New regulations are due to come into force in Scotland on 1 October 2021 which will change the requirements for pre-application consultation with communities on major developments.

One of the main changes is the introduction of a second public consultation event.

The intention is for this second event to be for feedback purposes which will allow developers to respond to public comments following the first event. This would have the effect of bringing the local community with you throughout the initial planning stages and by increasing their understanding of proposals – and potentially limiting formal objections. Clearly there are implications, not least on timescales and cost, but the benefits of ironing out issues and developing understanding ahead of any planning application submission can run neatly alongside pre-app engagement with local authorities.

The Scottish Government are preparing new guidance in advance of these changes which will go further to detail what is expected from them.

However, given the year we have all experienced, with many consultation exercises having been delivered online, we fully anticipate virtual forms of engagement to form a part of this. This year and moving forward could see a change in historic public engagement activity, moving away from exhibition boards in a church hall to a breadth of online activity available at our fingertips.

We see the new regulations as potentially taking on a hybrid approach which looks to ensure all members of the community can engage in the most effective way.

As a firm, we have had recent experience of delivering new ways of online engagement.

Portcullis House, Glasgow 

A digital consultation was undertaken on behalf of Watkin Jones in respect of the redevelopment of Portcullis House for Co-Living and Build-to-Rent. A dedicated website was prepared in advance which allowed interested parties to view and download the proposals. This is still available and will be updated once the application is submitted. The development team were available on the website to answer questions through a dedicated chat system as part of the digital consultation.

This enabled visitors to communicate directly with the design and advisory team and for them to answer any questions. Like a more traditional event, comments could be received 21 days after the exhibition and questions can still be directed to the development team.

A high number of attendees accessed the event on the day with coverage also on the BBC, The Glasgow Times and STV News. It is considered that a digital event allows greater participation from the public as it can be accessed from home easily and encourages a greater reach.

Filmhouse, Edinburgh 

In conjunction with the Centre for the Moving Image and Filmhouse, Edinburgh, we assisted in undertaking an extensive online public engagement exercise as part of the proposals to create a new centre for film – one of the first online consultations in Scotland. Unfortunately the first lockdown came into place the very week we were due to host our physical events, resulting in some quick thinking to switch to the digital world we are now so familiar with.

The consultation exercise included an online questionnaire, various Zoom meetings with interactive polls, engagement videos from Filmhouse staff and information published on social media as well as on the dedicated Filmhouse website. This digital means of engagement meant we were able to reach far more people with over 630 comments received.

Further changes at Section 18 of the new Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 will also come into force at the same time. Of particular importance here is the introduction of a time limit specifying that to comply with Pre-application Consultation (PAC) requirements, an application must be made within 18 months from when the Proposal of Application Notice (PAN) is lodged with the Planning Authority. Previously there had been no time limit.

We’re here to help and if you want to discuss any aspect of the changes please contact any member of the Montagu Evans team.

Regulation 4 makes a transitional provision to adjust the application of the new time limit where a PAN was served prior to the coming into force date (1 October 2021). In those cases, ‘relevant applications’, as described in regulation 4(2), a time limit of 18 months from the coming into force date will apply. This means where a PAN was served prior to 1 October 2021, prospective applicants will not suddenly find they have little or no time to make an application. They will have 18 months from 1 October 2021.