At Brodies' Homes 2023 Conference we welcomed an experienced line-up of panellists to the session on "Cracking the planning code". Panel sessions are the opportunity to hear about "real life". Planning policy is about how the system should work, but the reality is often different.

Clearly not everyone is happy with the housing land supply targets, but it was good to hear it described as a positive that Scotland now has a national minimum requirement of 20k homes.

For me, the planning panel discussion can be summed up under three headings: collaboration, flexibility, and resourcing the system.

Collaboration – there is a strong belief in the importance of public engagement, but it is still a struggle to get local communities to see that meeting the country's housing need is important and a positive thing. That is not helped by politicians campaigning against housing developments.

The infrastructure first approach advocated by NPF4 relies on collaboration from a wide range of stakeholders. The example was discussed of local communities who are concerned about access to GP services, but practical experience is that the NHS do not engage with the planning process. That leaves a significant information gap.

Flexibility – NPF4 is a very wide-ranging document, which raises concerns that a proportionate approach will not be taken. That can include comprising on policy compliance to ensure development is viable. In the real world, financial viability is a pivotal issue, but it is rarely mentioned in policy.

The 20 minute neighbourhood concept is flexible, but still risks building retail/ commercial premises that the market doesn't want. Planning authorities do want money to be generated and community wealth-building in their local area, but that will not happen if premises stay empty.

Resourcing the system - I was struck – again – at how everyone is concerned that the planning system is not properly resourced, especially since application fees are not ring-fenced. That is a real worry, because planning authorities are going to be very busy for the next few years grappling with new NPF4 approaches and preparing local development plans. External stakeholders such as the NHS have limited resources and lots of other issues to deal with.

The message I've taken away from the conference is the need for leadership from the Scottish Government and national/ local politicians: to make sure the planning system is properly resourced to deliver the ambitions ofNPF4; to encourage external stakeholders to collaborate; to persuade local communities that new housing is a positive thing; and to recognise that delivering houses can require compromises to be made.


Neil Collar