New legislation intended to simplify and improve the planning system has been set out by Local Government Minister Kevin Stewart.
The Scottish Government has said its aim is to provide an improved system of development planning, giving people a greater say in the future of their places and supporting delivery of planning development.
Mr Stewart described how the Planning (Scotland) Bill, will create a new structure for a more proactive and enabling system with clearer development plans, earlier engagement with communities, streamlined procedures and smarter resourcing.
The Bill builds on recommendations of an independent review carried out by a panel of experts last year. Provisions within it include Simplified Planning Zones and proposals to develop an Infrastructure Levy to help support the development of infrastructure to unlock land for development. The latter has raised concern in some quarters over the potential diversion of money from local planning applications to the Scottish Government
The Bill will also allow the Scottish Government to step in and take control of a planning department are outlined, with the provision for a Government “troubleshooter” to be sent in if local planners are deemed to be under-performing. The Conservatives have claimed that this would run a “coach and horses through any pretence of localism,”
The Bill will include a new right for residents to produce their own development plans and there will no doubt be continued debate around not only what is in the Bill, but what is not – including the absence of a third party right of appeal.
The Scottish Government’s 20 proposals for revamping the planning system include:
- Aligning community planning and spatial planning. This can be achieved by introducing a requirement for development plans to take account of wider community planning and can be supported through future guidance.
- Regional partnership working. We believe that strategic development plans should be removed from the system so that strategic planners can support more proactive regional partnership working.
- Improving national spatial planning and policy. The National Planning Framework (NPF) can be developed further to better reflect regional priorities. In addition, national planning policies can be used to make local development planning simpler and more consistent.
- Stronger local development plans. We believe the plan period should be extended to 10 years, and that ‘main issues reports’ and supplementary guidance should be removed to make plans more accessible for people. A new ‘gatecheck’ would help to improve plan examinations by dealing with significant issues at an earlier stage.
- Making plans that deliver. We can strengthen the commitment that comes from allocating development land in the plan, and improve the use of delivery programmes to help ensure that planned development happens on the ground.
- Giving people an opportunity to plan their own place. Communities should be given a new right to come together and prepare local place plans. We believe these plans should form part of the statutory local development plan.
- Getting more people involved in planning. A wider range of people should be encouraged and inspired to get involved in planning. In particular, we would like to introduce measures that enable children and young people to have a stronger voice in decisions about the future of their places.
- Improving public trust. Pre-application consultation can be improved, and there should be greater community involvement where proposals are not supported in the development plan. We also propose to discourage repeat applications and improving planning enforcement.
- Keeping decisions local – rights of appeal. We believe that more review decisions should be made by local authorities rather than centrally. We also want to ensure that the system is sufficiently flexible to reflect the distinctive challenges and opportunities in different parts of Scotland.
- Being clear about how much housing land is required. Planning should take a more strategic view of the land required for housing development. Clearer national and regional aspirations for new homes are proposed to support this.
- Closing the gap between planning consent and delivery of homes. We want planning authorities to take more steps to actively help deliver development. Land reform could help to achieve this.
- Releasing more ‘development ready’ land. Plans should take a more strategic and flexible approach to identifying land for housing. Consents could be put in place for zoned housing land through greater use of Simplified Planning Zones.
- Embedding an infrastructure first approach. There is a need for better co-ordination of infrastructure planning at a national and regional level. This will require a stronger commitment to delivering development from all infrastructure providers.
- A more transparent approach to funding infrastructure. We believe that introducing powers for a new local levy to raise additional finance for infrastructure would be fairer and more effective. Improvements can also be made to Section 75 obligations.
- Innovative infrastructure planning. Infrastructure planning needs to look ahead so that it can deliver low carbon solutions, new digital technologies and the facilities that communities need.
- Developing skills to deliver outcomes. We will work with the profession to improve and broaden skills.
- Investing in a better service. There is a need to increase planning fees to ensure the planning service is better resourced.
- A new approach to improving performance. We will continue work to strengthen the way in which performance is monitored, reported and improved.
- Making better use of resources – efficient decision making. We will remove the need for planning consent from a wider range of developments. Targeted changes to development management will help to ensure decisions are made more quickly and more transparently.
- Innovation, designing for the future and the digital transformation of the planning service. There are many opportunities to make planning work better through the use of information technology. The planning service should continue to pioneer the digital transformation of public services.
The Bill marks the start of the formal legislative process. It will now be debated by the Scottish Parliament before being subject to detailed scrutiny at Committee, with the expectation that it will receive Royal Assent in the 2018-2019 Parliamentary year.