The Planning (Scotland) Bill Responses

An overview of responses and reactions to the Planning (Scotland) Bill from BEFS.

The Planning (Scotland) Bill appeared in December 2017, a little over 2 years since the independent panel carried out a “game-changing review of Scotland’s planning system”.

The Scottish Government’s aims to, “increase delivery of high quality housing developments, by delivering a quicker, more accessible and efficient process, [which will also] reinforce our commitment to a fair and open planning system that works for everyone, especially local communities”, are bold. BEFS members’ have questioned the ability to produce a planning system that works faster for the development industry whilst increasing public engagement and trust.

There are proposals to strengthen the National Planning Framework by merging it with Scottish Planning Policy, and abolish statutory Strategic Development Plans to allow local authorities greater flexibility as to how, and who, they collaborate with. BEFS response raises concerns about the resulting loss of regional agency. The collaborations would follow the pattern established by City Region Deals which have a tendency to be project based, opaque and undemocratic. RTPI Scotland recommends that there should be a duty to require regional partnerships to agree strategic outcomes, which would then in turn inform the National Planning Framework, thereby preventing the loss of regional agency and resulting in subsidiarity rather than a top down national planning system.

Local Development Plan timescales are extended from 5 to 10 years resulting in a cost saving, but the process for their creation remains unclear. Local Development Plans would now require approval by full council, rather than delegated planning committees. Would this help councillors have better regard for the planning system when making decisions within Economy, Finance, Housing, Environment and Transport committees?

Local Place Plans are introduced by the Bill, these can be prepared by a community body, but the LPP must have regard to the Local Development Plan and National Planning Framework with further detail to be prescribed in secondary legislation. The Local Development Plan must in turn “have regard” for any Local Place Plan. The Policy Memorandum is explicit that the funding for a Local Place Plan must be found by the community body. These costs are not insignificant (BEFS suggests significantly higher than the estimate of 12K set out in the Financial Memorandum) and we question how achievable the creation of a Local Place Plan will be for the least heard communities that may benefit most. Many respondents, including Architecture & Design Scotland, raise concerns about the appropriate resourcing of community involvement, and PAS point out that their experience of running charrettes sees the most effective outcomes involve the local authority as a stakeholder.

The Bill’s focus, or more accurately the focus of the secondary legislation, is on increasing community engagement in the preparation of Local Development Plans. Whilst the matter of equal rights of appeal for individuals or communities is explicitly excluded from the Bill, many respondents – including multiple community groups, have made sure this is an issue requiring further examination. BEFS Members’ vary in opinion: Archaeology Scotland, National Trust for Scotland and the Cockburn Association all comment on the need to rebalance the system in various ways. RTPI Scotland does not support changes to the appeal system. BEFS meetings with various political parties suggests that an amendment is likely to be introduced in support of equal rights of appeal but the detail is unclear and Government opposition guaranteed.

Simplified Development Zones replace Simplified Planning Zones. The prime difference is that SDZs could incorporate conservation areas and listed buildings which raises significant concern, the AHSS being particularly strong in opposition to this proposal. The National Trust for Scotland have argued that the detail required for pre-consent on said designations is unlikely to be available. It is of note that the Law Commission are recommending the withdrawal of such zones in Wales.

There is some call for Simplified Development Zones to be linked to alternative means of land value capture – the Scottish Green Party would like them linked to compulsory purchase orders with compensation at existing use value thereby allowing local authorities to follow continental models of development. The Bill as introduced does not acknowledge this, but research being undertaken by the Scottish Land Commission may have an influence.

Members have presented varying views on many of the Bill’s aspects, but in a number of areas we find broad consensus: The Bill should set out the statutory purpose of planning, and ensure resulting sustainable development; development that maintains and enhances places of special value, aligning with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. There is also repeated agreement on the need for appropriate resource to be made available for planning, with RICS Scotland proposing that the use of funds in this area should be seen as an investment, not a cost.

The planning ‘game’ is not significantly changed; we are left looking to secondary legislation for clarity, and the vision for Scotland’s planning system in the 21st Century is found wanting – for both the private sector, and communities of place and interest.

For those wishing to read any particular submission in response to the Bill; BEFS own, and Members responses can be found on our Parliamentary Papers page. And all submissions currently uploaded for the Committee can be found on the following Parliamentary page.