The Planning System and COVID-19
The Chief Planner has today (Friday 3 April 2020) issued a letter that sets out the Scottish Government’s policy on operation of the planning system during the current outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (“coronavirus”). Some of the topics in the letter are discussed below
Extended duration of some planning permissions
The letter highlights that the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill, passed by the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday and due to become law imminently will extend the duration of planning permissions (including planning permission in principle) that would have expired during the “emergency period”. The emergency period is 6 months from the date the Act comes into force, and permissions are extended to a date 12 month after the Act comes into force. The 6/12 month periods may be altered by Scottish Ministers if the need arises, but the Act does not operate with retrospective effect. Permissions that expired after the shutdown began, but before the Act comes into force, do not benefit from an extension.
Requirement for public availability some of documents dispensed with
The planning system often requires documents to be made available for public inspection. This is sometimes at the planning authority’s office, or may be local library. For the emergency period the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill has suspended the need for public authorities to publish these documents. In some circumstances there is an existing duty for applicants to make documents available for public inspection – this is not addressed through the Bill, and may need to be the subject of further emergency legislation.
Major applications need public consultation, with at least one public meeting. Regulations are going to be made to suspend the requirement for that, and instead the use of virtual meetings or exhibitions will be encouraged.
Neighbour notification, site notices, objections etc.
The Scottish Government is still working on a policy to deal with these issues. Even if an application is dealt with electronically notification is usually given by post, and objections may be sent into the planning authority by post. To a large extent planning authorities are working from home.
Planning authorities may hold their meetings without the public present for the emergency period. Regulations will apply that to Local Review Bodies. It is expected more decisions will be delegated to planning officers.
Hazardous substance consent
Planning authorities normally can grant this consent if they do not hear from the Health and Safety Executive within a set period. Because of the risk that delays to replying to consultations will lead to consents being wrongly issued, planning authorities are directed to issue Hazardous Substance Consent only if they have heard back from the HSE, or they have not heard but have sought the permission of the Scottish Ministers.
National Planning Framework 4
The formal consultation on a draft NPF4 is to be delayed, likely until early 2021.
Digital Strategy for Planning
This is delayed until “later in the year” and will be “scaled down”.
Short-Term Let Control Areas
A consultation on Short Term Let Control Areas (i.e. regulations designed to control the number of AirBnB type properties) was to be published around now. This has been paused.
The Chief Planner has already issued a letter suggesting authorities do not enforce conditions around food store opening/delivery hours where breaches are a direct result of a response to the emergency. The new letter suggests planning authorities take a “reasonable and pragmatic” approach to enforcement of planning legislation and conditions during the emergency period. It also suggests section 75 (or “planning agreement”) contributions might not be enforced if, for example, staged payments fall due on a site that has temporarily ceased construction work. In our experience payments are often linked to completions – so ceasing construction work might avoid payments becoming due. However, stock may have been completed and triggered payments on properties that cannot be occupied by purchasers. This may result in a cashflow gap for developers. Given the Chief Planner’s letter we would hope planning authorities will be sympathetic to agreeing to postpone payment in such circumstances.