UK: Changes In Scottish Planning Policy

Last Updated: 24 February 2010
Article by Murray Shaw

As part of the ongoing changes in the planning system in Scotland Scottish Ministers decided to consolidate previous policy (contained in either Scottish Planning Policy (SPP) or National Planning Policy Guidance (NPPG)) into one document intended to be clearer and easier to use. The first part appeared in 2009.

Scottish Ministers have now produced the final document (click here ( to view the document). This now contains the guidance which was previously found in a number of SPP's and NPPG's. It is a significant consolidation.

Purpose of Planning

The first part of the document deals with the purpose of planning and confirms the importance of the planning system to achieving the Government's central purpose namely increasing sustainable economic growth. The core principles of the Development Plan system are rehearsed in the context of the changes made in terms of the 2006 planning legislation.

In relation to Development Plans the guidance makes clear that they should have a sharp focus on infrastructure, concentrate on what will happen where and why, make more use of maps, justify a longer term strategy in terms of settlements and contain policies and proposals that will achieve predicable outcomes. These underlying themes are revisited at the end of the document where the outcomes which the Scottish Government hopes the planning system will achieve are rehearsed. In addition to economic issues reference is made to the reduction of the carbon footprint, climate change and the quality of development that the Scottish Government is seeking to achieve. The last paragraph in the guidance makes clear that "the planning system should be judged by the extent to which it maintains and creates places were people want to live, work and spend time". This is seen to be a major challenge but the Government notes that through the maintenance and creation of high quality sustainable places "the most significant contribution to increasing sustainable growth can be made".

The Guidance also deals with development management and enforcement before going on to deal with a number of specific topics.

Clearly the whole document needs to be considered but it is probably helpful to highlight a number of the issues touched upon.

Community Engagement

Interestingly community engagement is given high prominence in terms of where it appears in the SPP. The Government has a significant commitment to community engagement with a view to improving confidence in the planning system. It notes that engagement must be meaningful and suggests that appropriate and proportionate steps "are taken to engage with communities when planning policies and guidance are being developed, when development proposals are being formed and when applications for planning permission are made".

Little is said about how community engagement should be carried through though reference is made to PAN81 and the National Standards for Community Engagement. This is probably an area in which specific planning guidance might well be welcome.

Sustainable Development

The topic of sustainable development is one, not surprisingly, that is dealt with in some detail in the Scottish Planning Policy. It rehearses the 5 guiding principles of sustainable development which have been set out by the Government previously. Paragraph 37 states that the planning system has an important role in achieving sustainable development and then sets out a number of issues which the decision making process within the planning system needs to address including:-

  • Contributing to the reduction of green house gas emissions by 42% by 2020 and 80% by 2050;
  • Achieving zero waste objectives;
  • Protecting the natural environment.

There is a whole section on climate change with reference being made to micro-generation.

This whole area is a difficult topic. Glasgow Council are concerned about the costs which may result for the development process from the need to further reduce emissions from new buildings in line with the aims of the Scottish Government. Paragraph 43 of the Scottish Planning Policy specifically looks at this. In practice the development industry will argue that new buildings have become significantly more efficient in the last 10 years and the real challenge is to deal with existing buildings.

What is not perhaps clear is how the tests set out in this document, including paragraph 38 which deals with specific decisions on location, will be addressed in the development management process and whether it will be necessary for developers to show how these tests have been addressed. In preparing a planning application it may be necessary to specifically address these requirements – amongst many others of course.

Economic Development

Amongst the number of subject policies which are dealt with is economic development. This looks at the need to ensure that there are an adequate supply of sites to be developed for business including businesses in the context of mixed uses. The guidance is very much targeted at the provision of sites. One flaw in thinking may be just that the emphasis on the provision of sites rather than premises, though provision of premises may have significant cost impacts in the context of other contributions which development requires to satisfy. However, ensuring the development of land especially for industry even when land has been set aside is not easy.

There is a specific provision in relation to town centres and retailing which very much repeats the guidance which was given before. The emphasis on town centres remains with the sequential approach being reiterated. However, it is noted in paragraph 63 that the sequential approach requires flexibility and realism from planning authorities, developers, owners and occupiers. The sequential approach relates to all retail or commercial leisure uses and paragraph 64 sets out the criteria which should be applied in the event that a sequential approach is not followed.


