25 June 2020
Government vows to ‘get Britain building’

On 22 June, the government published new measures to boost the construction industry and help workers return to sites safely, amid the UK’s most significant lockdown easing to date. The measures announced by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick, including the extension of planning permission deadlines, the acceleration of the planning appeal process and more flexible hours for builders, are intended to prevent disruption and help developments to resume successfully as the economy recovers.

A more flexible planning system

Usually, planning permission expires after three years if work has not yet commenced onsite. However, following the announcements, sites with planning permission expiring between the start of lockdown and the end of this year will see their consent extended until 1 April 2021. It is expected that this measure will prevent more than 400 residential permissions – providing over 24,000 homes – from expiring by the end of June alone.

The current planning appeal process will also be sped up by allowing the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) to use more than one procedure (e.g. written representations, hearings and inquiries) simultaneously when dealing with an appeal. Last year, a pilot programme testing this new approach saw appeal times reduced from 47 weeks to just 23.

Helping builders work safely

An industry is only as good as its workers, which is why the government has also introduced new measures to help builders to work safely on site. Builders will now be allowed to agree more flexible construction site hours with their local council on a temporary basis. This will make it easier for workers to follow social distancing guidance by, for example, facilitating staggered start and finish times and allowing workers to travel when public transport is less busy, to reduce the risk of infection.

Protecting “hundreds of thousands of jobs”

Speaking of the new measures, Mr Jenrick said that they “will enable us to speed up the pace of planning appeals and save hundreds of construction sites from being cancelled before they have a chance to get spades in the ground, helping to protect hundreds of thousands of jobs and create many others.”

The Local Government Association (LGA) welcomed the news that the government had heeded their calls for an extension to planning permissions. Cllr David Renard, spokesman for the Association, commented: “This enables construction activity to start again quickly, when it is safe to do so, without the need to potentially have to start the planning process 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, many of whom will be at home all day, including for work purposes, due to current coronavirus measures.”

A positive move forward

In addition to the other measures the government has introduced, including the introduction of Business Interruption Loans, the safe reopening of the property market, and a new Charter with the Home Builders Federation, the construction industry finally looks to be on a positive trajectory out of lockdown. There’s still a long way to go, but the government is continuing to work actively with the industry to keep on top of what further support may still be required.