10 highlights of Scottish planning in 2015

RTPI Scotland Director Craig McLaren looks back on the big planning events of 2015

scotland as Dev PLans

It has been another busy year for planning in Scotland. I always think that it is worthwhile taking a look back to see what’s happened. Given this here are, in my view, the 10 most important things that have happened in planning in 2015, in no particular order:

  1. The Community Empowerment Act was given Royal Assent. This will have major implications for communities and planning in Scotland given new provisions on community planning, community right to buy land and assets, public participation in decision making and managing services.
  2. In June the Commission on Housing and Wellbeing published its report A blueprint for Scotland’s future.  The Commission selected eight types of wellbeing that were potentially relevant to assessing the benefits of good housing – home,community, employment, income, health, education and environmental sustainability.  It also made recommendations around themes such as Housing as ‘home’; Housing and Neighbourhood and Community; Housing and Economic Wellbeing, Income and Employment; Housing and Health and Education; and Housing and Environmental Sustainability.
  3. September saw the publication of research from RTPI Scotland on Progressing Performance: Investing in Scotland’s Planning Service. This outlined how there has been close to a 20% reduction in planning department staff in Scotland since 2010; gross expenditure in planning authorities will have dropped by £40 million between 2010/11 and 2015/16; the cost of processing planning applications are not met by fees – on average only 63% of costs are covered; and despite the loss of resources, average processing times for local planning applications have shortened by a week since 2013.
  4. The Joint Housing Delivery Plan was published by Scottish Government. It identifies priority actions that representatives from across the housing sector agree need a specific focus to ensure we are able to deliver the strategic objectives set out in Homes Fit for the 21st Century.
  5. October saw the establishment of a new Non Departmental Public Body called Historic Environment Scotland. It is the new lead public body established to investigate, care for and promote Scotland’s historic environment, taking on the  responsibilities of Historic Scotland and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments.
  6. Scottish Government published research it had commissioned on Planning for Infrastructure Research.  This report highlights the potential to make more use of forward looking strategic and local development plans and their action programmes and calls for planners to be recognised as ‘place providers’ who show leadership in identifying, costing and delivering infrastructure as an integral part of the future development of an area.  Scottish Government also published a response to the research.
  7. RTPI Scotland published its manifesto for the 2016 Scottish election Planning in the Next Parliament: Building a Successful and Sustainable Scotland . It sets out 7 key game-changers on issues such as housing, resources, infrastructure, town and city centres, energy, community engagement and place making
  8. The Land Reform (Scotland) Bill was published.  This is still being considered by Parliament but could have major implication for 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.
  9. December saw the publication of The Place Standard by Scottish Government, NHS Health Scotland and Architecture + Design Scotland. It aims to support communities, public, private and third sectors, to assess the quality of a place. The tool enables the physical, social and environmental quality of a place to be evaluated in a structured to identify areas where quality can be improved.
  10. The big news for Scottish planning has undoubtedly been the independent planning review. Announced by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon as part of the Programme for Government as a ‘root and branch’ review it will focus on 6 key issues –  development planning; housing delivery; planning for infrastructure;  development management; leadership, resourcing and skills; and community engagement.  RTPI Scotland raised concerns about the Review Panel not including a chartered town planner with recent experience in the planning service.  We – and around 350 others – have submitted evidence to the review. Oral evidence is to be taken in the new year whilst the Panel’s recommendations are scheduled for the Spring.

These  were many other key announcements and publications including Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park winning the Scottish Awards for Quality in Planning with its Live Park community engagement initiative, the publication of RTPI Scotland research on Linking People and Places: Spatial and Community Planning ; the growth the the PAS Charrette+ model, the first meeting of the National Walking Strategy Delivery Forum, the publication of the Low Emisson Strategy for Scotland; and the appointment of RTPI member Nicola Barclay as Chief Executive of Homes for Scotland.  These are just some of the highlights that come to my mind. I’m sure there are many others that you will think are more important. If so, do let us know!

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