Planning (Scotland) Bill – a mixed response?

BEFS Director, Euan Leitch, reflects on responses to the Planning (Scotland) Bill since it was passed.

It has been a week since the Planning (Scotland) Bill was passed, after 3½ years of intensive activity across professional organisations, third sector groups and  communities. When the “root and branch” review of the planning system was announced for the Scottish Government’s programme in 2015 it had the following aims:

  • Ensure that planning realises its full potential, unlocking land and sites, supporting more quality housing across all tenures and delivering the infrastructure required to support development.
  • Streamline, simplify and improve current systems and remove unnecessary blockages in the decision-making process.
  • Ensure that communities are more engaged in the process.
  • Continue to meet our statutory and international obligations in protecting and enhancing Scotland’s nature and environment.

Has the Bill achieved those aims? On the evidence of the Bill alone, it seems doubtful and most commentators await secondary legislation.

There have been very few press releases to date (or at least published) and most positive comments are in response to individual aspects of the Bill. RTPI Scotland welcome the introduction of Chief Planning Officers and retention of regional spatial strategies but question the availability of funding new aspects – Local Place Plans and Mediation?  Calum Macleod of Community Land Scotland welcomes parts of the Bill that address rural repopulation. The BBC provided a summary of the Bill, as did CommonSpace and Lesley Riddoch covered aspects in a podcast, but complained that no national newspaper was interested enough in planning to publish a piece on it. Cliff Hague has offered perhaps the most detailed analysis and comment. Neil Collar of Brodies’ summation concludes that while not a reforming piece of legislation, “useful conversations have been started”.

Anderson Strathearn held a breakfast seminar yesterday primarily attended by the development industry with presentations from LichfieldsGladman Land and Playfair Scotland. The consensus was relief at not totally losing regional spatial strategies, fears about losing influence in the gatecheck process for local development plans and further relief that land value capture had not been fully introduced. There was no strong conviction that it would result in the delivery of more housing or that local place plans or the introduction of mediation would satisfy community needs. While this sounds downbeat, it was more of a ‘phew’ that no new obstacles had been introduced, and the defeat of third party right of appeal, described as a “victory” for industry, with that being attributed to the successful lobbying of the Scottish Property Federation. One industry representative was more positive, citing the housing target being in the National Planning Framework as of benefit, but followed that by encouraging developers to “pretend to trust” planning authorities when engaging with them.

It is perhaps telling that there is little comment on the Bill as a whole, just praise for individual aspects reflecting a particular interest or disappointment that certain amendments were voted down. What is notably absent is any community group recognising greatly improved engagement as a result.

Perhaps the blueprint for a streamlined and more engaging process will be revealed in secondary legislation, although as observed by Alastair Mckie yesterday, they may well be mutually exclusive goals. Secondary legislation was the answer to many questions as the Bill proceeded though committees at Stage 2 – will it be jam tomorrow?

Postscript: commentary has subsequently been published by Planning Democracy, Scottish Green Infrastructure Forum and Heads of Planning Scotland. 09 July 2019