What’s on the Horizon for Planning in Scotland?
As Covid-19 lockdown easing continues, we look at some of the issues that could emerge in Scottish planning law over the next few months.
Support for Post-Lockdown Recovery
Planning will be a crucial weapon in the Scottish Government’s armoury for stimulating economic recovery. Temporary relaxations in development control may continue and even expand. Measures to date include extending consent implementation periods and discouraging enforcement action in certain situations (see previous article). Flexibility will be essential, especially where periodic, local lockdowns are needed to contain future Covid-19 outbreaks. England is considering resuscitating zoning in its planning policy (where allocated sites do not need permission) to catalyse development but it is not clear if Scotland will follow suit. In addition, decision-makers may have to balance the competing priorities of climate change and infrastructure development. Where the “Green Revolution” clashes with “Build, Build, Build”, which will prevail?
Re-evaluating Assumptions and Predictions
How we approach planning applications must change to reflect the post-lockdown context. For example, UK air quality is widely reported to have improved since March 2020. Should Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) now use pre- or post-lockdown air quality levels as the baseline for assessing development proposals? There could be implications for housing supply assumptions also. Delays to Council audits mean the housing supply projections used to determine residential applications will likely soon be out of date. Could an absence of up to date figures lead to assumptions of a shortfall in supply? Where there is a shortfall, the nation-wide Scottish Planning Policy (SPP) is given more weight in planning decisions and applies a presumption in favour of development (see Gladman Developments Ltd v SoS  EWHC 518 (Admin).) In theory, this could make it easier to obtain residential permissions but any Gladman-related boon may be short-lived. The Scottish Government published a consultation paper on the SPP and housing on 17 July, which, among other changes, seeks views on suspending the SPP presumption pending broader updates to national policy in 2022.
Health and Well-being
Health and well-being are becoming increasingly central to the planning system. For example, the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 provides that the updated National Planning Framework (NPF4, Scotland’s spatial plan setting out priorities until 2050) should require health effects of larger developments to be assessed before planning permission is granted. Although health is taken into account in some existing EIA processes, there are inconsistencies in how EIA requirements apply to different categories of development. Regulations under the Act will seek to address these gaps and enshrine the importance of health as a consideration in planning schemes in future.
Using and Sharing Space
The social legacy of Covid-19 is hard to predict but Scotland will likely treat space differently from now on. Virtual space will play a bigger part in everyday life as we become accustomed to working and socialising remotely. The importance of digital infrastructure could intensify as demand for physical office space changes. Will co-working (e.g. WeWork) and co-living (e.g. Build to Rent) schemes be viewed as less desirable for health-risk reasons or will their growth continue apace, for example, as providers of affordable alternatives to traditional living and working arrangements in a fragile economy? Recent travel and distancing restrictions have undoubtedly affected retail and tourism. How will increased online shopping and reduced tourism affect how we use the high street, short term lets (e.g. Airbnb), hotel, leisure and entertainment spaces? In housing, there could be a flight to quality and outdoor space, moving away from urban areas and transport hubs, as people reappraise their living arrangements after lockdown.
If you wish to discuss any of the above issues, please contact our Head of Planning, Jacqueline Cook.