PACWAC is very aware of the important public service that we provide and, in line with existing government advice, as far as possible we will try and continue to keep casework moving. We are however live to the exceptional situation that we are currently facing and may have to act quickly to changing circumstances in ways which do not align with our normal procedures.
Up to date information and advice in relation to COVID-19 is available on the Public Health Agency’s (PHA) website https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/news/covid-19-coronavirus. If you think you might be at risk of having already contracted COVID-19 or are in an at risk group you should refer to the PHA advice and adhere to the guidelines presented therein in relation to actions to take. This may mean that you will have to ask someone who is not within either of these categories to attend public proceedings and make representations on your behalf or alternatively place reliance on previous written submissions.
While we will endeavour to continue with our work and expect the initial stages of processing casework to carry on as normal we need to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 and also to keep all parties and the Commission workforce safe. As such, we would ask you to note the following:
Park House Reception
This will be open as normal. Precautionary measures will be in place.
Accompanied Site Visits (ASV)
The main purpose of an ASV is to see the site and point specific things out. Representations should not be made at the ASV. Therefore, as of today and up to 12 June 2020, all arrangements for ASV will be cancelled. The appeal will be processed based on written representations (WR) with the Commissioner performing an unaccompanied site visit. Parties will be notified in writing as soon as practical. The original dates set for submission of Statements of Case and other documents still stand and will be adhered to.
The legislation governing most types of appeal requires the Commission, if either the appellant or the planning authority wishes to appear before and be heard by it, to facilitate that request. We will continue to do so but there are a number of factors which we may need to prepare for.
It may be that due to venue closures, lack of availability of an allocated Commissioner, or if a team member critical to the Council or appellant’s case is in self isolation, arrangements for hearings may have to be changed at short notice. All correspondence requesting an adjournment must be submitted in writing (preferably email) and must state the expected period of self-isolation. It should be noted that if the postponement is a necessary step we will try to reschedule for the earliest opportunity but there may be a delay. In making new arrangements priority will be given to rescheduling hearings in relation to enforcement appeals.
Third parties who have submitted evidence to the Commission but have not provided telephone contact details are asked to do so by either telephoning or emailing the office. The Commission will try to make contact if there has been a change in arrangements. We will update our website and all parties are advised to refer to the ‘Latest News’ section on the website 24 hours in advance of the scheduled hearing to confirm if it is proceeding as planned.
If the hearing is to proceed please consider whether you are required to attend the event or if you could be represented by a single person. If you do attend please follow the advice provided by the PHA to avoid the risk of infection. Dependent on the nature of the venue the presiding Commissioner may ask for the number of observers in the room to be limited to enable the PHA recommended social distancing between individuals.
Where an appellant or the planning authority advise the Commission in writing that they wish to change to a WR in a non-enforcement case this will be accommodated, subject to any other party who exercised their right to a hearing being agreeable. Such requests must be made in writing (preferably email). In this instance we will write out to the parties to enable the exchange of evidence and provide two weeks for rebuttals to be prepared and submitted. The Commissioner will undertake an unaccompanied site visit as normal.
We will continue to keep this information under review and will update our response as the situation develops.
Thank you for your co-operation.