Review of the Scottish Planning System

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30th November 2015

Planning & Architecture Division                                                                                               Our Ref. RSPS1

The Scottish Government

Victoria Quay

Edinburgh

EH6 6QQ

 

Dear Sir/Madam

Review of the Scottish Planning System

We write with regard to the Scottish Government’s invitation for written evidence on the review of the Scottish Planning System. The focus of which being on six key areas ranging from development planning to community engagement.

The current planning system is fit for purpose and does not require wholesale change. Attention is, however, needed on how to make it more efficient. For us the core focus of this review and subsequent actions should be upon how we properly finance and resource the planning system.

Our observations or recommendations are outlined below using the six key areas of review:

Development Planning

  1. In terms of efficiency it is worth exploring the amalgamation of the National Planning Framework and Scottish Planning Policy. We also consider merit in removing Strategic Development Plans. The planning system could work more speedily with two less policy documents to review, consult and await the outcome on.We so no real reason why the core strategic planning policy principles could not be defined by SPP with the     associated detail then incorporated upfront within the LDP. City Regions could still continue to come together in working groups to discuss policy areas that cross relate to them.
  1. There should be a clamp down on allowing Supplementary Planning Guidance or subsequent amendments to LDPs that then leaves key policy matters unresolved. Full and proper provision of the evidence base must be provided up front. This is particularly pertinent with regard to housing numbers/allocations.
  1. We consider the Scottish Government should play a more prominent role in managing the evidence base on matters such as employment, housing and retail demand and supply data. A Planning Portal with set templates on data gathering could be put in place and managed at authority level but uploaded and maintained via a Scottish Government central database. It then provides a common approach and use of data when understanding the scale of future need and more importantly everyone is made to ensure their data is up to date.

Housing Delivery

  1. Housing delivery is, quite rightly, high on the planning and political agendas at present. Housing targets are not being met right across Scotland. This should not then be used as a reason to downscale those numbers or the ambition to make relevant changes to ensure targets can be met.
  1. A great deal of time is spent in LDP review/examination on housing numbers often with many parties disagreeing on the required unit number and type. There is a need to step back from this very inefficient process and look toward better ways of approaching this complex subject matter.
  1. Beyond this greater effort needs to go into why identified housing sites are not being delivered. We have acted on many sites that can meet SEA criteria and help fill the void but all too often have been faced with resistance as a result of not being allocated. This mind set needs to change.
  1. There should be a presumption in favour of housing development if it can address set policy criteria. This to be clear should be equally applicable to all non-allocated sites. While there is still a need to have a guide on housing numbers an open housing policy would mean less time arguing at Development Plan examinations on numbers and more time assessing a site against set criteria.
  1. Planning Obligations placed on housebuilders requires to be reviewed and a system put in place that allows greater flexibility. There is a need to rethink the “upfront burden” in infrastructure and financial payments which simply removes working capital from which to start development.

Planning for Infrastructure

  1. Planning for infrastructure is no doubt one of the largest issues facing planning in Scotland at the current time. The approach to infrastructure delivery has been far to one dimensional with little joined up or alternative thinking. This not only makes infrastructure delivery more expensive it often means that developments become financially unviable.
  1. Many successful planning projects across Europe are as a result of a “Joint Venture” approach between the public and private sectors. A significant culture change is needed and one which will require consensus on the mechanics of infrastructure delivery. A key part of this will again be for the Scottish Government to take more of a lead role.
  1. The recent independent research document entitled ‘Planning for Infrastructure‘ is a significant step in the right direction. It is now upon all those involved, which will extend well beyond just planning, to come up with the core mechanisms as to how to pay and deliver key infrastructure. Mechanisms such as a developer infrastructure tax or levy in a phased manner is one such way.

Development Management

  1. We often find delays in the processing of applications being as a result of internal or statutory consultations being late. The lack of resources in departments such as legal (re. S75), heritage, environmental health and roads requires serious attention if we truly want to speed up the development management process.
  1. We understand that planning fees are not ring fenced. We feel this area requires further review particularly if planning fees are to be increased again. It leads to a lack of direct correlation between the increase in fee and a betterment in the resourcing of the planning service.
  1. A more efficient pre-application process is required. A structure needs to be in place that is consistent across Scotland. There needs to be a clear pro-forma in terms of what the applicant must provide. After this there needs to be detailed feedback from the planning department (beyond just what the site is currently allocated for). Very often feedback is limited in content and lacks the necessary clarity.
  1. Highland Council, for example, should be praised for their pre-application feedback. It often brings core statutory consultees together to comment on the draft proposal and a detailed pre-application report then follows.
  1. We consider that Processing Agreements should be a legal requirement. This was proposed previously but subsequently removed. The private sector was broadly supportive of processing agreements as it provides certainty on timescale. If there is going to be a further increase in fees there needs to be an element of accountability in the service the applicant receives in return.
  1. Some local authorities operate a call logging system. While we appreciate this maybe for internal operating efficiency we consider it is slowing the process down. In many cases when we have sought to speak with the case officer the returned call is often logged for 4-7 days later.
  1. We consider that there is merit to have a bespoke pre-application advice team to free case officers time to be focused on the delivery of submitted applications.
  1. Schemes of delegation should be standardised across Scotland to provide consistency.

Leadership, Resourcing and Skills

  1. A detailed study into the cost of running Council Planning Departments should be undertaken. Planning requires to be placed much higher on the political agenda and where planning departments are given the proper finance to run an efficient service. There is little point in changing the planning system if there is not the appropriate funds to implement the measures proposed.
  1. If there can be a proven need to increase planning fees then the associated monies should retained to resource individual planning departments (inc. statutory consultees).
  1. Innovative ways of raising further finances within Planning Departments should be considered. One example could be that, in relation to retail planning, the Council undertake town centre health check and shopping patterns surveys that would not only inform the LDP process but could become a chargeable dataset to the private sector for when they undertake Retail Impact Assessments.
  1. We feel charging for pre-application advice, to help resources, requires thorough debate. It can often put people off from pursuing a proposal (particularly with regard to ‘local’ developments)

Community Planning

  1. Engaging local communities in the planning system is essential. The current community consultation process in planning is adequate. However, engagement by local communities could be a lot more pro-active in approach.
  1. While local people and Community Council’s (CC) do engage with the system we feel it could be structured more productively. At LDP stage CC should be provided with the base line requirements (eg. 5,000 houses) and be asked to input on where they think various developments should go in their areas. Let us be pro-active in engaging with communities from the outset and garnish their thoughts on how they would accommodate future development not simply be reactive to allocations on a draft plan.
  1. To undertake the above will again require resourcing to enable officers to engage more fully with CCs. In addition, resources should be made available to local communities for them to take more control on matters important to them. For example, undertaking a town centre charrette to aid town centre regeneration.

We hope you find our comments useful. Should you wish to discuss any points made in greater detail please do not hesitate to contact Tim Ferguson.

Yours Faithfully

Tim Ferguson

 


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