The new rules means that developers can extend the working hours at building sites without seeking permission, as long as they regard the extension to be “short term” or “modest”.

Covid-19 and its fallouts:

Building work allowed until 9pm – every day except Sunday

In an effort to kickstart building construction during the easing of the lockdown, and to make social distancing at building sites and on public transport easier by having varied start and finish times, the government has decreed that developers in England can do “short term” or “modest” increases of the working hours at building sites without seeking permission. If the developers need extended working hours for a longer period, or for more hours each day, they can request to have the working hours extended until 9pm every day (except Sundays and bank holidays) in residential areas – and local councils are expected to approve all such applications unless “there are very compelling reasons to refuse”, and they should approve with 10 working days.

For Kensington, this means that the permitted hours for every existing and planned construction site can increase from the current 50 hours per week (8am-9pm Monday-Friday) to 78 hours per week (8am-9pm Monday-Saturday). But we may also see numerous sites extending their working hours without seeking permission, if the developers regard the extensions to be only “short term” or “modest”. The new allowed working hours can stay in place until the middle of May next year.

This regulation, which was introduced with immediate effect on 13 May, will also allow 24-hour building in non-residential areas “where appropriate”. At the daily coronavirus briefing that day, housing secretary Robert Jenrick said that applications to extend hours “should be approved by councils unless there are very compelling reasons why this is not appropriate”. He added: “Varied start and finish times will make it easier for sites to observe social distancing, take the pressure off public transport, like the tube in London, and keep Britain building.

In a written statement, Mr Jenrick explained in more detail: “Where only a short term or modest increase to working hours is required, local planning authorities should, having regard to the reason for the condition and to their legal obligations, not seek to undertake enforcement action. Where developers require longer term or more significant changes to working hours, they should apply to the local planning authority to temporarily amend a condition or a construction management plan in the usual way.

Local authorities should prioritise these types of applications and give early clarity on the acceptability of extended hours to developers. They should ensure that decisions are issued quickly – with the aim of doing so within 10 working days.

Local authorities should not refuse requests to extend working hours until 9pm, Monday to Saturday without very compelling reasons for rejection. In some cases, such as in areas without residential properties, extending working hours beyond this, including allowing 24 hour working where appropriate, may be justified.”

Applications should only be refused where there are very compelling reasons such as significant impact on neighbouring businesses or uses which are particularly sensitive to noise, dust or vibration, which cannot be overcome through other mitigation, or where impacts on densely populated areas would be unreasonable.

The written statement says that “any temporary changes to construction working hours conditions granted by local planning authorities should not extend beyond 13 May 2021“, and promises that “the need for the Statement will be reviewed when the requirement for social distancing on construction sites diminishes.

Buying, selling and moving home allowed again

Beside extending construction site hours, the housing secretary also announced that house moves would be allowed again; that conveyancers and removal companies could begin working again; and that estate agent offices and show homes could be opened again with immediate effect. However, social distancing rules must always apply, which means that those looking for a new home are encouraged to carry out the majority of their search online and only view properties they are seriously considering moving to. Such viewings can only be done by appointment, so open house viewings are not allowed.

The devolved authorities in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have all said that they will keep the existing restrictions regarding construction sites and house moves in place for the time being.

First published 26/05/2020