Covid-19 guidance for developers - requests for construction hours revision

Purpose

The purpose of this guidance note is to explain how we will deal with requests to relax conditions on planning permissions that limit hours of work on construction sites, following a Written Ministerial Statement made by the Secretary of State for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Robert Jenrick MP).

Background

The Secretary of State for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government MP Robert Jenrick made a statement on 13 May 2020 about his intention to relax planning related conditions for construction operating times that may be restricted by conditions on planning permissions.

On Monday 11 May the Government made it clear that construction work can be undertaken across England providing sites are able to operate safely in line with the new Covid-19 Secure guidelines. A number of developers have already announced plans to restart work on sites.

The Government recognises that the construction industry needs to be able to adapt its normal practices. As part of this, temporary extensions to working hours may be required on some sites to facilitate safe working and allow tasks to be completed where social distancing can be challenging. Longer working hours may also be needed to help social distancing in the wider community, for instance by reducing pressure on public transport. It might be necessary to start work earlier in the day or work later in the evenings.

However, many construction sites in England are subject to controls which restrict their hours of operation. These controls include planning conditions, which might directly restrict working hours or which might restrict working hours through a Construction Environmental Management Plan (CEMP). These conditions may be necessary, for example, to make the development acceptable to local residents and businesses who might otherwise suffer from traffic, noise and other local amenity issues.

View the purpose of Robert Jenrick’s Written Ministerial Statement and subsequent guidance from Government on GOV.UK.

The changes are to be implemented with immediate effect. Local planning authorities are expected to take a swift and positive approach to requests from developers and site operators for greater flexibility around construction site working hours. This is to ensure that, where appropriate, planning conditions are not a barrier to allowing developers the flexibility necessary to facilitate the safe operation of construction sites during the response to the Covid-19 pandemic and to proceed at pace with work otherwise delayed.

The National Planning Policy Framework already emphasises that planning enforcement is a discretionary activity and local planning authorities should act proportionately in responding to suspected breaches of planning control. Our enforcement policy already reflects this approach.

Where only a short term or slight increase to working hours is required, the Government expects local planning authorities to consider the reason for the condition and to their legal obligations but not seek to undertake enforcement action unless it is absolutely necessary.

If you require longer term or more significant changes to working hours, you should contact us to get agreement on relaxations and where necessary temporarily amend a condition or a construction environmental management plan in the usual way. In doing so, it will be important for you to consider potential impacts and, where necessary, to put forward brief plans to manage concerns, drawing on existing good practice. In return, we should respond speedily and sympathetically and engage positively with applicants to find solutions.

We are expected to prioritise these written requests and applications and give early clarity on the acceptability of extended hours to developers. We should ensure that decisions are issued quickly and wherever possible provide a decision within 10 working days.

In allowing greater flexibility, the Government recognises the need to mitigate the impact that any temporary relaxation of working hours could have on local residents and businesses. Requests to extend working hours should be proportionate and should not involve working on Sundays, public or bank holidays.

Government guidance suggests that we should not refuse requests to extend working hours until 9pm, Monday to Saturday without very compelling reasons for rejection. In some cases, such as in areas without residential properties, extending working hours beyond this, including allowing 24 hour working where appropriate, may be justified. In all cases, sympathetic site management should be demonstrated to mitigate local impacts.

Lastly, the Government has said that any informal agreement between the local planning authority and developers or temporary changes to construction working hours conditions granted by local planning authorities should not extend beyond 1 May 2021.

How to request a relaxation to construction hours

To request a relaxation to working hours conditions please email the details to planning_enquiries@herefordshire.gov.uk

Your request should include the following:

  • The reference number of the planning permission issued by the local planning authority
  • The number of the condition the request relates to
  • The nature and extent of the relaxation being requested, including end date
  • Details of any additional mitigation measures that will be put in place if the request is agreed
  • The reason for the request considering the reasons the Secretary of State issued in his Ministerial Statement. You should clearly explain why the request is necessary to facilitate safe working, allow tasks to be completed where social distancing can be challenging and/or how coronavirus has impacted on the delivery of a site and therefore why the build-out rate needs now to be stepped up
  • The communication arrangements that will be put in place to ensure that there is an open dialogue between the developer/site manager and local residents and businesses including whether the developer is a member of the considerate constructor scheme or similar

When we receive your request we will allocate it to a planning officer for consideration and the case officer will consult the relevant local ward member(s), seeking their views within five working days. We will aim to provide a written response to the developer within 10 working days.

Will the council consult the public?

Due to the fact that we can withdraw any informal agreement if problems do arise and it is considered reasonable and necessary to do so, we will not consult the public on requests to relax working hours conditions that are being dealt with informally as opposed to by way of a s73 planning application. Also the Government expects local planning authorities to make decisions within 10 working days so it would be impractical to notify and consult the public. The delay this could cause may undermine the Government's purpose in issuing the Written Ministerial Statement and related guidance.

In most cases, requests for relaxations allowing for working on site later than 9pm will need to be dealt with as a formal planning application under s73 of the Town and Country Planning Act.

Where a request is for a short term relaxation (less than six months) and a very modest increase to working hours (including requests that do not involve start times earlier than 7am or finish times after 9pm) we will, where appropriate, deal with these by way of informal agreement by letter.

Where a request is approved, our letter will advise the following:

  • The informal agreement end date (this will not go beyond 13 May 2021)
  • That if the council receives complaints about extended working hours and the issues raised cannot be resolved quickly to our satisfaction, the informal agreement may be ended
  • If we intend to end any informal agreement, we will aim to give the developer at least 48 hours notice. Where informal agreement is withdrawn, we may take enforcement action against any future breaches of the condition(s)
  • The developer will be expected to communicate directly with local residents and/or businesses that might be affected by extended working hours to establish open lines of communication so that if any problems do arise, the developer can respond and resolve the issues quickly

Where a request for a relaxation to a working hours condition is declined, we will explain the reason(s) for this. In such cases, a developer may still choose to submit a s73 application.

If you have any questions about how we are dealing with requests please email planning_enquiries@herefordshire.gov.uk or your case officer.