Revitalising Scottish planning

Revitalising Scottish planning

By Stefano Smith, Director of Planning

An independent review has urged a ‘fundamental rethink’ of the planning system in Scotland.

The review panel set out 48 recommendations which it said would strengthen the planning system to ‘enable sustainable development’. The report, published on 31st May 2016, said planners and councils in particular need to be ‘bolder’ in tackling future challenges.

Following the re-election of the SNP as a minority government in May, the new Planning Minister, Kevin Stewart, said the review would inform a ‘new, focused and revitalised planning system.’

The panel, set up in September 2015 to conduct a ‘game changing’ review, included Crawford Beveridge (Chairman of the Scottish Government’s council of economic advisors), Petra Biberbach (Chief Executive, Planning Aid Scotland) and John Hamilton (CEO Winchburgh Developments and former Chairman of the Scottish Property Federation).

The panel noted a need for a ‘culture change’ to move planning away from ‘micro-management of the built environment’ to ‘focus instead on delivering great places now, and for future generations.’

The 48 recommendations are designed to achieve the following six outcomes:

• Strong and flexible development plans

• Delivery of more quality homes

• Infrastructure first approach to planning and development

• Efficient and transparent development management

• Stronger leadership, smarter resourcing and sharing of skills

• Collaboration rather than conflict-inclusion and empowerment.

The primacy of the development plan is retained, with a key principle being that the development plan is prepared ‘locally’ with ‘early engagement and evidence gathering’ – development plan examinations replaced with a frontloaded ‘gate check’ of the plan. This is to focus on deliverability, viability and effectiveness and be evidence-based.

This raises issues with regard to the current fragmentation in the collection of evidence from the various agencies and the potential need for a more ’corporate approach’, perhaps in the form of an ‘infrastructure agency’ to inform the gate check. Another issue is deciding who the ‘gatekeeper’ of the ‘gate check’ should be. Could this be a potential resource in the Directorate for Planning and Environmental Appeals?

Local Development Plans should move to a 10-year-cycle; of which two years represents the streamlined preparation process, leaving the remainder of the time to focus on implementation and work with local areas to build in community-led plans. Perhaps there are lessons to be learnt from the ‘neighbourhood plan’ approach in England, with front-loaded engagement with the community.

There is an urgent need to establish a clearer definition of effective housing land so that local development plans can move on from this to take a positive and flexible approach to addressing the housing land requirement for their area.

Understanding development viability is essential to allocating effective land, requiring open book approach by developers which is properly scrutinised. Independent adjudication on effective housing land, much earlier in the plan preparation process, could significantly reduce conflict.

PBA’s Planning team has extensive experience in advising public and private sector clients on development viability. Our deep understanding of the fundamentals of economics and development allows us to offer critical insight when considering project viability or appropriate development contributions.

Mr Stewart said the government was ‘committed to ensuring we have a planning system that works for everyone ... This independent report will help form the basis to kick-start a new, focused and revitalised planning system.’

Implementation of the recommendations is likely to require some legislative changes over the next two years in the form of a Planning Reform Bill, the content of which will be eagerly awaited by all interested parties.

If you wish to learn more, please do not hesitate to contact Stefano, who is both a planning practitioner in Scotland and RTPI Scotland Senior Vice-Convenor (due to become Convenor in 2017).