The Planning Review – shining a light on the gamechangers


Craig McLaren discusses RTPI Scotland’s discussion with the independent Panel established to review the Scottish planning system

Yesterday RTPI Scotland gave oral evidence to the independent Panel established to review the Scottish planning system. This followed up on our written evidence that had established four principles for a future planning system – that it should be delivery and outcome focussed; be more of a corporate function in local authorities and Scottish Government; be frontloaded; and be resourced to deliver.  We were keen to use the session to showcase and highlight new ways of doing things and possible game-changers.

The evidence session was informal and good natured, focussing on positive ways forward and searching for the solutions to issues that we face.  The Panel members were engaged and engaging and clearly looking for good ideas and approaches that could be made to work.

From the outset we were clear that quicker processes will require removing un-needed bits of the system.  We felt that there could more frequent reviews of local development plans.  This would begin with frontloaded community and stakeholder engagement through Charrette-style discussions which agreed how to deliver the plan and infrastructure required with funders, agencies, utility companies and agencies. It would mean removing the Main Issues Report given the creative and extensive engagement that is now undertaken by most authorities pre-MIR. We also questioned whether an examination by a Reporter is needed and suggested that we explore other ways of examining plans that provide rigour but which are speedier, such as peer review or mediation.  The plan itself should focus on areas of change and settlement strategies, rather than lists of policies.
It was our view that Strategic Development Plans should focus on integrating the delivery of development with infrastructure investment, regional transport strategies and city deals. We said that the National Planning Framework (NPF) should provide vision, establish targets and set out priorities. It should be a corporate document setting out where investment should be targeted in the future.

Our suggestion was to use the NPF to set a housing target so as to allow Development Plans to identify appropriate locations whilst there was discussion on Housing Need and Demand Assessments and how to get agreement on housing targets and effective land.  We also touched on how infrastructure and resources could be targeted towards of areas of low demand and outlined how we felt that Scottish Government must have a bigger role in supporting the delivery of infrastructure through funding, integration and de-risking. Our view was that the current Section 75 model wasn’t working and there is a need to look at alternatives.

We said there is a need for new models of income generation for planning authorities, looking at potential in pre-application advice; in full cost recovery through planning fees; and in post approval processes and enforcement.

There was discussion on 3rd party rights of appeal where we outlined our view that this would only further centralise decision making and engagement would work better if it was frontloaded and focussed on the Development Plan.  We also discussed the need to better connect spatial planning, community planning,  Single Outcome Agreements and Local Outcome Improvement Plans to help make best use of skills across disciplines, allow services to work more efficiently, and involve communities more effectively.

My reading of many of the written submissions and our oral evidence session is that most of us don’t think that the system is broken, but that there are things that need to be changed.  I am sure that the review will have given us the opportunity to reflect on this, on where we have come from the 2006 Act and whether its ambitions have been achieved. And I am hopeful that the Panel’s report will build on this through highlighting the potential of planning and by shining a light on the game-changers and what is needed to allow the system to function more effectively.

One thought on “The Planning Review – shining a light on the gamechangers

  1. As a member of the RTPI and experienced in operating within development plan and development management system, I am concerned at the RTPI view of the world. How exactly will increasing fees or other means of extracting funds from users of the planning system lead to a better resourcing of the system? We have already had a 25% increase in planning fees over the past few years and we are now experiencing an even poorer service because of under resourcing. Furthermore, pre-application advice is usually not worth the paper it is written on…even when its free!

    With regards development plan examinations, they are already admittedly not designed to achieve the best they can be…thanks for that Jim McKinnon. I fail to understand how removing what little examination is carried out will lead to plans which demonstrate rigour! By the way, the limited examination procedures which are currently in place have not resulted in speedier plan making. All it has achieved is delayed LDP’s, which in some cases are required to be reviewed immediately they are adopted in order to make good failings in the Plan!

    I am not sure what it is the RTPI think is not working re s.75’s. What is it you think they should do? Essentially they are simply a trigger mechanism to control development in order that something should not proceed until something else has occurred.

    What is intended by targeting infrastructure and resources in areas of low demand? If you mean, public sector upfront financing of infrastructure in areas of low demand to encourage development into these areas, whilst this is a laudable aim, it presents more risk to the public sector in terms of not getting a return for many years because it is an area of low demand and they are unlikely to support this. They wont even forward fund infrastructure in areas of high demand.

    Finally, I can assure you that the post approval processes does not actually exist. I have submitted information required as per pre-commencement conditions and only rarely have I received a paper trail of approval. This is a non-statutory and informal process whereby planning authorities will pick you up if you fail to comply but not actually provide the approval imposed and required by the planning condition itself. Would I pay to clear a planning condition requiring the submission of detailed levels, setting out etc when I have already paid for a determination of the planning application in the first place? I think not. Planning officers who have imposed such a condition should be prepared to discharge it as part of the application process, otherwise we would be paying for every part of the process including correspondence, phone calls, meetings etc.

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