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Covid-19: Construction Industry and Retail Sector

Volume 691: debated on Thursday 25 March 2021

As England moves towards step two of the covid-19 response road map out of lockdown, which will take place no earlier than 12 April, the Government want to ensure that planning measures are in place to support businesses to operate safely and drive the economic recovery.

First, the Government recognise that the construction industry will need to continue to operate in a safe and productive way. Temporary extensions to working hours were introduced over the last year on some sites to facilitate safer working and allow tasks to be completed where social distancing can be challenging. These changes have also helped to protect and support jobs in the construction industry and reduced pressures on public transport at peak hours throughout the pandemic.

This written ministerial statement confirms that the approach set out in my previous statement to the House of 13 May 2020, about construction working hours due to covid-19, will remain in place until 30 September 2021. This continued flexibility is necessary due to the continued impact of covid-19 and to support the construction industry to recover and operate safely as we emerge from the pandemic. This date will be kept under review.

Secondly, the Government would like local planning authorities to continue to take a positive and flexible approach to planning enforcement action to support economic recovery and support social distancing while it remains in place. The national planning policy framework already emphasises that planning enforcement is a discretionary activity, and local planning authorities should act proportionately in responding to suspected breaches of planning control.

In particular, to ensure a safe and successful reopening of the non-essential retail sector from step two of the road map, the Government want to see retailers given the opportunity to extend their daily opening hours from Monday to Saturday, notwithstanding local planning restrictions on opening hours, where appropriate. This will help to spread footfall, ease transport pressures and make shopping in a socially distanced way easier by giving shoppers greater flexibility to choose when they shop and avoid peak times.

Accordingly local planning authorities, having regard to their legal obligations, should not seek to undertake planning enforcement action which would result in the unnecessary restriction of retail hours between 7 am to 10 pm Monday to Saturday, from step two of the road map (no earlier than 12 April) until the introduction of step four of the road map (scheduled for no earlier than 21 June 2021).

Where appropriate, local planning authorities should also highlight this temporary relaxation to retailers in their area so that they can take advantage of longer opening hours if they wish to do so.

The Government recognise that longer retail opening hours could have a temporary impact on local residents, but this needs to be balanced by the significant public interest in ensuring there is a safe retail environment when non-essential shops reopen. The 10 pm limitation should also mitigate the impact for local residents. There will be no change in licensing restrictions on retailers.

Finally, I am through this written ministerial statement extending the statement that I made to the House on 13 March 2020 about planning enforcement and the delivery of food and other essential goods to retailers until the introduction of step four of the roadmap (scheduled for no earlier than 21 June 2021). This will help supermarkets and other retailers to continue to continue to provide home deliveries while restrictions are still in place.