The ongoing reform of Scotland's planning system and current consultations in relation to regulations under the Planning etc (Scotland) Act 2006 no longer need an introduction. The significant level of interest, dialogue and debate which the consultations have generated is testimony to the importance of the legislative framework to the success of the planning system. It is a recognition of the role of the planning system in the physical and economic development of Scotland.
Concurrent with consultation on legislative reform, planning policy on housing is now under increased scrutiny. Firm Foundations identified the importance of the role of housebuilding in the wider sustainable growth of Scotland and, significantly, set an ambitious target for delivery of 35,000 new homes in Scotland each year. These radical proposals will place demand on housebuilders and local authorities alike, particularly in relation to delivery of housing land. The Scottish Government will seek to encourage planning authorities to discharge their duties in the delivery of housing land by co-operating at a regional level to meet the need for housing across the country, albeit the recently published draft National Planning Framework two does not go so far as to set regional targets.
Consultative draft SPP3 on Planning for Housing sets out the policy which, when adopted, will replace the current SPP3 dated 2003 in its entirety. In common with the aspirations contained in Firm Foundations, draft SPP3 identifies the need for quicker releases of larger areas of land for residential development. The stated objective of the consultative draft policy is to refocus the role of planning in the delivery of housing from debates around the calculations of housing requirements and land availability, to building a more diverse range of quality housing which serves the economic, social and environmental aspirations of Scotland. Guidance is provided on the Strategic Housing Need and Market Assessment to be adopted by all local authorities in assessing housing need and demand, a move which seeks to create greater consistency in determining housing requirement. PAN38 will be withdrawn, with replacement guidance on housing land audits offered in SPP3. Greater emphasis will be placed on accessible locations. Release of greenfield land will be supported by the new policy if it would result in a more sustainable development pattern than reliance on brownfield sites. A benchmark of 25% affordable housing will be set, providing greater certainty for developers and planning authorities alike. In principle, this is all welcome change.
But do draft SPP3 and current planning reforms go far enough to secure the required investment in housing in Scotland? It is recognised that Scotland has experienced 10 unprecedented years of unbroken economic growth. This growth has been marked by a stronger desire for home ownership and increased demand in the buy to let markets. Land has been in high demand to accommodate increased build rates. But the planning system in Scotland has historically struggled to maintain sufficient land supply during periods of peak market demand.
Draft SPP3 does not extend the requirement for a five year land supply. Notwithstanding the practical and positive changes which the draft policy seeks to introduce, the draft policy arguably does not go far enough to make the system for delivery of housing land sufficiently responsive to the market. Of course, it is hoped that the new five year requirement will be based on a more robust assessment of housing need. This will have a bearing on the scale of land that will have to be effective. But there are still concerns about whether in practice it will deliver development on the ground as opposed to allocations in a plan.
Draft SPP3 also focuses on the procedures to be followed by planning authorities when planning for housing at development plan stage. It introduces some pragmatic and positive reform to the current delivery of effective housing land. But it should be read in conjunction with current consultative draft regulations on development plan examinations which arguably weaken the opportunity to test the local development framework through what will become the equivalent of a local plan inquiry. In a plan lead system which seeks to deliver the Scottish Government's increased housing targets, the positive model advocated by SPP3 is potentially negated by affording inadequate scrutiny to housing land allocations at the development plan examination stage. If there is a loss of confidence in the process from the housebuilding industry, the reforms introduced by regulations under the 2006 Act could perversely act as a disincentive to the very investment in the Scottish housing market which draft SPP3 hopes to achieve.