On January 14 2013, the Scottish Government announced some reforms to the planning system that we can expect to see during 2013. Many of these reforms relate to several consultations on various aspects of planning reform which were released by the Scottish Government in March 2012, ranging from increasing planning application fees to changes to the Permitted Development Order. So, what has the Scottish Government got in store in 2013?

National Planning Framework 3 and Scottish Planning Policy

The Main Issues Report for the new National Planning Framework 3 is expected to be published in March 2013, affording the public and other stakeholders the opportunity to be consulted on these nationally significant developments. Publication of the Main Issues Report will be at the same time as the new Draft Scottish Planning Policy. All stakeholders will no doubt be particularly keen to review the new draft SPP given its status as a significant material consideration in planning decisions.

Planning Fees and Performance

The Consultation on Fees for Planning Applications 2012 was one of the more controversial consultations to be released in 2012. This consultation suggested a significant increase in planning application fees such that Scottish fees are brought more in line with those in England and Wales. The carrot (or the stick, depending on one's perspective) offered by the Scottish Government was to link these dramatically increased fees to improved performance of local authorities. The Scottish Government now proposes an increase in planning fees of 20% in April 2013 as a result of feedback from this consultation.

Further, a high level group will be formed to review planning performance, and look at proposals to link performance with wider reform of planning fees. The recommendations of this review will be particularly interesting. It was suggested that the part of any increased fee may be refunded to the applicant should the planning authority not improve efficiency in dealing with the application. Many leading industry figures have questioned how exactly this would be measured in practice.The Scottish Government also proposes additional one-off funding of £673,000 to help planning authorities to deal with applications for wind turbines, additional funding of £55,000 to Planning Aid for Scotland, to increase young people's involvement in planning as well as deliver pilot projects to investigate alternative ways of delivering charrettes, and an additional £20,000 to Heads of Planning Scotland for training support. The additional funding to deal with wind turbine applications will be particularly welcome, especially in local authority areas such as Aberdeenshire where more than four such applications per week are currently being received (representing an increase of almost 1000% on 2006 levels).

Consultation on the General Permitted Development Order

The changes to permitted development rights consulted on in 2012 will be implemented in 2013, with the exception of changes to agricultural and forestry tracks. Key proposals include:

  • A new Class 7A, which would grant permitted development rights for the extension or alteration of a shop or a financial services establishment. Development would not be permitted if the extension or alteration would exceed the gross floor space of the original building by either 25% or 100 square metres (whichever is the lesser).
  • Class 33, in respect of development by local authorities, currently permits local authorities to construct dwellinghouses. It is proposed to amend this class to permit "residential development" so that flatted dwellings are included.

Consultation on Miscellaneous Amendments to the Planning System 2012

The Scottish Government has laid various amendments to the planning legislation before Parliament. Perhaps the key amendment that is proposed relates to Section 42 Applications. These are applications to delete or replace conditions on existing planning permissions. Under the current system, Section 42 applications of a certain scale require twelve weeks' pre-application consultation. The Scottish Government proposes to remove this requirement of pre-application consultation altogether.

Development Delivery Consultation 2012

Revised guidance on planning obligations (Circular 3/2012: Planning Obligations and Good Neighbour Agreements) has been published. Circular 3/2012 does not revoke the existing circular on planning obligations and good neighbour agreements but supplements it. A key difference between this new Circular and the existing Circular 1/2010 is the explicit emphasis which the Scottish Government has placed on speeding up the planning process. In Circular 3/2012 the Scottish Government encourages early engagement between the parties and the use of pre-application discussions to ensure that once a minded-to-grant decision is issued the planning obligation should be no more than a formality. Of course, it remains to be seen whether or not the process will become more efficient as a result of the new circular.

Planning Reform: Next Steps

One observation since the enactment of the Planning etc. (Scotland) Act 2006 reforms is that processing agreements have not been as popular as perhaps was expected. These are agreements between an applicant/developer and a planning authority for large projects detailing a project management timetable. The Scottish Government has now published a processing agreement template. It remains to be seen whether or not this template will become popular. At the very least, one must be careful not to be too quick to judge given the relative lack of major developments currently in the pipeline. In any event, the use of processing agreements is generally to be encouraged to ensure that both developers and planning authorities are able to resource effectively a major project and meet agreed deadlines.

Development Plans

In 2012, the Scottish Government consulted on development plan examinations. The consultation findings indicate that only 50% supported retaining the current system with a few improvements and that "a general view was that the ability of stakeholders to fully participate in the process has been limited and thus confidence in the system is being lost". The Scottish Government has indicated that it will provide revised guidance to Reporters and an update to the Development Plan Circular in March 2013. The Scottish Government's statement on planning reform indicates, however, that its "priority will be to ensure Development Plans are up-to-date" and that they will refine the examination process to "allow examinations to be completed and Plans adopted in a timely manner".

Reporters, it is said, "will continue to complete the examination into all issues raised and propose modifications to the Plan where appropriate and achievable within a reasonable timeframe. Separately from the examination report, they will clearly identify any outstanding deficiencies and identify appropriate actions to resolve them".

This may well raise issues of concern for those involved in making representations to Development Plans. The wording of the statements may suggest that timely adoption of Plans is the critical factor, regardless of their quality, and that issues of concern can be dealt with outwith the Plan preparation/adoption process. The way in which this is delivered in practice will be critical to confidence in the Plan-led system and it would clearly be cause for concern if Reporters felt constrained in the actions that they could take within the Plan examination process because of a political desire to complete examinations in as short a time as possi