Planning bill - May 2018 -stage 1 report and recommendations

The Local Government and Communities Committee published its Stage 1 Report on the Planning (Scotland) bill on 17 May, setting out their recommendations on the bill to the Scottish Parliament. This is the culmination of the Committee’s deliberations on evidence presented to it from a wide range of stakeholders with an interest in the planning system in response to the bill, the Stage 1 debate on which took place in Parliament May 29. As both we and the Chamber have been, the debate was challenging of the Government’s proposals. Some of our thoughts on the Committee’s recommendations are presented below.

The secret of success is constancy to purpose

The purpose of planning - the report starts with a recommendation that the purpose of planning be included in the bill, which seems like a very sensible place to start! It is difficult for anyone to engage effectively with the system if they don’t know what its purpose is, what it can and can’t influence and what is better dealt with by other legislation. Currently, communities often seem to believe that planning is about allowing developers to make huge profits, while developers believe that it is about communities being able to stop development happening. The reality is of course neither of these; rather planning is about creating great places. The problem then, as recognised by the Committee, is how to express the purpose of planning in a way that is meaningful, provides certainty to both communities and developers, and facilitates more effective engagement, in order to create those great places.

You win some you lose some…

Removal of strategic development plans - as we highlighted in our January blog, we believe that strategic development planning has worked well in the north east of Scotland, facilitating positive joined up planning across both Councils, as well as between planning, transportation and economic development. That view appears to have been shared by many who gave evidence to the Committee, with others being similarly sceptical about how the alternative of voluntary collaboration as proposed in the bill would work in practice. So, we are pleased that the Committee recommends that Strategic Development Plans be retained, at least until a more robust alternative mechanism for regional planning is provided than that currently proposed in the bill.

Local development plans - but you can’t win them all and the Committee’s support for the 10-year life cycle for local development plans (LDPs) is disappointing, particularly as rapidly changing circumstances mean that Plans can very quickly become out of date. The lack of detail available on how LDPs might be updated within the 10-year life cycle does not provide any comfort.

Redressing the balance?

Third party/equal right of appeal - there were strongly held views on both sides of the debate as to the merits or otherwise of a third party or equal right of appeal. The bill was clear that there was no intention to introduce such a right, but instead proposed greater and more robust early engagement to address third party concerns at an early stage in the process, rather than by appeal at the end of it. The Committee has, however, suggested an alternative approach of limiting the circumstances in which an applicant is able to appeal, but it is difficult to give any definitive view on this given that no information has been given on what those circumstances might be.

Putting one’s money where one’s mouth is

A new infrastructure levy - the question as to whether or not there will be a new infrastructure levy remains unanswered, with the Committee appearing supportive in principle but expressing concerns as to how it might work in practice. Those concerns echo those of the minister and the reasons why there is, as yet, no strong commitment to the levy. Given the impact that a lack of infrastructure funding has on development, we have previously welcomed the idea of a levy to provide certainty on contributions towards this. At the same time, we understand the cautious approach being taken and the need to ensure that any such levy is fair and robust and delivers the intended outcomes. We also agree with the Committee’s view that, if a levy is introduced, it should be both collected and spent locally. For now though, the extent to which the rhetoric might become action remains to be seen.

Back to the beginning

The call for evidence on the bill asked whether its proposals effectively balanced the need to secure appropriate development with the views of communities and protection of the environment. Our view at that time was that, as much of the vital detail as to how many proposals will work in practice was still to be confirmed through secondary legislation, there was no guarantee that the bill’s potential in this regard would be realised in full. The Committee clearly shares those concerns and has made recommendations to remove some of that uncertainty. However, time will tell whether the stage 1 debate will result in any significant changes to ensure that the new planning system achieves its stated purpose of creating great places.

Next steps

The Parliament agreed the general principles of the bill which will now pass to stage 2, where the Local Government and Communities Committee will debate and decide on any amendments proposed.

The debate can be watched on-line here.