At a recent RTPI seminar on planning reform, I commented on the implications for local authorities.
Planning reform is a moving picture at the moment, as amendments to the Planning (Scotland) Bill are being discussed in the Scottish Parliament.
The Bill is only part of the reform package. It is unfortunate that the standard approach to law reform is to do the Bill first, then the Regulations/ Orders and policy/ guidance. That means there will be more changes to come, eg. permitted development rights, but we don’t have any information on those yet. So not only a moving picture, but an incomplete one….
Digital planning and other initiatives will also reshape the planning system.
Process and outcomes
The Bill is about reforming the law, which is largely about process. As local authorities operate a significant part of that process, they are probably the stakeholder most affected by the Bill as a whole, although individual changes might have significant impacts for particular stakeholders.
Changes to process can affect outcomes, but much depends on how stakeholders use the process. No significant change is proposed to the volume of planning decisions which will be taken by politicians. It also explains why there is a heated debate around equal rights of appeal.
Implications for local authorities
Planning purpose – amendments propose introduction of a statutory planning purpose for the exercise of planning powers. While that will provide an objective, it is likely that the statutory purpose will be general enough that arguments will follow, especially in judicial reviews, about whether a particular decision complies with the purpose.
Powers – so far there are no significant additional planning powers for local authorities. Overall, the Bill neither makes the rules more enabling, nor more restrictive.
Responsibilities – Bill amendments might bring more activity within planning control, eg. agriculture and short term holiday lets; but we wait to see the proposed changes to permitted development rights and the Use Classes Order, which are likely to introduce new rights to development without requiring submission of a planning application.
Loss of influence – the proposal for the National Planning Framework to be part of the “development plan” will increase the influence of central government, especially since the next NPF will incorporate the Scottish Planning Policy.
Although it’s not mentioned in the Bill, it seems that housing land requirements will be set by central government rather than local authorities.
Less plan-making – the proposal to require local development plans to be replaced every 10 years rather than 5 years will reduce the amount of plan-making; but the proposal to abolish strategic developments plans, which would be another reduction in plan-making, might be withdrawn.
Replacement every 10 years will make it more difficult to keep plans up to date. The 10 year period means that preparation of the next round of local development plans is unlikely to commence until the next NPF is published. Interim reviews will be possible, subject to resources being available.
The proposal to give communities the right to prepare a Local Place Plan will increase plan-making. Although local authorities do not have a formal role in the preparation, communities preparing an LPP are likely to look to their local authority for information, if not assistance with the plan preparation. Authorities might also need to monitor preparation of the LPP to avoid future problems.
Collaboration – whether or not strategic development plans are abolished, regional partnership working is likely to continue.
Conflict – planning decisions inevitably disappoint someone. If a third party right of appeal is introduced for objectors, that will increase the number of appeals that local authorities have to deal with. The alternative of reducing the developer right of appeal – the other way of creating a level playing field – could decrease the number of appeals. The property industry has expressed concerns that changing rights of appeal could discourage investment in Scotland, which could reduce the number of planning applications for major developments which local authorities have to deal with.
Resources – an adequately funded system is essential for the changes to be implemented fully, and to ensure the planning system delivers the required outcomes. There is scepticism that the Bill proposals will be cost neutral.
The 2006 Act made wide-ranging changes to process. The current reforms are not as wide-ranging, but do involve some significant changes. Local authorities will have a busy few years implementing those changes. It remains to be seen whether the outcomes will be any different.
On October 8, 2018