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Influencing the Scottish Planning Bill

02 July 2018 Author: Craig McLaren and Kate Houghton

The Planning (Scotland) Bill is currently being considered by the Scottish Parliament. We are about to move onto stage 2 when the Bill will be considered line by line and where the Government and MSPs can table amendments to it. 

RTPI Scotland has identified four priority amendments which we are seeking support on from the Government and/or MSPs.

Getting support behind four key ideas

The first amendment provides for the introduction of statutory Chief Planning Officers in all Scottish local authorities, outlines their functions and obliges Scottish Ministers to issue guidance on how the role should be discharged. 

This provides for the Chief Planning Officer to be consulted as early as possible on any issue relating to the development and use of land. We believe this will help ensure that planning is an influential, corporate service which is at the heart of decision making in local government. 

Our second amendment proposes that the Bill contains a purpose of planning.  The context for this is a lack of public trust in the system which has led to a fierce debate about introducing a third party or ‘fair right of appeal’. We do not think this is the right way forward, but we do want to reassure people about the public-centred ethos of the system. RTPI Scotland wants the Bill to say that the purpose of the planning system is to “manage the use and development of land in the best long term public interest”.

The Bill as introduced will abolish the need to produce Strategic Development Plans and given this, our third amendment provides a new way of undertaking strategic planning. It will require local authorities to agree priority spatial outcomes on shared issues, and, that these are submitted to Scottish Ministers as a report that includes a key diagram. 

The amendment would allow Scottish Ministers to direct two or more local authorities to do this, though it is intended that this power to direct would only be necessary where local authorities did not voluntarily participate in appropriate strategic planning.

Our fourth amendment focusses on performance.  We want to make sure that the Planning Coordinator introduced by the Bill supports positive performance improvement, and that it is independent of Government. This will be critical to ensuring that planning performance is judged on a holistic range of measures, rather than just the speed with which planning applications are processed. 

We also want the Coordinator’s work to cover all with a role in planning system, not just local authorities.  The amendment also seeks to repeal the Planning Penalty Clause which allows Ministers to reduce planning fees for planning authorities they deem to be underperforming.

Engaging comprehensively right from the beginning

The Planning Bill has had a long gestation, preceded by an independent Planning Review published in May 2016, which was followed by a Scottish Government consultation paper in January 2017. 

RTPI Scotland engaged comprehensively with the independent panel and Government throughout.

The Bill was laid before Parliament in December 2017 and RTPI Scotland has been heavily involved in the Stage 1 process where the Parliament, led by an appointed committee, considers the principles of the Bill. 

We have engaged with Ministers, Scottish Government officials and party spokespersons for the Conservatives, Labour, Green and Liberal Democrat parties whilst regularly briefing MSPs.

Crucially, we provided written evidence and appeared before the Local Government and Communities Committee, and the Finance and Constitution Committee, which successfully informed the Parliament’s stage 1 report, published in May 2018.

We are currently discussing our proposed amendments with Scottish Government and opposition parties. Stage 2 begins in September so watch this space to see how we get on.

Craig McLaren and Kate Houghton

Craig McLaren and Kate Houghton

Craig McLaren is Director and Kate Houghton is Policy and Practice Officer in RTPI Scotland.