Planning & Environment

These thoughts on planning reform in Scotland from the developer’s perspective were presented at The WS Society Planning Law Panel (see my earlier blog on implications for local authorities).

Developers

“Developer” often seems synonymous with “housebuilder”, but there are a wide range of people/ companies seeking planning permission: including infrastructure providers, inward investors, local businesses, local landowners, and householders. All are consumers/ customers of the planning system, with views on what improvements are needed.

Planning reform

In general, what developers want from planning reform is:

  • certainty – an acceptable level of consent risk
  • speed – decisions within a reasonable timescale
  • infrastructure provision
  • properly resourced planning system

Certainty

The Planning (Scotland) Bill retains the current plan-led system, but with adjustments:

  • Abolition of Strategic Development Plans (depending on amendments to the Bill)
  • National Planning Framework to be part of the “development plan”
  • Local Development Plans to be replaced every 10 years, rather than 5 years
  • Local Place Plans to be prepared by local communities

A main cause of uncertainty – planning decisions being made by councillors, with unpredictable outcomes – will not be changed.

Simplified development zones (in the process of being renamed masterplan consent areas), provide certainty, but frontload the work. Developers might be reluctant to move away from tried and tested procedures.

Speed

The Bill does not contain any proposals which will speed up decision-making on planning applications. In particular, there will be no faster/ abbreviated procedure for sites which are allocated in the LDP.

Lobbying continues for introduction of a third party right of appeal. If that is introduced, it will delay development.

Infrastructure provision

At this stage, all the Bill contains is a broad enabling power for an infrastructure levy, with no details of its likely scope.

Properly resourced planning system

One of the objectives of the Bill is to free up resource, moving the focus from plan-making to delivery. However, there are no proposals to ring-fence the freed up resource within planning.

Housebuilders

Although details have yet to be made available, it seems that the housing land requirement will be set by the Scottish Ministers in the National Planning Framework, rather than in SDPs as at present, with individual sites still being allocated in LDPs – see my blog about the implications.

The proposal for a gatecheck procedure offers independent scrutiny of key principles of a draft LDP early enough in the preparation procedure for remedial action to be taken if flaws are uncovered.

Conclusion

The current planning reform package does not provide any significant improvements for the key issues of importance to developers.

Neil Collar

Neil Collar

Partner at Brodies LLP
Neil is a partner at Brodies LLP and consistently rated as one of Scotland’s leading planning lawyers. He is well known for both his planning inquiry advocacy and his advisory work. Neil has a particular interest in renewable energy developments.
Neil Collar

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