Improving efficiency, and simplifying and modernising the planning system are at the core of the Scottish Executive's objectives embodied in the newly passed Planning etc (Scotland) Bill, currently awaiting Royal Assent. The public will have the opportunity for greater involvement in developments that affect their local neighbourhood, but late amendments proposing the introduction of a third party right of appeal, which gave developers considerable cause for concern, were resoundingly defeated in the final Stage 3 debate on the Bill.

The Planning etc (Scotland) Bill in summary

In outline, the Bill, as it will be enacted, provides for:

  • A structure for the preparation and publication of the National Planning Framework, which will contain strategy for the long-term spatial development of Scotland. This will affect infrastructure considerations like roads and railways.
  • Strategic development plans and local development plans, to replace existing structure and local plans. These will consider broad strategic issues and require the involvement of key agencies (eg Scottish Water) in their preparation.
  • Contribution to sustainable development to be an objective for Planning Authorities in the exercise their planning functions. This will become a prominent consideration for developers at the application stage.
  • A series of improvements in the way planning applications are handled, and revised arrangements for appeals and planning obligations. These measures are designed to expedite the procedure to secure planning permission whilst involving affected communities to a greater extent but raise a significant number of questions about the way that large and controversial applications will be dealt with at the application and appeal stage.
  • New enforcement provisions in the form of temporary stop notices, fixed penalties and enforcement charters. This will allow Planning Authorities to take immediate enforcement action without first going to court.
  • Updating the arrangements for Tree Preservation Orders. This will improve the protection of trees and simplify the procedure for enforcing a Tree Preservation Order.
  • Arrangements for the correction of errors in official decision letters. The Scottish Ministers will be able to correct official decision letters without seeking court approval.
  • New powers entitling Scottish Ministers to measure the development management performance of planning authorities, and to investigate decision making processes. This additional scrutiny is focused on improving efficiency.
  • Amendment to provisions relating to fees and charges and to the making of grants. More detail is to follow on this but the indications are that the application fees are set to rise sharply.
  • The introduction of Business Improvement Districts in Scotland, which will allow local collective investment in local improvements. This is designed to ensure that local businesses can bring about change and improvement where they themselves feel it is required.

For more detail on the proposals contained in the Planning etc (Scotland) Bill go to our E-bulletin Archive at www.shepwedd.co.uk/knowledge/archive/11/property/ for "Modernising the Planning System (Part 1)" January 2006; "Modernising the Planning System (Part 2)" February 2006 and "BIDs move closer" October 2006.

The text of the Planning etc (Scotland) Bill as passed, is available from the website of the Scottish Parliament at:
www.scottish.parliament.uk/business/bills/51-planning/b51s2-aspassed.pdf

Meanwhile, in Westminster…

The Westminster Parliament passed a Planning Act for England and Wales in 2004 following on extensive consultation.  Two years later and the Queen's Speech this month announced proposals to "reform the planning system", sparking concern in some quarters that the new system will be disrupted before it has had a chance to properly "bed in". However, the apparent promise of a white paper, which will address planning improvements for infrastructure and energy projects to be dealt with by Parliament and not local authorities, is welcomed by many to ensure that projects of this type are dealt with in a more effective way. The opportunity should be taken to ensure that major developments are also adequately addressed, and efficiencies and effectiveness of delivery within the planning process applied to these schemes as well.

Shepherd and Wedderburn LLP is committed to contributing to and influencing the debate on how best to deliver effective planning solutions across the UK for the benefit of its clients.

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