As our business, teams and stakeholders have quickly adapted to new ways of working, we wanted to discover the creative ways that we have continued to drive forward our business in a lockdown.
We have spoken to our own experts to find out how their day-to-day duties have been impacted by social distancing measures. Over the coming weeks, they will be sharing the biggest challenges they are facing and the measures they are taking to keep delivering in lockdown – from leasing industrial and logistics units to virtual-selling new homes.
Matthew Stafford, Senior Planning Manager, shares both the challenges and benefits of working with local authority planning teams that have responded differently during this crisis.
“I’m Matthew Stafford, Senior Planning Manager, I work on development projects for St. Modwen, preparing the planning strategy and managing the planning promotion of projects to secure increases in land value and deliver implementable planning consents.”
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced as a result of the lockdown and social distancing measures?
“The biggest challenge has been the rapid change in the market and focus on preserving cashflow.
“We are looking at sites to adapt strategies and programmes – so objectives can still be achieved – while managing the risk, priorities and finances.
“Much of this work is now reliant on using our internal resource, which reminds me of my previous planning consultancy roles, and we have recently prepared submissions to support the Manchester and Stafford Local Plans.
“Local planning authorities are also responding differently. I have had to establish which authorities are coping best and are responding quickly to the ever-changing situation. Where authorities are adapting and working well, we are finding things have been done more quickly.
“Recently, Stoke-on-Trent City Council provided extensive informal advice on altering a planning consent at St. Modwen Park Stoke South that enabled us to best pursue a time-sensitive occupier at the site. This was done over just a few days and is something that would usually require a formal submission and 4-6 weeks’ worth of work.
“The planning system is a democratic process which requires input from a wide range of stakeholders such as local authorities, government organisations such as the Environment Agency, and local communities. Democratic decision making and publicity, such as public consultation and posting site notices, has proven challenging under lockdown. However, authorities are willing to be more flexible. For example, at Lichfield Road in Stafford where we have submitted a planning application for 365 new homes, posted site notices ourselves and are seeking a list of consultees from the local authority so that we can assist in obtaining consultation responses.”
What changes, adaptations or new measures have been required in order for you to keep delivering effectively under lockdown?
“Working between offices and remotely has not been a significant issue as I am based in the Warrington office and working with colleagues in the Midlands or elsewhere is a daily occurrence.
“The greatest change is now doing this whilst having a young family at home and a wife who is a nurse. I have been able to continue with my usual work, but it requires structuring the day for all and allowing more flexibility.
“Local plan reviews are being delayed making it easier to slow and defer work on strategic sites.
“Where we have a delivery focus that still needs to be met, such as the ability to implement planning permissions that are due to expire, or to submit details of the development as part of reserved matters submissions, I am actively managing deadlines and taking appropriate actions.
“I am also monitoring the wider discussions/proposals for planning permissions to be extended.”
How have your stakeholders adapted and how are you maintaining relationships during this time?
“Many stakeholders such as local authorities have been proactive in adapting and have been more open and flexible to accepting calls to maintain continuity. Regular calls are replacing meetings and more calls are being arranged with stakeholders. This is helping work to build in greater flexibility to planning permissions such as time to implement works, how to extend permissions and agree deferment of financial obligations.
“To overcome the closure of council offices and other public buildings, we are working closely with local authorities to make as many documents as possible available for public inspection online. Where it is not possible for authorities to arrange essential notifications – such as site notices – we are utilising our essential workers, such as security teams, to post notices and help reduce delays.”