Planning & Environment

This week I attended two interesting discussions about delivering housing land (this blog focuses on the Scottish aspects).

There is general agreement that the current planning system is not working. The problem is at all levels:

  • significant housing land supply shortfalls in many areas
  • slippages in preparation of local development plans
  • the new presumption in favour of sustainable development being seen as weakened by the rest of the SPP
  • planning appeal reporters finding reasons to refuse appeals even if there is a housing land supply shortfall, thereby endorsing the local authority’s failure to deliver development
  • the Scottish Ministers not intervening
  • unhelpful culture in some local authorities, and poor service

A variety of solutions were mooted:

  • leadership – especially by councillors
  • delivery focus
  • colloboration between local authorities and developers
  • adequate local authority resources

Perhaps surprisingly there remains support for a plan-led system, but not the current one. Concern was expressed about the risk of a 5 year land supply system, rather than a local plan led system. To be sustainable, housing needs to be underpinned by infrastructure.

There was a call for local authorities to treat the development plan as a business plan to encourage investors (which is what housebuilders are). The authorities need to be sure they can deliver the plan (there’s still the old chestnut of sites being allocated in areas where market demand is weak). Their leadership role should include the forward funding of infrastructure. There should be more willingess to deal with planning applications as the plan is being prepared – an English councillor noted their plan is at the stage of being scrutinised by an inspector but all the housing sites already have outline planning permission.

More radical suggestions included housing land targets being set at a national level; or councillors’ powers being limited to adoption of the local development plan, not determining the planning application, to prevent delays in allocated sites being granted planning permission.

At the planning application stage, there is a need for officers to do what they’ve said they will do. Also, there should be a time limit on officers raising new issues. An interesting idea was for planning application fees to be paid in instalments, to incentivise authorities to process applications efficiently.

Do you agree? What’s your solution? Use the comment function to let us know.


Neil Collar