Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill – Planning Update

The Scottish Parliament has passed the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill, in a rare one-day sitting of the Parliament on Wednesday 1st April. The Bill introduces a number of temporary powers across a number of sectors to protect individuals and businesses, and create emergency contingency measures for public bodies in these unprecedented times.

The Planning system in Scotland is heavily dependent on public consultation, timely responses from public bodies and local authorities, decisions made by committee gatherings, and other processes that were once taken for granted but, in the new environment created by the Coronavirus, suddenly seem logistically complex.

The Bill has a number of measures that will impact the operation of the Planning system in Scotland.

Local Authority Meetings

Local authorities will have the discretionary power to exclude the public from their meetings if they believe that having members of the public present creates a risk to public health.

In terms of meetings where planning decisions will be made, it is unclear whether this ban can be extended to stakeholders in the decision-making process, such as the applicant or their agents. Due to the practicalities of attending meetings in the current environment of restricted travel and public transport many authorities are investigating the possibilities of webcasting meetings, or video-conferencing where possible. It seems likely that this will be rolled-out where practicable in order to maintain social distancing and minimise travel.

Under the Bill, Local authorities are also no longer legally obliged to provide hard copies or extracts of documents in their offices, for example Local Development Plans or Planning Applications, though they can still opt to do this.

Planning Permission Expiry

The Bill makes allowances for planning permissions (including Planning Permission in Principle) due to expire within the “emergency period”, defined as 6 months from the date the provisions come into effect. If a Planning consent would be due to expire in this period, then it will instead expire at the end of the “extended period”, defined as 12 months from the date the provisions are enforced. In effect, this means any Planning permission due to expire in the 6 months after the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill is passed will have an extension granted, and will now be due to expire 1 year after the measures of the Bill come into effect.

Scottish Ministers will have the power to amend these periods if required, as changing circumstances may dictate.

Business Improvement Districts

Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) are also mentioned in the Bill. BIDs are partnerships of local businesses that collectively work towards the enhancement of town centre locations. They are proposed by local businesses and require a ballot of all business within the affected area. Once formed, the BID can operate for a maximum of 5 years before a re-ballot of local businesses must take place to renew the arrangement.

The provisions in the Bill will affect any BID in effect when the Bill comes into force and that is due to end before 31st March 2021. The Bill extends the deadline for re-balloting to this date, including funding arrangements. The Bill also allows for the local authority or BID partnership to terminate the BID arrangement prematurely in certain circumstances.

Pre-application Consultations

Additionally, the Chief Planner has recently confirmed that the requirement to host public consultation events, a statutory obligation of Major and National developments, can be relaxed. In lieu of this, applicants are expected to host an online equivalent that will still enable communities and the public to engage effectively in the Planning Process. The Government will look to introduce some guidelines and best practice on online engagement in the near future.

If you have any queries in relation to the impact of the Coronavirus on the Planning system, or wish to contact a member of the Planning + Development Team, please email planning@g-s.co.uk.