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The Planning Review – the need to prioritise, mobilise and evangelise

04 July 2016 Author: Kate Houghton

At the outset RTPI Scotland said that the Planning Review was a great opportunity to maximise the potential of the system. Given this we are pleased that the panel’s report supports the Scottish planning system as an important tool for helping Scottish Government, local authorities, communities and developers achieve their ambitions and aspirations.

RTPI Scotland believes that any reformed planning system should be based on four principles:

  • it is a corporate service that influences and supports the work of Scottish Government and local authorities to create great places;
  • it is front-loaded to allow early debate and discussion between planning authorities, communities, stakeholders, utility companies, developers and investors to agree ways forward, roles and responsibilities
  • it is focused on outcomes and delivery, overcoming the current gap between vision and delivering great places for people
  • it is resourced to add value, bearing in mind that Scottish planning authorities have lost 20% of staff in the last 5 years and only receive 0.67% of local authority budgets

It is good to see these key threads running through the panel’s report.The corporate elements have been recognised through the recommendations on a statutory link between community and spatial planning, the establishment of a new Infrastructure Agency and better links between planning and transport governance.  The sentiment behind local authority Chief Executive sign off of local development plans is laudable. But, achieving corporate buy in may be easier to achieve by ensuring that each council has a statutory, professionally qualified Chief Planning Officer such as is the case for other statutory functions. The proposed ‘repurposing’ of Strategic Development Plan Authorities could also provide an opportunity to use the skills located there to better join up planning, infrastructure, transport and city deals.

The recommendations endorse our idea of a front-loaded system through  commitment to upfront community and stakeholder engagement, an “infrastructure first” approach and by re-asserting the primacy of the development plan. The proposed Local Development Plan “gatecheck” at an early stage of the process, replacing the current system of examinations, has potential, though the detail will need to be considered carefully.

In terms of delivery, 10 year development plans with a shorter 2 year processing time should leave more scope for implementation.  An emphasis on more support for upfront infrastructure is welcomed as is more certainty from Scottish Government on housing targets.  That said, the report doesn’t quite move forward the debate on key housing issues such as Housing Needs and Demands Assessments or the definition of effective land. There is a also a question mark about how a proposed Infrastructure Levy would work.

Pleasingly, there is a recognition of the need to invest in the planning service with proposals to move towards full cost recovery for planning applications. Abolishing the penalty clause in favour of incentivising performance improvement is welcomed, as is the idea of making space for planners to plan by removing processes and procedures that don’t add value such as the Main Issues Report and through widening Permitted Development Rights.

We very much welcome the large majority of the panel’s report, although as always the devil will be in the detail.  It has a good, positive narrative to build upon.

We await the response from Scottish Government. This will lead onto a White Paper (likely in the Autumn) and a subsequent Planning Bill, guidance, advice, regulations and support programmes.  As a profession and an Institute we must our response should have three dimensions.

Firstly, we need to prioritise the issues to be taken forward.  We need to identify those of the 48 recommendations that would add most value. To ensure a coherent reform programme moving forward, we will map out where they complement or contradict one another.

Secondly, we need to mobilise. We should use the expertise within the profession to take responsibility for turning ideas into action. We have seen real culture change, but we can do more in both the public and private sectors. We need to build the evidence base to test the ideas, thinking and proposals in the report.

And thirdly, we need to evangelise. Many of the recommendations made are not in the gift of the profession, the Planning Minister or planning authorities. Given this we need to build on the positive messages coming form the review to ensure that everyone with a stake in the system – other Ministers, Scottish Government departments, local authorities, community planning partnerships, MSPs and communities – recognise and realise the positive role that planning can have in helping them to achieve their ambitions and aspirations.

Kate Houghton

Kate Houghton

Kate Houghton lives in Edinburgh and is RTPI Scotland’s Policy and Practice Officer. She works with the RTPI’s members in Scotland to promote planning and planners, and shape the planning system so that it is as effective as it can be. Kate is on Twitter @KateHoughton35