Rt Hon. Henry McLeish

The chair of the Scottish Alliance for People and Places and the former First Minister of Scotland, the Rt. Hon. Henry McLeish, has pressed the Scottish Government to be more ambitious on housing in its recently published Planning (Scotland) Bill.

Published earlier this month, the Bill is the result of a lengthy consultation and a series of position papers in 2017, as well as an Independent Review of the Planning System which reported its findings in 2016.

McLeish made the comments following the publication of a paper by the Scottish Alliance for People and Places which outlines the vision and principles the Bill should adhere to, and a number of major key asks of the Scottish Government ahead of the first stage of the legislative process.

In the paper entitled Articulating a positive vision for an inclusive planning system, McLeish argues that it is important to keep sight of a wider positive vision for planning, with underpinning principles, or risk missing an opportunity to bring about a transformational culture change.

In the paper, the Alliance has outlined a number of key positions ahead of the first stage of the legislative process, including:

  • Regional strategies with neighbouring local authorities working together should be developed to provide a tangible outcome from the removal of Strategic Development Plans.
  • The National Planning Framework should be subject to Parliamentary approval in order to secure national and local buy-in.
  • Clear details of how a planning authority intends to engage with local communities for the purposes of developing the Local Development Plan should be included as part of the evidence gathering process, also known as a ‘gatecheck’, and a mediated process to support this should be considered.
  • Support for the Scottish Government’s position not to introduce an ‘Equal Right of Appeal’ given its potential to exacerbate inequality and conflict, and undermine a more positive system.
  • National and regional housing targets to be included as part of the National Planning Framework and regional strategies.
  • The creation of a National Planning Commissioner, supported by an office, to monitor the performance of planning authorities, provide training to elected representatives, promote civic participation, and to drive improvements in skills and capacity in relation to planning and placemaking.
  • There should be a statutory Chief Planning Officer in every local authority.

Speaking following the publication of the paper, Henry McLeish said: “There is a real opportunity to use this planning bill to help fix Scotland’s housing crisis. Access to a home is a basic human right. We can use this legislation, by setting national and regional housing targets, to eventually put a roof over the heads of everyone in our society.

“It is important that we collectively look towards an overarching vision of what Scotland’s planning system should be, and the principles that should underpin it as the Bill goes through the parliamentary process. Otherwise, there is a risk that it simply becomes just another law that makes technical changes on the periphery, and the collective ambition for a transformational culture change is not realised.

“The wide ranging membership of the Scottish Alliance for People and Places, which is unique in Scotland, has come together in recognition of the opportunity this Bill presents. In this paper, we have outlined the vision and principles we believe should permeate the Bill.

“We welcome the progress the Scottish Government has made in the publication of the Bill, and commend their approach to engaging with communities and local stakeholders. However, we think there is space for more ambition, and we look forward to working with them as the Bill goes through the parliamentary process.”