Wright Johnston and Mackenzie Solicitors

The Future of the Scottish Planning System

By Nicola Martin, WJM Associate

Scotland needs a planning system which nurtures growth and unlocks the potential of our people and places according to the Scottish Government. So what can we, or should we, expect from the draft planning bill which is expected to be introduced in the autumn.

The Scottish Government consultation, (deadline for responses is 4th April 2017), is described as a  ‘root and branch’ review of Scotland’s planning system and identifies four key areas for change: to simplify and strengthen development planning; improve community involvement in the planning process; actively enable and co-ordinate development;  remove processes that have no value and strengthen leadership, resources and skills.

Twenty proposals are made within each of these areas to improve the role of the planning system in the delivery of the homes, schools, roads, work places and infrastructure required for Scotland to prosper. Scottish Government recognises that a plan-led system continues to offer the best method of effective land use planning, but invites comments on the proposals for the ways this system can be improved.

Suggestions which have been tabled for improving community involvement include the   introduction of community led plans, the use of social media and exploring mechanisms to engage young people in the development plan process for the spaces they live, work and play in. Few would argue these aren’t worthwhile objectives.

However, introducing an additional ‘development layer’ could also be seen to be at odds with other proposals within the consultation to reduce bureaucracy and to strengthen the planning management process. The same could be said about proposals that a development plan should be in place for ten years before it is replaced. While this and other proposals may ease the administrative burden of plan preparation, we question how the primacy of the development plan can be maintained so that it is flexible enough to cope with inevitable change during that period.

Proposals to enable and co ordinate development include the enhanced use of “simplified planning zones” (effectively planning permission in principle) for larger development proposals. In order to address difficulties in infrastructure delivery, the paper proposes a new local levy to meet costs of infrastructure provision which would work alongside the current method of contributions under legally binding agreements.

Attempts to remedy some of these delivery issues have been made in England. The introduction of the Community Infrastructure Levy (“CIL”) was intended to address challenges surrounding infrastructure provision. However, a paper has been published to be read with the Housing Bill which reviews the success of CIL. This suggests that adopting a similar approach in Scotland is not necessarily the answer and  there are lessons to be leaned in taking the local levy proposal forward.

Proposals for the improvement of the planning system will undoubtedly have cost implications. I query whether the system would be capable of delivering the required changes without raising the costs of planning applications as is proposed, given the prevalence of local authority austerity measures.  On the other hand, introducing fees for making an appeal, which is also proposed, may have implications for the fair operation of administrative justice.

Whatever is included in the draft bill, it is agreed that the planning system needs to change. This consultation is key, and we at WJM are ready for the next step.