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

Words: Roger Milne
Kevin Stewart / Scottish Parliament

Scottish planning minister Kevin Stewart and chief planner John McNairney have written to councils committing to publishing an interim position statement on the draft National Planning Framework (NPF) 4 this autumn.

This will:

  • update on evidence gathered in early 2020;
  • explain how NPF4 will align with other government strategies;
  • set out an overview of the key challenges, opportunities and potential policy changes for NPF4; and
  • reflect on the effects of Covid-19 and what NPF4 can do to help societal and economic recovery.

A draft NPF4 was to have been published later this year, although this has been postponed until autumn 2021, with a final version due for adoption in spring/summer 2022.

This pledge came in a seven-page letter updating planning authorities on current issues. It urges them to be flexible over construction site opening hours and other conditions restricting business operations as the lockdown eases.

It says that in most cases temporary extensions of operating hours should be reached informally without the need for applicants to amend existing permissions, with authorities reminded that planning enforcement is discretionary.

The letter also highlights that some businesses might need to adapt or to adjust operations to aid recovery from the current situation.

Local planning authorities are encouraged to support solutions that may aid this through temporarily relaxing certain planning controls. Examples given include allowing on-street seating for food and drink businesses, and enabling seasonal businesses such as holiday parks and campsites to operate outside of the periods conditioned by a planning permission.

The advisory letter stresses that it will be important to manage public places in a way that would ensure people’s safety.

The Scottish Government has promised guidance like that produced by the UK Government in its May 14 document: Safer Public Places – Urban Centres and Green Spaces.

The minister and the chief planner stressed that the Covid-19 emergency would mean both longer timetables and more flexible arrangements for development plan making.

Nevertheless, they make it clear they want to see plans make progress “where possible” during this time.

“We expect authorities to enhance their use of digital engagement approaches, but any engagement period should not comprise solely of digital communication. If the whole engagement period takes place whilst there is a ban on gatherings and there is a need for physical distancing, we would expect authorities to also enhance their non-digital communication to enable opportunities to have specific questions responded to informally.”

The latest guidance stressed that digital platforms would not suit everyone. “Planning authorities should therefore ensure that other means of effective engagement in plans are available. This may include placing articles in newspapers circulating locally, expanding contact with community councils or letters to households in areas where there are significant proposals for change.

“It should be made clear if there are mechanisms for people to obtain copies of the engagement materials offline, as well as the ability for them to submit comments by post.”

The letter notes that ministers have discretionary powers to require planning authorities to prepare a report setting out why a LDP has not been reviewed within appropriate timescales.

Councils will be relieved to learn that the government is not minded to require such reports at this time.

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

Image credit | Scottish Parliament