With many garden centres having closed their doors for the foreseeable future due to the COVID-19 pandemic, owners have expressed concerns regarding potential delays within the planning process which could further impact on their business.
Planning specialists at Malcolm Scott Consultants have offered reassurance to clients that local authorities are aiming to operate on a ‘business as usual’ basis as far as possible to ensure that applications are processed as efficiently as possible.
The business reported that garden centre operators keen to weather the storm and focus on the future had raised concerns that proposals to invest in and improve their offerings in 2020-21 would fall by the wayside to the further detriment of their centres, with Tracy Hubbard keen to alleviate the fears.
Tracy said: “Most planning applications can be submitted online through the Planning Portal, as opposed to paper copies being sent by post; thereby reducing any delays in them being received by the local planning authority should Royal Mail experience staff shortages.
“As with many businesses, most Local Authority officers are now home-based, with applications and representations being assessed remotely. While it is not yet clear what arrangements will be made for site visits, it is likely liaison will take place prior to a visit to ensure social distancing can be implemented.
“For the majority of cases a case officer would not need to enter buildings, and with most garden centres currently closed and presumably secured, those cases that do require access will be easy enough to facilitate by arranging for gates to be unlocked in readiness for such a visit,” she said.
Tracy explained that while many decisions are now made by officers under delegated powers without the need for committee consideration, major or controversial applications will still need to be considered by a planning committee.
She said: “While previously, statute required Councillors to be physically present at committee, the Coronarvirus Act 2020 makes provisions for “persons to attend, speak at, vote in, or otherwise participate in, local authority meetings without all of the persons, or without any of the persons, being together in the same place” at all meetings taking place before May 7th, so authorities have as seamless a process in possible as place to ensure minimal disruption to procedure.
“Realistically, we have to anticipate that the pandemic will result in some delay in the determination of applications, but we hope these delays will not be significant and that businesses can move forward with their proposals as soon as possible,” she added.