Chief planner publishes letters on COVID-19 and development planning



Planning minister Kevin Stewart and chief planner John McNairney have issued letters which outline how the Scottish Government has worked to tackle planning issues in light of the coronavirus restrictions.

The first letter provides informal advice on development planning in the period ahead of the National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4) and new system of local development plans emerging.

The NPF4 timeline has been extended, with the draft now expected to be laid in the Scottish Parliament in September 2021. Ahead of this, an interim position statement on NPF4 is expected to be published this autumn and used to inform further early engagement at that stage. Subject to Parliamentary timetabling, it is anticipated this will result in Scottish Ministers adopting NPF4 in spring/summer of 2022.

Interim guidance has also been on consultation in local development planning to assist authorities and their stakeholders.

All planning authorities are asked to consider allowing longer timescales and more flexible arrangements for engagement in development planning in the coming months.

Authorities have also been reassured that reports setting out why a local development plan has not been reviewed within appropriate timescales will not be required by Ministers at this time.

A pragmatic approach is also expected in relation to annual housing land audits, recognising and fully adhering to the COVID-19 guidance, and accepting the limitations arising from social distancing and restrictions to site visits.

The letter reads: We hope that all interests in planning will continue to work together effectively to support development and the contribution of the construction sector to our future recovery. Planning authorities will benefit from strong communication and co-operation with their stakeholders. The Scottish Government’s ongoing liaison with the Construction Leadership Forum is providing invaluable insights on the challenges facing the construction industry as it progresses to a restart on non-essential sites in line with the route map published on 21 May 2020. We look forward to further positive discussions to help inform any additional action that ensures planning in Scotland remains relevant, responsive and agile in the months ahead.

“We recognise and appreciate the positive response planning authorities have made to adapt service delivery and to provide assistance in challenging times. We have an opportunity to learn from that and use it to our advantage in continuing to pursue planning reform. As part of this, our work on National Planning Framework 4 will continue to progress over the coming year. We would encourage all stakeholders to continue to play a positive and active role in this work.

“For the longer term, there are lessons emerging from the pandemic about the way we live our lives and the quality of our places, which could usefully inform development planning for the future. More time will be needed to reflect on this, but we look forward to more creative thinking, innovation and debate on the implications for Scottish planning policy and practice in the months ahead.

“We trust this is helpful and would encourage you to contact officials in Planning and Architecture Division if there are further issues for the planning system arising from the current situation which should be brought to our attention.”

The second letter provides a brief summary of the legislative changes and less formal revisions to practice; all taking a pragmatic view of what needed to be done to allow planning to continue during this period.

Beyond these matters, the letter updates and highlights a few further specific points about the continued functioning of the planning system, namely:

  • Site visits for a planning purpose
  • Planning committees and local review bodies
  • Engaging with community councils
  • Registration of section 75 agreements
  • Supporting the recovery
  • Construction sites: hours of operation
  • Changing business practices during physical distancing restrictions
  • Safer public places
  • Digital planning
  • National Planning Framework 4
  • Read all of our articles relating to COVID-19 here.

Tags: COVID-19



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