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Strategic development plans should be replaced, Scottish planning review finds

Words: Laura Edgar
Scotland / iStock_000005929582

A report reviewing the Scottish planning system has been published, which recommends that a National Planning Framework should replace strategic development plans.

The independent panel also suggests that a national infrastructure agency with statutory powers should be established, involving all infrastructure providers as well as planning representatives.

RTPI Scotland has welcomed the recommendations.

The review was announced as part of the Scottish Government’s programme A Stronger Scotland. It aims to “increase delivery of high-quality housing development by delivering a quicker, more accessible and efficient process”.

The independent panel - Crawford Beveridge, Petra Biberbach, Planning Aid Scotland, and John Hamilton, Scottish Property Federation – focused on six key themes: Development planning; housing delivery; infrastructure; development management; resourcing and skills; and community engagement and leadership.

In Empowering Planning To Deliver Great Places the panel said the planning system should provide “certainty, consistency and efficiency to secure investment in infrastructure and people”, protect and enhance “distinctive places and high quality environment” and build "greater spatial cohesion”.

The proposals in the report, the panel said, can “create a more positive and effective planning system for Scotland”. Although some “further technical adjustments” could be helpful and “much can still be achieved” by continuing to improve processes and promote good practice, the panel believes “a fundamental rethink of the system as a whole is needed to ensure the planning system is much better equipped to deal with future challenges and opportunities”.

A number of recommendations have been made under each key theme:


Strong and flexible development plans

  - The primacy of the development plan should be retained. They should be recognised as a “central and powerful driver” of the place agenda. To achieve this, there is a need to focus on outcomes, rather than policy and procedure.

  - An enhanced National Planning Framework (NPF) should replace strategic development plans. The NPF should be strengthened and prepared collaboratively. Strategic development plans should be repurposed to “pioneer” a different way of working where planners “proactively coordinate development with infrastructure delivery at the city-region scale.

The delivery of high-quality homes

   - The National Planning Framework should define regional housing targets as the basis for setting housing land requirement in local development plans.

  - Mechanisms for planning authorities to take action to assemble land and provide infrastructure upfront should be established as soon as possible.

An infrastructure-first approach to planning and development

  - A national infrastructure agency or working group with statutory powers should be established, involving all infrastructure providers as well as planning representatives.

  - A development delivery infrastructure fund should be established.

Efficient and transparent development management

  - The Scottish Government should work with local authority enforcement officers to identify and/or remove any barriers to the use of enforcement powers.

  - The panel suggests that the scope of powers of the Cairngorms National Park Authority should be reviewed.

Stronger leadership, smarter resourcing and sharing of skills

  - Planning fees on major applications should be increased substantially, so that the service moves towards full cost recovery.

  - The Scottish Government, Heads of Planning Scotland, and RTPI Scotland should establish a planning graduate intern programme.

Collaboration rather than conflict – inclusion and engagement

  - Communities should be empowered to bring forward their own local place plans and these should form part of the development plan.

  - A working group should be established to identify greater involvement in planning, taking account of measures contained in the Community Empowerment Act and the Land Reform Act.

RTPI Scotland said Empowering Planning provides a “useful and welcome building block” on which to take forward a more proactive planning system.

Nick Wright, convenor of RTPI Scotland, said: “At the outset we said that the review could be a real opportunity to maximise the potential of the planning system and the review panel should be commended in taking this approach. Although there is still work to be done in working out the details of recommendations, we are delighted that the panel has taken account of our views.

“We asked for the future planning system to be seen and used by national and local governments as an integral part of their work - frontloaded, outcome and delivery focused, and adequately resourced to deliver the key components of the document.”

Empowering Planning can be found here (pdf).

Read News Analysis: Scottish Planning System Needs Simplifying here.

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