Independent planning review report published



(from left) Crawford Beveridge, Petra Biberbach and John Hamilton
(from left) Crawford Beveridge, Petra Biberbach and John Hamilton

The independent panel set up to carry out a “game-changing review” of Scotland’s planning system has published its report.

Set up in September 2015, the three person panel chaired by Crawford Beveridge alongside Petra Biberbach of Planning Aid Scotland (PAS) and John Hamilton of the Scottish Property Federation were tasked with bringing together ideas to achieve a quicker, more accessible and efficient planning process.

The report, ‘Empowering Planning to Deliver Great Places’, considered six key issues and made the recommendations designed to achieve the following outcomes:

Strong and flexible development plans

Aspirations for a plan-led system can only be achieved if development plans provide more certainty, are widely supported and have a much sharper focus on delivery. Our recommendations aim to give national recognition to strategic level planning across the city regions, whilst placing control of local development plans firmly in the hands of communities.

Recommendations:

  1. The primacy of the development plan should be retained.
  2. To simplify the system, strategic development plans should be replaced by an enhanced National Planning Framework.
  3. The National Planning Framework should be more fully integrated with wider government policies and strategies.
  4. The role of the Scottish Planning Policy (SPP) should be expanded to avoid the need for policy to be repeated in development plans.
  5. The plan preparation process should be simplified.
  6. Local development plans should move to a 10 year cycle.
  7. There should be scope for flexibility and updating local development plans (whole or in part) within the 10 year period.
  8. Development plan examinations should be replaced with a frontloaded ‘gatecheck’ of the plan.
  9. A statutory duty for the development plan to be aligned with community planning should be introduced.
  10. An IT task force should be established to explore how information technology can make development plans more accessible and responsive to ‘live’ information.
  11. Given their special circumstances, the island authorities should be given more flexibility where this would better reflect the distinctive local context for planning in an island setting.

The delivery of more high quality homes

We propose new ways of working to replace conflict with collaboration. We recommend fresh thinking on housing, with planning pioneering ideas that increase flexibility and stimulate investment. New and innovative delivery mechanisms are required. Our recommendations aim to ensure that planning does all it can to deliver on this national priority.

  1. The National Planning Framework should define regional housing targets as the basis for setting housing land requirements in local development plans.
  2. There is an urgent need to establish a clearer definition of effective housing land so that local development plans can move on from this to take a positive and flexible approach to addressing the housing land requirement for their area.
  3. The SPZ concept should be rebranded and evolved into a more flexible and widely applicable zoning mechanism which identifies and prepares areas to make them ‘investment ready.’
  4. Mechanisms for planning authorities to take action to assemble land and provide infrastructure upfront should be established as soon as possible.
  5. A programme of innovative housing delivery should be progressed in a way which is fully aligned with local development plans.

An infrastructure first approach to planning and development

We want to see planning regain confidence in infrastructure delivery. Infrastructure investment should be proactively managed and directed towards areas of growth. We believe this will significantly increase housing delivery. Our recommendations aim to achieve co-ordination and collaboration and to provide new funding options.

  1. A national infrastructure agency or working group with statutory powers should be established, involving all infrastructure providers as well as planning representatives.
  2. Options for a national or regional infrastructure levy should be defined and consulted upon.
  3. A development delivery infrastructure fund should be established.
  4. A corporate structure requiring all key infrastructure providers to co-operate in delivering the local development plan should be introduced.
  5. A review of transport governance should be undertaken to address the gap between this key aspect of infrastructure and development planning.
  6. Future school building programmes should address the need for new schools in housing growth areas.
  7. Local authorities and their partners need to become much bolder in their approach to infrastructure investment.
  8. Section 75 planning obligations should be retained but their use should be minimised and the process streamlined.
  9. New approaches to low carbon infrastructure planning and delivery should be taken forward through a programme of innovation.

Efficient and transparent development management

Whilst improvements have been made in recent years, public and investor confidence in the system depends on consistency and transparency. Our recommendations aim to create a much stronger link to the development plan and to standardise parts of the process where practice is currently unpredictable.

