We’ve now been in lockdown for just over a month and, like many others, we’re adapting to new ways of living, working and socialising from home (and watching the season change to spring from our home windows rather than the office one). And the planning system is adapting too, with emergency legislation passed this month to ensure this continues to play a positive role in shaping the places in which we do that. There are also many potential ways in which these places could be adapted to ensure that we’re better able to meet the types of needs we’re currently facing in future; we looked at some of these in our blog on smart cities earlier this month and, for anyone working from home, our next blog may be of particular interest (watch this space!). Meantime, for more on the new legislation and other planning highlights from this month, read on below.
Emergency legislation – this month, temporary, but significant, changes to the planning system were introduced by three pieces of legislation.
Firstly, the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 came into force on 7 April 2020, included within which are provisions extending the duration of planning permissions about to expire; allowing planning documents to be published online, rather than at physical locations; and allowing local authorities to exclude people from committee meetings for public health reasons.
Secondly, the Town and Country Planning (Miscellaneous Temporary Modifications) (Coronavirus) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 came into force on 24 April, with the effect that it is no longer necessary to have public pre-application consultation events; for local review bodies to be conducted in public; or to provide hard copies of Environmental Impact Assessment reports in physical places.
And thirdly, the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Coronavirus) (Scotland) Amendment Order 2020 also came into effect on 24 April, removing the need for local authorities and health service bodies to apply for planning permission for certain developments for the purposes of preventing, reducing, mitigating or controlling the effects of the current emergency caused by the spread of COVID 19 and its impacts on public health.
In our day to day work, perhaps the most significant effect of these changes is that we’re starting to see some planning committee and Local Review Body meetings being held virtually, with a recording made available afterwards, rather than allowing the public to watch the meeting live. We are though aware of at least Council here, and of committees in England, providing a live stream of meetings for the public to listen to. It’s early days in a rapidly changing environment, but these are welcome measures, and we would hope that planning authorities across Scotland will make full use of these to provide as much continuity as possible in the planning system at this time.
Use of delegated powers – both in lieu of, and in addition to, holding virtual committee meetings, a number of planning authorities have revised their schemes of delegation to allow more decisions to be determined by officers, often in consultation with one or a small number of Councillors, rather than having to be referred to committee. Such changes require to approved by the Scottish Government but, in a letter issued at the beginning of this month, the Chief Planner made it clear that they would process any such requests quickly, and would liaise with Heads of Planning Scotland to monitor any changes to decision-making processes using these powers. There is of course always a balance to be struck between expediency and democracy in the planning system, and this will need to be given careful consideration in any potential changes to schemes of delegation, but the support for planning authorities looking to make such changes is again welcome.
Appeals to Scottish Ministers – the Scottish Government’s Directorate of Planning and Environmental Appeals (DPEA) has said that it will make use of virtual meeting technology to facilitate hearings and public inquiries to progress appeals where appropriate, but that written representations will become the norm during the coronavirus outbreak. It has though also advised that there will be instances in which cases have to be sisted until restrictions on public gatherings are lifted (for one example of which, see below). In doing this, DPEA has expressly recognised the importance of local participation, and that public local inquiries are a legal entitlement in certain circumstances, but has urged parties and representatives to acknowledge the public interest in finding ways to enable decisions to be made in the current circumstances.
National Planning Framework 4 – we have previously highlighted the Scottish Government’s call for people’s thoughts and priorities for the new National Planning Framework, including bids for potential national developments. The deadline for submissions is 30 April so, if you want to have your say, you will need to do so quickly! Details on how to do that are available here.
On local government
Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Local Development Plans – in last month’s Spotlights, we indicated that both Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Councils were shortly to start consulting on their Proposed Local Development Plans. However, both consultations have now been postponed while officers consider how best to carry out consultation in light of ongoing restrictions on public gatherings. For further details, watch this space…
On planning applications
St Cyrus Travellers’ site – despite the measures outlined above, it is still not all business as usual in the planning system. As a case in point, a decision on a called-in application for retrospective planning permission for a controversial travellers’ site in St Cyrus in Aberdeenshire has been delayed after a Hearing which was due to take place this month has been postponed, and a decision has been taken not to proceed on the basis of written submissions instead. Rather, this has been sisted until further notice. Again, this is highlights the delicate balance between expediency and democracy in the planning system, although we would question how long a sist can be maintained before a means of reaching a decision needs to be found.
On other matters
Offices and schools need redesign for lockdown to be eased – highlighting the importance of design in all areas of our lives, the Scottish Government has said that some schools and business may be able to re-open if classrooms and offices are redesigned to keep people at least 2m apart from each other. In response, the Royal Incorporation of Scottish Architects has written to the Chief Architect at the Scottish Government offering “assistance in developing design solutions and adaptions required to address the likely future changes.” Others have though questioned how effective any such redesigned spaces might be, with particular queries about how social distancing could be ensured in stairways, corridors and other such spaces. We will wait to see what solutions to this might be brought forward…
‘Pop-up’ cycle lanes – in a bid to create more room for cyclists and pedestrians to maintain social distancing, Edinburgh and Glasgow City Councils are looking at options for creating ‘pop-up’ cycle lanes by temporarily redrawing road markings, taking into account that there has been a substantial reduction in road traffic since lockdown measures began, and also a significant increase in cycling. Details of where the changes might be made have yet to be confirmed but, with similar measures also being made in places such as New York, Vancouver and Berlin, it may be something for other local authorities to consider looking at too.
As an Affiliate member of the Aberdeen Council of Voluntary Organisations (ACVO), we had been looking forward to speaking at their Affiliate event scheduled for the 24th of this month – these events are a great way of bringing together organisations from the third and private sectors for mutually beneficial business opportunities and, at this one, we had anticipated sharing views on what some recent changes to the planning system might mean for the organisations that ACVO represents. That event has of course been postponed, but has been replaced by an AVCO blog post with contributions from each of the speakers, which can be found here.
And, to find out how we can help with any aspect of the planning process, please visit our website or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, if you would like to see our other blogs or sign up for email updates, please click here.
Thanks for reading!
Pippa and Maggie