Welcome to this week’s bumper edition of 39 Essex’s Planning, Environment and Property newsletter. It has been another fast-moving week, and while Covid-19 clearly presents the development industry with a host of unique challenges, it also appears to have galvanised many innovative and creative ways of ensuring that proposals and projects can still move forward. I note that the Scottish Government has introduced emergency legislation to allow planning permissions that would otherwise lapse during the coronavirus crisis to be extended by a year. Other similar developments appear likely as the sector seeks the tools to respond to the challenge of vacant building sites.
The same also applies with regards to a number of interesting procedural developments. A number immediately spring to mind. First, the passage of the Coronavirus Act 2020 into law, which – amongst a great many other things – empowers the Secretary of State to make regulations to include remote participation by Councillors and remote voting in relation to Committee meetings. Further to John Pugh-Smith’s article last week, it will be interesting to see how, and to what extent, different local authorities embrace this brave new world, which is a step beyond the webcasts that are already used by many authorities. Second, the extent to which local authorities will respond to the Chief Planning Officer’s call to make amendments to their constitutions to enable delegated decision-making in the short to medium terms. Third, how the Planning Inspectorate will utilise technological solutions to mitigate the impacts (and inevitable back-log) of its earlier announcement of the postponement of all local plan, appeal and NSIP hearings and inquiries until further notice. This is an issue discussed by Gethin Thomas in his summary of PEBA’s submissions to the Inspectorate on the same issues. Indeed, in many respects, the Inspectorate need not look too far for a model that has the potential to be adapted to meets it needs; namely, the courts and tribunals system, which has long embraced telephone hearings for interlocutory and case management matters and which is now attempting to embrace further technology as a means of ensuring that substantive hearings can take place, despite the parties and their representatives having to access justice remotely. There is clear potential for ‘shared learning’ in many respects, not least in terms of which platforms can enable multi-party hearings to be managed efficiently, along with document handling solutions. Stephanie David discusses her recent experiences with a remote judicial review hearing alongside Richard Harwood QC. Practicalities of broadband connections and the like aside, the clear priority must surely go beyond the mere facilitation of meetings, hearings and inquiries to avoid back-logs, but for them to take place effectively and, most crucially of all, in a manner that remains fair to all participants and stakeholders. Ensuring fair and informed access to information, documents, meetings and hearings will perhaps be our greatest challenge over the coming months.
Other contributions this week include an article on executing documents remotely co-authored by David Sawtell and Gethin Thomas, while Richard Wald QC and Tom van der Klugt look at the challenges faced by the regime controlling international trade in endangered species in the age of Covid-19. In a welcome break from Covid-19, James Burton’s article discusses the 2016-based household projections and transitional Local Plans.
In other news, Planning Magazine’s annual law survey has ranked a number of 39 Essex Chambers’ barristers highly. Richard Harwood OBE QC, Peter Village QC, Stephen Tromans QC, Thomas Hill QC, James Strachan QC and Andrew Tabachnik QC were ranked as top rated planning silks. Richard Wald, Philippa Jackson, Rose Grogan, Victoria Hutton, Jonathan Darby, Katherine Barnes and Gethin Thomas are ranked as top planning juniors. As ever, we remain indebted to our valued clients and colleagues for their recognition.
Today also sees the launch of our free “Quarantine Queries” initiative to assist solicitors, planning consultants, architects and surveyors who are now working in isolation. Our established team of silks, senior juniors and juniors will be available for a 15 minute timeslot throughout the day to take any legal query you may have, which is time we would ordinarily spend travelling to and from court hearings/planning inquiries. Should you have a COVID-19 related question or any planning, environmental or property query you would like to discuss, but do not have your colleague to ask at the coffee machine, please contact Michael Kaplan, Andy Poyser or Elliott Hurrell to book a slot with one of our experts.
Please read the full newsletter here.