The Scottish Government has introduced the Planning (Scotland) Bill to the Scottish Parliament. The Bill sets out proposed reforms to the Scottish planning system and is the product of a review process that started in September 2015. The aim was to strengthen and simplify the planning system such that it comes an enabler of high quality development, supporting the delivery of housing and infrastructure and actively encouraging community involvement.
We have prepared four updates on the proposed changes (which are of course subject to amendment as the Bill passes through Parliament). This update considers proposed reform of development plans and the introduction of Local Place Plans. Subsequent updates consider Simplified Planning Zones, development management, and potential changes to planning fees and developer contributions.
Development Planning: The Problem
Development plans are at the heart of Scotland’s planning system. They allocate land for particular uses and set out the planning policies against which individual planning applications are assessed. Consultation responses demonstrated widespread support for the plan-led system but also criticism of the current system of preparing plans (as introduced under the 2006 Planning Act). Development planning was seen as overly complex and resource inefficient, with planning authorities caught in a perpetual cycle of plan-preparation to the detriment of delivery. There can be a disconnect between the development plan and the delivery plans of infrastructure providers. Policies are often duplicated or found in supplementary guidance rather than a single development plan document.
Development Plan Proposals
The Bill proposes substantial changes in the preparation, form and content of development plans:
- Scottish Planning Policy (the statement of Scottish Government planning policies and currently not part of the development plan) will be incorporated into the National Planning Framework (NPF) (the Scottish Government’s long-term national spatial plan and currently not part of the development plan) to form a single NPF document.
- The NPF will become part of the statutory development plan, such that the development plan for any local authority area will comprise NPF and the Local Development Plan (LDP). If policies in the NPF and the LDP are incompatible, then the most recently adopted will prevail.
- There will be provision for the LDP to contain appropriate variation from NPF policy, if justified to reflect local circumstances.
- NPF will be reviewed on a 10 year cycle (currently 5 years) but with provision for earlier partial amendment if a particular policy change is required.
The purpose is to streamline the development plan, removing the need to restate national planning policies in the LDP and reducing the potential for inconsistency between national and local planning policy. The LDP should be a shorter document, more clearly focussed on local places and delivery of development.
- Strategic Development Plans (SDPs) for Scotland’s four city-regions will be abolished, removing this statutory tier of regional development planning.
- In turn, the NPF will have a more regional focus, backed by a local authority duty to assist in preparation of the NPF and a power to require cooperation among local authorities in providing information (for example on housing land).
The Bill reiterates the importance of strategic planning but SDPs were regarded as too prescriptive and resource inefficient. Regional planning will be reflected in the NPF and local authorities will also be able to adopt flexible partnership arrangements for continued collaborative working.
- LDPs will be reviewed on a 10 year cycle (currently 5 years) but with provision for earlier partial amendment if a particular change is required (for example if there is a housing land shortfall).
The Main Issues Report stage of plan preparation will be abolished, with an enhanced focus on consultation on the Proposed LDP prepared by the planning authority.
- Independent scrutiny of a proposed LDP currently takes place at the end of the LDP preparation process. The Bill proposes to frontload examination of key decisions and Reporter’s recommendations on matters such as the housing land requirement. The local authority will be required to prepare an evidence report of prescribed matters for review by a Reporter. Preparation of a proposed LDP will require the Reporter to have confirmed that the evidence report is sufficient, and the planning authority must have regard to the Reporter’s report in preparing the proposed LDP.
- LDPs will be required to take into account the local improvement plan, so as to better align spatial planning with community planning and service delivery.
- It will no longer be possible to adopt supplementary guidance, to ensure that policies are contained in a single LDP document rather than in sometimes complex and voluminous guidance. It will remain permissible to prepare non-statutory guidance.
- Key agencies are currently required to cooperate with the planning authority in plan preparation. The definition of key agency will be amended to permit designation of a wider range of agencies, including private infrastructure providers.
- The LDP delivery programme (currently the action programme) is to be approved by the full Council to promote high level corporate buy in to delivery of the adopted LDP’s provisions.
These are substantial procedural changes, designed to simplify and speed up preparation of LDP’s avoid repetition of national planning policies and displacement if important provisions into supplementary guidance, and focus planning authority resources on planned delivery rather than a perpetual cycle of LDP preparation.
Local Place Plans
The Bill introduces a new right for a community body to prepare a Local Place Plan (LPP) for their area and submit this to their planning authority. The Bill does not propose any particular LPP preparation process, but regulations may prescribe matters to which the community body must have regard in preparing a LPP (which will include the NPF), the form and content of a LPP, and steps that must be taken before preparing or submitting a LPP.
A LPP will not automatically become part of the LDP. Rather the planning authority must have regard to a LPP when preparing its LDP. In all cases the LPP would inform the LDP review, and the planning authority can amend the LDP to reflect the LPP. If the LDP is to be amended then the LPP will be subject to the same procedure and scrutiny as any other proposed amendment.
Simplified development plans, more frontloaded, streamlined and collaborative plan-preparation, and an enhanced focus on delivery will be widely welcomed. Some planning authorities may be concerned as to the scope for any necessary local divergence from national planning policies once the NPF (a Scottish Government document) becomes an integral part of the development plan. LPPs present as something of an uneasy compromise between the objectives of involving and empowering communities and ensuring that a LPP does not undermine the LDP. There may remain a concern as to how truly representative of the wider community is the community body preparing a LPP and whether some bodies may see a LPP as a vehicle for restricting any change rather than promoting appropriate development. If a planning authority has regard to but does not then adopt the content of a LPP it might be questioned whether this will encourage future community involvement.