Review of planning welcomed by Scottish Ministers
On 31st May, an independent report, Empowering Planning to deliver great places, was published and submitted to the Scottish Government for consideration. Yesterday, the Scottish Government published Review of Planning Scottish Government Response.
In essence the Scottish Government agrees that the planning system could be significantly strengthened to ensure that the aspirations which underpinned the Planning etc (Scotland) Act 2006 are fully met; and that in order to do that, change is required.
The Scottish Government’s aim is to simplify and strengthen the planning system to make sure it better serves all of Scotland’s communities. To that end the Scottish Government has identified 10 immediate actions which it plans to take forward:
- Help local authorities to strengthen their skills and capacity for housing delivery (recommendations 13 and 16)
- Finalise draft advice on planning for housing and infrastructure delivery (recommendation 13)
- Extend permitted development rights (recommendation 31)
- Explore the potential to establish shared services (recommendation 41)
- Introduce pilot simplified planning zones for housing (recommendation 14)
- Consult on enhanced fees (Recommendations 37 and 38)
- Improve planning performance (recommendation 39)
- Continue to commit to not implementing the penalty clause until further work on performance improvement has been considered (recommendation 39)
- Identify how digital transformation and techniques can improve engagement (recommendation 46)
- Finalise national guidance on minimum requirements for validation (recommendation 29)
In addition the Scottish Government will withdraw the current arrangements for the recall of housing appeals to avoid unnecessary delays and will reduce its input on current development plans.
The immediate actions
Strengthen skills and capacity for housing delivery
Recommendation 13 recognises that, in order to be able to allocate effective land, planning authorities must understand development viability. On the other hand developers must also adopt an open book approach but planning authorities need the skills to be able to scrutinise the information provided by developers for this to be useful. This may mean planning authorities need access to different skills and expertise. The Scottish Government is therefore committing to introducing a range of measures including financial assistance where appropriate in order to achieve this.
Recommendation 16 makes it clear that any programme for innovative housing delivery must be aligned with local development plans. By strengthening their skills and capacity, local authorities should be able to effectively consider alternative delivery models and housing types.
Finalise draft advice on planning for housing and infrastructure delivery
At the heart of this is the need to have a clearer definition of “effectiveness” which is consistently applied within the planning system. The panel identified that there was much confusion about this and in particular what was need to unlock development. Finalising this advice is welcomed.
Extending permitted development rights
Recommendation 31 proposed that planning authorities should work together to identify the scope of significantly extending permitted development rights, to remove uncontroversial minor developments from the planning system. The independent panel considered that extending the scope of permitted development could also incentivise the coming forward of developments which support policy aspirations such as low carbon living and digital infrastructure. The Scottish Government has indicated that it will work with the Heads of Planning Scotland to identify how this can be achieved.
Explore the potential to establish shared services
This captures the essence of recommendations 40 – 42 which focus on smarter resourcing and sharing of skills. Establishing shared services will be key so that specialist skills can be shared across local authorities. The Scottish Government has committed to working with Heads of Planning Scotland and COSLA to explore the potential for establishing shared services.
Simplified Planning zones for houses
Recommendation 14 sets out the aspirations of the independent panel. Given the flexibility provided by simplified planning zones, the panel considered that a similar approach could be used to zone land for development including housing. This would give increased certainty and flexibility which should help to kick start high quality housing development. Interestingly the panel considered that the impact of this would be increased if pump prime funding was also available to help establish these zones and the developments. The Scottish Government has committed to taking forward a pilot.
Recommendations 37 – 38 made various suggestions in this regard. It was suggested that planning fees on major applications should be increased substantially as should fees for developments requiring an Environment Impact Assessment. The aim would be to achieve, over time, full cost recovery. The report also suggested exploring innovative charging mechanisms, to both incentivise and penalise behaviours. Discretionary charging should also be considered. The consultation to be undertaken by the Scottish Government will no doubt explore all the options with the aim that any changes to the charging structure result in planning authorities being better resourced.
Improved planning performance
Linked to the recommendations to enhance the fee structure is the need to improve planning performance. The report recognised that any increase in fees must be directly linked with improved performance. Further discretionary charges, for example for pre-application processes or by key agencies, must also be directly linked to improved service provision. The other side of this is ensuring that performance is properly measured. This is dealt with in recommendations 37 and 39. The report recommends a new means of measuring the quality of the service provided which builds on existing performance frameworks as well as introducing a mechanism for penalties for under performance. The Scottish Government will work with the High Level Group on Performance to explore this further.
Commitment not to implement the penalty clause until further work on performance improvement has been considered
This will be welcomed by both COSLA and Heads of Planning Scotland, who are opposed to this on the basis that it will not actually support or deliver improvement. Positive intervention is more likely to drive improvement.
This reflects the themes of collaboration, inclusion and empowerment. Smarter use of technology should make the planning system more accessible for all, more transparent and encourage engagement.
Minimum requirements for validation
Working with Heads of Planning Scotland the Scottish Government will finalise the national guidance. This should improve certainty, reduce delays and introduce consistency.
The Scottish Government has indicated that it intends to work with all key stakeholders over summer/autumn 2016 to develop more detailed proposals for the other 38 recommendations which are not the focus of these immediate actions. The practicalities and interdependencies will be identified and explored; priorities and phasing will be considered. In particular the Scottish Government intends to set up working groups, appoint an IT task force, and work with various groups including the RTPI, universities and the Improvement Service. Further it will work with Strategic Development Plan teams to identify options for repurposing them as recommended in the report.
The Scottish Government aims to consult on a White Paper in Autumn/Winter 2016 so that a Planning Bill can be brought forward in 2017. The scope of the White paper is likely to include :- the reconfigured system of development plans, housing delivery tools, infrastructure delivery, changes to development management processes to improve efficiency and transparency, performance improvement including enhanced frees, community engagement and IT innovation.
The Scottish Government will keep stakeholders up to date on their website at www.gov.scot/planningreview and its twitter feed @ScotGovPlanning.
The Scottish Government’s response is welcomed. The response has been swift given the changes to the Cabinet after the election and that demonstrates the importance that the Scottish Government place on ensuring the planning system is fit for purpose in order to help it to deliver sustainable economic development. Some of the ten key actions can be delivered quickly whereas others are stepping stones towards the White Paper. There is a huge amount of work to be done to progress the workstreams proposed for Summer/Autumn 2016 and the timescales are ambitious given that not all of the solutions have been found yet.
This article first appeared in Law-Now, CMS Cameron McKenna's free online information service, and has been reproduced with their permission. For more information about Law-Now, click here.