Making an infrastructure first approach a reality

jigsaw pieces - landscape version

In response to the publication of the Scottish Government Places, People and Planning, RTPI Scotland has produced a series of thinkpieces aimed at providing workable solutions to align with, and supplement proposals made in the consultation paper. One thinkpiece by Stefano Smith, Duncan Smart and Catherine Elliot set outs two linked proposals as to how the reformed planning system could enable an Infrastructure First approach to planning. Robbie Calvert summarises the proposals:

Proposal 1 – Establish a national mechanism, including statutory powers and duties, to lead infrastructure planning for Scotland

The first proposal, to establish a national mechanism for infrastructure planning and co-ordinate delivery builds upon Proposal 13 of the Consultation Paper:

“13. Embedding an infrastructure first approach. There is a need for better co-ordination of infrastructure planning at a national and regional level. This will require a stronger commitment to delivering development from all infrastructure providers.”

RTPI Scotland believes the proposal needs to go beyond the creation of a non-statutory delivery focused working group through the formation of a National Infrastructure Unit (NIU) or Taskforce. This small core team of civil servants would sit within Scottish Government and include chartered planners and other infrastructure specialists. It would sustain a strategic, spatial overview of infrastructure delivery while co-ordinating within central government departments both national infrastructure planning and policy activities. The NIU or Taskforce should be informed by a National Infrastructure Audit and be overseen by a panel of experts. This would help to ensure the independence and technical competency of the national infrastructure assessment and strategic business case reviews for infrastructure projects.

Planning authorities, infrastructure providers and the UK National Infrastructure Commission should be statutory consultees to national infrastructure assessments. A statutory mechanism is critical to ensure effective collaboration between infrastructure providers, planning authorities and other relevant stakeholders. The NIU or Taskforce could oversee a feedback loop between the national infrastructure assessments, an enhanced National Planning Framework (National Development Plan (NDP), as proposed by RTPI Scotland elsewhere) and Development Plans.

Proposal 2: Establish an infrastructure fund and infrastructure levy, to be administered by the Scottish Ministers and statutory regional planning partnerships respectively

The second proposal is to establish a national infrastructure fund and levy, to be administered by statutory regional partnerships. This builds on Proposal 14 of the Scottish Government Consultation Paper on the future of the Scottish planning system, Places, People and Planning:

“14. A more transparent approach to funding infrastructure. We believe that introducing powers for a new local levy to raise additional finance for infrastructure would be fairer and more effective. Improvements can also be made to Section 75 obligations.”

RTPI Scotland agrees with the Scottish Government’s proposal to introduce an enabling power through primary legislation to introduce a new infrastructure levy for Scotland,  to fund non-local, strategic infrastructure.

RTPI Scotland supports the creation of statutory Regional Planning Partnerships (RPPs) that would require planning authorities, infrastructure providers, utility providers, Scottish Government and any other relevant stakeholders, to participate in and reach agreement on regional planning. Statutory RPPs or national bodies would be able to apply for a share of the funds to deliver strategic priority projects, under monitoring from the new NIU or Taskforce. The mandatory preparation of Regional Spatial Strategies (RSS) by RPPs would help support the identification of funding, ensuring specific infrastructure projects contribute to strategic regional planning objectives.

At the national level, a separate National Infrastructure Fund should be established. Using existing Scottish Government resources to front-fund major regeneration programs or deliver specific projects identified by the NIU or Taskforce as of national importance. Sufficient financing to enable efficient coordination of infrastructure is critical to unlock social and economic benefits to Scotland over the medium to long term.

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