The Scottish Government’s continued commitment to enhancing community engagement is commendable in principle. At the same time it is difficult to reconcile that with creating a planning system which is more responsive and flexible and with more streamlined processes.
There are already more opportunities for people to have their say on planning policy and on planning applications than in any other area of public policy and it should be recognised that increased engagement can only come with increased costs and that it will not necessarily result in more collaboration and consensus. Rather, even with the proposed gatecheck process, it is likely to result in more protracted discussions and hence a lengthening of timescales.
Much will of course depend on how all stakeholders in the system choose to engage, what capacity they have to do so and what his meant by “more meaningful community empowerment”.
In terms of housing delivery, a key priority for both the Government and for the North-east, the Position Statement moves away from proposing structural changes to the system to support this, but instead proposes relying on policy and guidance with the aim of minimising the debate on housing land requirements and focussing on delivery.
That is to be welcomed, but more detail is still required on what exactly it will entail, including the options for the use of Compulsory Purchase Order powers, as promoted by the Chamber, and for new Simplified Planning Zones.
The same is true of embedding an infrastructure first approach. The proposed creation of a national delivery group to co-ordinate development and infrastructure continues to be under consideration, along with new proposals for working with the Scottish Futures Trust and infrastructure providers on a task focussed basis.
However, there are still concerns as to how realistic a complete infrastructure first approach actually is, particularly in times of rapid growth as experienced recently in the North-east, and also as to how the needs of our area will be prioritised under these proposals.
But the fact that infrastructure delivery will be considered along with the Enterprise and Skills Review and the review of transport governance should be positive. As is the continued consideration of an infrastructure levy to provide more certainty on developer contributions.
The Position Statement is clear that no final decisions have yet been made on the content of the forthcoming Planning Bill and that views previously expressed have been, and will continue to be, taken into account in finalising the actions to be taken.
Given the response to the Chamber’s comments to date we hope that is genuinely the case and that there is still a real opportunity to influence the future of our planning system to create a system which meets the needs of the North-east.
Part 1 of Maggie Bochel’s blog can be found here
The Position Statement can be found here http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0052/00521888.pdf with comments invited by 11 August 2017.