Ministers face Planning Bill headache as legislation reaches final stage of scrutiny

Ministers are being urged to go further in its attempts to deliver change to Scotland’s planning system but have also faced calls that last minute amendments to the Planning (Scotland) Bill could “derail” the system altogether.

Ministers face Planning Bill headache as legislation reaches final stage of scrutiny

The final stage of the Bill is set to commence today with a three-day debate in Holyrood.

Following the lodging of more than 200 Stage 3 amendments, the Scottish Property Federation (SPF) said while it was pleased to see evidence of cross-party cooperation, it remains concerned that a number of last-minute amendments could hinder the planning system instead of improving it.

Scottish Labour has today set out its planned amendments which the party said will deliver “meaningful change” Bill, while amendments outlined yesterday by Green MSPs will seek to improve natural habitats in response to the climate crisis and give communities more power over issues like short-term holiday lets.

Miller Mathieson, SPF chairman, said: “At our annual conference in March, we called for parliament to work together to untangle the Planning Bill after a string of unworkable amendments were passed at Stage 2.

“We appreciate the time MSPs and officials have since dedicated to recovering this Bill, including the allocation of three days of debate.

“Efficient and effective planning is crucial for future development and investment in Scotland. It starts with a workable, competitive planning system that unlocks opportunity rather than hindering it.

“We call for MSPs to bear these implications in mind and agree to return the Bill to its original intention of creating a simplified planning system for Scotland, which focuses on delivering much-needed homes, jobs, and investment.” 

Scottish Labour has warned that the legislation risks being a missed opportunity to deliver transformative change, as the SNP, with support from the Scottish Conservatives, look set to row back on changes made to the Bill by MSPs at Stage 2.

The party is pushing for further amendments at the final stage that will: 

  • Give communities a right of appeal on proposed developments
  • Secure more protections for live music venues 
  • Require the Scottish Government to legislate for land value capture and allow for more public sector led development
  • Put public health at the heart of the planning system

Scottish Labour communities spokesperson Alex Rowley said: “As it stands, the Planning Bill risks becoming a missed opportunity to deliver the real change required to transform our communities.

“The SNP has teamed up with the Tories to push through their timid approach to planning reform, and are clearly trying to row back on important changes that were made to improve this Bill at Stage 2.”

The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) Scotland said the Bill could help put in place a system that enables people to engage early in discussions on the future of the places where they live, work and relax.

However, the professional body for town planners warned that the proposals – which include new ‘Local Place Plans’ to allow communities to develop ideas on what they want for their own neighbourhoods – would only be effective if the necessary funding was in place.

Julia Frost, convenor of RTPI Scotland, said: “There are number of very positive ideas being promoted through the Bill which, if properly resourced, could make the planning system more proactive, collaborative and able to deliver better designed places and buildings.

“We are pleased that it is proposed to cut the 91 unfunded duties that were introduced into the Bill earlier. However, MSPs need to ensure that every decision taken over the next three days of parliamentary scrutiny takes careful consideration of how the remaining duties will be funded, especially when planning departments have lost a quarter of their staff and have had their budgets cut by 40% since 2009.”

Other proposals in the Planning (Scotland) Bill welcomed by RTPI Scotland include:

  • a more influential National Planning Framework to guide Scotland’s development over the next 30 years;
  • Chief Planning Officers to help councils ‘future proof’ decisions;
  • new performance measures that would drive better designed places and buildings;
  • a new approach to regional planning to make it easier to agree approaches on infrastructure and to support cross-council working.

Yesterday also saw Scottish Land & Estates (SLE) caution that rural communities are at risk of being hardest hit in the new Bill that could create barriers to delivering much-needed employment, economic and diversity opportunities.

The rural body called on MSPs to back amendments that will deliver an enabling planning system that supports sustainable development and allows Scotland’s rural communities to thrive.

All Stage 3 amendments can be found here.

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