Where next for the planning review?

Last Thursday the Scottish Government published its analysis of the around 450 responses received to its consultation paper on the future of the Scottish Planning system, Places, People and Planning. Alongside this analysis the Government also published a Position Statement that offers some insight to the direction of travel we can expect for the ongoing review of the planning system. It is important to emphasise that the Scottish Government has still not committed to any particular aspect of the reforms.  However, the Position Statement gives an indication of some of the provisions that we might expect to see in the Planning Bill due to be laid in the Scottish Parliament ‘early in the next Parliamentary session’. Kate Houghton picks out some of the key changes to look out for in the coming months:

Strategic Planning

The Scottish Government remains minded to remove the requirement for Strategic Development Plans to be prepared. SDPs are likely to be replaced with a more flexible ‘Regional Partnership Working’ approach. The Government has responded to consultation concerns about the effectiveness of discretionary partnerships by suggesting that duties will be placed on local authorities to work together on regional and national issues, including on evidence gathering and the implementation of National Planning Framework 4. Local authorities will be free to work together to prepare regional spatial strategies that will form part of the evidence base for the development of the NPF.

With the proposed removal of SDPs, we are likely to see Scottish Planning Policy and the NPF enhanced along the lines suggested in Places, People and Planning. In practical terms, to allow time for the reforms to the planning system to be implemented before the current NPF is renewed, The Scottish Government has stated that they expect to put in place arrangements to commence preparation of NPF4, with a view to adoption in 2020.

The Government has indicated that no structural changes will be made to enable national housing ‘aspirations’ or ‘targets’ to be established. However, the enhanced SPP and NPF may have a role in minimising the debate on how much land for housing is required to be allocated in LDPs.

Local Development Plans

The Scottish Government is minded to implement the changes to LDP preparation and format as proposed in Places, People and Planning. This includes creating a statutory link between Community Planning and Town and Country Planning. It also means a shift in focus from plan-preparation to plan implementation and delivery. The life-cycle of plans is likely to be extended to 10 years, with scope for updates to be made within this period. The circumstances within which such updates could be made are likely to be defined. Main Issues Reports are likely to be removed from the system and replaced with draft plans for public consultation. We can expect to see Supplementary Planning Guidance removed. Finally, the Government is minded to introduce ‘gatechecks’ near to the beginning of the plan making process, with the ultimate objective of expediting the examination of LDPs by ensuring that their scope and evidence base is sound from the outset.

Greater focus on delivery, including of infrastructure and new homes

The Position Statement indicates that we can expect to see legislative measures to strengthen the delivery of LDPs. This could encompass adjusted pre-application consultation requirements on sites allocated in an LDP, alongside enhanced pre-application requirements for off-plan sites.

The Position Statement acknowledges that the context of planning for housing is impacted by factors outwith the planning system itself; citing in particular the operation of Compulsory Purchase Orders and Compulsory Sales Orders, and land taxation. Changes to these procedures will not be pursued through the Planning Bill, but the Scottish Government has proposed that it will publish new guidance on using existing CPO powers.

The Scottish Government is not minded to create a new agency to assist the planning and delivery of infrastructure. But, it will work with Scottish Futures Trust on a task driven basis, to try and advance stalled sites. The Government will also as far as possible try to achieve better integration between the NPF, National Transport Strategy, Strategic Transport Projects Review and the Infrastructure Investment Plan. Options are being considered, alongside Key Agencies and private sector delivery partners, for a national infrastructure delivery group.

Better involvement of more people in the planning system

It appears likely that at least some of the measures proposed in Places, People and Planning aimed at involving more people in planning and improving public trust in the system will be implemented. This includes taking action to ensure that children and young people can participate more readily in planning.

The Government is minded to enable communities to prepare their own spatial plans, in line with the applicable LDP.  There is indication that the procedures for this will be kept flexible to enable as many communities as possible to take advantage of this new opportunity. Procedures to ensure that proper scrutiny is given to community prepared plans if they are to be incorporated into the LDP are anticipated.


The Position Statement says that the Scottish Government will not consult on further changes to the fees regime until the Planning Bill has been scrutinised by Parliament, and the full likely costs of the changes to the system are known.

It seems unlikely however that fees for appeals will be introduced.


The Position Statement reaffirms that the Scottish Government will continue to work with RTPI Scotland, HOPS, COSLA and the Improvement Service to ensure that the profession has the skills resources it needs to implement the ambitions of the planning review. This will include exploring scope for shared services.

What next? And how will RTPI Scotland be responding?

An Environmental Report was published alongside the Position Statement, and consultation on the contents of this and the SEA Environmental Baseline set out in it are invited by 11 August. The Government has also indicated that it will welcome comments on any of the proposals on issues not already addressed in the January – April consultation on Places, People and Planning.  RTPI Scotland will respond to this consultation, and any comments, queries and questions from members will be gratefully received before this date. You can get in touch at scotland@rtpi.org.uk.

RTPI Scotland issued a media statement as an immediate response to the Position Statement.

All of our work so far on the planning review, including our response to Places, People and Planning, and five thinkpieces proposing reforms to specific areas of the system, including planning for housing and LDP procedure, can be found on our website. Follow us on Twitter for planning review updates.

One thought on “Where next for the planning review?

  1. Changes to s3F (s72 of the Climate Change Act 2009 – low and zero carbon technologies) are a long way from being the most significant issue in the current review…but do give an insight into how the review is moving forward. The original consultation paper proposed the removal of the section because “an independent study recently found no evidence that there is any added value from this requirement”. However, perceptions seem to carry vastly more weight in the decision-making process than evidence. The removal of s3F was supported 43:7 by ‘policy and planning’ responses to the consultation and by 19:3 by the development industry…and yet the Scottish Government has changed its mind because “there are some concerns that removing this appears to be inconsistent with the aspirations of the emerging climate change plan”. If there was any added value that may have been the case…but there isn’t. We shouldn’t pretend that this requirement has any impact on climate change because it clearly doesn’t. A lot more is required to deliver on climate change commitments (and the planning system has an important role to play) but this approach is just barking up the wrong tree!

    This lack of justification unfortunately permeates many other aspects of the review…including those that are considerably more significant.

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