  1. Timescales for decision making remain critical in creating certainty and should remain part of the performance monitoring framework.
  2. The certainty provided by the development plan in development management should be strengthened.
  3. The quality and effectiveness of pre-application discussions with planning authorities and consultation by developers should be significantly improved.
  4. National guidance on minimum requirements for validation is required.
  5. The Scottish Government should work with local authority enforcement officers to identify and/or remove any barriers to the use of enforcement powers.
  6. Planning authorities should work together to identify the scope for significantly extending permitted development rights.
  7. A fuller study of the scope for combined consents, particularly planning, roads and drainage consents, should be carried out.
  8. As with development planning, the use of information technology to improve accessibility and allow for more real-time data to inform decisions.
  9. We recommend that the scope of powers of the Cairngorms National Park Authority is reviewed.
  10. A stronger mechanism for a collective community perspective to be built into the matters explicitly addressed by Reporters in appeals, could go some way towards bridging the gap between local and central decision making.

Stronger leadership, smarter resourcing and sharing of skills

We want to incentivise positive behaviour by all those involved in planning. There is scope to reconfigure resources and direct efforts to areas where they can produce the greatest benefit. Our recommendations aim to ensure that planning is recognised as a central corporate function within local authorities. We want to strengthen public sector confidence and ensure that private sector investment is rewarded with greater certainty and quality of service.

  1. Planning services should aspire to become leaders and innovators within the context of public service reform and the Scottish Government and key agencies should lead by example.
  2. Planning fees on major applications should be increased substantially, so that the service moves towards full cost recovery.
  3. Scope for further discretionary charging, for example for pre-application processes, should be considered further.
  4. Alternative mechanisms to support improvements should be found and the threat of the penalty clause removed.
  5. Skills development is required in a number of priority areas.
  6. Local authorities should pursue the establishment of shared services.
  7. A planning graduate intern programme should be established.

Collaboration rather than conflict – inclusion and empowerment

We want to make planning fairer and more inclusive and to establish much more committed and productive partnership working. Our recommendations aim to achieve real and positive culture change and significantly improve public trust in the system. These changes would broaden the appeal and relevance of planning and make better use of existing and emerging community interests.

  1. There should be a continuing commitment to early engagement in planning, but practice needs to improve significantly.
  2. Communities should be empowered to bring forward their own local place plans, and these should form part of the development plan.
  3. Community councils should be given a statutory right to be consulted on the development plan.
  4. We are not persuaded that third party rights of appeal should be introduced.
  5. A working group should be established to identify barriers to greater involvement in planning, taking account of measures contained in the Community Empowerment Act and the Land Reform Act.
  6. A new statutory right for young people to be consulted on the development plan should be introduced.

The panel members said: “We are extremely grateful to all those who took part in the review process, through the call for written evidence, the oral evidence sessions and the online discussion forum. The evidence was vast and spanned a large number of subjects. Whilst views differed on the priorities and the solutions, we were impressed by the collective will from all stakeholder groups to improve Scotland’s planning system.

“From the outset, it was clear to us that the main structure of our planning system is not broken. However, it was also clear that for the potential of planning to be realised, a strong commitment to change existing practices and culture, and to re-focus the profession’s improvement agenda will be required. The Scottish Ministers set out 6 themes for us to address and as the review progressed it was obvious that those were the right areas for priority action. Our report builds on these themes and proposes a package of measures for change. Some of the recommendations represent large scale and in our view, game changing, proposals. Others are smaller scale improvements to ensure existing processes are as effective as possible. Some would require legislative change, others could be done quickly and easily with collective buy in and co-operation and embed a culture of inclusion.

“We appreciate that some stakeholders may have reservations about some of our recommendations, but based on the evidence before us, we are confident that these changes would significantly improve the operation and reputation of Scotland’s planning system.

“We look forward to seeing the Scottish Minister’s response to our recommendations in due course, and call on all those with an interest in planning to work together to deliver real and positive change in the coming years.”

The Scottish Government said it will now consider the recommendations put forward by the panel.

Planning minister Kevin Stewart said: “We are committed to ensuring we have a planning system that works for everyone.

“This independent report will help form the basis to kick-start a new, focussed and revitalised planning system. We will consider its recommendations in further detail and will respond in due course.

“I’d like to thank the panel for their work in this review and publication, and the efforts made to ensure everyone who has an interest in planning could contribute their ideas.”