What will the Planning World look like Post-Pandemic? (Part 2)

26th May 2020

Bell Cornwell have been considering how the Covid-19 pandemic will affect planning practice. In Part 1 we looked at the integral worlds of planning and politics, and how they won’t be able to evolve procedurally at this time or in the future without each other (read part 1 here).

Emergency powers for local authorities and health authorities have been introduced to enable works such as setting up NHS Nightingale field hospitals (read more here), and we have also seen regulations for temporary changes of use to enable cafes and restaurants to operate as a takeaway business (read more here).

What impact could we see in the longer term on planning policy and planning regulations due to the implications of Covid-19?

As so many people are required to work from home, the value of adequate amenity space, with its associated positive contribution to mental and physical well-being has been noticed. We could see Government policy changes in relation to standards for private amenity space and access to public open space, thinking particularly about the permitted development change of use from office to residential where no private amenity space is explicitly required to enable the change of use. Read more about members of the Bell Cornwell team who experience just this!

Furthermore, with many companies having been forced to adjust to their staff working from home, this may be a catalyst for more roles having increased flexibility going forward. As a result, not only will the demand for office floorspace change but there may be a need to take into account a space within new houses for home working, potentially increasing the minimum floorspace standards, although one might argue that current standards are sufficient to accommodate all uses. There was a previous craze for ‘live/work’ units, which seems to have fallen out of vogue, but could return with more merit. This new need could be casting doubt over the timescales for introducing the new regulations that we are expecting on upward extensions for residential use, due in summer 2020, where Parliament have so many other important and urgent issues to discuss at the moment.

There could be policy changes that might put greater emphasis on enhanced broadband facilities across the country to enable the change in working practices. There is much more localised pressure on broadband in predominantly residential areas, which has not been developed to the same level as city centres which can cope with large number of people working and using the internet at the same time for many different working practices. There are existing permitted development rights to enable telecommunication development, but this needs to be more proactive to actively promote enhanced facilities.

With the fallout from damage to the housing market and the losses developers have suffered, there could be a longer-term impact on the viability of affordable housing and delivering new homes. We expect there to be an increase in appeals against decisions where housing delivery has been raised as an issue, and potentially challenges against decisions with viability assessments on affordable housing. One way or the other this will cause a delay to the process of delivering new homes. Read more about the impact of the pandemic on housing delivery in our article ‘Double Crisis‘.

We read about the impact of coronavirus on people living in urban areas, where London has been significantly worse than other areas of the country. This correlates with increased number of patients with existing respiratory diseases. According to NHS England, notwithstanding the current pandemic, hospital admissions for lung disease increased over the last seven years at three times the rate of other admissions. The Greater London Authority (GLA) and London boroughs all have requirements for new developments to meet high standards of limiting new air pollution as well as requirements for limiting the impact of air pollution on residents of new developments. Both the current and emerging London Plan proposes that all new residential development meets a standard of being zero carbon; car clubs and car free development are commonplace; and the congestion zone has been in place now since 2003. But is it enough to curb the alarming impact on people’s health in urban areas? The pandemic has highlighted this problem further and we expect that in the future more dramatic policies on air pollution will be introduced to help limit respiratory problems.

These issues are constantly evolving, and there may be more questions than answers at the moment. However, we are aiming to keep you informed through our dedicated Covid-19 webpage. Contact one of the team today to discuss any aspect further.

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