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Covid-19: Face-to-face consultation to be replaced with online alternative in Scotland

Words: Laura Edgar
Consultation / Shutterstock_181045064

The Scottish Government is set to suspend the requirement to consult face to face on major and national developments during the coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown. 

Writing to local authorities, the country’s chief planner John McNairney and planning minister Kevin Stewart say they intend to bring forward emergency regulations for this element of the planning process. 

This “reflects the reality that face-to-face contact must be avoided for now”. 

However, prospective applicants are expected to replace this requirement with an alternative online version so that people can still be engaged and have the opportunity to influence proposals that affect them. 

“In consultation with stakeholders, we will move quickly to produce some guidance on expectations and good practice for online engagement, which may be supplemented through conversations between applicants and planning authorities about appropriate steps.”

The letter makes it clear that this is a temporary change. 

“We have committed within our planning reform programme to enhance community engagement in planning; including improvements to the pre-application process, such as the introduction of a mandatory second public event. That commitment remains and we will continue to make progress on this for future implementation,” write McNairney and Stewart.

Crucial to recovery

The letter states that planning’s role is “crucial” during and after the “immediate emergency”. A “high-performing” planning system will be “critical” to support the future economic and societal recovery, as well as people’s future health and well-being.

To keep application and development plans moving through the system, new approaches may need to be adopted and a “pragmatic view” taken of how “we can best continue to plan and make the decisions vital to the recovery of our communities and businesses”.

McNairney and Stewart have been working with stakeholders, including the RTPI, on ensuring that the planning system continues to function. 

As reported by The Planner last week, the coronavirus (Scotland) bill provides for the extension of the duration of planning permissions that are due to expire during an emergency period of six months so that the relevant permission time limit will not lapse for a period of 12 months from the date the provisions come into force.

Any changes that do happen does not affect “ongoing commitment to the improvements to the planning system being led through implementation of our new planning act,” adds the letter.

The letter also covers:

  • Documents for public inspection The coronavirus (Scotland) bill includes provisions that will allow bodies to publish documents and information online where possible during the emergency period rather than in libraries and offices.
  • Neighbour notification, public and site notices and hard copy documents “Neighbour notification requires the printing and postage of information by planning authorities both in relation to local development plans and to planning applications. We are currently exploring this with Heads of Planning Scotland to understand the extent of any barriers to this while offices are closed.”
  • Decision-making: committee meetings, local reviews and schemes of delegation  Local authorities have the power to hold meetings virtually. The coronavirus (Scotland) bill provides that local authorities have the power to exclude the public from their meetings on health grounds, to protect the public and local authority council members. Consistent with that, regulations will outline to suspend the requirement for local review bodies to meet in public.
  • National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4) Completion of the framework will influence the timing and content of planning authorities’ local development plans, which is now likely to be to a longer timetable. The deadline for the call for ideas has been extended to the end of April. A draft of NPF4 was expected to be published for consultation in September 2020, however, this will not happen. “We will provide a revised timetable for NPF4 as soon as we can, but it now looks likely that we will lay a draft in the Scottish Parliament and consult publicly during 2021.”
  • Planning (Scotland) Act implementation and planning reform programme Progress towards delivering some of the work packages will be “less rapid than previously intended”, but the Scottish Government remains committed to “both to completion of the full package of planning reforms, and to doing so in close collaboration with planning stakeholders and following thorough public consultation”.

The full letter can be found here on the Scottish Government website (pdf).

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