Planning permission deadlines to be extended by UK government

Planning permission deadlines are to be extended by the government under new measures to boost the building of thousands of new homes as Britain emerges from the coronavirus lockdown.

Relaxing planning restrictions would allow the construction of 24,000 homes put at risk by the health emergency, as part of a move ministers said was designed to get Britain building again after three months of tough restrictions on business and social life.

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Under the changes announced by the housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, planning approvals with an expiry date between the start of lockdown in March and the end of this year will be extended to 1 April 2021.

Existing planning rules mean that development permissions usually expire after three years if work has not been started. However, hundreds of projects with expiry dates during the lockdown period were put in jeopardy, as the controls used to limit the spread of the disease prevented construction from getting under way.

The government estimates that more than 400 residential permissions providing more than 24,000 new homes would have expired in the absence of the new measures. It said the changes would help these developments to resume as the economy recovers.

Jenrick also said appeals processes would be speeded up and that builders would be allowed to operate more flexible working hours with agreement from their local councils to help the construction industry reopen.

The changes come as Jenrick faces mounting pressure over his handling of a planning application by the property developer Richard Desmond.

It emerged over the weekend that he viewed a promotional video on Desmond’s phone for a £1bn property development at Westferry Printworks at a dinner party. He subsequently overturned a decision by a local council and the government’s planning inspectorate in order to approve the development of a 500-apartment, 44-storey building at the former printing plant in east London.

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Construction output in Britain fell by a record 40% in April as cranes and diggers across the country fell idle because of the Covid-19 outbreak.

As restrictions are gradually lifted, ministers said new rules would enable builders to agree more flexible construction site working hours with local councils for a temporary period. Ministers said this would make it easier for building firms to follow public health guidance onsite, helping them to stagger builders’ arrival times and reduce the risk of infection.

Jenrick said: “[The] new laws 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.”

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