We are adapting our service so that we can support communities and businesses across Edinburgh through this difficult time. Our aim is to boost online public input to planning processes so that we can make and issue decisions which will both help with a swift recovery and a positive future for the city.
To do this we have introduced ways for people to stay informed and comment on planning proposals despite the coronavirus lockdown.
We are now:
- Starting our publication of applications that we have received since the lockdown commenced in March.
- Issuing neighbour notification letters by post, with the planning portal open for comments to be made on applications.
Due to the closure of our offices we are still unable to receive any paper applications or letters of representation. Online applications are being accepted/validated, online representations are being accepted and, where appropriate, delegated decisions are being issued.
We are able to do this following the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act, which alters how we can publicise the applications we have received.
Paragraph 9(2) of Schedule 6, Part 3 of the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 makes provision for us not to physically publish weekly lists of planning and related applications and make these available for inspection at our principal office and public libraries or physically post site notices for all planning and related applications on the basis that doing so:
- May give rise to a significant risk of the transmission of coronavirus, or
- is likely to be ineffective or inappropriate due to action taken in order to control the incidence or transmission of coronavirus.
Instead we will make copies of these documents available on the Council’s Planning and Building Standards on-line services, in accordance with paragraph 9 (3) of Schedule 6, Part 3 to the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020. This process will start with the weekly list of 27 April 2020.
Further information on our services during the coronavirus lockdown is available on the Council website.
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You may be aware the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill will be shortly become an Act, and has further implications for our planning service and others.
- One key change is that planning permission that would otherwise lapse in the next 6 months will be extended by 1 year to allow work to start on permissions once restrictions are lifted.
- The Bill removes the duty requiring public authorities to physically publish or publicise documents or make documents available for physical inspection (libraries, council offices, etc) where it is considered that in doing so it may give rise to a significant risk of transmission of coronavirus. It is anticipated that guidance will be issued by the Scottish Government on the implementation of this power shortly.
The Bill itself does not change statutory requirements in relation to site notices or neighbour notification so for now we are still working with the restrictions on determining relevant applications that we set out last week. This is for both general safety and to ensure that any decisions we issue are properly informed by representations and so are legally sound.
Separately, the Council’s Leadership Advisory Panel has met (in its first Skype meeting) and agreed contingency measures relating to the Planning service:
- These measures make temporary changes to the Council’s Scheme of Delegation to reduce the number of planning applications which will have to be put on hold until Council committee meetings can be held.
- Most applications are already decided by delegation, but around 200 each year are decided by the Council’s Development Management Sub-Committee. The temporary measures mean that these cases will be carefully filtered, with input from relevant councillors, so that some can be decided under delegated powers.
- This is intended to allow at least some applications to still be decided during this period, and so help the resilience of the city and its economy. Details are available in the report to the Panel (agreed with a motion).
We are also looking at ways Development Management Sub-Committee meetings might be able to take place remotely, which would reduce the need for these temporary measures to be used often.
We are still reviewing how we can adapt to the situation on a regular basis. We are doing so working with the Scottish Government and the other planning authorities in Scotland. We will continue to share this publicly by posting on this blog and using twitter, so we urge people to subscribe here for our updates to be sent directly by email as soon as they are posted.
In light of the ongoing situation regarding COVID-19, the restrictions on movement placed on the country by the Prime Minister and the First Minister are a very clear message for all of us to stay at home unless absolutely necessary. This will mean changes to our everyday work.
- The Local Review Body scheduled to take place on Wednesday 25th March has now been cancelled, and will be rescheduled for a later date as soon as practically possible. If you have any queries regarding the Local Review Body, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
- We will not be able to carry out the necessary publicity on applications submitted as required by the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997. At this time we have suspended site notices, neighbour notifications and the weekly list will only include those applications which do not require publicity nor neighbour notification. This will be reviewed in three weeks time. This will affect the determining of applications.
- Where site visits cannot be carried out we may still be able to process applications using photographs sent to us where appropriate. These will be requested by our officers where required.
- Applications where the neighbour notification period has ended before 20th March can still be determined. Where the neighbour notification period ends after 20 March, we will not be able to determine your application until such time as we can return to our work in person. All agents should be notified as appropriate. This applies to all new planning, listed building consent or conservation area consent applications.
- On this basis, and in light of these challenging times, any applications now submitted will be worked on as much as resources and procedures allow. We are working with the Scottish Government to understand how we can do this as effectively as possible.
- Certificates of lawfulness, advertisement consent, tree preservation orders and trees in conservation area applications do not require publication and can still be determined as usual.
- We are still not currently able to process paper applications or accept application payments by phone. Applications must be made through the ePlanning service.
We will continue to review our position and keep you up to date as our service adapts.
Staff in the Planning and Building Standards service are currently working from the office and home as appropriate and will continue to progress applications, warrants and enforcement cases. However, working practices will need to be adapted due to the current COVID -19 situation.
There will be no attendance at events and only essential external and internal meetings are taking place. Site visits are under review, and the reliance on other businesses to publish adverts and deliver neighbour notifications could impact on the service. We are working to find solutions should this become an issue.
We also expect our capacity to be impacted due to staff shortages so please bear with us. The teams will be doing their best to keep applications and warrants moving under the circumstances. To assist in this, we have made the following changes:
Further information is available here. We will keep these and other changes under review, and keep you up to date as our service adapts.
In terms of official Council committee business, the recess period will begin from Friday 20 March and will last until 27 April. All committees are suspended during this period. The Local Review Body meeting scheduled for 25 March will take place, but members of the public are encouraged not to attend to minimise the risk of spreading the virus. We are currently exploring alternative ways of working to maintain as much of the service as possible.
The response to the current situation is evolving rapidly and we will endeavour to update information as the situation changes, whilst ensuring the welfare of staff and trying to maintain business continuity for our customers. You can see how you can help the Council to protect the city’s most vulnerable citizens and how we are aiming to provide core services here.
UPDATE 19 March 2020 – In addition to the above, we have taken the decision to suspend our Pre-Application Service to allow us to concentrate our efforts on processing and determining current applications and enforcement cases. We apologise for the inconvenience this may cause, but with a depleted staff and a focus on ensuring front line services are maintained, this has been a necessity.