Councils must wait for secondary regulations

The Houses of Parliament

The Houses of Parliament

The goal of legalising virtual planning committees is still one step away despite measures contained in the government’s emergency Coronavirus Act which was due to become law today.

It means councils won’t be able to hold remote video meetings immediately because they need to wait for the government to publish secondary regulation.

Planning barrister Christopher Young QC said he expected this could happen as early as the end of the week, or early next.

Architects have identified keeping the planning system going as one of the key issues facing the profession and the wider economy, ensuring that applications don’t get stuck in a huge backlog.

The Coronavirus Bill was speeding through the House of Lords last night before Parliament was set to pack up for its extended Easter recess as a result of social distancing rules.

Its section 78 contains provisions for council meetings, including those of local planning authorities, to be held remotely and without councillors physically present in the same place.

But, as is standard in the UK, the primary legislation simply states that the actual regulations will be drawn up by the “relevant national authority” – in England’s case that is Parliament.

>> Also read: Councils told to use delegated powers and digital ingenuity to keep planning system going


Young, from No5 Chambers, said he was satisfied the new act provided the necessary legislative framework to allow council meetings to go ahead remotely, without anyone being present at the council.

Christopher Young QC-7734-WEB

Christopher Young QC

But he added: “In common with most legislation, the legislation does not actually complete the task of allowing this to happen. Instead, what it does is set a statutory basis and framework for allowing various things to happen in relation to council meetings.

“Critically, section 78 empowers the secretary of state to bring in regulations on how such meetings can be conducted. This is standard practice and provides the government with greater agility to introduce regulations and then change them at any stage, without needing to take the matter back to Parliament.

“Given the urgency here, I would fully anticipate that we will see the relevant regulations being issued by the secretary of state on Friday or early next week.”

The new rules are expected to allow virtual public attendance and the ability for them to make brief statements, although this might vary between councils.

At the same time local authorities will be looking at their constitutions to see if more minor decisions can be taken on a delegated basis.

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