Planning for Development Services

We are committed to supporting the continuity of the planning and marine licensing system in Scotland as we continue our recovery from the Covid pandemic. We are still largely operating from home and maintaining business continuity via e-mail, video conferencing and telephone. However, there has been some limited return to offices, and outdoor meetings and site visits are now possible with appropriate measures in place. We are still not receiving hard mail, so please continue to provide any consultation information digitally, and using file sharing sites where possible for large documents.

Disruption to site survey work and provision of environmental information

We are aware that earlier Covid restrictions may have affected the ability of developers and their consultants to undertake survey work and landscape and visual impact assessments (LVIA) as part of EIA. This is may have been particularly problematic for seasonally dependent surveys such as breeding or wintering species surveys where critical survey periods were lost, but also regarding delays in LVIA where a competent assessment required a site visit.

To minimise the delays to planning applications that this might cause, we are keen to find pragmatic ways forward where possible within the limits of the EIA and Habitats Regulations. The degree of flexibility and the options available to deal with gaps in information will depend on the circumstances of each case. Key factors in making judgements about the sufficiency of survey and assessment information include:

  • The amount of existing information from survey work already undertaken, and/or information that has been, or could be, gathered from desk studies. For example, if you have missed a second year of two years of bird survey work, a complete second year of survey may not be necessary where the first year of survey has clearly shown there to be very limited potential impact. This is more difficult in the absence of any existing information.
  • The importance of the species interest and size and complexity of potential impacts. There is less flexibility with interests of greatest importance. For example, qualifying features of Special Protection Areas where a high degree of certainty regarding the absence of a risk of impacts is required.
  • If the survey information is required for licensing purposes and avoiding an offence being committed. For example, checking for bat roosts in trees and buildings to ensure no roosts are disturbed.
  • The degree to which a precautionary approach can be adopted in the siting and design of proposals and/or inclusion of mitigation measures. It may be possible for some applications to be progressed with a precautionary approach, by assuming the presence of likely species and taking any potentially significant impacts into account in the siting and design of proposals and/or inclusion of mitigation measures. For example, avoiding areas where there may be a breeding or resting place of a protected species.
  • The extent of the gaps in survey and assessment information. In some cases, sufficient information may still be gathered if only part of a survey period has been lost. Where there is an essential gap in a survey, it may be acceptable to fill it with a partial survey at the start of the next survey period. This is likely to be appropriate, for example, with bat activity surveys, but more difficult for bird surveys such as vantage point watches where the presence or locations of key breeding bird species is less predictable from one year to the next. LVIA should be accompanied by the standard range of figures appropriate for the development. If you have been unable to capture the required viewpoint photography for an LVIA and plan to submit an application without this, please discuss with the planning authority in the first instance, and we can advise if necessary.

If you have any queries please contact mike.shepherd@nature.scot.

Last updated: