Review of the Scottish planning system

Orbit Communications - Alex Orr 01
Alex Orr @Alex_m_Orr

In September 2015, an independent panel was appointed by Scottish Ministers to review the Scottish planning system. The panel were tasked with bringing together ideas to achieve a quicker, more accessible and efficient planning process.

The report of the panel, “Empowering Planning to Deliver Great Places”, and a statement from the panel were published on 31 May 2016. The Scottish Government is now considering the recommendations put forward by the panel and will publish its response in due course.

The review focused on six key themes – development planning; housing delivery; planning for infrastructure; development management; leadership, resourcing and skills; and community engagement.

Key recommendations include:

Strong and flexible development plans:

  • Strategic Development Plans should be replaced by an enhanced National Planning Framework, which should be more fully integrated with wider government policies and strategies.
  • Main Issues Report should be removed and replaced with a single, full draft plan, providing there is a renewed commitment to early engagement.
  • Local development plans should set out a 20 year vision and focus on place rather than policy. Preparation process reduced to a two year period.
  • Development plan examinations should be replaced with a frontloaded ‘gatecheck’ of the plan.
  • Scope for flexibility and updating local development plans within the 10 year period.
  • A statutory duty for the development plan to be aligned with community planning should be introduced.

The delivery of more high quality homes:

  • The National Planning Framework should define regional housing targets as the basis for setting housing land requirements in local development plans.
  • Urgent need to establish a clearer definition of effective housing land so that local development plans can move on from this to take a positive and flexible approach to addressing the housing land requirement for their area.
  • SPZ concept should be rebranded and evolved into a more flexible and widely applicable zoning mechanism which identifies and prepares areas to make them ‘investment ready’.
  • Mechanisms for planning authorities to take action to assemble land and provide infrastructure upfront should be established as soon as possible.
  • A programme of innovative housing delivery should be progressed in a way which is fully aligned with local development plans.

An infrastructure first approach to planning and development:

  • A national infrastructure agency or working group with statutory powers should be established, involving all infrastructure providers as well as planning representatives. This will be tasked with providing a clearer, cross cutting overview of planning and infrastructure provision.
  • Options for a national or regional infrastructure levy should be defined and consulted upon.
  • A development delivery infrastructure fund should be established, partly resourced by a mechanism to capture land value uplift.
  • Corporate structure requiring all key infrastructure providers to co-operate in delivering the local development plan should be introduced.
  • A review of transport governance should be undertaken to address the gap between this key aspect of infrastructure and development planning.
  • Future school building programmes should address the need for new schools in housing growth areas.
  • Local authorities and their partners need to become much bolder in their approach to infrastructure investment, with an “infrastructure first” approach.
  • Section 75 planning obligations should be retained but their use should be minimised and the process streamlined.
  • New approaches to low carbon infrastructure planning and delivery should be taken forward through a programme of innovation.

Efficient and transparent development management:

  • Timescales for decision making remain critical in creating certainty and should remain part of the performance monitoring framework.
  • Certainty provided by the development plan in development management should strengthened – to incentivise this allocated sites should be afforded planning permission in principle, could be exempted from pre-application consultation requirements and could benefit from fast-tracked appeals. Conversely, where non allocated sites are being proposed for development a charrette or similar fuller consultation or mediation exercise could be required.
  • Quality and effectiveness of pre-application discussions with planning authorities and consultation by developers should be significantly improved.
  • National guidance on minimum requirements for validation is required.
  • Scottish Government should work with local authority enforcement officers to identify and/or remove any barriers to the use of enforcement powers.
  • Planning authorities should work together to identify the scope for significantly extending permitted development rights.
  • Fuller study of the scope for combined consents, particularly planning, roads and drainage consents, should be carried out.
  • A stronger mechanism for a collective community perspective to be built into the matters explicitly addressed by reporters in appeals, could go some way towards bridging the gap between local and central decision making.

Stronger leadership, smarter resourcing and sharing of skills:

  • Planning services should aspire to become leaders and innovators within the context of public service reform.
  • Planning fees on major applications should be increased substantially, so the service moves forward at full cost recovery.
  • Scope for further discretionary charging, for example for pre-application processes, should be considered further.
  • Alternative mechanisms to support improvements should be found and the threat of the penalty clause removed.
  • Skills development is required in a number of priority areas.
  • Local authorities should pursue the establishment of shared services.
  • A planning graduate intern programme should be considered.

Collaboration rather than conflict – inclusion and empowerment:

  • There should be a continuing commitment to early engagement in planning, but practice needs to improve significantly.
  • Communities should be empowered to bring forward their own local place plans, and those should form part of the development plan.
  • Community councils should be given a statutory right to be consulted on the development plan.
  • Third party rights of appeal should not be introduced.
  • A working group should be established to identify the barriers to greater involvement in planning, taking account of measures contained in the Community Empowerment Act and the Land reform Act.
  • A new statutory tight for young people to be consulted on the development plan should be introduced.
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