Blog: New planning system needs to deliver for developers and local communities

Mandy Catterall
Mandy Catterall

Government relations manager Mandy Catterall gives the Scottish Property Federation’s take on the coming changes in the planning system.

Amid the uncertainty posed by Brexit and the question of Scotland’s constitutional future, it is crucial to recognise that Scotland remains dependent on foreign investment into our real estate sector and our big cities such as Edinburgh and Glasgow are competing with other major UK cities to attract global investment.

It is clear that 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 although there are some hot-spots in Edinburgh. If we are to grow the economy, then we must kick-start more development across the commercial and residential sectors across the country and a new and responsive planning system is absolutely vital.

The publication in January 2017 of “Places, people and planning: a consultation on the future of planning in Scotland” by Housing and Local Government Minister Kevin Stewart MSP, marked a welcome step in giving our planning service a platform for improvement.

The Scottish Property Federation (SPF) is working with the Scottish Government to ensure that these proposals will bring about a planning system which is robust and delivers for both developers and also local communities who rely on our industry to deliver jobs, investment and homes. There are many proposals, which we support but there are others, such as the proposed introduction of an infrastructure levy, where there needs to be some caution.

It has been apparent for some time that the process of agreeing infrastructure contributions is not working effectively. The development industry fully supports the aspirations expressed in the consultation paper on co-ordination of investment programmes and working with existing agencies and is keenly interested in seeing the recommendations for an Infrastructure Agency and an Infrastructure Fund taken forward.

This should offer the opportunity of greatly improved infrastructure delivery that will unlock development while at the same time retaining the viability of development projects. Infrastructure delivery is a key challenge under the current system and it will be a test of success for the proposals in the consultation paper.

The industry will contribute constructively to the development of any new levy proposals, bearing in mind the experience of members with the Community Infrastructure Levy in England. The property industry has already said it would be prepared to pay higher fees for a better service. We would like to see a greater understanding by the public sector however, of the upfront costs the private sector already pays towards delivering the planning service and the risk involved.

We are aware of controversial proposals put to the Scottish Parliament on the issue of Third Party Right of Appeals (TPRA). We fully support a front-loaded engagement in the planning process, with procedures for strategic and local development plans designed to facilitate meaningful participation at the earliest stages. We therefore believe that TPRA would be a disincentive to our communities and authorities to engage positively at the start of the planning process and in this respect we see it as a distraction from the full package of reforms. There is little doubt that the introduction of TPRA would introduce new and substantial delays into the planning system and place further strain on local authority resources. There would also be an impact on the delivery of new housing, infrastructure and the risk of placing Scotland at a competitive disadvantage to the rest of the UK.

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