Updated in light of the move to Phase 3 restrictions
We may now be able to make some site visits to inform our advice subject to appropriate risk assessments. Where this is still not possible, we may be able to deliver advice in accordance with our service statement without a site visit. Where the lack of a site visit will significantly compromise our advice, we will inform the applicant and decision-maker at the earliest opportunity, and explain any limitations to the advice we provide. We are still not receiving hard mail, so please provide any consultation information digitally, and using file sharing sites where possible for large documents such as landscape visualisations.
We are committed to supporting the continuity of the planning and marine licensing system in Scotland as best as we can in these unprecedented circumstances.
By operating from home working, we are currently maintaining business continuity via e-mail, video conferencing and telephone. This is allowing us to work with local authorities, developers and other stakeholders to support our planning system in a way that is as proportionate, pragmatic and as prompt as possible.
Given pressures on our resources, we are prioritising:
- Engaging and responding to NPF4 consultations – in particular the call for ideas and SEA scoping consultation and HRA.
- Engaging and responding to sectoral and regional marine plan consultations, related SEAs and HRAs.
- Engaging and responding to development plan consultations, related SEAs and HRAs. Stakeholders/Planning Authorities should continue to send consultations to the relevant Scottish Natural Heritage Area Mailbox.
- Engaging and responding to development management consultations relating to EIA development and those affecting the natural heritage of national importance. Stakeholders/Planning Authorities continue to send consultations to the relevant Scottish Natural Heritage Area Mailbox or, for marine energy consultations, to [email protected].
- Engaging with and responding to wider planning legislative changes where required.
We are working closely with the other Key Agencies, Scottish Government, Marine Scotland, Heads of Planning Scotland and others to develop contingency plans and support one another during this difficult period. For example, we are aware of issues regarding the practicalities of carrying out survey work and the provision of landscape advice in the current climate of restricted movement.
Disruption to site survey work and provision of environmental information
We appreciate the effect the restrictions have had, and may continue to have, on the completion of site surveys, and the gaps in survey and assessment information that may occur as a result. This is likely to be particularly problematic for seasonally dependent surveys such as breeding species surveys where critical survey periods may be lost, but also regarding delays in landscape and visual impact assessments (LVIA) where a competent assessment requires 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 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 this year is the 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 there is survey information 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. Bear in mind that survey licences may take longer than usual for us to process at the moment, as we are prioritising licence applications for preserving public health and safety, and for preventing serious damage. If you require an extension to an existing licence due to work delays, please wait until the licence is within four weeks of expiry before requesting an amendment.
- 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.
- How long restrictions are going to affect survey work and the extent of the gaps in survey and assessment information. The move to Phase 3 of the lockdown restrictions has provided some additional scope for survey work to be undertaken, though we appreciate it may still not be possible. In some cases, sufficient information may still be gathered if only part of the survey period is lost this year. 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 survey period next year. 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. LVIAs should be accompanied by the standard range of figures appropriate for the development. If you are 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.
This is interim advice for now, given the dynamic situation we are in. If you have any queries in the meantime, please contact [email protected].
Our lead contacts
- Planning Act – Simon Brooks - [email protected] / 01463 725315
- NPF4 – Brendan Turvey - [email protected] / 01738 458622
- Environmental Assessment (our approach) – Fiona Rice - [email protected] / 01463 725207
- Development Planning (our approach) – Fiona Rice – as above
- Marine Planning – George Lees - [email protected] / 01738 458621
- Development Casework (our approach) – David Law - [email protected] / 07881 973992
- Marine Casework – Erica Knott - [email protected] 01738 458674
- Capacity Building/Guidance – Mike Shepherd - [email protected] / 01738 458635
- Stakeholder Engagement – Daniel Gotts - [email protected] / 0131 316 2674