Architects and many other construction professionals are now trying to establish what work can progress during this period and what work will have to be suspended. The volume of work that can continue will have a direct bearing on the number of people who are furloughed and could also have some major longer-term consequences for the wider construction sector and Northern Ireland’s economy beyond this lockdown period. This volume of work will be directly affected by the degree to which planning and building control processes continue as normal.
RSUA believes that it is important that all building control and planning processes that can continue safely, do continue. The Chief Planner for DfI has written an update to Heads of Planning which is available here.
To allow architects to make an informed decision about the likely workload over the coming months and the consequences for project delivery beyond the lockdown phase, I have written to each Local Council asking, in relation to building control/planning:
- What services will you be providing through staff working from home?
- How can officers be contacted by phone? Will mobile numbers be made available?
- Will existing applications be progressed?
- What arrangements are being put in place to progress new applications?
- Regarding hard-copy applications, will a member(s) of staff be allocated the role of visiting the office, opening post, scanning it and sending on to relevant officers working from home? Alternatively, can applicants post hard-copy applications but also send electronic copies directly to a central email address or to particular officers to allow processing to continue?
- Do you intend to use this period to address any backlog?
- Will the Council be conducting Planning Committee meetings online?
- Has the Council agreed to increase delegated powers for officers? If so, to what extent?
- What arrangements have the Planning department made with the statutory consultees to ensure continuity of decision making?
- Will Building Control officers be available to go to site where the construction work is deemed essential (healthcare etc) and appropriate COVID-19 protections are in place?
- Regarding building sites, both the UK government and NI government have made it clear that where a building contractor can ensure adequate COVID-19 protections are in place for all people coming on to site, then the site can remain open. For the non-essential sites that do remain open, will Building Control officers be available to attend site?
Responses are largely complete but this page will be updated with new information as it emerges.