The need for housing land is addressed over a number of paragraphs with the policy approach which is found in previous guidance (notably SPP3) being repeated. The Scottish Planning Policy calls in paragraph 71 for the allocation of a generous supply of land to give flexibility. Development Plans should have a 20 year vision though the detailed approach to that vision depends upon whether or not there is a Strategic Development Plan in place or not. In areas where there is no Strategic Development Plan the Local Plan needs to have a longer vision.

Crucially the guidance notes in paragraph 76 the importance of other consents to the provision of housing and the provision of infrastructure. It is noted that many of these are outwith the direct control of the planning authority but all interested parties should work together to address these.

Guidance is given in relation to the process of identifying the need for housing land with the importance of urban capacity studies being stressed. Specific comment is given in relation to in-fill sites and sites adjacent to existing developments.

The topic of affordable housing is also addressed. The guidance makes clear that affordable housing takes a number of formats including social rented accommodation, mid-market rented accommodation, shared ownership, shared equity and discounted low cost housing for sale. This guidance is underpinned by PAN74. One issue which may be of growing importance is the extent to which it is accepted that affordable housing may be provided by means other than social rented accommodation. This is clearly an issue from the perspective of the development industry given the strong preference of many local authorities for this type of affordable housing alone.

The benchmark figure which was found in PAN74 of 25% is repeated. It is important to remember that this is a benchmark rather than a specific target.

Coastal Planning

Coastal planning is dealt with in some detail. This is an area of increasing importance reflected by the introduction of the Marine (Scotland) Bill shortly, likely, to become an Act. Marine areas are of significant importance in relation to Scotland's diversity but equally in relation to the provision of renewable energy as the emphasis probably turns from on land provision to off shore provision.

Landscape and National Environment

It is not surprising given Scotland's heritage that there are a number of paragraphs dealing with both natural heritage and the landscape. The guidance notes that the most sensitive landscapes may have little or no capacity to accept new development. Equally however the guidance refers to the tension between that sensitivity and the need to carry through development. Not surprisingly reference is made to the precautionary principle. Paragraph 132 notes however that this principle should not be used to "impede development unnecessarily". Quite often the precautionary principle is used as something of a mantra when in fact careful consideration of which is proposed and suitable modifications to what is proposed may allow development to proceed without the risk or irreversible damage (a position the guidance accepts in paragraph 132).

Green Belts

The Scottish Planning Policy repeats the position in relation to the green belt and when green belts are appropriate noting that not all green field land needs to be designated as green belt. The purposes for the green belt found in SPP21 (which replaced Circular 24/85) are repeated. Certain types of development in the green belt are acceptable. However in paragraph 163 it is noted that if a proposal would not normally be consistent with the green belt "it may still be considered appropriate either as a national priority or to meet an established need if no other suitable site is available". Any developments in the green belt should meet high standards however.

Renewable Energy

Scottish Planning Policy comments upon renewable energy confirming that the target for Scotland is for 50% of electricity to be generated from renewable sources by 2020 and 11% of heat demand to be met from such sources. Paragraph 182 specifically states "these targets are not a cap" – confirming the appetite of the Scottish Government to be a world leader in respect of renewable energy generation.

Specific guidance is given in respect of wind farms and their likely impacts. In relation to off shore renewable energy paragraph 192 notes that this presents "significant opportunities to contribute to the achievement of Government targets". Development Plans should take account of the need for off shore development even if Development Plans do not regulate the position (because the development will be "outwith" their jurisdiction).

Waste Management

Waste management is a significant problem within the UK. The Scottish Government has adopted a "zero waste" target which means eliminating "the unnecessary use of raw materials, sustainable design, resource efficiency, waste prevention, reusing products wherever possible and recovering value from products when they reach the end of their lives". The Scottish Government have set targets for municipal waste including increasing the proportion recycled or composted to 40% by 2010, 50% by 2020 and 70% by 2050. In addition it wants to stop the growth in municipal waste by 2010 and to limit landfill of municipal waste to 5% by 2025.

The Scottish Planning Policy confirms that a zero waste plan will be published in 2010. This will be a significant document. One of the difficult issues in planning is the location of modern facilities irrespective of the efficient way in which they now operate. Local communities are very sensitive to such facilities.


This document is a significant document and will be referred to frequently in relation to planning issues both in respect of development management proposals and at inquiries. To be effective it will need to be kept up to date. It is not clear how this will be done – whether addenda will be published or complete new versions made available on a regular basis. Be that as it may, it does not seem that the consolidation has resulted in any lack of quality in respect of the advice given.

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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