The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA), Addleshaw Goddard LLP and Ryden have given their responses to a report by MSPs which contains a list of recommendations aimed at strengthening the Scottish Government’s draft Planning (Scotland) Bill.
Aimed at addressing “frustrations” with the current system, the local government and communities committee report called for communities to be given a stronger voice in planning what their neighbourhoods look like.
Among its suggestions the committee said the legislation should “encourage more meaningful engagement on planning applications” and also include the Agent of Change principle to protect music venues from new developments.
The committee also called for the Bill to include a purpose for planning to provide greater certainty to communities and developers, and encourage more meaningful engagement on planning applications, Local Place Plans and Local Development Plans.
Sarah Boyack, head of public affairs at SFHA, described the report as “thorough and far-reaching”.
Ms Boyack said: “The SFHA recognises that the new Planning Bill represents an excellent opportunity for planning to enable the delivery of more affordable homes, create better places and increase equality and social justice in Scotland. This is why SFHA gave evidence to the committee on the content of the bill, and we welcome much that is in the report.
“In particular, we welcome proposals for a purpose for planning to be enshrined in the bill, with an aim to create quality places, meet a human right to housing, and achieve climate change targets.
“We also welcome proposals that Simplified Development Zones, which could help deliver more homes, must follow full community consultation and be properly master planned to deliver better places.
“We agree with the proposal for Local Place Plans to be properly resourced and, in particular, for support to be made available to disadvantaged communities to develop plans.
“We are also encouraged by the committee’s call for discussions and proposals for land value capture, which we believe could support increased delivery of homes of all tenures, to be brought forward by the Scottish Government.
“The SFHA and its partners look forward to continuing to work constructively with the Scottish Government, the Local Government and Communities Committee and MSPs of all parties in the continued development of this vital piece of legislation.”
MSPs have also called for further action by the Scottish Government in relation to equal rights of appeal and they want people to feel involved in the planning system at all stages.
Sarah Baillie, planning partner at international business law firm, Addleshaw Goddard LLP, said: “The Scottish Government has put forward a bill which many felt didn’t go far enough to be a step change and that it required further consultation as the detail was simply not there. The committee have agreed with the general principles of the bill, but have called for a series of changes and amendments to be made.
“A clear theme running through the report is the importance of empowering communities to have a meaningful say on the kind of place they want to live in. It is interesting that the committee consider that the current proposals are not enough to soothe frustrations felt by local people over the existing system, but make no explicit comment or reference regarding the development sector’s views.
“Developers typically commit many thousands of pounds on an application before it even comes before committee, and there are concerns about performance and delays on major applications which the Scottish Government were trying to address through planning performance monitoring, but the committee has suggested that this is removed.
“Whether rights of appeal in the planning system should be equalised or not has also been a longstanding issue on which there is a wide range of views. There is however, for the first time, notable political support for an “equalisation” agenda. Although, as far as I can see, there was no new evidence presented to the committee to support such a proposition. An independent review panel and the Scottish Government’s view is that a community right of appeal is unnecessary.
“This is a position fully supported by the development and investment sector, who have made it clear that such an approach will extend the development process even further, make smaller developments unviable and require more officer time in a period where resources are scarce. It could lead to delays, uncertainty, reduce early engagement and investment in housing and developments necessary to support people to live and work in their local area. Most worryingly, it could push investment outside Scotland where such rights don’t exist and also delay further the building of much-needed new homes.
“However, the committee of MSPs clearly considers that there is an imbalance in a system whereby the applicant can appeal decisions that have been taken in clear accordance with the development plan. It has suggested that planning appeals should only be allowed in certain circumstances and there should be rules to deter repeat appeals or applications. But often this has been necessary because development plans are out of date and do not reflect current market or economic conditions.
“The committee has urged the Scottish Government to look at this issue again and it will be interesting to see how they will or can respond to this.”
Marc Giles, Ryden planning partner, added: “The committee is firmly of the view that there is an imbalance in the current planning system which the Bill does not address. The greatest concern to the development industry will be the continued pressure to implement an equal rights of appeal process, which may be seen as an opportunity for an anti-development campaign to delay delivery of development and particularly, essential housing proposals. A further, longstanding concern has been the proposal for an infrastructure levy where, under current proposals, funds levied can be redistributed as Scottish Ministers see fit. The committee proposes these monies are spent locally.
“The removal of Strategic Development Plans, proposed as a means of streamlining the development plan process has also been addressed by the committee. Their removal is currently resisted on the basis that the proposed alternative approach would not contribute to a simplified or more effective planning system.
“In essence, what we are seeing from the committee is clear support for local decision making and significantly increased influence for local communities in a plan-led system, whilst raising serious questions around the future of the current system of appeal.”
The Stage 1 Report will now be reviewed by the Scottish Government. Amendments to the Bill will be reported in due course.