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‘Planning’ a response to the pandemic

Jay Skinner and Jo Plant highlight the key temporary planning measures introduced in Scotland during the crisis. 

The planning system has a crucial role to play within the current Covid-19 pandemic and beyond. In this respect, a fully functioning planning system will play a key part in supporting Scotland’s future economic and societal recovery and health and wellbeing.

In April this year, the Scottish Government introduced a series of temporary measures through emergency legislation to help maintain a functioning and responsive planning system during the crisis. The key temporary measures include:

Pre-application public consultation for major and national development – regulations that temporarily suspend the requirement to hold a public event (given current restrictions on public gatherings and social distancing) are now in place.Prospective developers are instead required to use alternative formats (through online ‘chatrooms’ for example) to engage with the community. The Scottish Government has produced further guidance and good practice on this.

When properly conducted, early engagement with local communities and statutory consultees reaps positive rewards. Experience suggests that stakeholders are more likely to ‘buy in’ and support development proposals if they are fully engaged and involved in the planning process early on. Galbraith’s approach seeks to build trust through genuine preapplication community engagement, which is tailored to the nature and scale of development proposed. During the current pandemic, we have been involved in a number of online community consultation events. Our experience has been largely positive with members of the public acknowledging and appreciating the efforts made by developers and their project teams to continue to positively engage with communities despite the Covid-19 restrictions.

Duration of planning permission – the pandemic affects the ability of both planning authorities and developers to deal with planningpermissions that are due to expire imminently. For existing planning permissions that have/or will expire during the period from 6 April 2020 to 31 March 2021, the effect of the temporary legislation is that they are automatically extended to 30 September 2021. Similar provisions apply for listed building and conservation area consents.

Decision-making – for the duration of the crisis, the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 gives local planning authorities the power to restrict public attendance at meetings (Committee and Local Review Body meetings, for example) on health grounds. Many local planning authorities responded proactively to this and have either introduced or expanded use of innovative technology to allow meetings to be held virtually. Some authorities are also considering amending their schemes of delegation (subject to approval from the Scottish Government) to allow a wider range of planning applications to be determined by planning officers rather than at Committee.