Places, People and Planning – First thoughts on the Scottish Government’s Planning Consultation Paper

review1RTPI Project Intern Officer Robbie Calvert pulls out some first glance highlights from the Scottish Government’s proposals for planning reform.

On Tuesday the Scottish Government published its highly anticipated vision for the future of the planning system ‘Places, people and planning’. The proposals were developed in response to the independent review of the planning system, and will inform legislation to be introduced later this calendar year.

During the consultation period of the next few months RTPI Scotland will be working with our members and other stakeholders to develop our response. This blog will be an important focus for discussions. Twenty proposals mean that there is a lot of detail to be looked at, and so do keep checking back in the coming weeks; we will use the blog as much as possible as a forum for shaping thinking.

For now though, in the week that the proposals have been published, what are the initial impressions? What are the key lines of discussion? And how do the proposals align with the gamechangers proposed by RTPI Scotland late last year? Below we ask some questions designed to begin teasing out the details of the proposals in the paper.

  1. Make sure every council has a statutory Chief Planning Officer

To make sure that strategic decisions taken by local authorities and Community Partnerships go beyond planning departments and encourage enhanced cooperation across local government departments. RTPI Scotland is encouraged by the Scottish Government’s commitment to improving leadership skills within the report – but will this ensure expertise about place and spatial planning are represented at senior management levels in local authorities? As a part of the development plan schemes the Scottish Government has proposed shared corporate ‘ownership’ of development plans with the input and authorisation of the local authority convenor and chief executive. Will this accomplish the aim of improving strategic decision making both within and beyond planning?

  1. Introduce a Community Right to Plan

RTPI Scotland suggested that enabling communities to prepare their own spatial plans could help communities take a more active role in planning their places. In this vein it is good to see the Scottish Government commit to aligning community planning and spatial planning. This includes the statutory inclusion of community plans in development plans. Specific reference was made to neighbourhood plans in England brought forward under the Localism Act 2011. Is this the kind of legislative framework such a connection would be modelled on or are there other examples to be sought from further afield? Will appropriate resourcing and guidance be provided for co-ordinating work and developing the role of professional planners as enablers? Can this framework include a two-way conversation using planners’ expertise and experience to help communities explore opportunities for their area, while recognising constraints and context?

  1. Introduce full cost recovery for planning applications and ring-fence money raised for development management

RTPI Scotland supports the Scottish Government’s move towards full cost recovery.  This extends beyond the day-to-day business of processing applications in development management teams to include their support services. Included in this is the ongoing consultation on increased fees caps for most types of development. How will reform of fees structures look with the second stage of consultations? In order to achieve this full cost recovery is it desirable to further ring-fence money raised for use in development management?

  1. Introduce a National Development Plan which looks at how we will resolve national issues, including getting more houses built

The proposed enhanced spatial strategy and the enhanced cooperation across Government policy areas in the renewal of the NPF and development of regional partnerships has promise. However, it is important to view this in the context of removing Strategic Development Plans. Strategic Development Planning Authorities play an important role in forward-thinking at the bigger-than-local level, making sure that issues that cross local authorities boundaries are addressed. It will be important to ensure that this role, and the expertise of the SDPAs, is not lost in a move to a new arrangement.

We welcome the further commitment to a more strategic approach to establishing the number of homes required nationally. It will be paramount to take a strategic approach to balancing in the NPF developer priorities and commitments to investment with planning decisions that are right for all of Scotland. Out-with RTPI Scotland’s ‘gamechangers’, what other proposals stand out?

Consented Development for Housing

Strengthening LDPs through extending their life, and reducing their preparation time has, with the right conditions, real potential to increase focus on delivery of the plan.  Consented Development Zones could reinforce the primacy of sites allocated in the LDP, and deliver the highest standards of place-making and building possible. As highlighted in the consultation paper, frontloaded developer contributions, and community involvement, could be crucial to the success of this initiative.

Regional Partnerships

The Scottish Government has confirmed that Strategic Development Plans will no longer be prepared. The success of a new regional approach will depend on ensuring that the specialist strategic expertise held in Strategic Development Planning Authorities is not lost. As a part restructuring of the NPF, there will be co-ordinated audits of economic and social infrastructure across the regions, incorporating input from both the public and private sectors. But what arrangements will be put in place to ensure that ‘big picture’ strategic planning decisions can be made? Will we see a system in which a Duty to Cooperate, as seen in England, is implemented? What will be the role for City Deals? How else can a clear dialogue between local and national tiers of government be created?

Infrastructure Levy

RTPI supports the concept of an infrastructure first approach proposed by the Scottish Government. This includes closer links between the NPF and the Infrastructure Investment Plan to create a delivery programme for infrastructure. To enable this process, the infrastructure levy proposed could be instrumental. Crucially, could it help alleviate tensions around developer contributions and help speed up decision making for major developments?

We have posed more questions than answers here, and so would appreciate views from our members about the proposals made by Scottish Government. RTPI Scotland welcomes this positive vision of Scotland’s future planning system. We look forward to continuing the conversation with Scottish Government, our members, and other stakeholders over the coming months, as the proposals are developed.

To inform our response to the consultation RTPI Scotland is also setting up a series of events across the country that will allow our members to contribute their experience and opinions. Keep an eye on our events page for further details.

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