The Scottish Ministers have to date been cautious in the exercise of their right to call in planning applications for their decision. However, previous guidelines relating to which applications must be notified have meant that a substantial number of applications have been notified, many of which have been in relation to relatively minor developments. As such, the Scottish Ministers have declined to exercise their discretion in relation to up to 90% of notifications.

In order to reduce the administrative burden on planning authorities and the Scottish Ministers alike, from 1 April 2009 a new Notification Direction has been in force resetting notification guidelines, which should hopefully have the effect of reducing the number of applications notified. Examples of categories of development which no longer require to be notified include: development contrary to development plans; major retail development and development subject to environmental impact assessment. However, applicants and authorities should bear in mind that while the new Notification Direction replaces the previous 2007 Direction, a number of other, separate Directions remain in force - for example, those requiring notification of certain applications which may affect National Scenic Areas, or on land within the vicinity of royal residences, airports, MoD establishments etc., along with case - or location - specific Directions addressed to individual planning authorities.

Notifications will be required in relation to three broad categories of application in relation to which a planning authority proposes to grant planning permission:

Category 1: Developments in which planning authorities have an interest

Notification is required for applications in relation to which the planning authority is the applicant/developer, or in respect of which the planning authority has a financial or other interest, or where the development will be on land wholly or partly in the planning authority's ownership. The other requirement is that the development will be "significantly contrary" to the development plan for the area in question. The word “significantly” is important because this is a change from the previous notification process where notification had been required in wider circumstances.

Category 2: Objection by a government agency

There are a number of planning-related issues under this Category in relation to which notification will be required where the relevant agency has objected to the application. For example, where the application has the potential to affect an SSSI, if Scottish Natural Heritage indicate that there may be a materially adverse affect on the SSSI, the application must be notified. Other issues include applications which may have an effect on flooding, playing fields, trunk roads, scheduled monuments and A-listed buildings and marine fish farm developments.

A number of government agencies, including SEPA, have stated a commitment to ensure that their responses to applications will concentrate on matters of genuine national interest. This should achieve the aim of the new direction by reducing the number of objections from government agencies, thereby reducing the number of applications that will be notified.

Category 3: Opencast coal and related minerals

This Category relates only to open cast coal operations where the site's boundary falls within 500 metres of the edge of an existing community or "sensitive establishment" (not defined in the Direction).

Planning Circular 3 2009: Notification of Planning Applications, with the Direction annexed, can be found at http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2009/03/27112705/0.