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Scottish Planning Review – The Bill

Scottish Planning Review – The Bill

Nicola Woodward 12 Jan 2018
January 2017 saw the Scottish Government set out its thoughts on how it would like to reform the Scottish planning system, in the consultation on ‘Places, People and Planning’.  So, here we are one year on and the Planning (Scotland) Bill has been introduced into Parliament; the Scottish Parliament’s Local Government and Communities Committee has also launched a call for written evidence , with a deadline of 2 February 2018.   I was delighted to be part of one of the six Working Groups – mine was on housing - that contributed to the debate. But, am I delighted with the conclusions and outcomes of the review, as manifested in the Bill? Read on and find out… The Scottish Government expects the Bill to “improve the system of development planning, giving people a greater say in the future of their places and support delivery of planned development”. The Local Government and Communities Committee is looking for submissions on the Bill and while they will take views on any aspect, they have set 12 questions that they are specifically seeking opinions on.  These are set out at the end of this blog.  Meanwhile I have set out a summary of my thoughts with a particular focus on the proposed statutory development plan reforms. In terms of statutory development plans, the Bill will, on the face of it, make it much more difficult for individuals to be directly involved in their shaping and the development industry seems to have been all but cut out of the process. At present, the statutory development plan is made up of the strategic development plan (SDP) (where applicable) and the local development plan (LDP). These are both prepared through an initial 3 stage approach, with each stage having an element of engagement / consultation. Under the proposed approach (which will only apply to LDPs as SDPs are to be revoked), it appears that the Stage 1 engagement in evidence-gathering will remain but that there will be no consultation on the outcomes/conclusions of that evidence-gathering exercise.  Currently, the Main Issues Report allows consultation on this as a Stage 2 in the process but this stage is to be replaced.  An Evidence Report is now to be prepared instead, that will be tested in terms of sufficiency by the Scottish Government through a “gatecheck”.  Unless the “gatecheck” process is opened up to include interested parties in the agreeing of the evidence base for the proposed Plan, there will be no scrutiny of it other than by Scottish Government.  From the recently provided Scottish Government Flowcharts it seems that the only time consultation will occur on the LDP will be at Stage 3.  This will be at ‘Proposed Plan’ stage and only after the draft Plan has been approved by the Full Council of the Planning Authority.  While I agree that the LDP should reflect local outcome agreements and essentially be their spatial manifestation, it is a concern how the views of individuals will be facilitated through this process - unless they have the wherewithal to produce their own ‘Local Place Plan’ to which the LDP will have to accord. Clearly some communities and individuals will be significantly disadvantaged by this approach. For example, some would clearly be able to participate in a Main Issues Report consultation and express their views on an emerging plan but couldn’t commit to the preparation of a Local Place Plan themselves. A significant element of consultation is proposed to be lost from the system, and scrutiny from the development industry seems to be prevented until after the evidence has been agreed and the draft Plan has been written and approved. It appears too that actual consultation on the Plan is to be limited to 8 weeks, once the proposed Plan has been approved by the full Council of the planning authority. Is there therefore not a danger that this new process could be undertaken entirely behind closed doors, until such times as the local planning authority agrees the Plan they would like to adopt (the Proposed Plan)? Consultation is allowed then - but surely this is too late for there to be any meaningful input? So, unless you are somehow involved in a ‘Community Planning Partnership’ and the forming of local outcome agreements, or you have the means, time and inclination to be involved in the preparation of a local place plan then your influence on the plan making process is reduced to one round of consultation once the local planning authority has agreed the draft Plan. This is ironic, given one of the stated objectives of the Bill is to “improve the system of development planning, give people a greater say in the future of their places and support delivery of planned development”. In addition, and given that the development industry will deliver most of the planned development, it is unclear how delivery can be ensured without their involvement throughout the development of the Plan. Papers supporting the Bill state that “plans must be based on a robust and transparent evidence base, informed by open and democratic debate and have a clear path to delivery”.  It is extremely unclear how this will be achieved, given the new proposed process where there is no early scrutiny of plan evidence, other than by Scottish Government. This leads to a further concern that the system is set to become very ‘top down’.  The National Planning Framework (which is to incorporate Scottish Planning Policy) will continue to be prepared by Scottish Government and will - along with the LDP - form the statutory development plan for an area.  This increases the status of the National Planning Framework, as it is currently not part of the development plan for an area (Section 24 of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997).  It is indicated that the National Planning Framework will be where future Development Policy is set out, a small amount of locally distinct policy only will be set out in the LDP.  It is not clear how the views of communities, or the development industry, will influence the making of the Framework but it seems clear that the bulk of planning policy with which future development is to accord will be set by Scottish Government, rather than at a local level.  Scottish Government will also test whether a local authority’s evidence base for their LDP is sufficient and ultimately will approve LDPs which all in all will only have been through one round of local consultation, right at the end of the process. Surely this lack of scrutiny is not acceptable to the development industry, nor the wider sector. Time is running out to influence the content of the Bill at this stage. Don’t pass up this chance to have your say. If the Scottish development industry makes submissions en masse then perhaps the proposed process can be revised to ensure an open and transparent “gatecheck” – say with a round table debate on the issues that the emerging Plan needs to address before it is too late.  Finally, there also needs to be real and meaningful involvement in the delivery plans by the development industry if these are to properly reflect what is achievable over what timescale – proper assessment of deliverability and viability is essential for the successful delivery of any plan. Call for Evidence submissions have to be made by 2 February 2018. [If you are concerned about the impact the Bill’s changes may have on your business, Lichfields can help you make submissions. Please contact me to discuss. If you want to hear more on the Bill, Lichfields and Anderson Strathern are hosting a breakfast seminar on 18 January.  Follow this LINK for further details and to register for the event.  

