Virtual public consultations

Monday March 30th 2020

Midlothian Council

Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Marie Sharp

Developers that want to carry on with future projects may have to hold public consultations online as the coronavirus lockdown continues.

Local authority planners who are continuing to support developers are already seeing applications for public meetings lodged without a date or venue for exhibiting future proposals.

And Tony Thomas, director of APT Planning & Development in East Linton, East Lothian, says ensuring the building industry is ready to resume as soon as possible may mean future consultations have to be carried out on websites.

Mr Thomas revealed that one consultation had already begun online as Queensberry Properties launched a website inviting feedback on its proposals for Finance House in Edinburgh.

The website was launched after a planned second public consultation this month had to be cancelled and gives people a chance to view the plans to turn the former office building into residential accommodation with associated commercial and leisure facilities.

And it could be the way people are consulted in the future as more companies look at ways to engage with the public without face-to-face gatherings.

The first public stage of planning applications for large developments is lodging a pre-application notice (PAN) with a council informing them that public consultation meetings are being held.

The meetings, which usually take place in town halls or community centres, give local residents a chance to see the proposals for the first time, talk to developers and give their views.

However, that crucial stage is on hold for some developments after the lockdown, which prohibits gatherings of more than two people.

At Millerhill, Midlothian, a pre-application notice for housing at Wellington Farm on land known as Duke’s Field has been lodged with no date or venue for the public exhibition.

In a note to the council, the developers have said: “In light of Government advice which seeks to minimise the spread of coronavirus, non-essential contact is limited at his time.

“We are therefore awaiting the advice of the Scottish Government before making any formal arrangements for pre-application public engagement.”

Mr Thomas said it was vital for the industry that companies were ready to resume work as soon as possible.

He said: “The approach to all aspects of the planning process is very much an emerging issue.

“The authorities are working hard to continue ‘as normal’ whilst working remotely and this is hugely appreciated.

“It will be important that as and when restrictions are lifted the development industry is ready to respond quickly.

“From a workload perspective, most clients are looking to progress with projects that are already in the pipeline and to be fair the alternative would be catastrophic for a sector that feels peaks and troughs very quickly.

“Where public consultation is still proposed/programmed, the only way to achieve this will be to set up a dedicated website with the ability to post comments.

“The real challenge will be to ensure likely local residents/businesses are aware and can gain access to participate.”

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