New planning bill aims to ‘simplify and improve’ Scotland’s planning system

A Scottish Government Planning Bill has been set out, which vows to ‘simplify and improve’ the nation’s planning system.

Local Government Minister Kevin Stewart said the legislation will create a new structure for a more proactive and enabling system with ‘clearer development plans, earlier engagement with communities, streamlined procedures and smarter resourcing’.

The Bill is said to build on recommendations made following an independent review carried out by a panel of experts last year.

Mr Stewart said, “Scotland’s economy needs a world-class planning system. Our planning system must take a strong and confident lead in securing the development of great places that will stand the test of time and this Bill will encourage more people to play an active role in shaping these.

“In addition to restructuring and simplifying the system to provide greater certainty for investors and communities alike it will reflect the importance of development and infrastructure to achieve our ambitions for housing, schools and regeneration – creating jobs and generating economic growth.

“Performance improvement will be formalised so applicants can rely on receiving a consistent service and local authorities will have greater powers to charge for their services. In short, this Bill will reduce bureaucracy so that planners are better equipped to lead high-quality developments that support the economy and enhance our communities.”

Henry McLeish, chair of the Scottish Alliance of People and Places said, “We welcome the Scottish Government’s ambition to create a more innovative and inclusive planning system that puts people at the heart of decisions about their local communities. Planning the places in which we live and work is fundamental to our social and economic wellbeing, and it is vital we reach out to communities and empower them to actively participate in the decisions that affect their lives.

“This Bill represents a real opportunity to be bold and ambitious, and present a positive, forward looking vision for our planning system, rather than simply making technical changes to policy.”

Sarah Baillie, planning partner at international law firm, Addleshaw Goddard, said she was pleased to see the “continued commitment” to improving the planning system. She added, “Scotland’s economy needs a flexible, positive and effective planning system, and whilst much work has been undertaken since 2015, we expect that significant questions will be raised during the progress of the Bill. Much information is also still required on the specifics of implementation of new legal and policy mechanisms, even if the Bill does go through.

“The challenge of delivering both more, and good quality housing, and the approach to infrastructure provision is far from resolved – it can’t be left to just the planning system to resolve. Also, if there really is to be a step change from that of a regulator, to a positive and active enabler of good quality development and a shift from reacting to proactively supporting investment and development proposals, then there needs to be a significant cultural change and the Bill alone won’t provide that.

Sarah Baillie

“Local planning authorities need to be adequately resourced in both financial and human terms, and, having graduated with a planning degree, it stems from the grassroots up starting with Scottish universities creating courses that attracts students to continued and adequate professional development and support for the planning profession, to ring-fencing planning application fees for the planning department.

“A bill committee will now be formed to take evidence and make recommendations and this will provide a real opportunity to participate in the bill’s legislative scrutiny. We would actively encourage the property industry, planners and other key stakeholders to fully engage, share their innovative ideas, views and opinions with any calls for evidence by the Scottish Parliament.”

Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) Scotland has called for a ‘bold approach’ to the new planning bill. Stefano Smith, convenor of RTPI Scotland said, “We said at the outset of the planning review that it was a fantastic opportunity to realise the potential of the planning system and to highlight the important role planning had in creating the types of places we want across Scotland. Any new planning act must aim to fulfil those initial aspirations of a planning system that delivers infrastructure to enable development and achieve sustainable economic growth.

“The bill, as introduced, has the right direction of travel and will fix some of the issues faced in planning our cities, towns and villages. However, we question if it is bold enough to make the step change required for a world leading planning system.”