Planning Reform: A New Year’s Revolution?

United Kingdom

On 10 January 2017, the Scottish Ministers published and launched a consultation on 20 proposals for improving the Scottish planning system. These proposals are the latest stage of the Scottish Ministers’ review of the planning system, which commenced in September 2015.

The consultation will run until 4 April 2017 and analysis of the consultation responses is expected to be published within 12 weeks of the closing date. It is anticipated that a Planning Bill will then be introduced to the Scottish Parliament as part of the Scottish Government’s legislative programme for 2017-18.

Four key areas of change have been identified and some of the proposals under each area are as follows:

Making Plans for the Future

  • Removing Strategic Development Plans (“SDPs”) from the System: It is proposed that SDPs will be replaced by new duties or powers for local authorities to work together on defining regional priorities, which could include developing infrastructure investment programmes and co-ordinating funding of infrastructure. The proposed removal of SDPs is coupled with a suggestion of enhancing the role of the National Planning Framework.
  • Stronger Local Development Plans (“LDPs”): It is suggested that Main Issues Reports will be abolished, LDPs will have a 10 year duration with provision for the plan to be updated during its lifetime and there will no longer be statutory supplementary guidance forming part of the LDP. Prior to a draft plan being prepared, it is proposed that Reporters will undertake a ‘gatecheck’ to establish whether the technical evidence is sufficient to prepare a deliverable LDP.

People Make the System Work

  • Local Place Plans: Legislative changes are proposed to allow communities to prepare local place plans which identify where development requirements, set out in the LDP, can be met. Where this criterion is met, planning authorities will have a duty to adopt the local place plan as part of the LDP.
  • Improving Public Trust: It is suggested that developers for national and major developments should be required to hold more than one public meeting as part of statutory pre-application consultation. There are also proposals to strengthen requirements for community involvement on development sites not allocated in development plans, with the approach to be determined by the local authority and community council and the cost borne by the developer. There is also a proposal to remove any right to submit a revised or repeat application following refusal or withdrawal of a proposal.
  • More Local Reviews: The Scottish Ministers have proposed an expansion of the number of decisions which would be reviewed by a local review body (“LRB”), rather than appealed to the Scottish Ministers. With fewer appeals before the Scottish Ministers, it is also suggested there might be scope for a greater number of decisions to be taken by Ministers rather than a Reporter.

Building More Homes and Delivering Infrastructure

  • Responding to Lack of Progress: The Scottish Ministers have suggested that planning authorities should do more to deliver development where there is a lack of progress on allocated sites. Ideas highlighted include using more publicly-owned land and considering alternative models such as self-build and build-to-rent.
  • Releasing More ‘Development Ready’ Land: There is a proposal to use the outcomes from current pilot work on Simplified Planning Zones (“SPZs”) for housing to determine how the statutory requirements for SPZs can be amended to deliver further such SPZs.
  • Embedding an Infrastructure First Approach: A new national infrastructure and development delivery group is proposed, consisting of the Scottish Government (and its agencies), public and private sector infrastructure providers and Scottish Futures Trust.
  • More Transparency on Infrastructure Funding: An enabling power is proposed which will allow an infrastructure levy for Scotland to be introduced. Detailed proposals will be developed at a later stage but principles have been identified in the consultation. For example, it is suggested that it should apply to most development types, individual planning authorities will need to submit a business case to, and obtain permission from, the Scottish Ministers, income will be collected locally and it will not replace contributions towards site-specific mitigation secured through planning obligations.

Stronger Leadership and Smarter Resourcing

  • Investing in a Better Service: A further consultation is proposed on changes to resourcing the planning system with the Scottish Government stating that we should be prepared to move towards full cost recovery. It is anticipated that this will include proposals for a revised maximum fee, higher fees for retrospective applications and sites not supported by the development plan, charging for appeals and local reviews, discretionary charging (e.g. for pre-application advice) and enhanced service standards or fast-tracked applications where a higher fee is paid and accompanied by a processing agreement.
  • Efficient Decision-making: Consideration is being given to extending permitted development rights, possibly alongside changes to the Use Classes Order. The Scottish Ministers are also seeking views on other aspects of development management procedure, including whether powers should be introduced to allow the duration of planning permission in principle to be amended after it has been granted.

Comment

Many of the proposals contained in the consultation set out objectives which the Scottish Ministers would like to achieve, although the detailed methods by which they hope to achieve the objectives are not yet identified. The Scottish Ministers have also announced that they will be undertaking further research and pilot work on their proposals as well as further targeted consultations on specific topics.

Where greater detail has been provided, the proposals are likely to receive a mixed reception. Developers are likely to welcome SPZs for housing, ending development plan status for supplementary guidance and an intention to consider improving flexibility for the duration of planning permission in principle. On the other hand, an enlarged role for LRBs, increased consultation requirements and some of the proposed changes to fees are likely to be less well-received.

The 10 year duration for LDPs might give planning authorities greater opportunity to monitor their implementation, which may be seen as a positive change by many authorities. Greater resourcing is also likely to be welcomed although there may be some reservations about the potential for an increased burden arising from the expectation that planning authorities will do more when allocated sites are not progressing, the enlarged role for LRBs, managing an infrastructure levy and deciding on community involvement requirements for sites not allocated in the development plan.