Reducing complexity in the planning system - Part 1

Reducing complexity in the planning system has been highlighted by Chamber members as crucial to breaking down barriers to growth and enabling delivery of our ambitious development plans.

The Chamber has therefore proactively and positively engaged in the current Scottish Government review of the system, including responding to proposals set out in Places, People and Planning, the consultation paper published in January this year.

At the end of June the Government published a Position Statement, setting out the key changes Scottish Ministers are now considering taking forward, including through a Planning Bill early in this current Parliamentary session. Whilst much of the content of the Statement has promise in terms of improving the system, other proposals ignore the concerns and needs expressed by businesses in the North-east.

Of particular concern is the continuation of the Government’s proposals to remove strategic development plans (SDPs) and instead rely on proactive regional partnership working. While the Government does appear to have accepted that one size does not fit all in terms of partnership models, the lack of any statutory basis for joint working calls into question how robust such arrangements might be, and what meaningful purpose they will serve.

The North-east has a strong track record of joint working across the two councils and with the private sector, as well as across sectors, through the Strategic Development Plan Authority, Nestrans and ONE (and their various voluntary predecessors). But in planning terms at least, that has always been with a view to preparing a statutory regional level plan.

In the context of an ever changing political environment, without a statutory requirement to work together towards a clear common end, and with an enhanced National Planning Framework (NPF) and Scottish Planning Policy (SPP) to replace SDPs, there is the significant potential for such collaborative working to fall by the wayside.

That is particularly so given the continued lack of information in the Position Statement about how regional views and priorities will be fed into and reflected in the NPF, and what additional resources will be made available to the Scottish Government’s planning team to facilitate such a dialogue.

A more effective planning system would bring together regional planning, transportation and economic development functions, strengthening, rather than reducing, their role to ensure a holistic approach to preparing development plans and identifying infrastructure requirements and a local commitment to delivery.

The Government also appears to be continuing with its proposals to extend the period for the review of Local Development Plans to 10 years. The intention is that this proposal will allow planning authorities to focus more on delivery, rather than merely on the continuous review and preparation of plans.

At the same time, as experience in the North-east has recently clearly shown, development plans must be able to respond to often rapidly changing economic circumstances and it is not yet clear exactly how that will be facilitated by the Government’s proposals.

Although the Position Statement indicates that more detail will be provided on when plan updates may be triggered within the 10 year period and how such changes will be made, it is difficult to support this proposal without knowing that detail.

It also leaves open the potential for a planning authority to choose not to update the plan for 10 years, even if circumstances have changed. What is required is more resource to be dedicated to plan implementation, at the same time as plan preparation.

Maggie will continue the discussion in her second blog which can be found here. The Position Statement can be found here with comments invited by August 11 2017.