Planning for the New Normal – COVID-19 provisions in Scotland

Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill

The urgently drafted, and shortly to be passed, Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill covers a vast range of devolved functions of central and local government within Scotland. Among these, is an extension to the default periods for planning permission ensuring timescales extend beyond the pandemic, giving the development industry (and the Councils themselves) some much-needed room to breathe.

  • The default period for planning permission (being detailed planning permission in terms of s58 of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 (“the 1997 Act”)), normally 3 years, is extended by 12 months from the date of the Act coming into force, if it would otherwise have lapsed in the next 6 months.
  • For planning permission in principle, s59 of the 1997 Act, there are two extension periods provided for, taking account of both the 3 years within which applications for approval should be lodged and the 2 years for development to commence after the last of those approvals is granted. Both periods are extended by 12 months from the date of the Act coming into force, if one would have otherwise lapsed in the next 6 months.

The Bill also makes provisions for the extension of Business Improvement Districts, on their existing terms, beyond their 5 year lifespan, in the event they would otherwise lapse in March 2021. Charging provisions and funding arrangements in such cases continue on the existing terms.

Planning Authorities

The approaches being taken across Scotland differ, but most Councils have now switched to accepting online applications and information submissions (and payments) only. Processing deadlines are not being guaranteed, but applications continue to be dealt with remotely where possible.

  • Council and Committee meetings are currently on hold, with decision-making only possible under delegated powers.
  • Some authorities are understood to be considering video-conferencing to allow meetings to be held. It is questionable how applications would be prioritised under such a system, which may come down to the most important business only being put forward for determination.
  • Public consultations for local development plans or policy documents are not possible and response deadlines for a number of planning policy documents are being extended as a result.

There are similar issues for developers unable to hold their pre-application consultations for major applications, which will result in a delay in being able to submit such applications, unless alternative arrangements can be made or a temporary relaxation of the provisions granted.

Appeals (via the Directorate of Planning and Environmental Appeals)

The DPEA continues to process its workload of appeals and Orders, albeit remotely. Previously issued procedural timescales are currently being adhered to.

The latest DPEA guidance was published 24 March and confirms:

  • written procedures will be adopted in the majority of cases and oral procedures (Hearing and Inquiries) will be avoided where possible;
  • those Hearings and Inquiries which must proceed will be undertaken by video-conference, where this can be accommodated. If it transpires it is not possible to make such alternative arrangements work, proceedings will be sisted. Decisions rest with the individual Reporter for each case;
  • all site visits have been postponed for the foreseeable future – both accompanied and unaccompanied. Parties may have to consider whether they feel a decision can safely be made without a visit;
  • arrangements for the public deposit of documents where these can no longer be achieved in hard copy are being considered.

Chief Planner interventions

The Chief Planner has issued two letters thus far dealing with Covid-19 related contingencies. These deal with the approach towards planning conditions applicable to retail deliveries and store opening hours, and the relaxation of enforcement against pubs and restaurants temporarily acting as hot food takeaways without planning permission. Both suggest a temporary relaxation in relation to enforcement measures of 3 months, with the potential for both to be extended, as looks increasingly likely.

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Gordon Clark

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