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News

COVID-19: Business and Planning Act 2020 receives Royal Assent

28th July 2020

It is becoming increasingly difficult to overstate the impact the Coronavirus pandemic has had on the economy of the United Kingdom, as each new set of figures are released.

During the three months leading up to the end of May 2020, GDP shrunk by 19.2%.  To offer perspective, the ‘once in a generation’ economic crash of 2008 saw GDP shrink by 6% between Q1 of 2008 and Q2 of 2009.

The majority of businesses may have lost, but there have been winners; Amazon has seen its stock rise by 73% during 2020.

In stark contrast, the sector of the UK economy that has suffered most is undoubtedly the hospitality sector.  Figures show the accommodation and food services sector of the economy collapsed by a disastrous 71.7% in the three months leading up to the end of May 2020.

New measures offer hope for hospitality

The government has recognised this problem, and the Chancellor’s summer economic plan of 8 July included a 6-month cut in VAT from 20% to 5% for restaurants, hotels and attractions, along with the ‘eat out to help out’ discount voucher scheme.

These measures are now being supplemented with the Business and Planning Act 2020, which received Royal Assent on 22 July 2020.

The Act includes measures designed to boost the hospitality sector, as well as changes in planning  law, and changes to heavy goods (HGV) and passenger carrying (PCV) vehicle licensing.

The provisions should mean it is easier for businesses to apply for a pavement licence to seat customers outside their premises on or near the highway.

Businesses eligible for the new fast track licences include public houses, cafes, bars, restaurants, snack bars, coffee shops, and ice cream parlours, as well as those businesses like supermarkets and entertainment venues that serve food and drink.

Normally such an application takes a minimum of 28 days to process. The objective of the new legislation is to cut this timeframe to 5 working days.  If the relevant local authority does not process the application within this period, it could mean the licence will be granted for a year, although not beyond 30 September 2021.

Once a licence has been granted, the business could be allowed to use furniture that includes:

  • counters or stalls for selling or serving food or drink;
  • tables, counters or shelves on which food or drink can be placed;
  • chairs, benches or other forms of seating; and
  • umbrellas, barriers, heaters and other articles used in connection with the outdoor consumption of food or drink

Any furniture used should be removable, so as to allow the pavement to be cleared each evening.

Furthermore, under new provisions, businesses which are currently only permitted to sell alcohol for consumption on the premises may be allowed to sell alcohol for consumption off the premises during normal opening hours, up to 11pm (or when an existing outside area closes, if earlier).

These provisions were introduced immediately upon the Business and Planning Act 2020 receiving Royal Assent and are temporary in nature, with the end of September 2021 as the closing date.

Construction industry benefits from new measures

The planning aspects of the Act are a mixture of temporary and permanent measures, designed to help the UK construction industry. This is achieved for the most part by modifying various planning conditions.

Developers have a new route to vary planning conditions and introduce extended construction site working hours.  This is to reflect the fact that social distancing on construction sites may slow work and require staggered arrival and departure times for workers.  This measure is currently set to expire on 1 May 2021.

An extension of the expiration date for various planning permissions and listed building consents, has seen the time limit imposed on development that depends upon these permissions extended to 1 May 2021.

The requirements for the Mayor of London to make the current Spatial Development Strategy available for physical inspection and to provide hard copies on request, will be removed temporarily, until 31 December 2020.

The Planning Inspectorate is now able to utilise more than one procedure type when dealing with a planning appeal, which could include a local inquiry, a hearing or written representations.

It is hoped that the extra flexibility will enable appeals to proceed at a greater pace and unlike most of the other provisions, this particular change is permanent.

Exemptions for some heavy goods and passenger carrying vehicles

The Act introduces exemptions for some heavy goods (HGV) and passenger carrying (PCV) vehicles from the need to have a Vehicle Test Certificate.

Now the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) can exempt vehicles it deems to be relatively safe on the basis of:

  • The age of the vehicle
  • Participation in the Earned Recognition scheme
  • The Operator Compliance Risk Score (OCRS) (this is calculated by DVSA for each operator, based on their history of compliance with roadworthiness and traffic laws)

The flexibility is being introduced in order to stop the DVSA having to suddenly deal with a large backlog of tests created by the ending of the initial period of exemption.

There are positive signs the government is going to do more to help the UK economy recover. Ansons’ Regulatory Law team are on hand to guide you through any legislative changes, or changes to regulations affecting your business. Please contact Jacob Rickett on 0121 716 3730 or by email at jrickett@ansonssolicitors.com.

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