UK: Scottish Government Consultation on Planning Reform

Last Updated: 9 February 2017
Article by Keith Campbell

The Scottish Government is consulting on The Future of the Scottish Planning System. The consultation proposes 20 reforms intended to improve planning across 4 key areas: improving development planning; empowering communities and promoting public trust; building more homes and delivering infrastructure; and improving leadership and resourcing. Key proposals include:

Development planning

  • Removing Strategic Development Plans for Scotland's city-regions and replacing these with new powers and duties for local authorities to coordinate their work in defining regional priorities, delivering housing, and coordinating funding and delivering infrastructure programmes.
  • Enhancing the role of the National Planning Framework (NPF) in setting out regional planning priorities and placing greater emphasis on the planning policies contained in the NPF and Scottish Planning Policy such that Local Development Plans (LDPs) do not repeat detailed planning policies.
  • Enhancing community involvement through a statutory requirement that development plans take account of Community Planning Partnerships.
  • Strengthening LDPs by removing the requirement for a Main Issues Report, requiring LDPs to be reviewed every 10 years (with provision for update within the 10 year cycle) and requiring that important content is found in the body of the LDP rather than displaced into statutory supplementary guidance. Scrutiny by an independent Reporter would be retained but at an earlier stage in the plan-making process.
  • Promoting delivery of development through a range of measures to improve site appraisal, coordinate infrastructure information and focus on delivery of allocated sites.

Communities and public trust

  • Allowing communities to prepare Local Place Plans (LLPs) setting out where development requirements, as defined in the broader LDP, can be met. If consistent with the wider LDP, the planning authority having a duty to adopt the LPP as part of the LDP.
  • Requiring planning authorities to consult more widely in preparing development plans, including promoting the involvement of children and young people.
  • Improving public trust in the planning system through enhanced consultation for development plans, changing statutory pre-application consultation (e.g. to require more than one public meeting), requiring greater community consultation where a site is not allocated in the development plan, introducing fees for revised or repeat applications, and substantially increasing financial penalties for breaches of planning control.
  • Expanding the range of decisions and consents that would be subject to review by a Local Review Body rather than appeal to the Scottish Ministers.

Homes and infrastructure

  • Utilising the NPF to provide clear strategic guidance on the number of homes required at national and regional level and to inform the local planning for housing contained in development plans and housing strategies, with the required number of houses established early in the LDP process.
  • Focussing on delivery through robust evidence-based land allocation, requiring a development viability assessment to accompany a major application, proactive use of land assembly powers and encouraging alternative models such as self-build.
  • Releasing more development-ready land through updating Simplified Planning Zones to provide consented areas for housing within agreed development, design and environmental parameters.
  • Embedding an infrastructure first approach at national and regional levels through better prioritisation of future infrastructure spending and more coordination of development plans with infrastructure investment plans.
  • Creating a fairer and more transparent approach to infrastructure funding through improving section 75 obligations and legislating for an enabling power to introduce a new infrastructure levy.

Leadership and Resourcing

  • Investing in a better service, with a further consultation likely to include proposals for higher fees for retrospective, repeat and revised applications, charging for appeals and local reviews, discretionary charging for service such as pre-application discussion, and enhanced fees for fast-tracked applications. The Scottish Government is currently consulting on proposals to increase the maximum fee for major planning applications from £30, 240 to £125,000.
  • Improving the efficiency of decision-making through extending permitted development rights and amending the Use Classes Order, developing a more consistent approach to validation of applications and targeted improvements to development management procedures.


The consultation proposals indicate that substantial reform to the Scottish planning system is most likely to occur the next few years. However, most of the proposed reforms are described in quite general terms with the consultation questions pitched at a similarly high level. The detailed mechanisms and legislative changes required to implement these reforms are largely absent from the consultation, and the Scottish Government recognises that further subject-specific consultations, research and pilots will be required. Some potential reforms such as the introduction of a national infrastructure levy are acknowledged to be very complex and a more long-term objective.

Many of the proposals, or at least the objectives behind them, such as reform of development plan processes and a focus on infrastructure delivery are likely to be broadly welcomed. But as ever, the devil will be in the detail and some proposals may prove controversial as more detail emerges. Many developers value the right of appeal to Scottish Ministers (and their independent Reporters) and may question an expanded role for Local Review Bodies. Some may question the benefit, to either communities or developers, of enhanced statutory pre-application consultation, especially as planning authorities already have the power to require more than the statutory minimum consultation where this is considered appropriate. Integration of Local Place Plans, developed by sufficiently representative community bodies, into statutory development plans may prove challenging. More generally, as is acknowledged in the consultation, developers will expect any substantial increase in application fees to be matched by an improvement in the speed and certainty of decision-making.

The consultation is open until 4 April 2017. The Scottish Government anticipates that a planning Bill will be brought forward in the 2017 – 18 legislative programme of the Scottish Parliament.

© MacRoberts 2017


The material contained in this article is of the nature of general comment only and does not give advice on any particular matter. Recipients should not act on the basis of the information in this e-update without taking appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.

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