"Inspiring", "influential", "dynamic", "delivery of great places", "a force for positive change" and "improve lives" - just some of the words and phrases from the opening two pages of "Places, people and planning", the much anticipated Scottish Government consultation paper on the future of the planning system in Scotland.
With the consultation paper hot off the press, we welcomed more than 130 clients and friends of the firm across two events in Edinburgh and Aberdeen to hear the views of the Scottish Government, local authorities and development industry.
We asked if the proposals in the consultation document can produce a planning system that will deliver for all those engaged in it. We were particularly delighted to be joined by Kevin Stewart, the Minister responsible for planning, at our Aberdeen event. Kevin spoke with enthusiasm and a real commitment to making a positive change in the system. The Minister was ably represented in Edinburgh by John McNairney, the Scottish Government's Chief Planner, who equally expressed his passion for a system that would deliver great development in the right places.
And the theme of delivery was echoed by our panel members. In Edinburgh we heard from Councillor Ian Perry (Edinburgh City Council) and Pauline Mills (Taylor Wimpey). In Aberdeen, the Minister was joined by Robert Gray (Aberdeenshire Council) and John Low (Stewart Milne Homes North).
The general tone from panel members about the prospects of the 20 proposals in the consultation document being a real game changer was very positive. Even from those who had previously expressed a degree of scepticism. But each had their own reservations, not just in terms of what the proposals contain, but also in terms of what isn't included by those proposals.
The discussion covered a wide range of issues with consensus on some, such as the:
- Replacement of the Main Issues Report with a Draft Plan
- Focus on infrastructure delivery
- Need for certainty in where development will happen, the infrastructure required to support that development, and how that infrastructure will be paid for
- Proposed fee increases, but only if those fees are invested in delivering improved performance
Mixed views were expressed on other issues, including the:
- 10 year review period for Local Development Plans
- Increased statutory involvement of communities
- Move to more appeal decisions being determined by Local Review Bodies
- Proposed removal of Section 75 appeal rights
- Introduction of a development land tax
A number of issues were raised which cannot be legislated for, including the need for:
- Local Development Plans to be seen as a corporate document with Council-wide ownership
- Planners to be more confident and to take brave decisions
- A change in culture for all of those involved in the development process
So, is it a game changer? There's certainly a feeling that it can be but, as the Minister stressed, it is important to engage in the consultation process. The Government has an open door, so, if you want a great planning system that meets your needs, make sure that you respond to the consultation by 4 April.
We look forward to seeing the outcome and resulting proposed legislative changes later this year.