Scotland set for ‘more inclusive and collaborative’ planning system as MSPs back ‘radical’ reforms

Planning minister Kevin Stewart said communities will have more say in shaping the future development of their areas after MSPs agreed to a “radical shake-up” of planning laws.

Scotland set for ‘more inclusive and collaborative’ planning system as MSPs back ‘radical’ reforms

The Planning (Scotland) Bill passed its final stage by 78 votes to 26 last night after a three-day debate at the Scottish Parliament saw further amendments agreed.

Opposition parties Labour, the Greens and Lib Dems all voted against it amid claimed of a “stitch up” to cut more ambitious plans from the final Bill.

Mr Stewart said the legislation includes a raft of new measures to empower people and organisations to get involved in planning the future of their communities.

A new right means people will now be able to prepare local place plans covering what will be done in their communities, including over issues such as housing, open space and community facilities as well as business and employment opportunities.

Local authorities will be legally required to take local place plans into account when preparing their development plans.

The Bill takes a new approach to strategic planning in Scotland introducing a duty on local authorities to work together to produce Regional Spatial Strategies (RSSs).

These strategies will provide long-term direction to large scale development, matching local and national planning needs, outcomes and priorities.

Additionally, the National Planning Framework, Scotland’s long-term plan for future development, will now be required to be approved by Parliament.

Other changes covered by the Bill include new powers for local authorities to introduce control areas where planning permission will always be required if owners want to change the use of their property to short-term lets.

Planning minister Kevin Stewart said: “Scotland’s varied places – our cities, towns, villages, countryside, coast and islands – are an integral part of our national and local identity.

“This Bill is a radical new way forward for planning in Scotland. It’s a vision that empowers communities to have a positive say in shaping their future.

“There is now more scope for local planning to influence regional and national plans, and we expect to see more collaboration where people and local authorities across Scotland work closely together for all our benefit.

“The quality of the places where we live, work and play can have a lasting impact on health, wellbeing and prosperity - that’s why planning, and this Bill, are so important.”

Scottish Conservative planning spokesman Graham Simpson said the Bill “can deliver growth across Scotland that is greener and includes communities in the decisions that affect them”.

But Scottish Labour communities spokesperson Alex Rowley said the Bill “has become an SNP-Tory stitch up” which sides with big developers over ordinary communities.

The Greens said the SNP had reneged on promises of cross-party cooperation and undone progress made when the Bill was considered at Stage 2. That included reintroducing centralising measures which had previously been rejected. Greens voted to keep the Bill alive at Stage 1 only on the basis that substantial amendment was needed to improve it.

Despite securing wins on air pollution, forestry, public toilets and water refill points, the Greens’ communities spokesperson Andy Wightman said that overall the lacklustre Bill would hand too much power to ministers, keep local communities frozen out, and carry on serving the interests of corporations, property speculators and wealthy landowners.

Green amendments for consistent control of short term lets, to require consent for scarring hill tracks, and to give communities an equal right of appeal were voted down by SNP and Conservative MSPs.

Mr Wightman said: “This Bill should have been a chance for change, so that developments which are clearly contrary to communities’ interests, like the rampant spread of short-term lets, scarring hill tracks and unwanted speculative developments could be properly challenged, leading to a fairer system all round. 

“The SNP had a clear choice. They could have held to the spirit of cross-party working which saw a lacklustre Bill strengthened at stage 2, but instead they decided to stitch the whole thing up for Tory votes. While we pushed hard and secured some positives, overall it’s deeply disappointing that the final outcome is a new era of SNP centralisation, leaving communities well and truly frozen out. Our local communities and all those who care about their local environments deserve so much better.”

A number of key agreements reached during the final debate have been welcomed by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) Scotland.

Included in the Bill, which now receives Royal Assent in order to become law, is a provision for the introduction of statutory Chief Planning Officers, an issue RTPI Scotland has campaigned on since the outset of the bill.

RTPI Scotland also welcomed the retention of statutory strategic planning with the introduction of RSSs which the planning body said closely follow the principles it set out earlier in the Bill’s process through Parliament, with a shifted emphasis on outcomes, more geographical flexibility and a less process-orientated preparation stage.

Convenor Julia Frost said: “We are especially delighted to see the Bill include provisions to make sure that there is a Chief Planning Officer in every local authority. This shows Scotland leading the way in ensuring that decisions on development, communities and policy will be made in the long term public interest.

“Many details remain to be thrashed out in taking forward secondary legislation and regulations and RTPI Scotland will work closely with Scottish Government and stakeholders to ensure we produce an effective planning system that can help Scotland unlock sustainable development for the next ten years.”

RTPI Scotland added it will continue to highlight the need to bring additional resourcing into the planning system as it outlined its remaining still concerns that many additional duties have been placed on Scottish Government and local authority planning departments which are still uncosted and unfunded.

RTPI President Ian Tant said: “From my visits to all parts of the United Kingdom, I constantly hear from planners that the lack of funding for local authorities is a major problem. Planners must be supported properly if they are to create a better and more sustainable society.” 

The outcome of the revised Bill was also welcomed by the Scottish Property Federation (SPF).  

SPF chairman, Miller Mathieson, said, “Ever since the independent planning review in 2015, we have called for these reforms to achieve a streamlined and delivery-focused planning system. 

“We are pleased that the Bill has been strengthened over the course of its passage through parliament and that unworkable amendments introduced at Stage 2 were, in the end, either improved or removed from the Bill.  

“We agree it is important that community views are incorporated into plan-making at the earliest stage and that effective and robust community engagement is undertaken at the outset of a development proposal. 

“It will also be important to ensure that any further increases in planning fees go hand in hand with tangible improvements in planning services. 

“After considerable cross-party efforts to improve the Bill, we are optimistic that it can now support much needed development in Scotland, which will be a catalyst for jobs, investment and creating places for people to live, work and enjoy.” 

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