documents which may be difficult to share electronically.  If you are submitting an EIA application please contact planning.control@newcastle.gov.uk for advice on how best to proceed.

I have a question about the validation process. Who do I contact?

If you have a question regarding a specific application that has been submitted, please contact the validation officer listed on correspondence you may have received. If you have a general question about the submission and validation process, then please contact planning.control@newcastle.gov.uk.

 

Pre-applications and other services

Are you still providing pre-application advice

We will continue to provide advice via the ‘Do I need Planning Permission’ service (with the exception of hard copy submissions which we are unable to accept at this time). With regards to pre-application advice, at the present time we are able to provide either a desktop only service or, where a visit is requested, it will be an unaccompanied visit and a virtual meeting or telephone call (charged as a pre-app with accompanying site visit).

Can I still get hard copies of information and documents from the Planning service?

The additional services for providing hard copies of plans, documents, any planning application forms and the report a breach of planning form is currently suspended. If the matter is urgent please contact planning.control@newcastle.gov.uk

Can I still get planning history information and other discretionary services?

Yes but we will only be able to provide discretionary services which can be completed electronically or where we can gain access to manual records. This includes history searches as we have limited access to microfiche or other non-electronic records at this time. Any requests received which cannot be dealt with in full will be put on hold and completed as soon as possible.

 

Commenting on a planning application

I am self-isolating and want to comment on a planning application but have no access to email or the internet. How can I comment as I can’t go out to post a letter?

The best way to send us your comments is to ask a relative or friend to email them to planning.control@newcastle.gov.uk or to submit them via the online planning register. Planning officers take issues into account (as long as they are material planning considerations) regardless of the sender. If you are unable to arrange for someone to submit comments electronically on your behalf then please contact our Customer Relations team.

Can I send my comments on a planning application by post?

We encourage you to submit your comments electronically. If you have posted hard copy comments to us since 23 March onwards you may wish to email planning.control@newcastle.gov.uk direct to ensure that we have received your written comments (please mark “possible duplicate?” in the subject line and we will check). There is a risk that any hard copy letters posted since the above date might not be taken into account because we have no way of collecting incoming hard copy mail at present.

If you cannot submit comments online, then please send by post to Development Management, 9th Floor, Civic Centre, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 8QH.

How will I know about a planning proposal that may affect me?

Planning applications etc will be available on the online Planning Register and advertised in the local press in the normal way. We have also arranged for the displaying of  Site Notice were required.  We will continue to send neighbour notifications to residents abutting a site. The minimum publicity as set out in Planning legislation only requires either a Site Notice or a neighbour notification for most types of applications.

For high-profile major applications, you can check this list of all new Major Developments which have been submitted, updated every week with a direct link to the public record.

 

Decision making, Planning committees and other meetings

Are all Major planning application still being considered at Planning Committee?

No, In response to the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic a temporary range of measures have been introduced to assist in the operation of the city's planning function.  For example, a temporary revised scheme of delegation has been introduced.

Will Planning Committees take place?

Yes, but we are not currently able to operate planning committees in person. Virtual planning committees are now being held. We do need to ensure that the length of these meetings are manageable and in order to do so the meetings are limited to approximately 3 hours. This will inevitably have an impact on the number of planning applications that are able to be considered at a virtual planning committee meeting. Therefore the emergency decision-making protocol will continue alongside the formal virtual committees. This will help to manage the length of the agendas whilst ensuring that applications continue to be fully scrutinised through engagement with the Chair and Vice Chairs of Planning Committee. 

Can you hold virtual planning committees?

The Government has introduced regulations to allow committee meetings to be held remotely so that the planning process should continue to operate effectively and the move to digital events is critical. With virtual meetings now in operation which provide the same level of scrutiny there is no reason to delay the determination of any application until meetings in person resume.

