Site visits from councillors deciding on planning applications in Harrow will only resume “once restrictions have eased”.

Harrow Council’s planning committee voted in January to carry out virtual site visits in lieu of physical trips in response to national lockdown restrictions.

Resident Mike Williams asked the committee on Wednesday (February 17) to postpone decisions on major applications until physical site visits can resume.

Citing plans such as those for Vaughan Road Car Park, he said a delay of “a month or so” would be acceptable given the decisions “have the potential to impact communities for decades”.

Harrow Council’s opposition Conservative group has called for a return of physical site visits with social distancing measures at the earliest opportunity.

They say this is the best way to gauge the impact of a proposed scheme and is the fairest system for all parties when reviewing an application.

Cllr Marilyn Ashton (Con, Stanmore Park), Harrow Conservatives’ spokesman on planning, said: “We were not happy with the idea of institutionalised virtual site visits.

“We should return, as soon as possible, to personal site visits. We’re doing a lot better now with Covid, thank goodness, and we’re in a very different place thanks to the vaccination programme.”

Acting committee chairman Cllr Ghazanfar Ali (Lab, Greenhill) explained ‘virtual visits’ would remain in place until government guidance suggested otherwise.

This means visits to sites up for redevelopment – including those deemed major or “contentious” – will continue to be conducted online.

Cllr Ali explained acknowledged these “understandable” concerns but said continuing the planning process is “extremely important” to support economic recovery and the delivery of housing.

“It has been made clear that councils should continue to determine major applications, not just smaller schemes, and legislation has been brought forward to ensure decisions can still be made,” he said.

“We have been running virtual planning committees since May last year and have introduced virtual site visits.

“There have been extended consultation periods, especially for larger schemes, and we have facilitated meetings with local residents and ward members.”