Sturgeon reveals plans for ‘root and branch review’ of planning system

Nicola Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon

First minister Nicola Sturgeon has laid out plans for a “root and branch review of the planning system” as she unveiled her government’s legislative programme for the last session of the Scottish Parliament before the 2016 elections.

Ms Sturgeon said the planning review will identify the scope for further reform with a focus on delivering a quicker, more accessible and efficient planning process, in particular increasing delivery of high quality housing developments.

The review aims to:

  • Ensure that planning realises its full potential, unlocking land and sites, supporting more quality housing across all tenures and delivering the infrastructure required to support development.
  • Streamline, simplify and improve current systems and remove unnecessary blockages in the decision-making process.
  • Ensure that communities are more engaged in the process.

  • Continue to meet our statutory and international obligations in protecting and enhancing Scotland’s nature and environment.
  • The first minister pledged to provide £195 million over next three years to extend the Help to Buy (Scotland) scheme which will help at least 6,500 households.

    Since Help to Buy relies on funding flowing through the Barnett mechanism, more detail on the scheme’s arrangements will be provided following the publication of the UK Spending Review in November.

    A new Rural Housing Fund would also be introduced to help people who wish to stay and live in rural communities.

    The SNP leader also revealed that the Scottish Government’s target to provide 30,000 affordable homes by the end of this parliament is set to be exceeded.

    The affordable homes target, which included 20,000 social homes of which 5000 will be council homes, has been backed by planned investment of £1.7 billion. By the end of March 2015, a total of 26,972 affordable homes (90 per cent of the target) had been delivered.

    Other measure include a new £40m business finance fund to provide investment to SMEs, a continuation of the government’s major programme of investment in road, rail and ferries and a pledge to increase the Modern Apprenticeship programme target to deliver over 25,000 apprenticeships each year, to 30,000 by 2020.

    The first minster said: “Transport infrastructure is a key area where improving connectivity between our cities and centres of economic activity is vital to boosting productivity and competitiveness. Improving connections between more remote and rural communities is another important aim. Our commitment to Scotland’s transport infrastructure is clearly visible in the construction of the £1.4bn Queensferry Crossing – the most significant transport project in a generation. Work will continue through 2016. In rail, we will open the Borders Railway in September, providing a major boost to business and tourism. Work continues on the Edinburgh-Glasgow Improvement Programme, with electrification of the mainline due for completion by December 2016.

    “Work continues on the £170m Phase 1 of the Aberdeen-Inverness Improvement Programme, including infrastructure to support two new stations at Dalcross and Kintore. We will also invest in our road and motorway network. This includes the first stage of dualling the A9 with a £35m investment between Kincraig and Dalraddy, and work to progress the Bypass of Aberdeen (due to open in 2017). We will also publish plans for the dualling of the A96 between Inverness and Nairn. Improvements to the M8, M73 and M74 will also bring benefits to the busiest part of the motorway network in central Scotland.

    “Significant investment will also be made to support ferry services. The UllapoolStornoway route is benefiting from the new £41.8m MV Loch Seaforth and associated harbour improvements. A new hybrid ferry, at a cost of £12.9m, is being built on the Clyde, and plans are well advanced for the procurement of two new vessels for deployment between Skye and the Western Isles and the Ardrossan-Arran route. We are also investing over £10m in our airports in the Highlands & Islands. This includes over £2m at Sumburgh Airport.”

    Home building industry body Homes for Scotland welcomed the “root and branch review” of the planning system and was encouraged by the Help to Buy successor scheme announcement.

    Chief executive Philip Hogg said: “A ‘root and branch review’ of the planning system is much needed if we are to be able to build the many thousands of homes Scotland requires so this is very welcome news, particularly given the focus on increasing delivery of high quality housing developments.

    “Given the significant impact of the current Help to Buy (Scotland) shared equity scheme with regards employment, investment and wider community benefits as well as boosting housing completions, we are also encouraged by the commitment of £195m to support a successor scheme over the next three years.

    “Whilst the new scheme has a smaller budget in comparison to the £305m for Help to Buy (Scotland), we hope it will help provide further confidence to both consumers and builders but await further detail on criteria and accessibility before being able to assess its likely impact.”

    Meanwhile a new Private Tenancies Bill will improve security for tenants in the private rented sector (PRS) and provide clear rights and safeguards for landlords. The bill will provide more predictable rents and protection for tenants against excessive rent increases, including the ability to introduce local rent controls for rent pressure areas.

    The Scottish Property Federation (SPF) said these plans could deter investment in Scotland’s PRS and curtail much-needed housing supply.

    Over the last few months, Scotland has seen significant, high-quality investment into the build to rent sector, with La Salle Investment Management making a £1 billion push into the sector in Aberdeen and Grosvenor submitting plans for 400 purpose built rental units in Edinburgh. The EDI Group has also announced plans for PRS at India Quay, Edinburgh, as has Whiteburn Projects in Dundee.

    The SPF is concerned that even the possibility of rent controls could sound the death knell for future investment in the build to rent market. Build to rent has the potential to rapidly boost Scotland’s housing supply, which needs to be increased dramatically across all tenures if the current housing shortage is to be resolved.

    David Melhuish, director of the Scottish Property Federation, said: “We will consider the detail of the bill carefully when it is published but we have been trying to encourage investment into Scotland’s purpose-built rental market for a long time, and it has been great to see momentum build over the past few months with some big investments in housing taking place. A clear message we have had from the industry, however, is that the mere prospect of rent controls, could be enough to spook potential investors bring us back to square one again.

    “If the Scottish Government wants to increase housing supply, then the introduction of rent controls is not the way to do it. The purpose-built private rented sector has the potential to deliver a large amount of new homes across Scotland, and we should be doing everything we can to encourage investment in this sector rather than regulate this sector before it has had chance to take root.”

    Sarah Speirs, director of RICS Scotland, said: “The extension of Help To Buy with an additional £195m over the next three years, further stimulates demand while failing to address the critical issue of housing supply. RICS welcomes the Scottish Government’s continuing investment in affordable homes, however, we suggest the target of 30,000 to be delivered by the end of this parliament will need to be increased and expanded, with further investment required to grow supply across all tenures. The Rural housing fund will benefit remote and sparse communities, where small numbers of extra homes make a huge difference to the rural economy and agricultural workforce.

    “It is always important to consider all options which could potentially expand the supply of private rented homes in Scotland and to explore routes which might make a positive impact on the sector and drive up property standards. However, RICS is concerned that yet more government intervention in the PRS market has the potential to unsettle institutional investment, at a time when its contribution to provide much needed supply, is vital. Indeed, legislation ‘creep’ has a significant, and negative, impact on consistency which, in turn, damages the investor confidence required for a well-functioning market.

    “Whilst the proposal for rent controls currently lacks detail, we urge the Scottish Government to err on the side of caution in taking the proposal forward. If rent control is implemented incorrectly, for example the setting of rents below market rent without any balancing concessions for landlords, this could result in a catastrophic impact on PRS supply.

    “Furthermore, whilst longer tenancies will provide more security for individuals renting privately, the mandatory extension of tenancies may have a detrimental effect on the number of properties coming onto the rental market. RICS welcomes steps allowing landlords to terminate lease agreements on specific grounds, including breach of tenancy and to sell the property.”

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