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blog: COVID-19 Impacts on planning and delivering new developments

Author: Dan Palmer

There are some who believe the world will be a completely different place following the relaxation of current COVID-19 restrictions, but I'm not so sure.  The changes many of us are experiencing in our everyday lives during 'lockdown' also offer those in the planning and transport planning industries cause to reflect on how many businesses have successfully and rapidly adapted, and how this has positively affected Development Planning and the delivery of sites through the planning process.  As such I wonder what lessons we can draw from this experience and apply to the way we work in the future?

The impact on development planning projects

Development planning work hasn’t stopped altogether, but it has slowed due to the impact of COVID-19 with a level of cautiousness being shown across the market. Positively, here at ITP, we are continuing to advise clients on residential, employment and leisure developments. There does appear to be a spirit of unity emerging, as both clients and consultancy teams alike realise that no one has ever experienced anything like this before.  Continuing to develop access arrangements, sustainable transport routes, and site layouts remotely remains a learning process for all of us.

Adapting to remote working 

Across ITP we’ve learned quickly that working from home does ‘work’ for the vast majority of people in the industry. Granted, it is not quite the same as a face-to-face contact, but with the use of tools such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom, we can continue to deliver many of the projects that we had underway. In fact, I’ve probably spoken with clients and partners more often in the last three weeks than I usually do! As a result of this, I think it’s now dawning on those in the industry whether all those 9am meetings at the opposite end of the country were really necessary, and whether we could work ‘smarter’ to reduce the need to travel in future.

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Local authorities are also adapting quickly to remote working processes, and we have witnessed officers working hard to enable applications to continue moving through the planning system - in line with Central Government guidance. At a time when many local authorities are dealing with unprecedented pressures, this is both hugely appreciated and warmly welcomed.

For those of us working from home, as I write this blog well into week five of the lockdown, now is also the time to understand how the relentless pressure of never being able to leave the ‘at-home office’ can take its toll. While managing less-experienced colleagues in the office can have its challenges, these are quite different in comparison to having three kids under eight bursting into the ‘office’ on the hour, every hour.

I also feel it is important to appreciate the lockdown has resulted in an immediate contraction and slowdown of the economy (you don’t need to be working for the IMF to work that one out) and while stress levels rise, companies are trying to protect their staff and weather the storm as best they can. In common with many companies across the globe, ITP's leadership team is working hard to navigate the company through completely uncharted territory - balancing the need to continue meeting client and project commitments whilst managing the knock-on impacts of the COVID-19 slowdown on some projects and prospects. 

Birmingham Running Club

Mental health is incredibly important and when we do return to our offices (assuming we still need them?!?), I believe we all have a responsibility to ensure our teams are fit and healthy and are able to pick up where we left off. We recently shared a post regarding the fantastic work ITP's Birmingham office has been doing to ensure our staff 'Thrive at Work', and some brilliant examples are emerging across the transport sector of managers ensuring their teams remain connected, engaged and that their mental health is looked after through periods of isolation.

The development planning market   

Based on current forecasts, and news from China and Spain where movement restrictions are gradually being eased, I anticipate the market will pick up again towards the end of the year.  Fundamentally, this assumes the risk of new COVID-19 infection abates, and that the wider construction industry appreciates that putting spades in the ground in 2021 requires effective planning and design now!

It will be interesting to see how possible public reactions post-lockdown - such as any perceived fear of using public transport - could affect people’s travel choices in the short term. I’m not sure we will see a utopian society emerge from the COVID-19 lockdown. However, if there is more awareness that people are able to become less reliant on private cars and that home working does actually work, maybe (just maybe), we’ll start building high-quality, people-focused developments that enable more people to consciously choose to work from home and build outdoor physical activity into their daily routines.

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