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Engaging in Change #SGplanningreview

Engaging in Change #SGplanningreview

Gordon Thomson 18 Jul 2017
No sooner has the dust settled on Places, People and Planning – a consultation on the future of Scotland's planning system which closed in April and the Scottish Government has issued another publication for consultation. The Government’s external consultant team has made it through the no doubt arduous task of collating and balancing the wide ranging views expressed and last week the publication of a Position Statement (open for comment until 11 August 2017) sees the ministers move closer toward publication of a Planning Bill which will give a clearer view of how their changes will look in reality. The findings of the independent review last summer with its suite of recommendations included some headline-grabbing proposals (at least within the planning and property industry), such as abandoning Strategic Development Plans, the streamlining of development management processes through new permitted development rights and combined consents and an increased emphasis on the delivery of new homes. These ‘big ticket’ items are undoubtedly of most interest to planning and development professionals: those responsible for navigating and implementing the planning system on a daily basis. The Position Statement published by the Scottish Government last week confirms that many of the proposals consulted on earlier this year remain on the table. Some of the recommendations that have perhaps generated the least discussion, at least within the circles that I move within, are aimed at increasing public participation and trust in the planning system. The communities benefiting from or affected by development have the most vested interest in planning decisions, in both the development planning and development management processes. Their experience of change in the built environment is longer term than for those that facilitate it. Ambitions to increase participation and trust in planning are not only laudable but vital. However, these ambitions could conflict with proposals to streamline decision making and facilitate delivery. There are three interesting aspects of the recent and ongoing consultations which relate to these ambitions for increased community involvement, namely; (1) local place planning, (2) pre-application consultation and (3) involving children and young people in planning. (1) Local Place Plans Proposals for ‘local place plans’ in Scotland bear more than a passing resemblance to our southern counterpart’s neighbourhood development plans. Research by Lichfields’ colleagues has shone a light on the fact that neighbourhood plans in England have resulted in some of the positive locally driven plan-making that they were intended to. But they have also been used in certain locations to frustrate and stymie development, caused in part by delays in the local planning process where neighbourhood plans have ended up being prepared in a policy vacuum. Scotland has a better track record in recent years in local development plans being up to date, so this may prove less of a risk, but it is a risk nonetheless. This also begs the question about who these local place plans are targeted at, and what their purpose will be. While they will carry statutory weight, there won’t be a mandatory requirement to prepare one. In which case, will the communities with the greatest need for inward investment and regeneration mobilise to prepare a local place plan? Or, will it solely be groups in communities that are already well-established and actively engaging with the planning system that mobilise to prepare a plan? As a result, will such plans be prepared with a protectionist agenda? There are already examples of good practice that we can learn from. Where there are positive interactions, taking place between community groups and the development planning process that go above simply written representations, these should be explored. As an example of the plan-making process as it stands now, I was involved in an event where midway through a local development plan consultation, the community council invited all developers promoting sites within their area to present at a very well-attended public meeting. The prospective developers outlined their proposals and answered questions from the audience. The public were then able to provide direct feedback to the developers, which has in turn also informed the community council’s own response to the local authority’s Main Issues Report. This happened well in advance of the more common first interaction between developers and a community at pre-application stage; such interaction could form an integral component of local place planning and indeed local development planning. If a similar process was implemented on a ward by ward basis, aligned with the proposed early examination gate check, it would at the outset encourage community participation in the consideration of sites. It would also do so in the context of the consideration of the housing land requirement component of plan-making which tends to progress with relatively little interest at a community level. Yet ultimately this lack of early engagement is what results in the allocations that can later become contentious. (2) Pre-application Consultation The consultation earlier in 2017 asked whether more meaningful engagement with communities can be achieved within the current 12 week pre-application consultation period for major applications. In asking this, there appears to be an implication that the 12 week period might be extended. This would undoubtedly have come as disappointing news to developers. The June 2017 Position Statement doesn’t make any suggestion to this effect, instead focussing on doing more within the same minimum period. Specifically, this will result in a requirement to feedback to communities following engagement, but presumably before submitting an application. Another proposal is that there will be a time limit for submission of an application, in other words giving a Proposal of Application Notice (PAN) a finite lifespan. The knock-on effect is that where there is pressure for an early submission, as there almost always is, applicants will have to undertake engagement even earlier in the planning process. This will provide time to reflect, revise proposals and report back to communities (potentially in the form of a second public event) and avoid sailing too close to the expiry date of the PAN. We’ll have to wait for the draft bill later in the year to understand the full details of these changes and their potential implications. What is certain is that the rules of community engagement are changing. The theme is more engagement, earlier in the process. Funnily enough, I’m sure that was one of the themes the last time the planning system was reviewed in Scotland. (3) Involving Children and Young People The proposals for focussing engagement in planning on young people are a positive step forward and long overdue. Ultimately, our children and young people should somehow be encouraged to have far more interest, than us or our parents, in the legacy of the planning decisions made today for tomorrow. At the moment, from my own experience in pre-application consultations at least, under 30s are the least represented demographic in planning for their future.  My colleague Nicola Woodward has some innovative ideas for encouraging engagement in the development planning making process. (see her recent blog “Doing it for the kids”)  Improving engagement during the development management process as well at the plan making process could present an opportunity to directly engage young people in local decision making, particularly through the use of technology. Developers may find that by engaging with young people, perhaps through a prescribed process facilitated by schools, they are able to tap into some of the silent majority who are less resistant to, and can see the longer term benefit of, change yet don’t voice an opinion on emerging proposals. This is not a specific proposal of the Review but it seems like a good one. The deadline for comments on the position statement is 11 August 2017.  If you want to discuss what it might mean for you or your business or you would like Lichfields to make a response on your behalf please get in touch.

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