The Local Government Elections – What is being said about planning?

RTPI Scotland Director Craig McLaren explores the political parties’ local government election manifestos

The local elections take place on 4 May with all Councils across Scotland involved.  I’d like to think that planning is a key function in local authorities so I have had a look at the manifestos  published by the five main political parties, with a focus on what they are saying about planning, housing and built environment issues.

The good news is that all of the manifestos mention planning in some shape or form. However, they don’t always recognise the positive and proactive role that planning can play in providing a vision for creating great places.  In our response to the planning consultation paper Places, People and Planning we highlighted the need to support planning to be corporate and collaborative; delivery and outcomes focussed; front loaded and proactive; and valued and resourced.  We need to continue to work on this message, especially once the new group of councillors take their places after the election.

So, in strictly alphabetical order, here are the main points in each manifesto from a planning perspective.

Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party

The Conservative manifesto Localism for Growth is arranged through 5 key themes, one of which is Planning and Housing to Enable Growth.  Some of the relevant points made are:

  • roll out models like Local Growth Partnerships and Growth Accelerators across Scotland
  • if there is local support, introduce directly elected Provosts for cities, councils or regions in Scotland with greater powers over planning, taxation and capital spending
  • review if  local authorities should remain within the remit of the Standards Commissioner given concerns on councillors’ ability to express an opinion on planning matters in particular
  • give broader powers in planning policy and Compulsory Purchase Orders to Business Improvement Districts
  • improve the consultation process for local plans, and limit appeals that are made to central government by stopping central appeals if decisions are made in line with local development plans and by planning or area committees
  • allow councils to impose moratoria on greenbelt development
  • re-examine the case for a limited third party right of appeal
  • examine if  local authorities could levy planning fee supplements in return for guaranteed faster decision-making, with full refunds if such guarantees are broken
  • set an all-sector all-tenure target of around 25,000 new houses to be built every yearould
  • establish brownfield land registers and a presumption to build on brownfield where housing is a major component of the planning application introduced
  • establish developer forums, online portals or workshops to help smaller builders
  • support self-build through councils developing serviced plots and making them available with plot passports that would not require planning permission with a percentage of large housing developments to be set aside as such serviced plots
  • publish new guidance on Compulsory Purchase Orders for single dwellings and introduce Compulsory Sale Orders for domestic properties
  • fund energy efficiency as a national infrastructure project
  • estbalish a national capital challenge fund that Local Growth Partnerships could seek funding from
  • work towards improving  local walking and cycle path networks and provide at least one segregated cycle route in each of Scotland’s seven cities, linking from outer city limits through city centres

Scottish Greens

The Scottish Greens manifesto Power in Your Hands says that their councillors will:

  • invest in planning as a public service to empower local groups and individuals to engage, providing meeting spaces, information and dedicated staff
  • ensure transparency and accountability by pushing to make the voting record for all planning committee votes available promptly online and in offices
  • campaign to balance the rights of communities with those of developers by giving them an equal right of appeal over planning decisions
  • protect wildlife sites and local green spaces from development, and seek sustainable solutions to managing flooding and public land in ways that benefit people and nature
  • help local authorities deliver their Climate Change Act commitments by making carbon assessments a requirement of development proposals
  • push for councils to allocate at least 10% of their transport budget to walking and cycling, to create new and safer routes including paths separated from roads
  • argue for money to be spent on fixing existing roads rather than building new ones
  • support and develop plans to re-open rail lines and stations, including increasing capacity where lines are single-track
  • seek to introduce low-emission zones in town and city centres, and local authority targets for carbon reductions from transport
  • campaign to make energy efficiency of existing houses a priority
  • work to bring Scotland’s 27,000 empty homes back into use
  • support 12,000 new social rented homes to be built each year through making land to be available at low cost through a new council power to buy land for housing at “existing use value”.
  • prioritise new housing that is affordable, low-carbon, built on brownfield sites and connected to local services such as schools and shops
  • support proposals for a local “vacant land levy” to help deliver housing and reduce land speculation
  • support action to drive up space standards, designing houses that are easy to adapt for independent living
  • prioritise pedestrians as the most important users of roads and pavements and extend 20mph speed limits in residential areas
  • protect parks and green spaces and manage them to provide places for people to enjoy and wildlife to flourish
  • place councils’ duties to conserve biodiversity and tackle climate change at the heart of how they manage land and carry out their work

Scottish Labour

Scottish Labour has published its manifesto Our Vision for Local Government. It says:

