As you are no doubt aware, the Planning Bill is being widely being debated in the Scottish parliament throughout this month, and as a result, throughout the property industry. Since May 2016, we have participated in every stage of the planning review process: from the initial proposals in May 2016, to the ‘Places, People and Planning’ Consultation Paper in January 2017, the Planning (Scotland) Bill in December 2017 and on to what is now being proposed through the Local Government & Communities Committee Stage 1 Report. But by late August and the Stage 1 Report publication, it was evident to us that the process had become politicised. The principle of the Planning Review – to enhance efficiency and improve delivery – seemed to have been watered down. Instead, the voice of community groups and lobbyists had grown in dominance for politicians. As a result mechanisms such as the introduction of third party rights of appeal, Local Place Plans, increased used of Local Review Bodies, had all risen to the forefront of this Bill, while increasing delivery of development, stimulating economic growth and making the system simpler had all fallen down the priority list.
But was this a view which was widely shared?
We were keen to fully understand the sector’s opinion on the proposals now being made, so over the last month we have canvased many of our colleagues and contacts from across the sector, via a comprehensive survey of opinion, and we are delighted to report that over 180 of you kindly took the time to participate in our survey, with some 70% of respondents active Planners within the sector. Within this group of respondents we were also delighted to see an even 50/50 split between those working within the public and private sector.
As such we feel that this review represents a well-balanced viewpoint from across the industry and a significant body of evidence from which to draw some clear conclusions on the markets views. We would like to extend our thanks to all who participated and trust that the following results will be of interest to you.
The Survey Said…
Most of the really significant changes which would improve delivery of development would involve significant investment (infrastructure provision frontloaded)and much better integration or connections between infrastructure providers such as Scottish Water, Scottish Power, broadband and mobile phone providers, and so on. This is outwith the remit of local planning authorities at present. Anonymous.
From our analysis of survey responses it is clear that the majority of respondents agree with our opinion that the Scottish Government is failing in following through with its original aims for the Planning Bill – especially in the key areas of improving housing delivery and the introduction of an ‘infrastructure first’ approach. The vast-majority of respondents regarded the planning review as a ‘missed opportunity’ in addressing critical areas such as improving housing and infrastructure delivery, and feel that the system will only get slower, more political, more resource hungry (in a time of less resources) and less effective going forward.
- 92% believed that the Planning Bill would not result in an adequate ‘root and branch’ review of the current planning system’.
- 85% said the Bill would not ‘improve delivery of housing and infrastructure’,
- 90% claimed that the Bill will not provide the industry in Scotland with a ‘strong and high performing planning system.’
- 82% felt that Local Place Plans will make the system more complex,
- 87% added that this would also become a resource burden for local authorities.
Looking more specifically at the detail of the Bill, over 33% of responders thought that the introduction of Third Party Rights of Appeal would hinder delivery, with the same number believing this would lead to a more complex planning system. 85% thought an ‘Infrastructure First’ approach and the setting up of a national Infrastructure Agency would improve development delivery, but also more than 75% thought that this would be another significant cost and resource burden for hard-pressed local authorities.
A real missed opportunity for our profession and our small country. Anonymous
It seems to us that the system needs to find a way to aid delivery, not stifle it. Infrastructure needs to be brought back to the forefront, while third party rights of appeal should be carefully reconsidered given how we and the wider industry believe they will hinder development and greatly slow down the approval process at a time when we need delivery. In principle, an increase in community involvement is a positive thing but politicians (especially those most interested in counting votes) have opted for a system skewed heavily towards community involvement over development delivery - the overarching purpose of the review.
Perhaps fundamentally though, what has been lost here is the view of the Planners. Any review of this nature needs to be driven by Planners, who understand the balance of considerations that good planning involves. The lack of a Planner on the original panel reviewing these proposals seems to be fundamentally wrong. Do politicians understand the significant ‘hidden’ social and economic benefits of home building? Do they not recognise that a healthy UK (and Scottish) economy is predicated on a thriving house building sector? Do they not see the community benefits - including affordable homes, education, health and open spaces – which development brings, not to mention sustaining significant levels of employment at every stage of the supply chain? It would seem from the Bill’s progress and changes being made that this is not the case.
Throughout this month the parliamentary debate has continued and proposed amendments to the Bill are being passed each day. We are acutely aware that fundamental changes have occurred throughout every stage of the Planning Review, and therefore we are keen to continue making noise around the inherent issues we can see within these proposals and recommending alternatives, to encourage a rethink.
The review feels like reinventing the wheel. Where is the ambition for real change and progrees? Anonymous
As such below we have set out the key areas we believe the industry would support, given our understanding of the survey results and wider process as it stands:
- Clarify what the definition, and aims/purpose of Planning is
- The removal of Strategic Development Plans, and the consolidation of the National Planning Framework (NPF) and Scottish Planning Policy (SPP) into a single document, which forms a statutory part of the ‘Development Plan’
- Removal of the Main Issues Report Stage in Local Development Plans (LDPs), along with a 10-year LDP cycle
- LDP Examinations replaced with a ‘Gatecheck’ (but confirmation of how, and when, this process is triggered
- No significant changes to the appeal process (i.e. no 3rd party, or equal, right of appeals)
- No Local Place Plans
- Introduction of a national or regional infrastructure levy, alongside a national infrastructure agency
- An increase in planning fees – but only where this can be delivered alongside service improvements within Local Authorities
- No withdrawal of an applicants right to a ‘free go’ with a subsequent planning application
- Introduction of a requirement to monitor the performance of Local Authorities
- Provide a national housing target at a national level (i.e. within NPF)
- Confirm national standards for validation
- Allocated sites should be afforded Planning Permission in Principle (PPP) status
- Introduction of ‘combined consents’ – Planning, Roads, Drainage etc
- Provide a clearer definition of “effectiveness” to offer more certainty – along with minimum information requirements for promotion of sites.
We can now offer a body of evidence within the survey results which suggest that we are heading towards a system that we don’t want.
Working closely with the RTPI, Scottish Property Federation, Heads of Planning, Homes for Scotland and key players in the property industry, we believe we can still make a positive change to this Bill. Influential sector bodies moved fast to stand together against the threat of third party rights of appeal, can they not do the same to re-examine the core purpose of the Review? Yes, lots of the detail can be set through Regulations, but we believe that the Bill has to be built around a robust enough framework to allow that to happen, so the debate has to be now. Also, although these proposed changes would lead to an improved system, they are pointless if we do not also look to address aspects such as resources and skills, the perceived value of planning within government and critically, culture change. This is an underlying educational process that we believe is essential for progress, and something we all need to work collaboratively to achieve.
We hope to continue to drive these discussions and would welcome the opportunity to talk to you about how we can work together for the benefit of the Scottish Planning System going forward.
Please do get in touch with any of the team below.
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