Landowners take aim at proposed Scottish planning reforms

Landowners take aim at proposed Scottish planning reforms

Gavin Mowat

Landowners have criticised proposals to remove the presumption in favour of development that contributes to sustainable development from Scotland’s planning system.

The Scottish Government is currently consulting on amendments to the Scottish Planning Policy (SPP) in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and a recent court ruling.

It argues that the current presumption “is considered to have potential for conflict with a plan-led approach and has given rise to significant number of issues it has generated for decision-makers in its application”.

In particular, the government has highlighted the impact of COVID-19 on the ability of planning authorities to maintain the review cycle of local development plans within the timeframes they intended.

The consultation states: “We expect that more development plans will extend beyond five years in the coming months and are keen to support authorities in adapting to the current circumstances. The pandemic is also affecting delivery programmes and the rate of housing completions. This, coupled with revised plan timescales, has implications for the plan-led approach to development.”

However, Scottish Land & Estates (SLE), the organisation which represents landowners and businesses, argues in its response to the consultation that the move to scrap the presumption in favour of sustainable development has not been “appropriately justified”.

Gavin Mowat, policy adviser at Scottish Land & Estates, said: “Since lockdown began, developers are reporting increased demand for properties with gardens and space to work from home. It is likely that existing local development plans which are fast becoming outdated, will not have identified suitable unconstrained land where such homes could be built.

“The planning system needs to retain flexibility to meet this new demand. The presumption of sustainable development should remain at the forefront of the plan making process.

“Removing this pillar of the Scottish planning system has not been appropriately justified and could have severe unintended consequences including impacting the green recovery as development plans lose their flexibility to incorporate new renewable technologies in the fight against climate change.

“Now is not the time to be considering such a fundamental change in the way housing development is considered, particularly in rural areas, even in the short term. If ministers are concerned with LDP cycles ending without being renewed during the COVID pandemic, we suggest using emergency coronavirus legislation to extend their lifecycle while retaining the presumption would be a better approach.”

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