Councils want to work with the Government to develop post COVID-19 recovery options. The economic, social and environmental recovery our communities need will look different in different areas of the country and only a locally coordinated response will be effective.
- Local government’s delivery of important public services during the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the value of place-based leadership. It has demonstrated how national polices are best achieved with local flexibilities and councils as democratically elected leaders should be free to shape priorities locally as they work best in their communities.
- Councils want to work with the Government to develop post COVID-19 recovery options. The economic, social and environmental recovery our communities need will look different in different areas of the country and only a locally coordinated response will be effective. As the economy is being re-opened, businesses that were forced to close have looked to local government for guidance and support about how they can reopen safely.
- The Business and Planning Bill is a positive step in the journey towards economic recovery, supporting the reopening of hospitality businesses as well as setting out measures to boost construction.
- Councils have already been working hard on measures that can be put in place to help hospitality businesses to reopen, including relaxing requirements and considering how town centres can be used differently to enable businesses to operate outside. The Bill will help ensure a consistent approach can be taken across the country.
- Councils need to have the power to both refuse applications where these cannot be managed safely and to act if any issues arise following the re-opening of premises. The full responsibility, and cost, for making this policy work successfully does not sit with local authorities alone. With the initial burden falling on them it is crucial that councils are supported financially to meet the costs of processing an expected large number of applications in a short period of time.
- It is also important that local government and businesses are supported by clear and comprehensive guidance from national government as councils will need to process a potentially large number of applications in a short period of time.
- It is right that the proposed licensing measures in the Bill are only temporary. In the long term there needs to be a comprehensive review our outdated licensing legislation to ensure it is fit for the future. We have long called for this review and want to work with the Government on this vital programme once the proposed relaxations in this legislation have ended.
- The Bill is clear that an expedited review process may require a licensing hearing to be held. Since March 2020, licensing hearings, in common with other council meetings, have been held virtually. With Parliamentary business now being conducted in Westminster, and licensed premises themselves reopening, it is the right time for council meetings to take place in person or in hybrid form if councils wish and where social distancing can be maintained. As there is some legal uncertainty about whether the regulations preclude this, the Government could helpfully use the passage of this legislation to confirm that councils can return to meeting in person, should they wish to do so.
- Councils have already been working with the development industry to get developments moving again as safely as is possible. The temporary measures set out in the Bill to help encourage the construction and building industry to resume its work are therefore timely. This industry will have an important role to play in the economic recovery, providing jobs, infrastructure and new investment to our communities.
- We are pleased that the Government has listened to calls to extend planning permission deadlines, so that permissions due to expire by 31 December 2020 and those that have expired since 23 March will be automatically extended to 1 April 2021. This is something the LGA has called for and will prevent councils and developers from having to begin the planning process all over again.
- Flexibility on construction site working hours needs to be negotiated on a site by site basis with councils so that they can consider the impact on local residents. This is particularly important at a time when many residents will be at home all day, and are required to work from home, due to the current lockdown measures.
- It will also be important that councils can recover the costs of processing applications through the new deemed consent route and applications for additional environmental approval and therefore should be able to charge an appropriate fee.
- As we look to the future, a genuine renaissance in council house-building which delivers 100,000 social homes a year should be a central part of the national recovery. It is important that councils are given the powers and tools to build more of the affordable homes the country needs, with the right infrastructure, that reduces homelessness, supports people’s wellbeing and is climate-friendly.