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Planning and building control services

Planning service during the COVID-19 crisis

With COVID-19 radically altering all our lives at the moment, the council is committed to maintaining the planning process as best it can whilst protecting the health of those using and operating the service.

All council planning staff, following government advice, are currently working from home. When we emerge from the current conditions our intention is to enable the council to get back to delivering homes and jobs to our residents and restart our economy as quickly as we can. With this in mind we will be operating our planning service over the coming months as follows;

Pre-Planning Application Advice Service

We'll continue to offer and operate our paid pre-application service. This will continue to be booked online and will be allocated a case officer as before. All conversations will all be conducted ‘virtually’ by officers working from home. Users of the service are encouraged to submit as much information as they can when they book. This will help get the most out of the subsequent online virtual meetings. Meetings can be conducted on MS Teams. Site visits, if needed, will be done virtually.

Planning Performance Agreements (PPAs) can be entered into on the same basis

Where the council’s pre-application and PPA process has already been engaged with, and initial meetings already held, future meetings will also proceed on the basis outlined above.

We will continue to ensure that case officers, senior officers and design and other specialist officers attend meetings as appropriate to ensure our high level of professional service is maintained.

We will continue to provide written advice as before, following meetings. On the submission of requests for pre-applications, we may contact applicants before our virtual meetings to ask for points of clarification or additional information to ensure we get the most out of the subsequent meetings.

Planning Applications

These can continue to be submitted on our planning portal. We will undertake the necessary public consultation but, given the circumstances, we will be extending the minimum consultation period to 28 days, rather than 21. This will give people more time to initially consider and, if needed, comment on proposals. We feel this is important so the wider community don’t feel they are being in any way excluded from the planning process due to the circumstances we all currently face.

Site visits will need to be conducted virtually. Details can be agreed to suit specific cases, for instance an occupier or agent could film the site and our case officer could request this covers specific areas/views. This would also apply to applications for listed building consent, particularly for interior works. Meetings with third parties, objectors and supporters will be conducted in the same way.

In light of the public health emergency, COVID-19, all of our planning case officers are following government guidelines to work from home.

Whilst we are working hard to ensure that all cases are delivered on time, it can be difficult to discern changes for small-scale householder alterations without the usual desktop setup of two screens.

In order to help case officers deliver a fast-track service for small-scale residential applications (including householder, minor, non-material, and minor material applications), you are advised to provide drawings showing comparative existing and proposed plans and elevations on one sheet.

Decision Making

Decision taking on straightforward and uncontentious schemes will continue be through the scheme of delegation.

More complex and contentious schemes will continue to be dealt with through planning committee and planning sub committee, which currently takes place virtually with meeting information available on the relevant webpages. The more contentious the scheme the more challenging ensuring all parties get a fair hearing is likely to be. We need to ensure that the decision making process continues to be transparent, open to public scrutiny and taken on a sound legal footing.

Decisions in respect of Approval of Details (AODs) are continuing to be determined as before.

S106 Legal Agreements

S106 legal agreements will similarly be negotiated virtually between the applicant�s legal team and the council. Current, live S106 negotiations are already proceeding on this basis. We are exploring ways in which we can ensure S106 agreements are sealed and issued by the council, despite the limited access to the council’s offices.

Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) and S106 Payments

As yet the government has issued no advice on CIL or S106 payment deferrals. Given the exceptional current circumstances the council will consider written requests for deferrals of payment of both CIL and S106 on a case by case basis.

Planning Enforcement

The council's enforcement service continues to operate. We will continue to investigate potential breaches in planning control. The current emergency will be taken into account when deciding whether it is expedient to take enforcement action.

Planning Policy

We are continuing to prepare the New Southwark Plan (NSP) for Examination in Public (EIP) and the Old Kent Road Area Action Plan for Submission. The Statement of Community Involvement consultation for the NSP has been extended for three months. We are also preparing the Affordable Housing, Affordable Business and Viability Supplementary Planning Documents. We are continuing to prepare new policy for the Climate Emergency and we are progressing our digital Innovation projects to increase accessibility to the planning application process, particularly for residents.

As you will appreciate these are challenging times for us all, and inevitably it will take some time to navigate through the disruption caused. But the council would like to assure you that it will be doing everything it can to ensure it continues to offer the highest quality planning service to the residents and businesses of Southwark.

Page last updated: 01 April 2021

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