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News analysis: Scottish planning review – What do you think?

Words: Laura Edgar

It was announced last year that Scotland’s planning system would undergo a “root and branch review”, as part of the Scottish Government’s programme A Stronger Scotland.

It aimed to “increase delivery of high-quality housing development by delivering a quicker, more accessible and efficient”, focusing on six key themes: Development planning; housing delivery; infrastructure; development management; leadership; resourcing and skills; and community engagement.

The independent panel – Crawford Beveridge, Petra Biberbach, Planning Aid Scotland, and John Hamilton, Scottish Property Federation – has now published its review recommending that a National Planning Framework should replace strategic development plans.

In December 2015, The Planner spoke to a number of interested parties about what the review should cover.

Now The Planner has caught up with these parties to see what they think about the recommendations put forward by the panel, particularly replacing strategic development plans.

Exciting time for Scottish planners


Pam Ewen, senior manager, planning, Fife Council, said the panel have set out a number of measures, which, if implemented, could allow local authority planners “more time to work with communities and initiate and help deliver projects on the ground”.

“I believe the report sparks an exciting time for the profession in Scotland.”

Any changes that occur following the response by Scotland’s housing minister, and the detail of how to implement them should, Ewan said, “involve planners from across different sectors to best ensure we get it right”.

Nebulous and aspirational


Margaret Bochel, director, Burness Paull LLP, said that while some of the recommendations are “very specific” and it is easy to see how they could be implemented, others are “nebulous and aspirational”.

“That is positive in many ways, but it does mean that much of the success of the reforms will depend on how the government interprets and responds to those recommendations.”

Emphasis on delivering more houses


David Stewart, policy lead, Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA), said that the organisation’s key objective in responding to the review was for planning to have the delivery of more affordable homes as a national objective.

“The review has the delivery of more high-quality homes as the second of its six outcomes and we sincerely welcome the emphasis place on the delivery of more quality homes in Scotland.”

What do you think about replacing strategic development plans with an enhanced National Planning Framework?


Tammy Adams, head of planning, Homes for Scotland: The National Planning Framework provides Scotland with a spatial plan at the national level. So in that sense removing strategic development plans would not have as wide an effect as the abolition of regional strategies had in England. If strategic development plans were removed, we would want to see their role in setting housing targets for city-regions moved up to national policy, rather than down to local development plans. That is the best way to achieve the Scottish Government’s ambition to move planning discussions on from numbers to place.

Katherine Sneeden, director, Jigsaw Planning: The role of the strategic development plan is one that I have always had concerns about. Streamlining the policy position whereby there are national policies, which are then only set out in development plans where they require to be varied to reflect local circumstances will remove a lot of repetition.

Ewen: Challenging! Strategic planning; having a long-term vision, spatial strategy and implementation plan to deliver it, I believe, is essential. New models of joint working, I am sure, will emerge across our city regions, with a focus on city deals. The role strategic planning can have in this needs to be understood and discussed.

Bochel: The removal of strategic development plans had been widely discussed in the development industry before the report came out and was not a surprise. Burness Paull advocated the introduction of a single regional level plan integrating planning, transportation and economic development and I still believe that would be a better solution.

Whilst an enhanced National Planning Framework will give increased prominence to issues such as housing, the challenge with this approach is ensuring that it does not erode accountability in decision-making at a local level, which is likely to reduce the buy-in and commitment required from communities for effective implementation.

If the Scottish Government adopt this proposal, it is critical they ensure the team responsible for preparing the framework are suitably resourced to meet the challenge of its enhanced role. Abolishing strategic development plans will not remove arguments about housing land numbers – simply move them to the National Planning Framework.

Stewart: One of the key objectives that the SFHA and its members sought from the planning review was to have strategic development plans that set out the number of homes that had to be delivered in each area to meet housing need, and for these plans to be robust with a clear picture of effective sites.

In my view the jury remains out on whether the best way to achieve this is for the National Planning Framework to be the document to set these targets – the most important thing is that a target for quality affordable housing is set nationally and that this is a key priority for the planning system to deliver for Scotland’s people.

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