Sector welcomes Scottish planning report

David Melhuish
David Melhuish

The Scottish Property Federation (SPF) has welcomed the latest planning report as a major turning point for local authority planning services around the country.

The industry body believes Places, people and planning: a consultation on the future of planning in Scotland, published yesterday by Kevin Stewart MSP, minister for local government and housing, will provide a strong basis for improving Scotland’s planning system.

The consultation paper sets out twenty proposals for change, aiming to strengthen the planning system while supporting sustainable economic growth throughout the country.

SPF director David Melhuish believes the report is a step in the right direction for planning services.

He said: “The launch of the consultation is a welcome step in the direction of giving our planning service a platform for improvement. The property industry is increasingly reliant on global capital and if we are to drive local economic growth, jobs and investment we must have strong public leadership and an efficient and aspirational planning service.

“The recent set of quarterly statistics published by the Scottish Government demonstrated a notable trend of reducing numbers of major planning determinations that continue to take longer to achieve. We need the planning system to show strong leadership, support appropriate development and welcome new investment in our built environment.

“The property industry has already said it would be prepared to pay higher fees for a better service. We would like to see a greater understanding by the public sector however, of the upfront costs the private sector already pays towards delivering the planning service and the risk involved.

“We agree with the independent review that the service is currently too bogged down in process and procedure and welcome and support a more aspirational and visionary future role for the planning service.

“The development industry fully supports the aspirations expressed in the consultation paper on co-ordination of investment programmes and working with existing agencies and is keenly interested in seeing therecommendations of the Independent Panel of the need for an Infrastructure Agency and an Infrastructure Fund taken forward. This should offer the opportunity of greatly improved infrastructure delivery that will unlock development while at the same time retaining the viability of development projects.

“Infrastructure delivery is a key challenge under the current system and it will be a test of success for the proposals in the consultation paper.”

Alastair Wood
Alastair Wood

Alastair Wood, Savills head of planning in Scotland welcomed the white paper, but said the Scottish planning system needs to remain nimble in order to deliver sustainable development and meet ambitious housing targets.

He said: “The working group has produced thorough and far-reaching proposals. However, extending the period of adoption for local development plans from five to ten years may prove to be overly restrictive. Some degree of flexibility must be retained within the planning system to ensure it is nimble enough to adapt to changes in the economic and political context.

“Further, the proposals could see appeals on major allocated sites determined by a local review body, without developers being able to appeal to Scottish Ministers. For such significant developments it remains essential that the right of appeal to an independent body is retained.

“Finally, there is the potential for a planning levy to provide new infrastructure to support development. The experience of trying to apply such a levy south of the border shows how difficult this is in practice and there are certainly lessons to be learned.”

The Royal Town Planning Institute Scotland (RTPI Scotland) said it was delighted that Kevin Stewart has published a vision for the future of planning that places people and communities at the heart of a positive and proactive system.

Stefano Smith
Stefano Smith

Stefano Smith, RTPI Scotland convenor, said: “This announcement recognises the huge potential of good planning to help Scotland face the daunting challenges of today, such as the housing crisis and climate change. It echoes many of the game-changing ideas that RTPI Scotland has been championing.

“RTPI Scotland agrees that removing the need to obtain permission for certain types of small development, and careful exploration of zoning for high quality and sustainable housing development could free up resources. This would give planners more time to invest in delivering the high quality sustainable places that Scotland needs.

“The ambitions outlined will not be realised without making sure that planning expertise is at the decision-making table at all levels of government. We would like the reforms to take a step further to guarantee a more corporate approach to planning, so that place is always taken into account, from conversations about education and inequality to health and the environment.”

Industry body Homes for Scotland said delivery of new homes must be the “golden thread” running through transformation of planning system.

Nicola Barclay
Nicola Barclay

Chief executive Nicola Barclay said: “We agree with the minister for local government & housing that planning should be inspiring, influential and focused on outcomes.

“Reinforcing the need for such a new perspective are recent performance figures showing planning decision times for major housing applications slowing further to 48.5 weeks, more than three times the statutory period.

“Scotland needs significantly more homes for its growing population but builders are finding it harder than ever to make a start on new sites and get houses out of the ground.

“We are therefore pleased to see some of the recommendations we put forward during the course of the independent review, such as the introduction of clear national and regional aspirations for housing delivery and ‘embedding an infrastructure first approach’, incorporated into today’s consultation.

“But more detail is needed on how other proposals, such as ‘giving people an opportunity to plan their own place’, would work in practice so we will be listening closely to the views of our members as we review the consultation document in depth and develop our submission.

“Ensuring we have the homes we need to deliver Scotland’s future economic success and social well-being must be the golden thread running through this transformation.”

Scottish planning body PAS said it supports the consultation’s aims to get more people involved in planning.

Petra Biberbach
Petra Biberbach

Petra Biberbach, PAS chief executive, said: “This is a great opportunity for people and communities across Scotland to actively shape and inform the future Planning Bill that will follow on from this consultation. We welcome the focus on getting more people involved in the planning system and in shaping their places and communities.

“This consultation and subsequent Planning Bill have the potential to unlock many opportunities for communities across Scotland, through getting people more involved in planning, through some of the proposed changes to the system, but importantly through linking directly with community planning, the Community Empowerment Act and Land Reform Act to help achieve the aims of the planning system, supporting community ownership and community-led ‘local place plans’.”

Colin Hamilton and Isobell Reid, Associates at Gillespie Macandrew said: “This consultation should be welcomed by all involved in the planning system as a sign that the Scottish Government remains committed to moving forward with reform with a collaborative approach. Everyone agrees Scotland’s planning system is ripe for reform but equally there are many different and sometimes competing interests which need to be balanced and harnessed.

“Scotland needs to increase housebuilding rapidly if it is to address its shortage of homes. Many of the proposals will be welcomed by housebuilders, including the recognition that allocated sites within a local development plan should bring certainty to developments. However there are a number of difficulties recognised in the consultation which would need to be resolved if this aspiration is to be met.

“Of course, the planning system has to balance this need for certainty with ensuring communities feel listened to.

“This balance is not easy to achieve, which is why we will work with industry partners to identify how obstacles can be overcome as Gillespie Macandrew crafts our response. However it is certainly good to see that the Scottish Government is listening to stakeholders before embarking on reforms.”

The consultation runs until Tuesday 4 April and can be accessed here.

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