Craig McLaren FRTPI is Director of Scotland, Ireland and English Regions and Roisin Willmott OBE FRTPI is Director Wales, Northern Ireland and Planning Aid England.
As 2022 gets underway, Craig McLaren and Roisin Willmott look at what lies ahead across the RTPI Nations on the planning front.
In Ireland, our work is concentrating on the new Planning Review which is exploring how to deliver new housing whilst meeting objectives on compact urban growth and environmental sustainability; how to better embed a plan-led approach; and how to meet community needs.
The review comes on the back of the Government’s Housing for All strategy. It will include a comprehensive review and consolidation of planning legislation and will involve work on plan making process including the plans hierarchy, consents processes and enforcement. RTPI Ireland sits on the Planning Advisory Forum which acts as a sounding board on this for Government.
Meanwhile in Northern Ireland, elections for the Stormont Assembly will be held in May. These will be significant for planning, at a time when the 2015 changes to the planning system and local government are being scrutinised by the NI Audit Office and the NI Executive.
Improving the understanding of what planning can do when done well and the outcomes it can deliver is a key priority for RTPI NI. It will be of real importance that we have a Minister for Infrastructure following the elections that truly understands this.
We are also awaiting approval of a climate bill by the Assembly; during 2021, two bills were introduced essentially in competition with each other. It is paramount that Northern Ireland has a strong climate change bill and takes climate action, without any more delay.
The draft 4th National Planning Framework (NPF4) is currently being scrutinised by the Scottish Parliament whilst a concurrent public consultation takes place. These will be completed by the end of March and it is anticipated the Scottish Government will then bring back a revised NPF4 in June where it will be subject to a full vote.
RTPI Scotland broadly welcomes the direction of travel promoted through draft Framework and are pleased to see its commitments to tackling the climate crisis and Global Climate Emergency, to minimise emissions and to enhance biodiversity.
We welcome the importance being attached to place based approaches, especially by embedding the 20-minute neighbourhood approach and having stronger presumption against out-of-town retail. However, we have called for alignment of resources to deliver the development and infrastructure required whilst we are seeking more clarity on policies to ensure that provide more certainty.
RTPI Scotland is undertaking a major engagement exercise on the draft NPF with our regional Chapters and key stakeholders. Scottish Government are also looking to implement important parts of the 2019 Planning Act and as part of this are consulting on new development plan guidelines and Open Space Strategies and Play Sufficiency Assessments. We also expect movement on the guidance for new statutory Chief Planning Officers and the appointment of a National Planning Improvement Coordinator.
The Welsh Government published its budget for 2022/23 in December 2021, which was headlined as a climate change budget and it certainly has strong commitments to delivering a national forest as well as biodiversity, active travel, the circular economy, renewable energy, flooding, and decarbonising housing.
All of these actions need a strong planning service to help deliver them effectively for the long term and RTPI Cymru has repeatedly called for investment in planning services in local government and Welsh Government, as well as associated statutory bodies to meet their planning responsibilities. Without this investment, the Welsh Government ambitions and the positive outcomes we all want to see, will struggle to be achieved.
During the year we also expect to hear the outcomes following the consultation on the planning approach to holiday homes in Wales by Welsh Government. Last year, RTPI Cymru published a policy briefing with recommendations on managing holiday homes in Wales.
Local government in Scotland and Wales
Scotland and Wales will also have local government elections in May and both RTPI Scotland and RTPI Cymru will undertake activities to raise the profile of the value of planning to the elected members.