Reflections on the Planning (Scotland) Bill

Michelle McGuckin discusses the changes proposed to strategic planning


The publication of the Planning (Scotland) Bill on 5th December makes provison for the removal of Strategic Development Plans from the Scottish Planning system and a short string of simple words was all it took:

Section 2 Removal of requirement to prepare strategic development plans.

Sections 4 to 14 of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 are repealed.

I have been wondering if the removal of strategic planning at a city region scale represents an easy ‘win’ at the expense of good planning. After all, Patrick Geddes was a dyed in the wool regional planner, why would we want to remove the requirement to plan at this scale?

However, it would be short sighted of me to overlook the opportunity this review offers in relation to innovation and shaping the delivery of strategic planning objectives for Scotland within the wider context of a Scottish Government policy review of enterprise and skills, and transport. In this regard, the collaborative and inclusive approach of Scottish Government over the last year is to be commended.

Having had time to digest the Bill, I am beginning to make sense of and appreciate the opportunity ahead of us. This is not a linear read, you need to read around the Bill itself and its associated documents. So, here are the bits that relate to regional partnerships feeding into the Scottish Government’s National Planning Framework (NPF) due in 2020.

The aim of removing the mandatory detailed processes for strategic development planning is to ensure that regional spatial planning is better placed to actively engage with its wider context. The Policy Memorandum states that strategic planning is an essential element of the overall planning system and robust regional planning is needed across the country.

There is a new duty for planning authorities to assist Scottish Ministers in preparing the NPF is accordingly increased in scope and content. It incorporate a more focused strategic planning element at the regional scale and the Bill specifies the measures for which information will be sought.

In line with this, Ministers can require two or more planning authorities i.e. Regional Partnerships to co-operate with one another when providing this information.

Alongside this duty to participate, we know that authorities have the scope and flexibility to determine the best ways for them to work together in bespoke regional partnerships.

The specific spatial planning measures that these partnerships will be required to report on include:

  1. the principal physical, economic, social and environmental characteristics of the area,
  2. the principal purposes for which land in the area is used
  3. the size, composition and distribution of the population of the area
  4. the infrastructure of the area (including communications, transport and drainage systems and systems for the supply of water and energy)
  5. how that infrastructure is used
  6. any change which the planning authority or authorities think may occur in relation to any of the matters mentioned in paragraphs (a) to (e), and
  7. such other matters as are prescribed.

My understanding of these issues is that co-production of NPF between the regional partnerships and Scottish Government is at the heart of the new system especially in terms of future evidence gathering and setting of regional priorities for NPF. Quite how this co-production will work from a Scottish Government perspective remains unclear at this moment in time, however, one thing seems certain, given the timescales for the NPF, this will have to happen sooner rather than later.

As a direct result of the Scottish Government’s Planning review, I believe that planners now need to be more outward looking and delivery focussed and the new Bill paves the way for this to happen.

If, as planners, we feel our voice is not being heard in a wider context, we need to adjust the manner in which we communicate our message. We cannot assume other policy makers appreciate or even understand what planning adds to the economy – this is not necessarily a narrative that we are used to employing as we tell our story. As a profession, we need to clearly illustrate the benefits planning achieves in economic terms.

The recent Arctic Circle event show that the Scotland must position itself on a changing global stage. If this nation is to have a chance at performing on this global stage, we had better make sure we are well prepared. After all, failing to prepare is preparing to fail.

Blogs do not always represent the views of RTPI Scotland


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