Industry professionals deliver ‘damning verdict’ on progress of Planning (Scotland) Bill

Stephen Tucker

Professionals across the Scottish property, architecture and planning sectors are highly sceptical of any future impact of the Planning (Scotland) Bill – according to a survey conducted by planning and design consultancy Barton Willmore.

The survey was completed earlier this month by more than 100 high-level industry representatives across the public and private sectors. Headline responses have shown high levels of dissatisfaction with the current direction of the Scottish Government’s planning review.

Survey respondents delivered a strong message to the Scottish Parliament with more than 92% believing that that the Planning Bill would not result in an adequate ‘root and branch’ review of the current planning system. Almost 85% said the Bill would not ‘improve delivery of housing and infrastructure’, while a further 90% of survey responders claimed that the Bill will not provide the industry in Scotland with a ‘strong and high performing planning system.’

In all, the survey covered a wide range of topics relating to the Bill, with in-depth questions geared to understanding key issues such as greater community involvement during the planning process and how the introduction of Local Place Plans will impact on local development. The full results of the survey will be published later this month.

Stephen Tucker, a Partner with Barton Willmore’s Scottish operation, said: “This is the first survey of its type to be published on the Scottish Government’s planning review. We wanted to take an initial industry pulse on the Planning Bill as a whole while it is being debated in Scottish Parliament.

“What is overwhelmingly clear from our analysis of survey responses is that the Scottish Government is failing in following through with its original aims for the Planning Bill – especially in the key areas of improving housing delivery and the introduction of an ‘infrastructure first’ approach.

“And with a further raft of amendments from MSPs expected this week, we can anticipate a further watering-down of the planning rationale that should be driving the Bill. Local Place Plans and the increased use of Local Review Bodies is leading to an increase in the role of community engagement, whilst improving delivery of development, stimulating economic growth and making the system simpler are clearly falling further down the priority list for politicians.

“Time and again, our survey responders used the phrase ‘missed opportunity’ in relation to the Bill, which is exactly what it is fast becoming.

“It’s clear that the direction of the planning review is now moving away from its initial aims of enabling housing and infrastructure delivery, and our survey findings see to confirm our view that such fundamental considerations are now less of a focus. Although the Scottish Government have stated that they are looking at infrastructure delivery through separate processes, this is something that we feel needs to be urgently and directly addressed in the later stages of the Bill’s progression through the Scottish Parliament.”

Colin Lavety, planning director for Barton Willmore’s Scottish operation, said: “This was a comprehensive, in-depth survey aiming to take an initial industry pulse on the Planning Bill as a whole while it is being debated in Scotland. And although these are our initial research findings, it is clear that so far the industry has given a very damning verdict on the progression of the Bill.

“It’s clear that the direction of the planning review is now moving away from some of its initial key aims such as enabling housing and infrastructure delivery, and our headline survey findings seem to confirm our view that such fundamental considerations are now less of a focus.

“This is something that we feel needs to be urgently addressed in the later stages of the Bill’s progression through the Scottish Parliament.”

Barton Willmore said it will now discuss the survey findings with organisations such as the Scottish Property Federation, Homes for Scotland and RTPI Scotland.