Masterplan consent areas will be a new upfront consenting mechanism for development proposals in Scotland, removing the need for planning and other consent applications.

Current position

The introduction of MCAs is moving forward:

  • the relevant provisions in the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 commenced on 1 April for the purpose of making regulations

What are masterplan consent areas?

MCA schemes will streamline consenting, by giving in advance several types of consent, including planning permission, roads construction consent, listed building consent, and conservation area consent. The objective of the proposed regulations is to replicate existing procedures for those consents.

The consultation paper describes them as similar to simplified planning zones, but refreshed and rebranded with expanded powers – for example, EIA development can be included. There is useful background in the Research on the Use of Simplified Planning Zones. The Scottish Government funded 3 local authority simplified planning zone housing pilots

MCAs - possible uses

The Act contains relatively few restrictions on the use of MCAs. The Scottish Government see potential for MCAs to be used to deliver significant infrastructure projects, including green freeports and development to support the ScotWind offshore wind projects. There is also mention of strategic growth areas, self-build housing and town centre regeneration.

Why promote an MCA?

Only the planning authority can promote an MCA. That might be on its own initiative or in collaboration with the landowner/ developer.

The advantage of MCAs is the certainty provided by the advance consenting, which will make a site/ area more attractive to developers/ funders/ operators, because it removes consent risk/ delay.

This might be attractive where the planning authority is also the landowner, especially for regeneration projects. Stirling Forthside could have been an example, although there is no mention of an MCA in the masterplan consultation document, perhaps because of uncertainty about when the MCA powers will go live. 

An MCA could also be a route where the planning authority intend to use compulsory purchase powers. Planning permission is often obtained pre-CPO, although that is not a requirement.

Other scenarios may be less attractive because of the cost implication for the planning authority - the current Scottish Government proposal is for the planning authority to recoup its costs by a fee/ charge for future applications within the MCA, so the planning authority would be front-loading its work in anticipation of future fee income.

Those scenarios could include sites/ areas where development proposals are stalled because of landowner/ developer reluctance to incur the financial and other risks associated with a planning application; or there is a risk of piecemeal planning applications because there are multiple landowners/ developers. There would have to be very strong planning imperatives to make the MCA route attractive to a planning authority in these sorts of scenarios.

Issues for landowner/ developer

For landowners/ developers, the key point is that MCAs do not involve "less planning", so the attraction is the future consenting certainty by frontloading the process and including roads and other consents. That might not be enough to persuade a landowner/ developer to use the MCA route. As ever, "better the devil you know" – why take the risk of using something new and untested?

Market conditions are always a consideration. An MCA could boost the attractiveness of a site in areas of weaker demand, or where there is operator-demand for "oven-ready" sites that can be developed quickly.

The landowner/ developer has to persuade the planning authority to use its powers. Unless there are substantial socio-economic benefits, the planning authority may be reluctant, given the competing demands on limited staff resources.

The MCA route might be unattractive to a landowner/ developer, because it puts the planning authority in the driving seat. The planning application route gives the reassurance that, if there is delay, the applicant has the option of submitting a deemed refusal appeal to the Scottish Ministers.

The cost implication for the planning authority was mentioned above. The planning authority might want the landowner/ developer to underwrite the costs – there is precedent for that in the back-to-back agreements used in CPOs.


MCAs are a useful addition to the planning toolbox. How often they are used, and for what, will depend on innovative thinking.


Neil Collar