We will try and limit the number of items on a particular agenda so that the virtual planning committees do not extend beyond 3 hours and so agendas will be smaller than previous face-to-face committee meetings. Continuing the Emergency Planning Procedure alongside the formal virtual committees will help manage the length of the agendas whilst ensuring that applications continue to be fully scrutinised through engagement with the Chair and Vice Chairs of the planning committee.

Can  I register to speak at a virtual Planning Committee?

Due to the limitations on public access to virtual technology, public speaking from the public or ward members is not catered for at the Councils virtual meetings. However, ward members are notified of the virtual committee reports and comments are invited in all cases. Objectors, supporters and ward members are permitted to submit a representation to the virtual committee meeting which will be read out by the presenting officer. This offers a good degree of transparency in the current circumstances.

Is there any restrictions on the length or number of representations that can be submitted for consideration at a virtual committee?

Any written submission should be one side of A4 (font 12) and this will be read out by the presenting officer. All submissions should be received 3 full working days before the meeting. If there is more than one submission from residents or resident groups then the Chair will use their discretion on whether more than one submission per group can be permitted.

How do I view a virtual Planning Committee?

The links to live Planning Committees are found on our webcasts page. https://www.youtube.com/user/NewcastleCCUK

Are face-to-face meetings cancelled for now and if so is there the option to arrange conference calls/video links?

All face-to-face meetings are cancelled. Officers can arrange meetings by Skype, Microsoft Teams or by telephone.

Are you able to hold meetings using Microsoft Teams or Skype Business, eg for pre-app discussions?

Yes, we can use Skype and Microsoft Teams. Video Apps on phones could also be used eg WhatsApp. However, iPhone Facetime is currently unavailable.

 

Renewals and prior notifications

Will my Prior Notification request still be determined within the relevant timescales?

The Government has recognised that there may be circumstances where a Local Planning Authority is unable to consider permitted development prior approval within the deemed consent period. We will continue to prioritise these requests but there may be exceptional circumstances where we will seek to agree an extended approval date with the applicant. The Government have indicated ‘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’.

What can I do if my planning permission is about to elapse?

Most applications have a condition which sets out when permission must start. There is generally no requirement controlling when the development must be completed so once you have started work the permission will not lapse. If you are unable to start work and need to submit a new planning application, the existence of an extant planning permission means that this will be a material consideration when assessing your new application, which may make the process of obtaining a new approval simpler. If you intend to commence development within the original time limit, please make sure that any pre-commencement conditions on the permission have been discharged.

Has my planning consent expiry date been extended?

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has announced a measure to enable development which has already been granted planning permission or listed building consent which would lapse between 23 March and 31 December 2020 to be extended until 1 April 2021.

This is to prevent work that has been temporarily disrupted by the pandemic from stopping altogether. Planning permissions which have already lapsed before the provisions come into force will be subject to an Additional Environmental Approval process before the automatic extension can take effect. Further updates will follow once the approval process has been clarified by the Government.

How can I commence development so my planning permission doesn’t elapse?

Works would include:
a) any work of construction in the course of erection of a building;
b) any work of demolition of the building;
c) the digging of a trench which is to contain the foundations, or part of the foundations of any building;
d) the laying of any underground main pipe to the foundations or part of the foundations of a building;
e) any operation in the course of laying out or constructing a road or part of a road;
f) any change in the use of the land which constitutes material development.
However this is a complex area of law which cannot be easily or completely summarised in this FAQ.  A useful judgement concluded that “….planning permissions with only a meagre part implemented were hardy beasts with a great capacity for survival. All that is required is that the works must comprise part of the development authorised by the planning permission and be more than de minimis”.
The commencement of development can only be confirmed by submitting a Certificate of Lawfulness.  However we also offer an informal response from a case officer on what constitutes a material start, ie how much work needs to be carried out before submitting the certificate?  A fee is charged for the service as detailed in our current Fees and Charges Document.

 

Enforcement

Are you undertaking Planning enforcement?

