What are the key changes to local development plans in the Planning (Scotland) Act?

Planning purpose

There is now a planning purpose for the preparation of LDPs:

to manage the development and use of land in the long term public interest

That includes anything which contributes to sustainable development, or achieves the national outcomes within the meaning of Part 1 of the Community Empowerment Act.

Consistency between plans

Currently the LDP must be consistent with the strategic development plan, and take into account the NPF.

The Act:

  • abolishes SDPs;
  • does not change the requirement to take into account the NPF;
  • If there is an incompatibility between the NPF and the LDP, whichever is later in date prevails;
  • the preparation of LDPs is to “have regard to” an adopted Regional Spatial Strategy, and take into account a registered Local Place Plan.

Planning authorities will therefore have more freedom when preparing an LDP. However, the recommendations of a reporter from the LDP examination remain binding on the planning authority, except in very limited circumstances. If there is an objection on grounds of non-compliance with the NPF, the weight the reporter gives to the NPF will therefore be crucial in the potential to adopt an LDP which does not comply with the NPF.

The influence of the LDP is also potentially weakened by the provisions in the Act which require the preparation of a Local Place Plan to “have regard to” the LDP, rather than a requirement for consistency.

Timing

LDPs must be reviewed when required by the Scottish Ministers, or no more than every 10 years (previously 5 years).

The Scottish Ministers might consider introducing interim time limits for new LDPs, to take account of the new NPF, which is being prepared, rather than wait for the 10 year cycle.

Independent scrutiny

A gatecheck has been added to the LDP procedure. That involves the planning authority preparing an evidence report to be assessed by a reporter, who will report on whether there is sufficient information to enable the planning authority to prepare a LDP.

The examination of objections to an LDP by a reporter is retained, but with changes, including a new power for the reporter to require another proposed LDP to be prepared if he/ she is not satisfied that the amount of land allocated for housing is sufficient to meet the targets.

Content and scope

The content of the LDP is expanded to include :

  • targets for meeting housing needs (the NPF is to have “targets for the use of land in different areas of Scotland for housing”, so presumably this LDP target is about delivering actual sites)
  • provision of public conveniences and water refill locations
  • availability of land for housing, including for older people and disabled people
  • the desirability of allocating land for the purposes of resettlement
  • health and education needs of the population, and the capacity of education services (but not of health services)
  • the extent to which there are rural areas in the district in relation to which there has been a substantial decline in population
  • the desirability of maintaining an appropriate number and range of cultural venues and facilities (including live music venues)

In addition to taking into account the NPF, the preparation of the LDP must take into account any local outcomes improvement plan; have regard to the desirability of preserving disused railway infrastructure; and have regard to the list of persons seeking to acquire land for self-build housing. The evidence report must include a summary of the action taken to meet the needs of Gypsies and Travellers, and an assessment of the sufficiency of play opportunities for children.

Comments

There will be a period of change, and uncertainty, as these new powers and duties are rolled out, and put into practice by local authorities.

Requiring LDPs to be replaced every 10 years rather than 5 years will reduce the amount of plan-making.

Replacement every 10 years will make it more difficult to keep plans up to date. The 10 year period means that preparation of the next round of LDPs is unlikely to commence until the next NPF is published. Interim reviews will be possible, but subject to resources being available.

Housing sites will continue to be allocated in LDPs, but only every 10 years rather than 5 years. That will increase the competition between potential sites during the LDP preparation process, putting more pressure on local authorities.

The proposal for a gatecheck procedure offers independent scrutiny of the key principles of a draft LDP early enough in the preparation procedure for remedial action to be taken if flaws are uncovered.