The report of the independent panel appointed by Scottish Ministers to review the Scottish planning system was published on 31 May 2016. Congratulations to the Panel for covering so much ground in just 8 months.

Overview

The Panel find that:

  • Further technical adjustments to the planning system could be helpful
  • A fundamental rethink of the system as a whole is required to ensure that it is better equipped to deal with future challenges and opportunities
  • There is a need for renewed efforts in culture change, and a collective drive towards delivering great places

This is important recognition that structural reform alone is not the answer; there also needs to be culture change. This is not just an issue for the planning system, the World Towns Leadership Summit held in Edinburgh on 15 and 16 June touched on similar themes of strong leadership and collaboration.

The key aspects of the Report are:

  • Primacy of the development plan should be retained
  • Fundamental changes to the development plan system
  • Regional housing targets to be set by the Scottish Ministers
  • Sites allocated in development plans should be afforded planning permission in principle
  • Creation of an infrastructure levy

Fundamental changes

Although there is a mixture of recommendations, the ‘root and branch’ review has recommended fundamental changes, the bulk of which relate to development planning:

  • Development plans – a substantial shake-up is proposed, including:
    • Greater role for the Scottish Ministers – an enhanced role for their National Planning Framework (NPF) and Scottish Planning Policy (SPP), which will replace Strategic Development Plans (SDPs) prepared by the City Regions
    • Abbreviated preparation process for Local Development Plans (LDPs)
    • Less frequent review of LDPs – every 10 years instead of 5 years
    • Development plan examinations to be replaced with a frontloaded ‘gatecheck’
    • LDPs to include local place plans prepared by communities
    • Statutory consultation rights to be given to community councils and young people
  • Regional housing targets to be defined by Scottish Ministers in the NPF
  • Infrastructure – creation of:
    • A national infrastructure agency or working group
    • A national or regional infrastructure levy
    • A development delivery infrastructure fund
  • Elevated status for sites allocated in development plans - afforded planning permission in principle, could be exempted from pre-application consultation requirements and could benefit from fast-tracked appeals
  • Planning fees on major applications to be increased substantially

Potential concerns

  • A greater role for Scottish Ministers means less influence and control for local authorities – interestingly, the leaders of Scotland’s seven main cities have just issued a report, ‘Empowering City Government’, seeking new powers over tax, spending and the infrastructure projects.
  • Is too much decision-making power left in the hands of politicians who will often take a short term view?
  • Does the enhanced role for the NPF and SPP require the introduction of additional independent checks and balances?
  • Without active encouragement to review LDPs on an interim basis?, a10 year cycle risks them becoming stale
  • There is significant criticism of the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) in England and Wales, and the previous Planning Gain Supplement did not proceed – can lessons be learnt to provide a well-designed mechanism?
  • Could new arrangements prejudice developers with limited financial resources?
  • Lack of detail for many recommendations and a need to identify potential knock-on consequences

Omissions

There will be continued lobbying for third party rights of appeal - the independent panel was not persuaded that these should be introduced.

The Report does not propose significant reforms to the development management system (determination of planning applications and appeals), with the exception of removing the need for certain planning applications through recommendations for allocated sites and PPIP; greater permitted development rights; and simplified planning zones. There is no mention of adjusting the jurisdiction of Local Review Bodies to reduce their role as the appeal body for complex local developments.

A recommendation to consider improvements in the use and scope for planning conditions would also have been welcome, albeit mentioned in the context of infrastructure.

Conclusion

Inevitably there are some areas in which the Panel recommend further consideration rather than propose actual changes. That makes it harder to get a sense of whether their 6 outcomes will be achieved.

The next step will be an indication from the Scottish Government about how they intend to proceed.

Many of the recommendations would require changes to Acts of the Scottish Parliament and/ or Orders/ Regulations. Previous experience suggests that it could take at least 3 years for new arrangements to be in place.