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The Scottish Planning Review – Shining a light on the gamechangers

26 February 2016 Author: Craig McLaren

Scottish _Parliament

Source: Colin, via Wikipedia.

This week RTPI Scotland gave oral evidence to the independent panel established to review the Scottish planning system. This followed our written evidence that had established four principles for a future planning system: that it should be delivery and outcome focussed; be more of a corporate function in local authorities and Scottish Government; be frontloaded; and be resourced to deliver. We were keen to use the session to showcase and highlight new ways of doing things and possible game-changers.

The evidence session was informal and good natured, focussing on positive ways forward and searching for the solutions to issues that we face. The panel members were engaged and engaging and clearly looking for good ideas and approaches that could be made to work.

From the outset we were clear that quicker processes will require removing un-needed bits of the system. We felt that there could more frequent reviews of local development plans. This would begin with frontloaded community and stakeholder engagement through Charrette-style discussions which agreed how to deliver the plan and infrastructure required with funders, agencies, utility companies and agencies. It would mean removing the Main Issues Report (MIR) given the creative and extensive engagement that is now undertaken by most authorities pre-MIR. We also questioned whether an examination by a Reporter is needed and suggested that we explore other ways of examining plans that provide rigour but which are speedier, such as peer review or mediation.  The plan itself should focus on areas of change and settlement strategies, rather than lists of policies.

It was our view that Strategic Development Plans should focus on integrating the delivery of development with infrastructure investment, regional transport strategies and city deals. We said that the National Planning Framework (NPF) should provide vision, establish targets and set out priorities. It should be a corporate document setting out where investment should be targeted in the future.

[M]ost of us don’t think that the [Scottish planning] system is broken, but that there are things that need to be changed.

Our suggestion was to use the NPF to set a housing target so as to allow Development Plans to identify appropriate locations whilst there was discussion on Housing Need and Demand Assessments and how to get agreement on housing targets and effective land. We also touched on how infrastructure and resources could be targeted towards of areas of low demand and outlined how we felt that Scottish Government must have a bigger role in supporting the delivery of infrastructure through funding, integration and de-risking. Our view was that the current Section 75 model wasn’t working and there is a need to look at alternatives.

We said there is a need for new models of income generation for planning authorities, looking at potential in pre-application advice; in full cost recovery through planning fees; and in post approval processes and enforcement.

There was discussion on third party rights of appeal where we outlined our view that this would only further centralise decision making and engagement would work better if it was frontloaded and focussed on the development plan. We also discussed the need to better connect spatial planning, community planningSingle Outcome Agreements and Local Outcome Improvement Plans to help make best use of skills across disciplines, allow services to work more efficiently, and involve communities more effectively.

My reading of many of the written submissions and our oral evidence session is that most of us don’t think that the system is broken, but that there are things that need to be changed. I am sure that the review will have given us the opportunity to reflect on this, on where we have come from the 2006 Act and whether its ambitions have been achieved. And I am hopeful that the Panel’s report will build on this through highlighting the potential of planning and by shining a light on the game-changers and what is needed to allow the system to function more effectively.

Craig McLaren

Craig McLaren

Director of RTPI Scotland