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Advisers warn Scots minister that planning bill is heading for disaster

Words: Roger Milne

Key members of the panel that advised the government on a new planning system have called for an urgent meeting with planning minister Kevin Stewart after warning that the Planning (Scotland) Bill is heading for disaster.

In a letter sent yesterday the three panellists involved, including chair Crawford Beveridge, stressed that “the likely impact of recent amendments introduced during stage two proceedings will lead to significant departures from our original recommendations and that these will place a range of additional burdens upon local authorities and the government, as well as those working in Scotland’s private and third sectors”. 

“Indeed, it is estimated by the RTPI that the bill adds 91 additional burdens to the current planning system (66 on local authorities and 25 on the government).

“Accordingly, the bill finds itself dangerously close to creating a system that is more complex than before, more remote and in danger of losing the spirit of the original review recommendations.

“We feel that without swift intervention from the government, Scotland is at risk of being left with a planning system that operates in ways directly counter to the key principles of simplification, efficiency and effective placemaking that we placed at the heart of our review’s conclusions in 2016.”

The letter, which was also signed by PAS’s Petra Biberbach and John Hamilton, former chair of the Scottish Property Federation, added: “Whilst we remain encouraged that several positive aspects of the bill envisaged by our review remain on course for delivery, such as the creation of local place plans or the desire to involve young people on planning issues, there remain fundamental flaws which make it difficult for us, as members of the original independent review of planning, to support the draft legislation in the form that is now being proposed.”

The signatories said they were hopeful that “practical steps might be taken to ensure that this vital legislation has the once-in-a-generation positive impact on our planning system that was originally foreseen.

“In light of our concerns, we are writing to you to request an early meeting to discuss how the bill can be brought to a state which more closely mirrors the recommendations and outcomes advocated by the independent review of planning in 2016,” the letter explains.

The RTPI has already voiced serious concerns over the state of the bill following second stage deliberations in the Scottish Parliament. Craig McLaren, director for Scotland, said: “The introduction of 91 new and unfunded duties to the bill will make the system much more complex than it is now, despite the original aim to streamline.

“Planning authorities have already seen the most severe cuts of local authority services with a 25 per cent loss of staff and 40 per cent drop in budget since 2009 so there is a real danger that planning authorities will not be able to cope with what is demanded of them.

“Given this, we are calling on MSPs to consider whether these duties are required within legislation or if they are already undertaken by existing policy and practice. There also needs to be a comprehensive review of how we can ensure the planning service is adequately resources.

“We believe that there are still opportunities to take forward some of the ideals of the original planning review.  A more place-based, collaborative and outcome proactive approach can be introduced to the National Planning Framework, local development plans and local place plans.  

“This does not necessarily require legislative change; however, it needs time and money to develop thinking and to support planners and planning authorities to adapt. Also, a more outcomes-based approach to measuring performance along with support programmes can help to drive behaviours and culture to deliver this.”

The legislation has not yet completed its passage through the Scottish Parliament. Yet to come is its third stage consideration by all MSPs.

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