Pandemics and planning: immediate-, medium- and long(er)-term implications of the current coronavirus crisis on planning in Britain

Author Charles Goode

This article by Charles Goode examines the implications of COVID-19 on planning in Britain. It reflects on how planning policy and the profession could change post-coronavirus and raises questions about related issues.

Date added 21 October 2020
Last updated 21 October 2020

This article by Charles Goode examines the implications of COVID-19 on planning in Britain by reflecting on how planning policy and the profession could change post-coronavirus. It firstly considers planning and pandemics in a historic context, dating back to the Black Death. It then reflects on the immediate impact of the pandemic on policy and permitted development. “Permitted development (PD) rights permit the change of use, or alteration of a building without planning permission but according to certain rules” (p. 2). These rights have been emphasised by the Government, with specific focus on speed, in order to make the system flexible in the response to the pandemic. PD rights have been introduced for the National Health Service (NHS) and especially if there will be a second wave, there may be wider temporary rights implemented for vital institutions and industries

Focusing on the short(er)-term changes to planning and prosperity in relation to housing and high streets, the article addresses Britain’s housing crisis, describing it as a typical ‘wicked problem’ as homeownership is the main route to household wealth due to high expenses of renting. The article also highlights the strong shift towards online retail sales, arguing that this is an added challenge for already struggling high streets, and that this puts extra pressure on local authorities to facilitate expansion of businesses and employment.

The article proceeds with looking forward into the medium- and longer-term impact of the virus on planners, property and place. Three main points are raised in this regard. Firstly, it argues that lockdown highlighted the importance of sufficient domestic space (both in terms of indoor and outdoor space). Secondly, it discusses how working from home has spatially reconfigured the home. Thirdly, the pandemic has enhanced the importance for people to have access to greenspace. The article concludes that there is a need to ‘make no little plans’ and that the greatest challenge to recovery is that it requires a significant amount of planning, thus it is essential that planners are given the powers and resources necessary to achieve this.