Annex D - Proposed Changes To Pre-Application Consultation Requirements In Planning – Island Communities Impact Assessment - Screening
Island Communities Impact Assessment – Screening
1. This screening assessment relates to proposed changes to the existing requirements for pre-application consultation (PAC) with local communities on applications for planning permission for national and major developments. These requirements were introduced in 2009 (part of the implementation of the Planning etc. (Scotland) Act 2006).
2. The back ground to the existing requirements, the proposed changes and what has led to those proposals is set out in the accompanying consultation paper.
3. The specific proposed changes to secondary legislation (i.e. regulations) on PAC are:
- To make the requirement to provide information on proposals be both in hard copy and electronic (e.g. online) formats.
- An additional public event (i.e. a required minimum of two public events);
- Requirements on the content of PAC reports;
- Exemption from PAC for applications in certain circumstances.
4. There is an additional related legislative change which is included in the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019, and the intention is to commence it alongside the above changes:
- An 18 month time limit on making an application once PAC has started (i.e. from when the proposal of application notice is served on the planning authority).
5. This change is not included in this assessment, having been considered as part of the Bill process.
Implications of Proposed Changes for Island Communities
6. This section considers the potential for differential impacts on island communities of each of the changes. Appendix A indicates the location of applications for major development in the different planning authority areas of Scotland. It indicates that the three island authorities are amongst those with the lowest number of such applications. Information for Highland Council, Argyll and Bute Council and North Ayrshire Council is not broken down to allow their island areas to be considered separately.
7. It is noted that even though the numbers of applications to which PAC applies is relatively low in the islands, the significance of individual cases may as a result be greater.
Provision of Information
8. Prior to the COVID-19 emergency, the PAC newspaper notice was required to say where "details as to where further information may be obtained concerning the proposed development". As part of the miscellaneous temporary provisions brought in during the COVID-19 emergency, the option to provide this information by electronic means was introduced.
9. The proposal is that the current provision should be amended to make this provision of information to be by electronic means and in hard copy.
10. Figures indicate that island communities have older populations and that internet use is less in older age groups than younger (see paragraphs 33 to 37 below), and that there is a gap between premises in the islands able to access superfast and fibre broadband when compared to premises in other parts of rural Scotland – See Appendix B. Given, however, this change would extend the availability of information to both hard copy and electronic means, it is hard to see how overall this would put island communities at a disadvantage compared to the rest of Scotland.
Requirements on the content of PAC reports
11. Currently the content of PAC reports is covered by guidance. In order to improve consistency and transparency of such reports, the intention is to specify requirements on content in legislation. Section 35C(1) of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 already requires the report to say what has been done to comply with PAC requirements.
12. The proposed additional requirements (specific wording in Annex A, draft regulation 6 – introducing a new regulation 7B) are:
(a) the dates on which and places where public events were held,
(b) a description of any additional steps taken by the prospective applicant to consult with members of the public as regards the proposed development,
(c) a list of bodies, groups and organisations who were consulted by the prospective applicant,
(d) evidence of the prospective applicant carrying out the activities described under sub-paragraphs (a), (b) and (c),
(e) copies of—
(i) any materials sent to consultees,
(ii) any materials provided to those attending a public event, and
(iii) any visual presentation shown or displayed at a public event,
(f) photographs of any display boards or models at public events,
(g) confirmation as to whether consultees and attendees at public events were informed that pre-application consultation does not remove the right or the potential need to comment on the final application once it is made to the planning authority,
(i) a summary of—
(i) the written responses to consultations, and
(ii) views raised at public events,
(j) an explanation of how the prospective applicant took account of views raised during the pre-application consultation process, and
(k) an explanation of how members of the public were given feedback on the prospective applicant's consideration of the views raised during the pre-application consultation process.
13. Guidance could elaborate on some of these requirements, for example, some of the considerations that should be covered when explaining their response to the points raised, such as practical, commercial or design considerations. See the general question below on the content of guidance.
14. Guidance could elaborate on some of these requirements, for example, some of the considerations that should be covered when explaining their response to the points raised, such as practical, commercial or design considerations. See the general question below on the content of guidance.
