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Scotland’s chief planner and minister encourage relaxation of enforcement rules

Words: Laura Edgar
John McNairney

Scottish chief planner John McNairney and the devolved government’s planning minister Kevin Stewart have written to the country’s planning authorities to outline the profession’s response to the easing of the Covid-19 lockdown. 

This letter, dated 2 July, follows a letter sent on 29 May, in which the two encouraged a “supportive, pragmatic and flexible” approach to temporary developments and changes of use so that businesses could diversify or adjust the way they operate as the Covid-19 lockdown eased. 

McNairney and Stewart explain that that planning’s “most appropriate, straightforward and efficient way” to allow reasonable temporary changes of use during this period is through informally relaxing planning controls. 

In particular, planning authorities should agree “not to take enforcement action against acceptable planning breaches that will allow for businesses to operate and for some normality to return to life within our communities”.

For up to 28 days a year, planning law already allows for the temporary use of land or buildings without planning permission.

“This means, as an example, the use of part of a public footpath for outdoor seating by a café for up to 28 days in a calendar year already has the benefit of planning permission. While physical distancing requirements remain, it is likely that many temporary uses will be needed for longer periods. In line with the wider approach to relaxing planning control at this time, and for the avoidance of doubt, we do not expect the limits of the 28-day rule to be enforced against reasonable temporary outdoor uses, which may include temporary structures, should a longer period be appropriate and helpful to businesses.”

This guidance will be reviewed in September 2020. The Scottish Government intends to remove this guidance once physical distancing is no longer required.

The two also drew attention to the Scottish Government's guidance on Safer Public Spaces for Scotland, which was published on 29 June. It advises on the design principles for safer urban centres and green spaces, connecting to Scotland’s route map through and out of the crisis.

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

Read more: 

Scottish Government issues new advice as planning faces ease in Covid-19 lockdown