Project Scotland

Planning a way forward

Cat White

The Scottish Government recently set out proposals for “revamping” the nation’s planning system, which build on recommendations of an independent review carried out last year. Here, Cat White, associate director from planning consultant Turley’s Glasgow office, looks at the implications for development under the proposed reforms

INFRASTRUCTURE LEVY

The introduction of an infrastructure levy, akin to CIL in England, is probably the most significant, but not unexpected, reform proposed. The receipts generated would be used to fund strategic infrastructure to facilitate growth and development at the local authority scale or potentially even wider. A charging regime would be introduced at the local level and flexibility in the levy rate, or rates, set across a charging area. This would be essential to account for variations in market conditions in order to avoid sterilising sites or certain uses. Viability testing and local industry consultation will be essential to determine rates.

The proposal, at present, appears very similar to the principles and operational mechanics of CIL in England. Whilst there is much to glean from the process south of the border, the Scottish Government would be wise not to follow CIL as a template for success. In practice CIL has been challenging to legislate effectively, complex to navigate and manage for both the public and private sectors, and slow to secure significant receipts outside of high-value areas. Failure of the industry to recognise the financial significance of CIL and engage early in the process has undoubtedly placed landowners and developers on the back foot – with attempts to ‘reel in’ CIL both locally via challenges and nationally through frequent tinkering and reviews.

PLANNING APPEALS

Thankfully the Scottish Government has not opted to bring forward third party rights of appeal (at least for the time being), but they are seemingly committed to increased localisation of decision making with greater use of local review bodies for planning appeals. This measure is likely to concern those with locally politically-sensitive proposals such as energy schemes, Green Belt development and settlement expansion. This will further enhance the need for strong relationships with planning officers and detailed pre-application discussion to try and avoid a delegated refusal, or alternatively increasing the scope of a development so that it falls outside delegated powers and therefore the local review body process.

APPLICATION FEES

Whilst fees are proposed to be increased, the maximum fee will still remain significantly lower than south of the border. The increase in fees will be palatable if there are guarantees it will be ring fenced for planning and lead to an improvement in service, rather than diverted to bolster other council budgets.

The increases to Permitted Development rights are welcomed. Whilst these may appear to have a limited direct impact upon major schemes, removing the household and smaller-scale minutiae from the system will free up resource-constrained councils to deal with more complex schemes.    

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

As with the plan preparation, the reforms seek greater community involvement at pre-application stage. Scotland already goes further than England in placing a statutory requirement on applicants to consult on major development proposals and it is essential that the reforms focus on increased quality rather than quantity of engagement. If they don’t, we run the risk of consultation fatigue amongst communities. In order to engage effectively with younger generations, there is a need to go beyond newspaper notices and explore social media and digital communications.

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