TheCoronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 came into force on 7 April 2020.
The Act, and the Chief Planner's letter of 3 April 2020, provide some welcome certainty for the planning system, although there are many issues still to be ironed out (thanks go to the many people involved in the on-going work).
The comments below reflect the position as at 7 April 2020.
Do time limits continue to apply?
Yes, where the time limits are set by statute, those continue to apply, unless/ until amended by further legislation expected to be made in the next few weeks. For example, any appeal against a refusal of planning permission must still be submitted within the 3 month time limit.
I have a planning permission which is due to expire in the next few months, what should I do?
Planning permissions which are due to expire in the next 6 months (i.e. by 6 October), are extended for 12 months, until 6 April 2021. That removes the pressure to commence development to prevent the permission from expiring.
This does not apply to permissions which expired before 6 April 2020. Those permissions remain expired.
Are planning applications still being dealt with?
Yes. Fife Council, for example, has decided a much higher number of applications than the same period last year. However, there may be delays, especially with applications submitted by post.
For applications which require to be decided by councillors, the 2020 Act relaxes rules on holding meetings in public. Many Scottish councils have already suspended all committee meetings, with decisions being taken by the Chief Executive and senior officers. Use of virtual meetings is being explored.
Planning authorities can amend their schemes of delegation to increase powers for officers to decide planning applications – while that is welcome to reduce delays in decision-making, if permission is refused, it could leave the applicant with a right of appeal to the local review body rather than a reporter (local developments only).
The 2020 Act also relaxes requirements for planning authorities to publish certain documents in a particular way or to make them available for physical inspection at a specified location. However, requirements on applicants to make documents publicly available, for example EIA Reports, continue to apply.
The Chief Planner's letter mentions on-going discussions about practical difficulties with neighbour notification, public and site notices and representations and any other information posted in hard copy to closed planning authority offices.
For national and major developments, pre-application consultation is required, including at least one public event. The Chief Planner's letter indicates that regulations are to be made soon to suspend the requirement for a public event during the emergency period, although there is an expectation that online engagement will be used instead.
What's happening about registration of section 75 agreements?
Applications for registration are being dealt with on a case-by-case basis, and an urgent need might need to be shown. This also affects registration of section 75A decision notices.
The 2020 Act enables electronic submission of applications for registration of legal documents, including section 75 agreements. The agreements will still have to be signed in wet ink by the parties, including the landowners. Once signed, it should become possible to submit a scanned copy of the signed agreement for registration at Registers of Scotland. Pilot testing is underway.
Are planning appeals still being decided?
Yes. Reporters are continuing with written work. Arrangements are being dealt with on a case-by-case basis. For example, an appeal decision has been issued which mentioned that no site inspection has been held, with the agreement of the parties.
Virtual inquiries/ hearings are being explored, although there are practical difficulties accommodating the needs/ capabilities/ circumstances of all parties.
Regulations relating to planning appeals are expected in the next few weeks, including suspending the requirement for local review bodies to meet in public.
What is happening with court actions?
The time limits for submitting legal challenges to planning decisions still apply, but the Court of Session is only dealing with urgent business.
Is work continuing on development plans?
Yes. However, there are concerns that furloughing of staff could prevent organisations from responding during consultation periods.
Is the Scottish Government continuing work on NPF4?
Yes, but the Chief Planner's letter recognised there will be delays, with publication of a draft now likely to be during 2021.
Will there be delays to commencement of the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019?
Yes. The Chief Planner's letter says that an updated schedule will be provided.
You should seek specific legal advice on how these matters affect your circumstances.