On 29 July 2017, the Scottish Government published a Position Statement describing the key changes that the Scottish Ministers are considering taking forward as part of its reform of the Scottish planning system (the “Position Statement”).

The Position Statement follows the “Places, People and Planning” consultation paper from January 2017 (the “Consultation Paper”) which was discussed in a previous Law-Now e-alert. A report analysing the responses to the Consultation Paper has also been published.

The structure of the Position Statement follows the four key areas of change identified in the Consultation Paper. Some of the Scottish Government proposals under each of these areas are summarised as follows:

Making Plans for the Future

  • Introduction of a statutory link between development planning and community planning and local development plans (“LDPs”) potentially being ‘signed off’ by local authority Chief Executives.
  • Removal of strategic development plans. Instead, a number of duties relating to strategic planning could be introduced such as a duty to undertake joint evidence gathering on issues like cross-boundary infrastructure requirements.
  • A 10 year period for LDPs with an ability to update the LDP during that period, although it is suggested there will be prescribed circumstances in which a plan could be updated. It is also proposed that the process for preparation and adoption of LDPs will change, including the removal of Main Issues Reports and an early gatecheck to assess the evidence base.

People Make the System Work

  • A continued commitment to local place plans, with the applicable processes and procedures to be left as flexible as possible. The Scottish Government will also set out how local place plans should be incorporated into LDPs.
  • Amendments to be made to pre-application consultation requirements, such as a requirement to provide feedback to communities, and the potential removal of the ability to submit a revised or repeat application at no cost following an application or appeal being refused or withdrawn.
  • Abandonment of plans for Ministers, rather than Reporters, to take decisions more often which proved unpopular in the responses to the Consultation Paper.
  • No proposals to introduce fees for local reviews or appeals.

Building More Homes and Delivering Infrastructure

  • Further work to identify a solution to identifying a housing land requirement which will minimise debate.
  • Legislative change to refresh and rebrand Simplified Planning Zones to enable them to be used in a greater range of circumstances.
  • Exploration of options for an infrastructure levy with assistance from Scottish Futures Trust.
  • Abandonment of plans to restrict or remove the ability to modify planning obligations, although changes could be required depending on the proposals for an infrastructure levy.

Stronger Leadership and Smarter Resourcing

  • Consideration of the scope for shared services in planning, particularly in specialist disciplines.
  • Introduction of enabling powers to provide greater scope for discretionary charging and increasing the services for which fees can be charged.
  • Continued focus on improving performance, broadening permitted development rights and improving development management procedures.

Comment

In many respects, the Position Statement does not take us any further forward as it is still lacking in detailed proposals. That is particularly the case in relation to delivering more housing and infrastructure which is a central component of the proposed reforms. Further detail is only likely to appear when legislation comes forward or when further work is completed. However, the Position Statement does give some clarity on the general issues which will, and will not, be taken forward.

Developers are likely to welcome the news that there are no plans to introduce fees for appeals and local reviews or to limit the ability to modify section 75 agreements. Leaving appeal decisions with Reporters rather than the decision being taken by Ministers is also likely to be popular. On the other hand, the continued commitment to local place plans and increased fees is unlikely to receive such a positive reception.

Planning authorities may welcome the 10 year duration for LDPs to allow a greater opportunity to monitor their implementation and focus on delivery but there may be concerns that their ability to update an LDP during that period could be limited if the legislation is overly prescriptive.

A deadline of 11 August 2017 has been set for comments on the Position Statement.