The slowdown in the construction industry caused by the COVID-19 pandemic means that many development projects will now be encroaching on the three year deadline imposed by Section 91 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. Essentialy, under Section 91, following the grant of planning permission, development work must begin within a period of three years.
In Scotland, the Coronovirus (Scotland) Act 2020 allows for a 12 month extension to planning permissions that were set to lapse between 7 April 2020 and 6 October 2020. There is no such equivalent provision in England.
So, what should developers do?
First, try to get some under way. Perhaps this is easier said than done but, under Section 56 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, development will have begun once any 'material' operation is under way. This is defined to mean:
a) any work of construction in the course of the erection of a building;
b) any work of demolition of a building;
c) digging a trench which is to contain foundations of a building (or part of the foundations);
d) laying any underground main or pipe to the foundations; or
e) any work undertaken in laying or constructing a road (or part of a road).
If it is not possible to begin any of the abovementioned works before the expiry of the three year deadline, then developers should think about making an application to vary the planning conditions.
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The Law Society of England and Wales Planning & Environmental Law Committee and the City of London Law Society Planning & Environmental Law Committee have written to housing secretary Robert Jenrick with eight suggestions on the steps that can be taken to ensure that the planning system and the construction industry can deliver during and after the crisis.