UK: Planning Reform - Some Practicle Changes

Last Updated: 6 January 2009
Article by Murray Shaw

As well as the legislative reform under the Planning etc (Scotland|) Act 2006 (currently in the course of implementation), the Scottish Government have embarked upon a process of practical reforms which are likely to impact upon the effective operation of the planning system.

  • New Guidance
  • Roles and Responsibilities
  • Development Plan Content
  • Delivering Planning Reform

New Guidance

At the Planning Summit which took place at the end of October they revealed new guidance entitled "Scottish Planning Policy" which replaced SPP1 – the previous guidance which related to the operation of the planning system.

The intention is to provide guidance through Scottish Planning Policy dealing with three separate areas:

  • Part 1 is to set out the purpose of the planning system;
  • Part 2 is to set out the objectives for development planning, development management and enforcement. Effectively Part 1 and Part 2 are contained in the document which appeared in October; and
  • Part 3 of the guidance will take the form of what are entitled "Thematic Policies". These, once available, will replace the guidance contained presently in SPP's and NPPG's.

The intention is to provide more succinct and focussed guidance and certainly Parts 1 and 2 are significantly shorter that the documentation they replace.

The guidance, which appeared in October, reaffirms the emphasis of the current Scottish Government on "sustainable economic growth" which is seen as the central purpose of a properly functioning planning system.

Roles and Responsibilities

Not surprisingly the importance of a plan led system is reaffirmed as is the fact that the "primary responsibility" for the operation of the planning system lies with local and national park authorities. That is correct though given the aspirations which the Scottish Government hope the planning system will achieve, there is a degree of tension in achieving those aspirations when the Scottish Government do not directly control those who are then primarily responsible for the operation of the planning system. In fact the Scottish Government has significant default powers (and will have greater powers once the 2006 Act is implemented) but they have rarely used them (other than to call in applications for determination by Scottish Ministers – such as the Trump application).

Development Plan Content

Perhaps the most interesting comment in the new Scottish Planning Policy is that relating to the form and content of Development Plans. The intention is that Development Plans should be shorter and map based. In particular the Scottish Government records that it expects Development Plans to:-

  1. have a sharp focus on land and infrastructure;
  2. concentrate on what will happen, where and why;
  3. make more use of maps and plans to explain and justify the long term settlement strategy;
  4. contain policies and proposals that will achieve predictable outcomes.

The principles in relation to development management (previously development control) remain the same though the Government emphasises the importance of pre-application consultations. The Scottish Government have indicated that as far as development management is concerned it is their intention to intervene less by calling in fewer cases which they consider a more "proportionate" involvement on their part.

It will be interesting to see Part 3 of the guidance, which should become available during 2009, dealing with thematic policies. In particular it will be of considerable interest to see to what extent the extensive guidance available in SPP's and NPPG's is consolidated.

Delivering Planning Reform

A second document which appeared at the Planning Summit was entitled "Delivering Planning Reform" and deals with much more practical issues about how planning decisions should be made. It was signed up to by a number of parties including, significantly, SEPA, Historic Scotland, Scottish Water and SNH as well as representative bodies of the development sector.

This signals an intention on the part of the Scottish Government to more effectively communicate good practice (and indeed it is likely that the thematic policies yet to appear will concentrate on just that).

So far as specific applications are concerned, the private sector is to improve the quality of applications reducing the need for repeated consultation. Public agencies for their part are tasked with ensuring that the information they require is "clear and proportionate". From a developer perspective, focussed consultation with and requests for information from bodies such as SEPA would be a welcome step forward.

"Delivering Planning Reform" is a key document in relation to the "cultural change" which was signified as being necessary in the White Paper entitled "Modernising the Planning System" which appeared as far back as 2004. Until "Delivering Planning Reform" appeared there was little practical evidence of how culture change was to be achieved. No matter what legislative changes are made the planning system will not operate more effectively without culture change on the part of all those involved with it. The issues identified in "Delivering Planning Reform" are every bit as important to achieving the Government's objectives for the planning system as the legislative changes which have been made and which are in the course of implementation.

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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