15. The actual content of a report will therefore be dependent on the proposal, its location, the PAC discussions, views expressed and information made available. Where proposals are to be located in the islands, then, for example, to the extent local communities raise island related issues during PAC, these should be reflected in the PAC report, along with the response to them.
16. There would not appear to be any reason why this sort of approach to prescribed content should have any different impact in relation to development proposals on the islands.
Exemption from PAC for Applications in Certain Circumstances
17. The intention with regard to exemptions from PAC is that where a second application is made by the same applicant for the same basic development (albeit possibly with some changes), then that application is exempt from PAC. That development would also have to be within the scope of the proposal described in the proposal of application notice (PAN) served on the planning authority in relation to the PAC for the previous application.
18. This could apply where an earlier application was withdrawn, granted (and a revised permission needed for example), or refused. Also where the earlier application was appealed, called in by Scottish Ministers for a decision, or still before the planning authority (it would not apply where the planning authority declined to determine the earlier application). It is also intended to have a time limit on when such exemption will apply.
19. As indicated, the aim is to avoid excessive requirements for PAC in cases where the same basic proposal has been through PAC already.
20. We are not aware of reasons why such exemption from procedural requirements might be regarded as having more or less of an impact on island communities than other communities in remoter parts of Scotland. Major developments tend to be concentrated in local authority areas with more densely populated areas, but we do not have information indicating, for example, that individual communities within those areas would necessarily experience more consultation fatigue arising from repeated PAC on the same basic proposal than island communities.
An Additional Public Event
21. The intention is that this second public event be used to feedback to the public on the prospective applicants consideration of the views expressed during PAC and before the proposal is finalised for application.
22. The original requirement for a public event was, and this additional one is, envisaged as a live face to face event in a physical location.
23. One can anticipate that in locations with more scattered and / or older communities, where convenient locations for such events may be limited, or transport connections are more limited, there may be difficulties in interested members of the public attending such public events.
24. National Records of Scotland (NRS) - Population Estimates for Settlements and Localities in Scotland, Mid-2016 (2018) states that:
"The council areas with the lowest proportion of people living in a settlement are Na h-Eileanan Siar (30%) and Shetland Islands (38%). Many communities in these islands are sparser than those in the rest of Scotland, due to crofting and other factors, and so do not fulfil the density requirements needed to be counted as a settlement."
25. The Orkney Islands has the next lowest proportion of people living in a settlement.
26. NRS Scotland Mid-Year Population Estimates Scotland, Mid-2019 (2020) indicate that Na h-Eileanan Siar and the Orkney Islands are among the local authority areas with an older population in Scotland, with Shetland closer to the overall figures for Scotland. The Transport and Travel in Scotland Results from the Scottish Household Survey 2018 (2019) indicates in turn that older people were less likely to have travelled the previous day. Only 51 per cent of those aged 80 and over had travelled the previous day and 65 per cent of those aged 70 to 79.
27. That survey also identified a variation in mode of travel by age. The older age group were more likely to catch a bus than younger children (33% compared to 9%), which may indicate older populations are more reliant on public transport.
28. The Transport and Travel in Scotland also includes the results of experimental analysis on the accessibility of bus services in Scotland, carried out by the GI-SAT team in Scottish Government. Those results in Annex B of that document indicate that a higher proportion of 'small accessible towns', 'small remote towns', 'accessible rural' and 'remote rural' areas score towards the 'least accessible' end of the spectrum, compared to 'large urban areas' and 'other urban areas'
29. The Scottish Government's National Islands Plan refers to the costs and availability of transport in the islands and the difficulties in travelling between islands, when overnight stays may be required, adding to costs.
30. There is evidence therefore that given a more scattered and older population and the availability of, and reliance upon, public transport, may mean island populations may be less able to attend public events, or that it is more difficult and costly to do so. However, it is hard to make any conclusion as to the significance of any such challenges compared to other more remote parts of mainland Scotland, where populations may also be more scattered, older and where access to public transport at least may be more difficult compared to say larger urban areas.
