UK: Effective Strategic Planning

Last Updated: 14 November 2011
Article by Murray Shaw

The new planning system brought about in Scotland by the Planning Etc (Scotland) Act 2006 is now in the course of practical implementation. A number of Local Development Plans have been prepared and reached the examination stage. For example in relation to the Aberdeenshire Local Development Plan, the Reporters have just concluded a series of 9 hearings in respect of specific topics. The Local Development Plan prepared by Aberdeen City is also under consideration by Reporters, though interesting enough no hearings were held by a different team of Reporters in relation to that Local Development Plan.

At the strategic level the Strategic Development Plans which relate to the Central Belt (and the bulk of Scotland's population therefore) are progressing. The Glasgow & Clyde Valley Strategic Development Plan was submitted by the relevant authority to Scottish Ministers on 31 October and SES Plan (South East Scotland Strategic Development Plan) will shortly be subject to a representation process due to finish before the end of this year resulting in the examination process in relation to that Plan in 2012.

Strategic Development Plans are subject to mandatory examination process under the new legislation. Both of these Plans have been criticised by the development industry for the lack of ambition, a view Scottish Ministers (or at least Scottish Government officials) appear to share given some comments that have been made. Under the previous planning system there was no requirement to hold an examination into a Structure Plan (the equivalent to a Strategic Development Plan) and no significant examination has been held for over 25 years (since the early 1980's). A request to Scottish Ministers to hold examinations into Structure Plans were routinely ignored and when that position was challenged the courts were unwilling to intervene (see for example SHBA v Scottish Ministers 2002 SLT 1321).

The position in relation to these strategic plans is probably of considerable significance to the country given the current economic climate and the ambitions of the Scottish Government to drive sustainable economic growth. Whilst Strategic Development Plans are to be reviewed on a regular basis, the first generation of these new Strategic Development Plans are likely to shape the new generation of Local Development Plans for both Glasgow (and the surrounding authorities) and Edinburgh (and the surrounding authorities) and are therefore of considerable significance. In the guidance on development planning (Circular 1/09) as well as dealing with the legal requirements Scottishtarget=_blank Ministers make clear that:- "Development Plans should be succinct and set out ambitious long term visions for their areas. They should be kept up to date and provide a practical framework within which the outcome of all planning applications can be decided with a degree of certainty and efficiency".

A key issue in relation to Strategic Development Plans and Local Development Plans is the ability of policies and allocations to bring forward effective development – development that can take place. There are a number of large allocations in Scotland (particularly in the Central Belt) which have simply not become effective. While there are a host of reasons for that (not all of which are by any means the responsibility of public authorities), in the current economic environment it is probably even more important that significant allocations can come forward in an acceptable timeframe. To assist in that the 2006 Act specifically required preparation of Action Plans which are intended to set out a list of actions to deliver relevant policies and proposals found in the Strategic Development Plan or Local Development Plan as appropriate, the name of the person who is to carry out the relevant action and the timescale for carrying out each action. In preparing the Actions Plans the relevant authorities have to consult and consider comments from key agencies, Scottish Ministers and anyone who is to be specified by name.

In the current economic climate while effective development is necessary the ability to bring forward effective development is difficult. The resources of developers are constrained and lending institutions are in a very different position in relation to their ability to lend but equally the risk they are prepared to accept. Funding of significant up front infrastructure is challenging, as the Scottish Government have recognised.

Often in relation to strategic development, transportation is a critical issue, where difficulties arise due to a lack of strategic planning in the past or indeed the growth of traffic on the revelant networks (particularly car borne traffic) generally.

The Government agency responsible for this aspect of Government policy is Transport Scotland whose remit covers not just the implementation of Scottish Government capital investment programme but transport policy. In addressing transport issues these have to be addressed in the context of the objectives the Scottish Government has in relation to sustainability and reducing greenhouse gas emissions as is made very clear in Scottish Planning Policy (see for example paragraph 165)

The ability of Transport Scotland to fund infrastructure (to the extent it is appropriate for them to do so) is of course curtailed by the present restrictions which exist in relation to Government spending generally which has resulted in significant (irrespective of your political view) impacts on the budget of the Scottish Government. Transport Scotland make clear that their investment hierarchy is as follows:-

  1. Maintaining and safely operating existing assets;
  2. Promoting measures which make better use of existing capacity;
  3. Promoting targeted infrastructure improvements.

So far as infrastructure are concerned these priorities were identified in the Strategic Transport Projects Review from November 2009 (Click here to view). The priorities are the Forth Replacement Crossing, the Edinburgh/Glasgow Rail Line Improvements, the Highland Main Line Improvements and the Aberdeen to Inverness Railway and the improvements required to that.

While the remit of Transport Scotland relates to trunk roads (including motorways) and rail, the organisation has an important role in relation to development planning and have published and made available specific guidance relevant to development planning (albeit also includes comments in relation to development management issues). That guidance makes clear what they are prepared to do, how they are prepared to become involved and what information and work should be done to facilitate the process.

Underlying the new planning system is an intention that there should be early engagement. Transport Scotland acknowledge that and identify (helpfully) the issues that should be addressed at the stage of the Main Issues Report with a view to ensuring that decisions on new development identifies locations which are accessible, make the best use of existing networks, are well served by public transport and seek to minimise greenhouse gas emissions in accordance with the Government's objectives in that regard.

The guidance makes clear that in circumstances where funding is likely to be sought from the Scottish Government any appraisals "must include an economic appraisal which will then go on to inform the development of a robust business case". The guidance notes that developers can make a meaningful contribution both in at the Main Issues Report and the proposed Plan stage by undertaking or helping to undertake any necessary appraisal work and providing relevant information. The guidance stresses the need for all those involved to work together so that issues can be addressed at the appropriate time.

Previous Structure Plans and Development Plans have probably not always addressed transport issues in a meaningful way. The guidance from Transport Scotland makes clear what needs to be done and how issues should be addressed.

While transport issues are of course significant, they are not the only issues that need to be addressed either in the context of strategic or local planning. The representations in relation to both the Glasgow & Clyde Valley Strategic Plan and the SES Plan are likely to raise a host of issues including the ambition of those authorities to grow their economies. Given that the Plans have to be approved by Scottish Ministers and in light of their desire for sustainable economic growth (not least in the current circumstances) it will be interesting to see how the examination process proceeds and the outcome of that process.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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