In February 2022, the Scottish Government laid the Town and Country Planning (Miscellaneous Temporary Modifications) (Scotland) Regulations 2022 (The Coronavirus Regulations 2022) and The Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 (Commencement No. 6 and Transitional Provision) Amendment Regulations 2022 (The Commencement Regulations) before parliament. Subject to parliamentary scrutiny the regulations are due to come into force on 30 March 2022.

These regulations present the latest changes to the temporary alteration of planning regulations as a result of the pandemic, initially introduced in April 2020. Considering this, we ask what changes have been made, what does this mean for developers, and what can we expect looking forward?

Context of the regulations

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent UK government restrictions, Pre-Application Consultation (PAC) events that were traditionally held in person, have over the past 20 months been held via a virtual forum. Further to this, initial restrictions on non-essential construction work, in hand with the backlog of planning applications has resulted in the Scottish Government agreeing to extend the duration of planning permissions, planning permission in principle, listed building consent and conservation area consent, through to the expiration of an extended emergency period.

What changes have been made?

The 'Covid emergency period', previously due to expire on 31 March 2022, has been extended to 30 September 2022. Put simply this means that any permission (of planning permissions, planning permission in principle, listed building consent and conservation area consent) due to expire between 7 April 2020 and 30 September 2022 will automatically be extended to 31 March 2023.

The suspension of requirements for an in person public event as part of the pre-application consultation (PAC) requirements will also remain until 30 September 2022, meaning that until that date consultation events for major and national planning applications can be hosted virtually. The changes to PAC requirements, such as the requirement to hold two consultation events, will now not come into force until 1 October 2022. We have previously commented on the changes to the requirements for PAC events which can be found here.

What are the implications of the new regulations for developers?

Firstly, looking forward to the extended emergency period ending 30 September 2022, it is unlikely that the regulations relating to PAC events will cause any major concern for developers. The Scottish Government forecast that there will be ‘no impact on Businesses, Local Authorities or the Scottish Government as a result of the regulations in relation to the planning application process’. This is due to the fact that the extension of the emergency regulations seek to continue the Scottish Statutory Instruments (SSI) that were enacted at the start of the pandemic. For those that found that the virtual public engagements and consultation events were productive and in many cases led to a greater level of public engagement, this update in the regulations will come as welcome news.

Beginning 1 October 2022, Major and National Planning Applications will require to hold in person consultation events, however, it is hoped by many in the development industry that a hybrid approach to consultation events in the future will be adopted, building on the success of virtual consultation throughout the Covid period and the long-established approach to in-person public engagements.

With regard to the duration of planning application validity, it should be noted by developers that applications that were due to expire between 7 April 2020 and 30 September 2022, will now remain automatically valid up to the end of the extended emergency period ending 31 March 2023. We expect this to be the last extension to the regulations and as such developers will need to ensure development commences before 31 March 2023 or the consent is extended through the relevant process prior to that date.

To discuss the implications of the changes for your development project please contact any member of the Montagu Evans team.