Scottish Government opens consultation on planning system modernisation

planning stockKeenly-awaited proposals for transforming the planning system have been positively received by the country’s home builders.

Yesterday the Scottish Government set out 20 proposals for revamping the system, which it said will support economic growth, delivery of houses and increase community involvement in planning decisions. They form a consultation which will pave the way for a planning bill to be brought forward this year.

The proposals build on recommendations of an independent review carried out by a panel of experts last year. Key changes include zoning more land for housing, promoting self-build and removing the need to apply for planning permission for more types of development. The consultation also seeks views on new rights for communities to produce their own plans for their local area.

Planning minister Kevin Stewart visited the Pennywell development in Edinburgh, where he launched the consultation. The project will deliver 719 new energy efficient homes for the area with 356 properties for affordable rent and 363 for private sale, and has been a catalyst for wider regeneration through providing infrastructure improvements, local investment, local jobs, training opportunities and community engagement.

He said: “Planning affects everyone’s lives, from making sure we have the right types of homes to driving forward regeneration.

“We need a strong and efficient system to support these aims and for long-term economic growth. I believe these proposals will mean we are better placed to make high quality development happen sooner and in the right places.

“I firmly believe that Scotland’s planners can lead the delivery of great places, empower communities and provide a stable environment for investment through the uncertain times we live in. I would encourage everyone with an interest in planning – developers and businesses, professionals and local authorities, communities and members of the public – to tell us what they think of our proposals for change.”

Industry body Homes for Scotland said delivery of new homes must be the “golden thread” running through transformation of planning system.

Chief executive Nicola Barclay said: “We agree with the minister for local government & housing that planning should be inspiring, influential and focused on outcomes.

“Reinforcing the need for such a new perspective are recent performance figures showing planning decision times for major housing applications slowing further to 48.5 weeks, more than three times the statutory period.

“Scotland needs significantly more homes for its growing population but builders are finding it harder than ever to make a start on new sites and get houses out of the ground.

“We are therefore pleased to see some of the recommendations we put forward during the course of the independent review, such as the introduction of clear national and regional aspirations for housing delivery and ‘embedding an infrastructure first approach’, incorporated into today’s consultation.

“But more detail is needed on how other proposals, such as ‘giving people an opportunity to plan their own place’, would work in practice so we will be listening closely to the views of our members as we review the consultation document in depth and develop our submission.

“Ensuring we have the homes we need to deliver Scotland’s future economic success and social well-being must be the golden thread running through this transformation.”

Scottish planning body PAS said it supports the consultation’s aims to get more people involved in planning.

Petra Biberbach, PAS chief executive, said: “This is a great opportunity for people and communities across Scotland to actively shape and inform the future Planning Bill that will follow on from this consultation. We welcome the focus on getting more people involved in the planning system and in shaping their places and communities.

“This consultation and subsequent Planning Bill have the potential to unlock many opportunities for communities across Scotland, through getting people more involved in planning, through some of the proposed changes to the system, but importantly through linking directly with community planning, the Community Empowerment Act and Land Reform Act to help achieve the aims of the planning system, supporting community ownership and community-led ‘local place plans’.”

The Royal Town Planning Institute Scotland (RTPI Scotland) said it was delighted that Kevin Stewart has published a vision for the future of planning that places people and communities at the heart of a positive and proactive system.

Stefano Smith, RTPI Scotland convenor, said: “This announcement recognises the huge potential of good planning to help Scotland face the daunting challenges of today, such as the housing crisis and climate change. It echoes many of the game-changing ideas that RTPI Scotland has been championing.

“RTPI Scotland agrees that removing the need to obtain permission for certain types of small development, and careful exploration of zoning for high quality and sustainable housing development could free up resources. This would give planners more time to invest in delivering the high quality sustainable places that Scotland needs.

“The ambitions outlined will not be realised without making sure that planning expertise is at the decision-making table at all levels of government. We would like the reforms to take a step further to guarantee a more corporate approach to planning, so that place is always taken into account, from conversations about education and inequality to health and the environment.”

The Scottish Property Federation (SPF) described the government’s proposals to increase fees and resources significantly for major planning applications in Scotland as a major turning point for local authority planning services around the country.

Welcoming the news that the new fees are to remain competitive with like for like charges south of the border, the SPF said it would have liked to have seen greater certainty that additional resources released by the planning fees would be used for the purposes of improving the planning service in each local authority.

Paul Curran, chairman of the SPF, said: “It is important that we maintain our competiveness. To grow the economy, we must kick-start more development across the commercial and residential sectors.

“These significantly increased planning fees must lead to a significant improvement in the speed and manner that major applications are dealt with.  The additional resources must be utilised to provide appropriate resources to deliver these critical improvements in the planning service.”

He added: “Modern major development is a very complex business involving a plethora of regulatory requirements, complicated finance and risk. Currently the development markets in Scotland are seeing low levels of activity across the country as a whole although there are some hot-spots such as Edinburgh’s St Andrew’s Square.”

Colin Hamilton and Isobell Reid, Associates at Gillespie Macandrew said: “This consultation should be welcomed by all involved in the planning system as a sign that the Scottish Government remains committed to moving forward with reform with a collaborative approach. Everyone agrees Scotland’s planning system is ripe for reform but equally there are many different and sometimes competing interests which need to be balanced and harnessed.

“Scotland needs to increase housebuilding rapidly if it is to address its shortage of homes. Many of the proposals will be welcomed by housebuilders, including the recognition that allocated sites within a local development plan should bring certainty to developments.   However there are a number of difficulties recognised in the consultation which would need to be resolved if this aspiration is to be met.

“Of course, the planning system has to balance this need for certainty with ensuring communities feel listened to.

“This balance is not easy to achieve, which is why we will work with industry partners to identify how obstacles can be overcome as Gillespie Macandrew crafts our response. However it is certainly good to see that the Scottish Government is listening to stakeholders before embarking on reforms.”

The consultation, “Places, people and planning” runs until Tuesday 4 April, and can be accessed here.

The Scottish Government’s 20 proposals for revamping the planning system

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. Developing skills to deliver outcomes. We will work with the profession to improve and broaden skills.
  17. Investing in a better service. There is a need to increase planning fees to ensure the planning service is better resourced.
  18. A new approach to improving performance. We will continue work to strengthen the way in which performance is monitored, reported and improved.
  19. 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.
  20. 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.