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Communities need ‘stronger voice’ in planning, says Holyrood committee

Words: Laura Edgar
Holyrood / Shutterstock

The Scottish Parliament’s Local Government and Communities Committee has called for the Planning (Scotland) Bill to provide ‘greater certainty’ to communities and developers.

The bill should encourage more “more meaningful” engagement on planning applications, local place plans and local development plans.

Stage 1 Report on the Planning (Scotland) Bill was compiled after the committee had received written views, attended community events, and held a conference, committee meetings and an online survey of young people.

The committee says it is content with the proposals to move to a 10-year cycle for local development plans (LDP) and welcomes propositions to provide for greater connection between LPDs and local outcome improvement plans, “which should provide for a more coherent vision for communities".

However, the committee said it remains unconvinced that removing statutory supplementary guidance will simplify LDPs, and improve scrutiny and accessibility to any great extent.

It also says it recognises that the bill has the “potential” to improve the planning process but “the role of communities and the Parliament needs to be strengthened”.

It has made a number of recommendations to help achieve this, including:

  • The purpose of planning should be included in the bill. It should reflect the ambition to create high-quality places, to protect and enhance the environment, to meet human rights to housing, health and livelihoods, to create economic prosperity and to meet Scotland’s climate change goals and international obligations.
  • The National Planning Framework (NPF) should provide an opportunity to create greater coherence between a range of national policy areas such as climate change, energy, marine planning and transport. The committee recommends that Scottish ministers should consider how such greater coherence might be established within the NPF and be reflected in the bill.
  • The Scottish Government and COSLA should monitor and report on the costs of LDP and NPF plan preparation (should the bill become an act) to confirm that savings from moving the LDP and NPF to a 10-year cycle do then materialise.
  • The committee is concerned that the bill proposals don’t go far enough to address planning frustrations felt by many communities. It believes that in a plan-led system, appeals should only be allowed in certain circumstances and urged the Scottish Government to look at these issues.
  • The committee said music venues make an “important contribution” to Scotland and it is “unreasonable” for those moving into a new development to complain about pre-existing noise levels. It recommends that an Agent of Change clause should be included within the bill, to ensure that the onus is on developers to mitigate pre-existing noise impacts.

Bob Doris MSP, convenor of the Local Government and Communities Committee, said: “A clear theme running through our report is the importance of empowering communities to have a meaningful say on the kind of place they want to live in. Communities being able to help shape their area by working with planning authorities early on makes for better places.

“It remains the case that more disadvantaged communities could lose out on shaping their local areas because of a lack of money, time and capacity, which we think may widen inequality. That’s why we’ve called for communities to be supported so that planning works for everyone.”

Bill must be clear that planning will defend public interest, says RTPI Scotland

RTPI Scotland has said it supports calls by the Local Government and Communities Committee for the Planning (Scotland) Bill to include a statement of public purpose. The institute said it “will be promoting a statement in the bill that says ‘The purpose of the planning system is to manage the use and development of land in the long-term public interest.'"

This, explained the institute, would provide “a strong sense of direction for all users of the planning system while not introducing undue complexity and uncertainty”.   

Fraser Carlin MRTPI, convenor of RTPI Scotland, said retaining and enhancing public trust in the planning system must be a “top priority”.

“We want to create a more collaborative planning system where communities and other partners are engaged at the start of the process to identify and agree what is needed in their places. We believe that this approach, explicitly working in the public interest, will help us to move away from a system that generates confrontation and ultimately results in poorer outcomes for Scotland.

“We are pleased that the committee’s report appears to share this ambition. We want to work with the committee and Scottish Government to develop a more robust approach to joined-up strategic planning, and to ensure that all those working in the planning system – across the public, private and third sectors – have access to the support and resources that they need.”

RTPI Scotland also wants to see statutory chief planning officers introduced in all Scottish local authorities.

Carlin explained that the role would “boost public trust upstream, rather than focusing on settling conflicts downstream. It embodies the collaborative working that the Scottish Government, the Local Government and Communities Committee, and the profession, are all keen to promote.”

SFHA encouraged by the report

Sarah Boyack, head of public affairs at Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA), welcomed the proposal for a purpose for planning to be enshrined in the bill.

“We also welcome proposals that Simplified Development Zones, which could help deliver more homes, must follow full community consultation and be properly master planned to deliver better places.

“We agree with the proposal for Local Place Plans to be properly resourced and, in particular, for support to be made available to disadvantaged communities to develop plans.

“We are also encouraged by the committee’s call for discussions and proposals for land value capture, which we believe could support increased delivery of homes of all tenures, to be brought forward by the Scottish Government.”

Clear support for local decision-making

Marc Giles, planning partner at Ryden, noted that the committee is “firmly” of the view that there is an imbalance in the current planning system that the bill does not address.

“The greatest concern to the development industry will be the continued pressure to implement an equal rights of appeal process, which may be seen as an opportunity for an anti-development campaign to delay delivery of development and particularly, essential housing proposals. A further, longstanding concern has been the proposal for an infrastructure levy where, under current proposals, funds levied can be redistributed as Scottish ministers see fit. The committee proposes these monies are spent locally.”

“In essence, what we are seeing from the Committee is clear support for local decision making and significantly increased influence for local communities in a plan-led system, whilst raising serious questions around the future of the current system of appeal.”

Equal appeals rights

Sarah Baillie, planning partner at law firm Addleshaw Goddard LLP, said: “Whether rights of appeal in the planning system should be equalised or not has also been a longstanding issue on which there is a wide range of views. There is however, for the first time, notable political support for an "equalisation" agenda. Although, as far as I can see, there was no new evidence presented to the committee to support such a proposition. An independent review panel and the Scottish Government’s view is that a community right of appeal is unnecessary.

“This is a position fully supported by the development and investment sector, who have made it clear that such an approach will extend the development process even further, make smaller developments unviable and require more officer time in a period where resources are scarce… However, the committee of MSPs clearly considers that there is an imbalance in a system whereby the applicant can appeal decisions that have been taken in clear accordance with the development plan. It has suggested that planning appeals should only be allowed in certain circumstances and there should be rules to deter repeat appeals or applications. But often this has been necessary because development plans are out of date and do not reflect current market or economic conditions.”

Stage 1 Report on the Planning (Scotland) Bill can be found on the Scottish Parliament website (pdf).

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