31. Further evidence is required to draw any conclusions in this regard.
32. If there is some significant difference in the ability of island communities to attend public events, how might that be addressed?
33. PAC requirements already include requirements on prospective applicants to make information available to the public and allow comments on the proposals to be submitted to them. At present, such availability of information is online, due to the COVID-19 emergency.
34. Also, during the COVID-19 emergency, the requirement for a physical public event as part of PAC has been suspended. Guidance indicates online measures for engagement which should be used instead.
35. An evaluation of such measures has yet to be undertaken. Availability of information online is included as part of the proposed legislative changes. As to whether one or more of the public events should be or could be held online, we would need to await the aforementioned evaluation. In the meantime, guidance could suggest such online events as an addition to the required physical public events, particularly in areas with more scattered populations.
36. This would not necessarily be a total solution for island communities. Whilst setting out the way to try to close the gap in digital connectivity, The National Plan for Scotland's Islands (2019), does indicate a gap between premises in the islands able to access superfast and fibre broadband when compared to premises in other parts of rural Scotland – See Annex B. Also, in their response to the 'Call for Ideas' on the Scottish Government's National Planning Framework (NPF) 4, Orkney Islands Council indicated "the islands still experience some of the poorest broadband and mobile phone connectivity speeds in the UK. Improved digital connectivity and investment in digital infrastructure to ensure equal coverage across Scotland should remain as a key objective in NPF4".
37. In addition, above we indicated that Na h-Eileanan Siar and the Orkney Islands have a higher proportion of older people in their population, and that older people are less likely or able to travel. The Scottish Household Survey 2018 refers to a clear relationship between age and use of internet, with lower rates of internet use among older adults. In 2018, 100 per cent of adults aged 16 to 24 reported using the internet compared to 38 per cent of those aged 75 and over. This gap is, however, narrowing.
38. As regards any other particular challenges there may be for island communities to engage in public events, this seems likely to be a matter for guidance, rather than trying to anticipate specific issues and solutions in legislation.
39. Planning authorities have the power to require additional consultation steps as part of PAC upon receipt of the prospective applications PAN. As a result, where there are clear difficulties for certain communities, planning authorities can seek measures to address these in PAC, and this could be informed by guidance.
40. It is worth noting that in relation to the Planning (Scotland) Bill – now the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 – a joint statement was made by the Scottish Government and members of the Strategic Islands Group (Updated – June 2019) on the Island Communities Impact Assessment.
41. On 'Proposal 8 Improving public trust', the statement refers to there being agreement that greater structure for pre-application consultations would be helpful, to allow for feedback. This could benefit from stronger guidance, although it was also acknowledged that this is not an island-specific issue. No island-specific recommendations were made in this regard.
42. It seems likely therefore that Island communities would welcome the opportunities provided by the requirement for a second public event. There may be some issues around ability to attend such physical events, given the specific nature of island communities, such as the potential need to travel between islands. With the information we have identified at this stage, the significance of these issues, as distinct from those in other remote parts of mainland Scotland, is hard to gauge.
43. Nevertheless, in looking at mitigation of such differential impacts, whilst digital/online alternatives may go some way to addressing these, guidance may need to look at other solutions for particular issues that may arise where more scattered or older populations are involved or in areas where there are specific issues relating to transport infrastructure. Such guidance can be backed up with existing planning authority powers to require additional consultation steps as part of PAC in individual cases.
44. As regards the proposals for statutory requirements on the content of PAC reports and exemptions for PAC in the circumstances indicated, with the information identified at this stage, there do not appear to be specific significant issues for Island Communities beyond those for some other parts of Scotland.
45. Our conclusion at this stage is that, given the mitigation that could be covered in guidance, and perhaps later in legislation, there do not seem to be significant implications from the proposed changes for Island Communities specifically. Numbers of major developments may be relatively low in number in the islands, but the significance of a single development of this nature may be greater as a result.
46. The consultation paper seeks views on this screening assessment and conclusions and for any additional data or information.
Planning and Architecture Division
Scottish Government August 2020