The Scottish Government, continuing with a general rationalisation and consolidation of the planning process, has issued Circular 3/09 on the notification of planning applications. This document has replaced Circular 5/07 effective from its publication in April. Annexed is The Town and Country Planning (Notification of Applications)(Scotland)(Direction) 2009, which took effect on 1 April 2009, replacing the Direction issued with Circular 5/07. The Circular, like its predecessor, details situations in which a development must be notified to the Scottish Ministers, and provides guidance on the application of the Direction.

Move to decentralised decision-making

The Circular reflects a general shift in policy focus towards decentralised decision-making. The intention is for the Scottish Government to take a more "proportionate" role in the deciding of planning cases, where national scrutiny is only required when necessary. It is hoped that the new procedures will remove a large number of applications from the notification procedure. This should allow decisions on planning applications to be taken more quickly, thereby reducing the constraints that this may have on economic growth.

The Circular details three categories of applications where the Scottish Ministers must be notified:

  • the local planning authority has an interest in the development;
  • there is an objection by a government agency (for example, the development has the potential to affect a Site of Specific Scientific Interest); or
  • the development is an opencast coal or mining operation within 500m from an existing community or sensitive establishment.

It is notable that, under Category 1, even where a local planning authority has an interest in the proposed development, the Scottish Ministers need only be notified where the development is significantly contrary to the development plan. This differs from the previous Direction, whereby the Scottish Ministers were to be notified in any case where there was any departure from the Plan and there had been a "substantial" number of objections.

More development types that do not need automatic notification

Clearly the list of situations requiring notification is significantly shorter than provided for in Circular 05/07. The following no longer require to be automatically notified to the Scottish Ministers:

  • Developments that require Environmental Impact Assessments;
  • Major retail developments;
  • Developments with parking provision exceeding the thresholds in SPP 17;
  • Large industrial, petrochemical and business developments, or developments affecting them;
  • Oil-related development;
  • Developments contrary to the local development plans; and
  • Green belt developments.

While developments falling within these categories no longer automatically require notification, the Scottish Ministers still have the discretion to issue a case-specific notification direction, should they consider that the proposed development is "likely to raise issues of national importance."

Call in period unchanged

As under the previous regime, where a planning authority have notified the Scottish Ministers that they intend to grant planning permission, the Ministers have 28 days to decide whether to call in the application, although this period can be extended if necessary.

Our view

It is hoped that this Circular will expedite the planning application process of large-scale developments, however it remains to be seen how often the Scottish Ministers will use their residual power to issue a notification direction outwith the three categories outlined in the Circular. Given the current administration's willingness to adopt a more "hands off approach", it must be hoped that there will not be numerous individual notification directions, as this would simply lead to greater uncertainty rather than increasing efficiency in the planning application process.

To access Planning Circular 3/09, click here.