Planning Process – Staying Ahead

Smart Pads Real Estate are seeing a mixed picture, with many local authorities quick to adapt by keeping Planning Committees and other work moving forward. The Team at Smart Pads see the digitalisation of aspects of the planning process is helping Officers deal with the current situation, but much improved communications technology still needs to be available to local authorities so they can work more efficiently remotely. There are also other considerations which link to the physical aspects of planning, including consultation letter drops and signatures on legal documents, which of course need to be reviewed.

Considerations should include:

Digitisation and a paperless authority 

Not all Local Authorities have gone paperless, but many have. Staff often have small laptops intended to support hot desking, using additional display screens in the office, so being able to carry out scaling off plans while working from home can prove challenging.

Communications technology 

There are very few working days when Planning Consultants and others on the private sector side of development don’t have a teleconference or phone consultation. This compared with the public sector where generally there are very few days this happens. Whilst most of us in the private sector have access to tools like MS Teams and Zoom, there are Local Authorities we are working with are having difficulty in getting accounts authorised for such online platforms. This is largely to do with funds having to be diverted to more urgent matter including human services. Smart Pads are providing support to many clients and public sector stakeholders by, arranging virtual meetings that staff can dial into without the tech being loaded onto their system. It is vital that organisations learn from this experience and ensure that robust business continuity plans are put in place to include communications.


Public consultation documents required by a local planning authority on applications need to be printed and issued to people living in the area around a potential development site . If staff are not permitted to go to the office, it is very difficult to print and frank post remotely. Considerations should be given to partnering with local printing companies to ensure that consultation letters are being issued, this ensures statutory compliance and means that the consultation process can continue without delays.

Third party Consultation 

Together with public consultation and printing, Local Authority Staff rely on the input of their colleagues (Highways, Communities, design, policy, transport etc) when considering a planning application. The staff are therefore reliant on their ability to review projects electronically, including scaling off plans where some will have relied on physical application documents previously. The same is true of statutory consultees and the extent of their access to receive and access applications electronically.

Legal agreements

The progression of Section 106 discussions during this time would provide some way of ensuring applications are closer to determination where delays become inevitable. However for those schemes that are at a later stage of determination, the need for a wet signature on legal agreements is another area of difficulty that needs to be overcome by digitalisation.

Alongside temporary relaxation to operating and delivery hours the government has issued amendments through the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) Order 2020 allowing notice to be given to local authorities where restaurants and bars intend to operate a take-away and/or delivery service; these provisions will be enforced for one year.

Whilst challenges don’t just lie with the Local Authorities, we are working with Stakeholders to deliver creative approaches. Smart Pads have been keeping in touch on a regular basis, taking advantage of MS Teams and Zoom, and staying in regular contact with our clients. We are responding to the current challenges and will continue to track central, regional and local government decision making to assist our clients and minimise the impact in these unprecedented times.

Stay safe and we look forward to working with you soon.

Ummar Hanif BA CIHCM