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What does 2016 hold for planning in Scotland?

07 January 2016 Author: Craig McLaren

I am sure that I say this every year, but I have no doubt that 2016 will be an important year for Scottish planning.

The Scottish election on 5th May will frame a lot of work and future policy, with political parties making announcements on what they aim to achieve if they get into government, and for the winning party or parties then working out how best to deliver on this.

We at RTPI Scotland have already published a manifesto that we have shared with the main political parties. Planning in the Next Parliament: Building a Successful and Sustainable Scotland sets out seven key game-changers on housing, resources, infrastructure, town and city centres, energy, community engagement and place making. I expect all of these issues to be highlighted in the lead up to the elections.

Whatever the colour of the new government they will have some difficult choices to make on resourcing and that’s why once the new Parliament comes into place, RTPI Scotland will be promoting the benefits of planning and the need to invest in the planning service. We need to ensure that the narrative on planning remains positive and politicians realise and recognise its value.

We have already set out some key statistics on the need for investment such as a 20% reduction in planning department staff in Scotland since 2010; gross expenditure in planning authorities dropping by £40 million between 2010 - 11 and 2015 - 16; only 63% of the costs of processing planning applications are covered by fees; and that planning will make up only 0.63% of local authority budgets in 2015 - 2016.

The independent planning review will continue to be a key workstream in 2016. The panel will be taking oral evidence in January and February and should report in May, after the election. It will be interesting to see what the Panel recommend and how Scottish Government takes it forward.

I’ve no doubt that it will lead to new work programme for Scottish Government involving a new Planning Bill, secondary legislation, advice and guidance. It is likely that this will focus on the format, content and processes for drafting development plans with an eye to how they can better deliver housing and infrastructure. I am hopeful that it will allow planning to become more delivery and outcome focussed; to be seen and used as a more corporate function within local authorities and Scottish Government; to be more proactive and frontloaded; and to be resourced to add value. RTPI Scotland has set out the importance of the principles in our response to the review panel’s call for evidence.

Early in the new year should see the publication of new advice from Scottish Government on housing and infrastructure delivery. This will explore the roles of development plans, action programmes, section 75 obligations in helping to boost housing construction. Housing will undoubtedly continue to be a high profile issue and one which should feature highly in the election campaign. The Joint Housing Delivery Plan will be a focus for much of this, as will the planning review. Our message on this is that planning can help deliver quality housing and places if it has the rights tools and resources. 

The Scottish Parliament will be exploring a number of issues which are relevant to planning. The Local Government and Regeneration Committee has already expressed an interest in the planning review and will most likely have a role in scrutiny. We will also see the  implementation of the Community Empowerment Act and provisions on community planning, community right to buy land and assets, public participation in decision making and managing services. Linked to this, RTPI Scotland hope to publish research on how to better link spatial planning and community planning. This will build on research we published in 2015.

The Land Reform (Scotland) Bill will progress through Parliament. This is important to planning given that it contains provisions to establish the Scottish Land Commission; about information about owners and controllers of land; about engaging communities in decisions relating to land; to enable certain persons to buy land to further sustainable development; about the change of use of common good land; and about access rights to land.

The Scotland Bill will continue to make its way through the UK Parliament and an important part of this will be the future for the Crown Estate in Scotland. The Smith Commission recommended that the management of Crown Estate assets in Scotland and their revenues should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Scottish Government aims to develop a new framework for control and management of Crown Estate assets once the legislative powers have been devolved. There will then be a full public consultation to ensure that the framework for management is set out in such a way that it benefits the people that use its services as well as the wider community. (You can read the RTPI's 10 principles for devolving power across and within the UK as submitted to the Smith Commission here).

Other policy documents are also on the horizon. A refresh of the national transport strategy is being undertaken whilst Scottish Government has been undertaking a national conversation on how to achieve a Fairer Scotland. This will lead to us hearing more about ‘inclusive growth’ and the publication of a social justice action plan before the election. Again, we have been positioning planning as a means of helping to achieve this. We should also see the publication of the new National Walking Strategy Delivery Plan in the first quarter of the year.

Scottish Government’s moratorium on granting consents for unconventional oil and gas developments was announced in January 2015 when it said that it would be in place whilst further research and a public consultation is carried out. In December 2015 Scottish Government invited tenders for a research programme into the potential impacts of onshore unconventional oil and gas extraction. Evidence-gathering is to be completed in the summer of 2016 and will inform a full public consultation to take place in winter 2016 - 17.

And to end with a celebration. The year has been designated the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design which will bring many opportunities to highlight the profession’s role in promoting good design.  We are supporting the Festival of Architecture which runs throughout the year and will be organising and number of events showing the important contribution that the profession plays.

Craig McLaren

Craig McLaren

Director of RTPI Scotland