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New analysis: RTPI Scotland on the planning review

Words: Laura Edgar
A model development

Laura Edgar takes a look at the RTPI's responses to the Scottish planning review

A review of Scotland’s planning system was launched in 2015, and the Scottish Government is now working on a planning bill. 

An independent panel reviewed the system and made a number of recommendations. There have been two rounds of consultation: Places, People and Planning – published in January – and an updated position statement in June. 

Panellists considered proposals that would align community and spatial planning, better coordinate infrastructure planning locally and nationally, and make local development plans stronger, lasting for 10 years.

RTPI Scotland, with input from its members, has compiled five think pieces that aim to develop and advance the Scottish Government’s proposals. One calls for the role of a chief planning officer (CPO) in each planning authority to be established in legislation. The CPO would, during decision-making on strategic policy and investment, ensure consideration of the medium and long-term ramifications from communities, the subsequent infrastructure needs, and the impact beyond the immediate area.

The measure would support the Scottish Government’s ambitions laid out in its consultation on stronger leadership and smarter resourcing, as well as the proposal to align community and spatial planning. 

"The chief planning officer would create more opportunities for any misalignment between local authority strategies and investment to be addressed earlier"

RTPI Scotland says a CPO should be professionally qualified. “This would ensure that they had the skills, knowledge and expertise to advise on the planning implications of policy and investment decisions made by local authorities. The obvious benchmark for this would be membership of the RTPI.”

Duties would include development consultations and delivery of the community plan, while key local authority officers should consult with the CPO on strategic decisions at an early stage.

Kate Houghton MRTPI, planning policy and practice officer at RTPI Scotland, said the statutory CPO role “embodies” the institute’s all-round ambitions for the review. “Like chief education officers and chief social workers, the CPO would be a designated point of contact in a local authority who would be consulted on strategic decision-making. This wouldn’t need to be a new role; the duties could be invested in an existing post in the planning division.”

The Scottish Government has suggested that the integration of development plans with other areas of local authority strategic planning could be improved by requiring a chief executive to sign off plans. 

But RTPI Scotland doesn’t think this goes far enough. “The CPO would create more opportunities for any misalignment between local authority strategies and investment to be addressed earlier, and therefore more successfully,” explained Houghton.

A delivery-focused system

The CPO idea links directly to another think piece. Houghton said better alignment of planning and other strategic ambitions would help a proposal laid out in Delivering More Homes. It notes that two-year housing delivery programmes should be introduced to make sure that all sites allocated for local development plans are delivered.

“They would provide additional assistance in scenarios where delivery has fallen markedly below annual requirements. The intended outcome is a delivery-focused system for meeting housing requirements. The Housing Delivery Programmes should take the form of project management plans framed by corporate leadership and collaboration,” it states.

Houghton noted that, often, homes are planned but the delivery of them is stalled because necessary supportive infrastructure cannot be supplied. 

The programme “would devote human resources to identifying barriers to delivery on allocated sites, and then working with the relevant stakeholders to try and overcome these barriers”.

What do the three other RTPI think pieces recommend?

A New Development Plan Process

The Scottish Government has proposed to extend the local development plan cycle to 10 years and removing supplementary planning notes to strengthen and streamline the plan-making process. The institute supports the commitment to enhance the primacy of development plans and simplify the preparation process.

RTPI Scotland thinks a restructured preparation process should be underpinned by project management principles and be aligned with community planning. The think piece proposes a two-tiered ‘gate-check’ process. These gate checks would be a key part of the new project management framework approach to plan preparation and would be discharged by a small panel comprising key stakeholders. Final examination by the Planning and Environmental Appeals Division should be restricted to confirming conformity of the plan with national policy.

Making an Infrastructure-First Approach a Reality

RTPI Scotland supports the Scottish Government proposals to establish an infrastructure-first approach. Current proposals, says the think piece, do not provide suitable mechanisms to assess infrastructure needs and address these through the planning system or resolve market failures in the funding of some infrastructure projects.

The institute suggests:

  •  Establishment of a national mechanism, including statutory powers and duties, to lead infrastructure planning for Scotland. 
  • Establishment of an infrastructure fund and infrastructure levy to be administered by Scottish ministers and statutory regional planning partnerships respectively.

Making Local Place Plans Work – Collaboration Rather than Conflict

The think piece states that there should be a “reciprocal statutory link between community planning and spatial plan, aligning and coordinating the processes so community plans inform local development plans and regional strategies and associated delivery programmes, and vice versa”. 

In all areas, local place plans would inform and be informed by reviews of local outcome improvement plans, locality plans and local development plans and associated delivery programmes as part of the planning cycle.

All five think pieces can be found on the RTPI Scotland website.

Photo | Alamy