Scrutiny of the Planning (Scotland) Bill has started with the call by the Local Government and Communities Committee for written views by 2 February. Now that there has been time for an in-depth look at the Bill, here are our comments.
- Few surprises – rightly so, as the proposals have been well-trailed during the consultation process.
- Lack of detail – as is often the way with reform, we only have the Bill to look at so far, and not the changes to secondary legislation and guidance, which will follow. This means that detail of some key proposals is absent, especially how strategic planning will be undertaken in the post SDP planning world.
- Underwhelming/ modest – there are few “big picture” changes. Even the changes to the development plan system are more of a realignment rather than radical change. Simplified development zones are unlikely to be used widely.
- Aspirational – much of the reform remains aspirational, even the delivery focus.
- Disappointment for developers – there are some useful minor changes, but little to reduce complexity of planning application procedures, or provide confidence that decisions can be made faster. Housebuilders will be anxious for information about procedures for dealing with housing numbers, which, it seems, will be an issue for the NPF.
- Planning authorities – it will be a busy few years for authorities with lots of changes to implement
- Communities – the stand-out provision is the opportunity to prepare a local place plan; LDPs having regard to local outcomes improvement plans will help focus on communities; but more extensive community engagement is still an aspiration at this stage; and there will be disappointment at the lack of an equal right of appeal.
- Scottish Ministers – the abolition of SDPs and increased status of the NPF will give the Scottish Ministers more power to set the planning agenda. They also propose more scrutiny of planning authority performance.
Scope of change
(This is not a comprehensive list of the changes)
New concepts (new for Scotland, at least)
- Local place plans - community bodies to be given the opportunity to prepare a plan for their area. - 92 per year (Scottish Government estimate) - no obligation (currently) for LPP to comply with LDP, or vice versa - details of procedure to follow
- Infrastructure levy - regulation making power, with only broad parameters so far - payable to local authority, to be used to fund infrastructure projects
- Training - compulsory training requirements for councillors exercising planning functions
Development of existing concepts
- Simplified development zones - growing from the simplified planning zone concept - authorisation can include other consents (roads, listed buildings, conservation area) - planning authority to consider requirement annually - Scottish Ministers may require action to be taken, including on request of third party - fees to be reviewed to enable planning authority to recoup cost of preparing scheme
- Abolition of strategic development plans (SDPs) - to be replaced by regional partnership working, but no information on that yet
- National Planning Framework (NPF) - becomes part of the development plan - not in the Bill, but the SPP (Scottish Planning Policy) is to be incorporated into NPF; regional priorities will be set out in NPF; and “the agreement of housing supply and demand figures at national level.”
- LDP to have regard to the local outcomes improvement plan
- Delivery plan - to be prepared by every planning authority, but no information yet on content
- Less plan-making procedure - abolition of SDPs (above) - NPF and LDPs to be reviewed every 10 years, rather than 5 years - LDPs – Main Issues Report abolished - statutory status of supplementary guidance removed
- LDP examination - new gatecheck procedure – planning authority to prepare an evidence report, for examination by a reporter before LDP preparation commences
- Pre-application consultation – new 18 month time limit to submit application; Regulations to specify exemptions from PAC, to avoid repetitious consultation
- Full Council – abolition of requirement for certain applications to be determined by Full Council
- Applications – delegation of decision-making to officers - more power for Scottish Ministers to ensure consistency in councils’ schemes of delegation - section 43A schemes of delegation to include applications for approval under development order, certificates of lawfulness, and advertisement consent. This means jurisdiction for appeals against those delegated decisions will transfer to local review bodies, from reporters.
- Duration of planning permission – the rules will be simplified to a three- year time limit for a detailed permission, and a five- year time limit for a planning permission in principle; and revert to the previous system where the time limit is a deemed planning condition, and other time limits can be imposed by the planning authority in a condition. Enables time extensions under section 42.
- Planning obligations (section 75) - remove the requirement for section 75 imposing a payment obligation to also restrict or regulate the development or use of land (addressing part of the Elsick decision) - flexibilities introduced into the section 75A modification/ discharge procedure
- Performance - planning authorities to prepare annual report on performance of functions - appointment of National Planning Performance Coordinator
The most significant change is the reduction in plan-making, which will benefit planning authorities and the Scottish Government, with estimated savings of £28.7M and £2M respectively.
The intention is that this should free up resources for other activities, eg. more extensive community engagement. However, Scottish Government remains opposed to ring-fencing to ensure that local authority planning budgets are not reduced.
Communities will benefit from the power to prepare local place plans.
Although the proposals as a whole are intended to make the planning system more effective, developers looking for specific proposals to make it smoother and quicker to obtain planning permission will be disappointed. The simplified development zone proposal is interesting, but probably only relevant to a few, specialised sites.
Financial demands on developers/ landowners will increase. Application fees based on full cost recovery might involve an additional £36M per year. Receipts from the proposed infrastructure levy are estimated at £350-750M.
The call for written views by the Local Government and Communities Committee is part of its Stage 1 scrutiny of the Bill. Oral evidence sessions are being held in February and March.
Royal Assent is anticipated in Autumn 2018. Secondary legislation and guidance will need to be prepared, so changes will probably be introduced in 2020-21.
Experience from the previous reform suggests that changes will be phased; some provisions might never be enacted; and powers may never be used (eg. good neighbour agreements).