Yes, but we may not be fully investigating matters where significant harm cannot be demonstrated. There is new legislation to allow certain temporary changes of use such as take-aways; construction sites are allowed to request to extend their working hours. We will also take a pragmatic approach to some developments which are undertaken purely to cope with the impact of COVID-19, such as new outside temporary furniture. The Local Planning Authority will tolerate and not take any enforcement action for 2020, in respect of any business in a Town Centre who wishes to place outside temporary furniture adjoining their premises without planning permission, providing there are no public safety implications. This is to allow businesses to re-open safely and provide additional space to enable customers to exercise any social distancing requirements as well as supporting businesses through this difficult economic period. We will inform you of our intended course of action when looking into your complaint.

A building site near me is now operating late in the evening.  Is this allowed?

Yes, if the developer has made a request to the Council.  The Government published a written ministerial statement on 13 May 2020 about planning and construction working hours. It expects local planning authorities to approve requests to extend construction working hours to 9pm Monday – Saturday for a temporary period until May 2021.   The City Council are already receiving these requests from developers.

 

Developer contributions – S106s and Community Infrastructure Levy

Do I still need to make my CIL payments?

Yes, we will be continuing to process CIL matters and issuing Liability Notices as development is granted permission.  Payment of CIL is triggered by commencement of development, so if development commences, CIL becomes payable.  A new Instalment Policy came into effect from 1 April 2020, which delays initial payment by six months and then allows six months in between payments.  Any development which commences whilst this Instalment Policy is in place, will have those payment terms applied and set out in the Demand Notice.  If you have any queries about making payments, please contact the Infrastructure Team at cil@newcastle.gov.uk

Do I still need to make my s106 payments?

Yes, we will be continuing to issue Demand Notices when we are advised or become aware that a s106 payment has been triggered.  We are currently issuing Demand Notices with three-month payment terms, instead of the usual 30 days, in order to help development cashflows during this difficult time.  If you have any queries about making payments, please contact cil@newcastle.gov.uk as soon as possible.

What should I do if I am worried about my ability to deliver my s106 requirements?

If the financial viability of your development has been significantly adversely affected by the Covid-19 outbreak, and you are concerned that you will no longer be able to meet some or all of the requirements set out in your s106 legal agreement, please contact the planning case officer who dealt with your application. 

 

Public consultations

Are public consultations still going ahead?

Most public consultations are postponed at present. Our Statement of Community Involvement contains information on how we will be engaging with the community at the current time.

 

Recovery – opportunities and process changes

I need more outside space for my business to comply with social distancing requirements. Do I need planning permission?

Planning permission is usually required for businesses to put tables, chairs and other temporary furniture outside their boundary. We will not ask for a planning application for these works or enforce where there is no consent in 2020, as long as there are no public safety implications and the works are temporary and adjoining the business. This is part of our recovery strategy to enable businesses to re-open safely.  We trust that businesses will do this together, and consider impacts on neighbours. 

How do I apply to extend working hours on a construction site?

Following the Government’s draft guidance on construction site hours deemed consent, applicants will need to provide details of:
• the relevant planning permission
• existing agreed construction working hours
• the condition or approved document such as construction management plan which details the working hours
• proposed revised construction working hours
• the date the revised construction working hours would start
• the date when the application is sent
• the date on which the revised construction working hours will stop (no later than 1 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
• details of their mitigation plan
Applications can only be made online.  Please send your request to extend site working hours to planning.control@newcastle.gov.uk and mark as ‘Extension of working hours request at (site location) urgent’ in subject line.

 

Other general information

Where can I get the Council’s most up-to-date information on Coronavirus/Covid-19?

http://www.newcastle.gov.uk/coronavirus

 

 

In addition, temporary legislation has been introduced to assist business during the  recovery period, for example, by granting temporary permitted development rights for a range of developments that would normally require planning permission. Further guidance on these and other measures introduced to make it easier to operate the planning system at this time  is available on the Government 's Coronavirus (COVID-19) Planning update webpage here : https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-planning-update
 

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