Communities are being given the power to prepare a local place plan. This is one of the most significant reforms contained in the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019. It is estimated that 92 LPPs could be prepared each year, at an average cost of £13,000.

Background

The Scottish Government’s Financial Memorandum explains:

The demand for LPPs will be led by communities. There is no maximum or minimum limit on the area which an LPP may cover, or on how a community is to be defined, these are for communities to decide themselves. There is therefore no absolute maximum or minimum number of LPPs that may be prepared. The timing is also variable. Some communities may already have been involved in some form of community-led design or action planning, and have proposals on hand which could be converted into an LPP. Others will come forward at different times, as community activity develops or when a particular challenge or opportunity in the area provokes a response.

The Financial Memorandum estimate that around 92 LPPs could be prepared each year, on the basis of five or six in a medium sized local authority area, over a three year period.

Previously plan-making was only carried out by local authorities and the Scottish Ministers. LPPs will be an addition to the suite of plans –national planning framework, local development plans and regional spatial strategies.

Who prepares?

An LPP can be prepared by a “community body”:

  • a community-controlled body as defined by section 19 of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015; or
  • a community council

There is a useful discussion on the section 19 requirements in the Scottish Government guidance for community transfer bodies (for “asset transfer” read “local place plans”; and for “community transfer body” read “community body”):

5.11. The legislation on asset transfer does not define what a “community” can be. It simply requires a community transfer body to define the community it relates to, and ensure the body is open to and controlled by members of that community, and uses its assets to benefit that community. Whether an organisation is eligible to make an asset transfer request depends on their constitution meeting the requirements, not on what community it represents.

5.12. A community can be any group of people who feel they have something in common. In many cases, it is that they live in the same area. However, it can also be that they share an interest or characteristic. Communities of interest could include faith groups, ethnic or cultural groups, people affected by a particular illness or disability, sports clubs, conservation groups, clan and heritage associations, etc. They may be very specialised or local, ranging up to national or international groups with thousands of members.

Cost

The Financial Memorandum assumed the average cost of preparing an LPP will be £13,000, some of which would be covered by volunteering or support from public or third sector bodies. Some community councils are reported to have annual funding of less than £1,000; other bodies may rely on ad hoc funding. External financial support and availability of volunteers with relevant skills/ experience will be crucial factors.

The Financial Memorandum also assumed that the planning authority’s role, including provision of information to communities, would not add any significant costs. That seems optimistic, given the amount of information which might be required to prepare a robust plan.

Status

The Act preserves the plan-led system – decisions being in made in accordance with the provisions of the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise.

The LPP will not be part of the “development plan”, but will be a material consideration.

In deciding the weight to be given to the LPP, and in particular whether it should be given more weight than the NPF and LDP, which form the “development plan”, considerations are likely to include which plan is later, the justification and evidence for any inconsistency, and the extent of consultation which was undertaken.

Content and scope

The Act does not indicate the content and scope of LPPs – the form and content is to be prescribed by regulations.

There is now a planning purpose for the preparation of the NPF, LDPs, and RSSs: “to manage the development and use of land in the long term public interest”. That planning purpose does not apply to LPPs.

Consistency between plans

There is no requirement for the LPP to be consistent with the other plans – the preparation of a LPP is to “have regard to” the LDP, the NPF, and such other matters as will be prescribed.

The Act states that the community body must “set out the reasons for considering that the local development plan should be amended”. It is unclear whether “amended” in this context means amending by expanding on the provisions in the LDP, or if the intention is for reasons to be given only where the LPP is intended to be inconsistent with the LDP.

In turn, there is no requirement for the NPF or LDP to follow the provisions of the LPP. However, a well-thought through LPP will be difficult to ignore.

Timing

Preparation of LPPs is voluntary, and there is no specific provision on timing. Before preparing an LDP, the planning authority is to publish an invitation to local communities in their district to prepare LPPs.

Procedure for preparation

Procedural requirements are to be prescribed, including how the views of councillors for the area of the LPP are to be taken into account.

There are no provisions in the Act for independent scrutiny of the LPP. That will lessen the weight to be given to the LPP when determining planning applications/ appeals.

The planning authority do have the power to refuse to register the LPP if it is not valid, ie. non-compliance with the statutory requirements.

Comments

This is a significant new power. It gives communities an opportunity to prepare their own plan. It is also relatively unrestricted, as there is no requirement for the LPP to comply with either the NPF or LDP.

The effectiveness of LPPs is to be reviewed by the Scottish Ministers after 7 years, with a report to be published and laid before Parliament. A key factor is likely to be the ability of community bodies to source the necessary financial support and volunteer resource to prepare an LPP.