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The Planning (Scotland) Bill is breaking with key aims

Scottish Parliament iStock

By overlooking the need for culture change in planning and development, Scotland's new planning bill risks being pulled in the wrong direction, argues Colin Lavety

The Planning (Scotland) Bill was laid before the Scottish Parliament in December 2017 and is working its way through the legislative process. The bill contains measures intended to strengthen the planning system’s contribution to inclusive growth and empowering communities, though politicians are now suggesting amendments.

Having participated in each stage of the review of the Scottish planning system and engaged widely within the development industry, it’s clear to us that the bill is heading in the wrong direction.

"What happened to the original review panel’s aims to achieve ‘radical reform’?"

At the start of the review in December 2015, we voiced our concerns that it wasn’t the system itself that was the problem, and that the review would be ineffective if it fails to address the lack of resources, skills shortages and culture change.

In many ways, the Scottish government failed to grasp the day-to-day problems that exist. We acknowledged that there were much deeper issues that needed to be addressed in our culture and local politics, as well as the importance and value assigned to town planning as a profession.

And a survey we carried out in April 2017 also concluded that key changes being proposed are causing concern. The 180 respondents were split equally between public and private sectors, offering a significant body of evidence and a balanced viewpoint across the development industry.

There is no doubt that the overall approach set out in the bill would lead to an imbalance in the planning system, with community involvement and environmental protection likely to take precedence over factors such as economic growth, job creation and the delivery of more high-quality homes.

At Barton Willmore, we are calling for a holistic approach to ensure that the needs of all aspects of development delivery are considered and balanced. It is frustrating for those of us who spent time and effort in making written submissions at the various stages to see that as we enter the parliamentary debate, elected politicians seem to have totally lost sight of the review’s original aims.

What happened to the original review panel’s aims to achieve ‘radical reform’? Improving housing and infrastructure delivery? Stimulating economic growth? Creating a ‘high-performing’ system? These objectives have been lost, and it seems like we are moving towards a system that will be far from what we all hoped for.

The politicians are shying away from difficult questions in favour of picking off the less important ‘low-hanging fruit’. Why aren’t we focusing more on simplifying consents, setting national housing targets, infrastructure, mandatory planning training for elected members and monitoring the performance of local authorities? It seems like a real missed opportunity.

Colin Lavety MRTPI is planning director for Barton Willmore in Scotland

Photo | iStock

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