The Town and Country Planning (Development Planning) Regulations 2008 came into force on 28 February 2009, just in time for the start of Spring. The Regulations provide considerable detail on the new strategic and local development planning regime to apply in Scotland. The Regulations supplement the replacement Part II (Development Plans) of the Town and Country Planning Scotland) Act 1997.

Strategic Development Plans

In June 2008 four Strategic Development Planning Authorities (SDPA) were designated, each comprising a number of planning authorities. They are:

  • West - East Dunbartonshire Council; East Renfrewshire Council; Glasgow City Council; Inverclyde Council; North Lanarkshire Council; Renfrewshire Council; South Lanarkshire Council and West Dunbartonshire Council.
  • North - Aberdeen City Council and Aberdeenshire Council.
  • North East - Angus Council; Dundee City Council; Fife Council (part only) and Perth and Kinross Council.
  • South East - City of Edinburgh Council; East Lothian Council; Fife Council (part only); Midlothian Council; Scottish Borders Council and West Lothian Council.

Each SDPA is to work together to produce a Strategic Development Plan (SDP) for their combined area; essentially a vision statement setting out a broad overview of the strategic development proposals for their area, and a spatial strategy, together with an analysis of how the two work together. The content of the plans will be for the authorities to agree, after consultation and public scrutiny. To assist, the 1997 Act and the Regulations prescribe some of the information and considerations to be taken into account, and also prescribe the use of a spatial strategy map.

Local Development Plans

A Local Development Plan (LDP) is to be prepared by each planning authority and by each of the National Parks authorities, to provide a detailed spatial strategy, based on the SDP where the relevant areas is within one of the SDPAs. For areas not within a SDPA, a vision statement is also required.

Streamlining the Preparation Procedures

One of the major changes to the plan preparation process is a reduction in the number of stages before the "Finalised" or "Deposit" version is made available. Instead the planning authority must produce an “issues report” followed by the proposed Plan. Objection must be made to the Proposed plan in order for it to be considered by the Reporter at the Public Examination. The Planning authority can amend the Proposed plan in response to such objections.

Notification

An added administrative burden for planning authorities is that they also required to notify owners, occupiers and neighbours of sites which are the subject of proposals having a significant effect on the site in terms of its use or amenity.

Public Examination

As well as setting the content of and procedures in preparing SDPs and LDPs, the Regulations also deal with the requirements for mandatory Public Examination for such plans. Although Scottish Ministers had the power to require such examinations of Strategic Plans in the past, those powers were rarely invoked. The direction of much of regulation, however, is aimed at streamlining this process overall. There will be greater reliance on written submissions, so when making representations there should be no assumption that the arguments can be supplemented with further information or at an inquiry session.

Commentary

Although the aim of the legislation is to speed up the process of preparing development plans it is clear that the new process makes a significant demand on planning authorities to change not just how they do things but also to improve the quality of what is produced. Planning authorities must also ensure that whilst being more efficient they do not sacrifice the quality of thinking needed to create plans which deliver sustainable development. Key statutory agencies must also play their part in fully and timeously responding to consultations by the planning authorities. Time will tell whether the obligations in the Regulations in this regard will be complied with.

Other aims of the new system is to aid transparency, to encourage public involvement in the local planning process, and to speed up the process of adopting plans to ensure that there is an up to date Development Plan in place for each area, which is then regularly updated. The reforms are aimed re-asserting the primacy of the Development Plan - putting it back at the heart of the decision-making process for applications to ensure greater predictability and speed in decision-making.

So anyone with a long-term interest in land use planning and development in Scotland should be encouraged to engage with the SDP and LDP processes in order to promote their own interests. In the interim, until planning authorities put their updated Development Plans in place, there may well be opportunities for developers to take advantage of the policy hiatus and take more applications to appeal where there is, if not a policy vacuum, at the very least Development Plans which are vulnerable to attack.

The full text of the Regulations can be found at http://www.oqps.gov.uk/legislation/ssi/ssi2008/ssi_20080426_en_1. The text of Scottish Planning Series: Planning Circular 1 2009: Development Planning can be found at http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2009/02/13153723/0. For further information, please contact Sarah Pirie on 0131 229 5046.