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What does 2015 hold for planning in Scotland?

06 January 2015

2014 was an incredibly busy and important year for RTPI, planning, and for Scotland what with a centenary to be celebrated, a new National Planning Framework, a revised Scottish Planning Policy and a referendum.  It looks like 2015 could be another interesting year, though in quite a different way…

A New Context?Scotland -as -dev -plans

From the start of the year it will be interesting to see how the new Cabinet Secretary with responsiblity for planning, Alex Neil, will deal with planning and if there will be any change of emphasis on planning priorities given its move to the Social Justice portfolio. Will this re-position planning as community engagement rather than sustainable economic growth?  Personally, I think it will still be a bit of both, which is no bad thing. Alex Neil was previously Minister for Housing and Regeneration so knows all about the issues faced – indeed, it will be interesting to see where the Government goes on regeneration, in what are still very difficult times for the sector.  We will be meeting with Mr Neil early in the new year and so hopeful will get some indications then.

A New Politics?

A key event in 2015 will be the General Election in May and though, in some ways, it is less relevant to planning in Scotland given the devolved nature of planning legislation, it will still set a context for politics in Scotland that will no doubt have an impact as we move towards the Scottish Election in 2016.  A fair part of RTPI Scotland’s work in the year will be aiming to set the agenda and influence political manifestos for the 2016 Election, as well as working towards publishing our own manifesto. This will need us to face up to issues around how we can plan for housing, perceptions on performance and – linked to both – resourcing the planning service.

We have already started work on planning for housing and on how we can best link community planning and spatial planning. Both will lead to publications in 2015.  The background of very tight budgets in the public sector and a growing development sector could present very difficult scenarios for planning and, given this, we are currently undertaking work examining staff and resourcing levels in planning authorities with a view to setting the bigger picture and the issues that we all face. Watch this space…

New Issues?

There will be relevent Bills going through Parliament with the Community Empowerment Bill ongoing and the prospect of the Land Reform Bill. Both are very important to planning and we will be engaging with Parliament on them.  We will also see work move forward on the secondary legislation on the new Historic Environment (Scotland) Act and the establishment of the new body Historic Environment Scotland.

There will be work done on the Scottish Law Commission’s investigation into Compulsory Purchase, whilst I’m sure that there will be continued activity on issues such as town centres, energy, infrastructure and climate change. Placemaking and the value of good design will be highlighted with Scottish Government outlining a Place Standard and publishing a masterplanning toolkit for town centres, whilst we move towards the Festival of Architecture in 2016.

I’m sure that work aimed at speeding up planning processes will continue to be high on the agenda. RTPI Scotland will continue to participate in the High Level Group on Planning Performance, that is co-chaired by Scottish Government andCOSLA.  The year should see the group set out the process for assessing when the new planning penalty clause should be used.  We should also hear about pilots examining how to streamline planning assessments and how to join up multiple consenting regimes, such as Roads Construction Consent.

Not so New Messages…

So there’s a lot to be going on with. Although there will be a number of new issues and contexts to our work the current messaging of RTPI Scotland should still be relevent. We will still continue to promote planners as being key to delivering great places; we will still need to show that planning can help to deliver development; we will still need to push for planning to be more engaged with the Corporate level of public authorities so that they take spatial approaches to decisions on investment and policy; we will still need to show the value and benefits that planning, planners and the planning system provide for Scotland; and we will still need to show the need to invest in planning authorities to support continuous improvement, culture change and an efficient and effective service.

Craig McLaren is the RTPI Scotland Director.