  • local communities have seen planning decisions and local development plans called in, and decisions made centrally by ministers
  • local people could be excluded from the long term future decisions in the planning system if an ‘equal right of appeal’ is ruled out
  • everyone deserves a safe, warm, comfortable home
  • a good home is key to our wellbeing and life chances; it can cut the attainment gap, improve  health, is vital for mental health and will help Scotland achieve a fairer society
  • ensure councils have the ability to create a land value tax, as well as devolving the Crown Estate surplus to local authorities, so they can support the local services
  • commit to protecting and developing local, sustainable economies
  • public sector house building is key to supporting the construction industry, providing jobs for young people, and regenerating our towns and cities
  • a national house building plan should be published setting out how government working with councils can tackle Scotland’s housing crisis
  • 45,000 new homes for rent by councils, housing associations and co-operatives should be built, to the highest standard of thermal insulation
  • there should be more investment in active travel, to improve people’s transport choices, to improve people’s health and wellbeing, and make communities safer
  • devolve powers to local authorities to tax more than 10,000 hectares of vacant, economically inactive land and give them greater powers to fund their services
  • there are opportunities for councils to develop renewable district heating systems in partnership with communities and social housing providers and to use co-operative models
  • support the opportunity for community groups to buy land for regeneration projects or food growing or the creation of community green spaces
  • regulate Scotland’s buses to give local communities and councils greater say over the services they need and want.

Scottish Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats manifesto Make Councils Work for You outlines their priorities for local government, including:

  • local councils should have their own statutory and democratic mandate and should not be regarded as agents of central government
  • power should be decentralised as much as possible to local councils and communities
  • give all citizens an effective stake in the communities of the future, making sure nobody is left out or alienated
  • provide homes for all, tackling poverty and building opportunity
  • create greener and cleaner communities that are served by greener transport systems with local roads and pavements brought up to a safe condition, and a Scotland-wide integrated public transport system
  • remove barriers to people participating in their community and in local democracy by making sure councils use plain English to explain their plans and that local people have more chance to be involved at an early stage in decisions affecting them or their neighbourhood
  • build capacity in voluntary and community organisations, so they can do more in their local areas, including running local services or facilities such as community halls, amenity spaces and small parks
  • support the building throughout Scotland of thousands more socially rented houses, using new funding methods such as pension funds and developers’ assets where possible
  • expand the supply of low cost housing options, particularly for young people
  • introduce modern and innovative designs for local streetscapes to make residential streets places for walking, talking and playing
  • back local communities with more effective enforcement of planning and environmental controls, delivering clean local environments
  • support local high streets and increase footfall by converting empty shops for alternative uses such as multi-use hubs for public agencies, employment projects or residential accommodation where sensible

Scottish National Party

The SNP’s manifesto Better Local Services sets out their commitments, which include:

  • take further steps to streamline the planning process to support economic development while safeguarding the voice of communities
  • ensure that local development plans take into account the different housing needs of older people and those with disabilities
  • build their share of 50,000 new affordable houses across Scotland, and working with housing associations to ensure at least 35,000 of these will be houses for social rent
  • work with citizens and communities to take the best actions for their local area and put local people at the centre of our decisions and listen and act on their priorities.
  • devolve a minimum of 1% of each council’s budget directly to communities,to  give citizens the ability to choose where this money is spent locally
  • support communities looking to use new legislation that makes it easier for communities in Scotland to take over land or buildings that are currently in public ownership for the benefit of the local community
  • support the Government’s investment in infrastructure and the public realm
  • invest in improving the physical condition of communities by maintaining pavements and roads, replacing inadequate street-lighting and refurbishing school playgrounds and play areas
  • work with the Scottish Government and partners to bring empty homes into use for rent or purchase through the Empty Homes Partnership, Empty Homes Fund and Town Centre Empty Homes Fund
  • support thriving town centres and high streets through the Town Centre First principle, and ensure that the impact on the town centre be considered as a starting point before all investment decisions
  • work with the Scottish Government to improve air quality in towns and cities, and ensure the country’s first Low Emission Zone is in place by the end of 2018
  • meet Scotland’s climate change ambitions, while ensuring our transition to a low carbon economy delivers opportunities for local people by improving environmental standards and creating jobs
  • use funding available from the Scottish Energy Efficiency programme (SEEP) to pilot new and innovative approaches to make homes, public buildings and businesses more efficient
  • help local groups take ownership of neglected land and property, with financial backing from the Scottish Land Fund
  • support efforts to restore, enhance and conserve the environment and built heritage across Scotland
  • support active travel and encourage people to switch to cycling as a viable and enjoyable means of commuting

From an RTPI perspective we will continue to call for Councils to recognise the importance of planning and the role it can play in helping them achieve their broader ambitions and aspirations. This will see us continue to highlight our proposals for a statutory Chief Planning Officer in every local authority.  It will involve us pushing for better connections between community planning and spatial planning.  And we will continue to highlight the need to invest in the planning service by calling for ringfencing of planning application fees for development management, and, through increasing the level of budgets they give directly to planning beyond the current 0.57%.


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