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Stewart launches fresh consultation on Scottish planning reforms

Words: Roger Milne
Kevin Stewart / Scottish Parliament

The Scottish Government has launched a fresh round of consultation on its planning reforms and given the clearest indication yet of what is likely to be involved in promised new primary and secondary legislation.

Ministers have however, said no final decisions have been made on the content of a future planning bill at this stage.

“Further views will be considered as we move towards finalising the proposals for change,” stressed planning minister Kevin Stewart.

“I am listening carefully to what people have to say about their experiences of the planning system – and how we can make it better," he said.

“We need to strike a balance in addressing the many issues raised. It is crucial that planning helps drive forward inclusive growth by enabling high quality development in a way that involves local people as fully as possible.”

The consultation document, published on 29 June, stressed the need for a “more responsive and flexible approach to planning in Scotland".

"To fully realise a more enabling role for planning, our current system needs to change. We are aiming to streamline processes whilst encouraging appropriate engagement and collaboration.”

The administration said it is “minded to propose a statutory link between development planning and community planning in the planning bill", agreeing with views that spatial planning should also be "better recognised by planning, and believe this would be supported where local authority chief executives ‘sign off’ local development plans”.

It has also signalled that it expects “to bring forward changes to remove current requirements for strategic development plans to be prepared and replace them with more flexible, but clearly defined duties and powers at this scale".

The consultation document notes that the Scottish Government will develop an approach that "allows all areas to undertake strategic planning where it will add value and in a way which is sufficiently flexible to allow partnerships to respond to, and build on, local circumstances and relationships".

To achieve this, several duties could be introduced. One suggested requirement is a new duty “to work together to address nationally and regionally significant spatial planning and development issues.”

A further collaborative programme is proposed for reviewing the National Planning Framework and possibly aligning and integrating it with the review of the National Transport Strategy, Strategic Transport Projects Review and Infrastructure Investment Plan.

“I am listening carefully to what people have to say about their experiences of the planning system – and how we can make it better" - Stewart

Ministers have made it clear they remain wedded to making local development plans stronger and with a longer, 10-year, shelf life.  Under these moves the development plan main issues report and supplementary guidance would be removed, and a new "gatecheck" introduced to help frontload the scrutiny provided by plan examinations.

“We will provide greater clarity on how a 10-year timescale could operate, including through provision for plans to be amended or updated between full review cycles. We are looking closely at how this can be achieved in a way which is proportionate and avoids delay, whilst ensuring significant change is subjected to robust scrutiny," the consultation document states.

The Scottish Government said it will define the specific circumstances where updates may be triggered within the 10-year period. It will develop guidance to support any such change to provide clarity on the relationship between the plan review cycle, plan preparation period, updates and programme.

According to the consultation document, "the key objective is that allocations within plans attract greater confidence in delivery and that planning authorities focus more proactively on implementation".

This will require “setting a minimum level of information to be provided alongside development proposals in the local development plan, greater leadership from planning authorities in zoning land for development, and a stronger commitment from the key agencies to the development plan, to reduce the likelihood of objections arising at the consenting stage”.

The government has highlighted that the bill is likely to include proposals for “local place plans that are consistent with the local development plan”. However, getting people involved in planning and improving public trust will be handled by secondary legislation.

Ministers have confirmed there will not be any move to institute equal or third party rights of appeal. “Stronger early engagement is better” the consultation stressed.

At this juncture, there are no plans to include changes to the Compulsory Purchase Orders or Compulsory Sales Orders regimes in the bill. However, the government will bring forward proposals for legislative change that will “refresh and rebrand simplified planning zones (SPZ) and how SPZs can be established.”

More consultation is planned on proposals for a new infrastructure levy before ministers settle on what level of detail should be in the bill.

On resources, ministers expect the bill will include additional enabling powers that provide scope to widen discretionary charging and to extend the range of services for which fees can be charged.

Broadening the scope for permitted development could play a significant role in increasing best use of resources in the planning system, the 18-page consultation paper states.

The consultation period ends on 11 August. It can be found on the Scottish Government website.

RTPI Scotland's response to the consultation can be read here on The Planner website.

Read more about the Scottish planning review:

News Analysis: Scottish planning system needs simplifying

Strategic development plans should be replaced, Scottish planning review finds

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

Scottish Government to reform planning following review

RTPI: Five things we learned from the Scottish Government response to the independent planning review

Convention 2016: Scottish planning review positive about profession

Institutes combine to establish planning reform priorities

Scottish Government consultation on aligning community and spatial planning launched 

Into alignment: An interview with John McNairney

RTPI Scotland: Clearer national roadmap for development needed 

RTPI Scotland: Ministers need to consider issues beyond planning system 

Image credit | Scottish Parliament