Keeping planning permissions and projects alive: to develop or not to develop, what are my options?

Madgalena MacLean and Alison Hetherington summarise the key issues for developers to consider when deciding whether to implement a planning permission and proceed with construction.

26 March 2024

Hotel construction development

For the success of any project, timing is everything. Unfortunately, we live in challenging economic times, where supply issues, high prices, and market uncertainties make it difficult to decide whether now is the right time to start your development. 

This means that developers must take a careful and strategic approach in deciding when to implement a planning permission and proceed with construction. This note sets out some points to consider when deciding if there is a way to keep your planning permission alive for longer, focusing on sites in Scotland.

When a planning permission is granted, it comes with time limits for implementation and (usually) a range of conditions – some of which may need to be satisfied prior to commencement of development. If the time limit for commencement of development is about to expire and the developer is not in a position to commence, this can create serious problems. 

If the development is not commenced, the planning permission will lapse. If the permission lapses, the developer will find themselves back at “square one” and will be faced with starting the costly consenting process all over again. 

Assuming that any relevant pre-commencement conditions have already been discharged, and with consideration given to any obligations in a Section 75 agreement which may be in place, a developer could keep their planning permission alive by undertaking certain works which would qualify as “commencing development”, but would not involve implementing major construction works. 

Commencement of development can include a range of activities – provided they are carried out in line with the permission. However, certain works would not qualify and would not help with keeping your permission alive. We recommend getting professional advice on the proposed works, to ensure they will count as lawful commencement of development.

If commencement of development is not possible – perhaps due to the pre-commencement conditions not being discharged – and assuming that the existing planning permission has not yet lapsed, it may be appropriate to apply for a new planning permission without some of the conditions previously attached, or subject to modified conditions. 

The success or refusal of this application would not impact the original permission. The application costs would likely be lower than the original application – and possibly lower than the costs of alternative approaches. If the application is successful, a new permission would be granted subject to different conditions, which could help to keep your project alive. Again, we recommend getting professional advice on whether this approach would be appropriate. 


Whichever approach is selected, it is important to take the right steps at the right time to keep your project alive. 

Don’t hesitate to contact our planning team, we would be happy to discuss the options which may be available for your development.