Repositioning Planning – A vision for a reformed planning system

Kate Houghton outlines RTPI Scotland’s ambitions for coming planning reform


Image: Nick Wright Planning

2662 families in temporary accommodation[i]; 2016 the warmest year globally on record[ii]; increasing income inequality[iii]; unsafe levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution in many of Scotland’s towns and cities[iv]; 9% of species known in Scotland at risk of extinction from Great Britain[v].

Huge challenges for which there is no silver bullet solution.

A planner would say this, but, I think that we need a plan.

Planners are trained and experienced in looking at the big picture and working with all interests to agree a vision for delivering the best solution possible. But the way planning works, and the way it can be seen by others, means that we don’t always fulfil our potential.

The Scottish Government will soon publish a Planning Consultation Paper, foreshadowing reform of the system in coming years. This is our opportunity to reposition planning, to provide the plan that we need to be successful in the 21st century. To make sure that in carving a way forward the relationship between people and place is always taken into account. This will demand transformations in both the way that planning works, and the way that it is thought of by other practitioners and the general public.

On 8 November the Scottish Awards for Quality in Planning lauded professionals across the country for their creativity and ability to deliver results. Dundee Waterfront; Loch Lomond and the Trossachs’s LIVEpark development plan; South Ayrshire’s LDP story book; the Findrassie masterplan; just a few examples of how planners are delivering sustainable development in Scotland.

Coming planning reform is our chance to make sure that the best practice we as planners know and celebrate becomes the standard that other practitioners and the general public expect from the planning system. We need to reposition planning so that it is always poised to add value to Scotland’s assets; to be a source of certainty and predictability; to instigate collaboration and integration; to facilitate conversations between all those interested in how we use Scotland’s land and buildings; to enable the right development in the right places; and to achieve all of this through proportionate and flexible processes.

This repositioning depends on a planning system rooted in four key principles:

Planning should be delivery and outcome focused. 

The planning system must be more proactive and frontloaded. 

Planning must be more collaborative and corporate.

Planning must be properly resourced.

RTPI Scotland has framed a number of key ‘game-changers’ that would see this realised.

  1. Introduce a statutory Chief Planning Officer in local authorities

Make sure place is always taken into account by establishing in legislation the role of Chief Planning Officer in each planning authority. This would guarantee spatial planning expertise at senior management level. Statutory footing would clearly set out where and how the Chief Planning Officer should be involved in decision making within and beyond the planning service. Crucially, this would include a duty to consult the Chief Planning Officer on corporate decision making.

  1. Establish a Community Right to Plan

A Community Right to Plan could be exercised through introducing a new community tier of spatial plans, or be embedded in a more collaborative and frontloaded approach to producing Local Development Plans. Whichever route is taken, processes should be built into the Local Development Plan preparation cycle and development of Local Outcome Improvement Plans. Professional planners should take an enabling role, using their expertise and experience to support communities in exploring opportunities for their area within the relevant constraints and context. This will not work without resourcing, to ensure that all communities who want to are able to take a more proactive role in planning the future of their places.

  1. Ensure full cost recovery for planning application fees and ring-fence them for development management

Research from RTPI Scotland shows that from 2010 to 2015 up to 20% of posts were lost from planning departments across Scotland, alongside a loss of £40m from planning budgets. The average proportion of local authority budgets used directly for planning functions was 0.63%. Meanwhile, only 63% of the costs of processing a planning application were recovered by the fee charged. In the face of these challenging figures, we believe that the principle of full cost recovery for determination of planning applications should be established. Planning application fees should be ring-fenced so that they are only used to support the development management service. We must explore where planning authority costs for providing pre-application and post-application services can be recovered.

  1. Reconfigure the next National Planning Framework to become a National Development Plan, with a stronger role in delivering housing.

A new National Development Plan should look at how Scotland functions outwith the scope of political boundaries, and use this understanding to set out how much and where housing should be provided. Specific locations and sites could then be identified in Strategic and Local Development Plans. Through integration with other national strategies such as the infrastructure investment plan and the national transport strategy a National Development Plan should identify and contribute to delivering areas of growth and future infrastructure investments to support it.

[i] Shelter Scotland

[ii] NASA

[iii] Scottish Government

[iv] Scottish Government

[v] RSPB State of Nature 2016

2 thoughts on “Repositioning Planning – A vision for a reformed planning system

  1. The article, in calling for full recovery of fees, neglects to mention that from 2010 to 2015, when up to 20% of posts were being lost from planning departments across Scotland, alongside a loss of £40m from planning budgets, planning fees went up by 25%. The proposed Fee Consultation, which is considering a 600% increase in planning fees, aside from having no evidentiary basis, is unlikely to result in an improved planning service if past attempts to achieve full recovery are anything to go by.

  2. The latest Scot Govt Panning statistics confirms what the development industry have been saying … namely that despite the 25% increase in fees, allegedly linked to improvements in service, the service itself is getting worse! With regards clock stopping or “cooking the books” as I prefer to call it, this should only be permitted where the applicant has been informed in writing and giving a reason, in order that some transparency is introduced into this dark art!

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