The White Paper on planning in Scotland - Modernising the Planning System - was published by the Scottish Executive in June.  The key aims are to create a viable modern planning system for Scotland that is fit for its purpose, efficient, inclusive and sustainable.  Although the measures contained in the White Paper still need to be formalised in legislation, it is clear that the forthcoming Planning Bill – due to be produced in the current parliamentary session – will have significant implications for developers.  This article highlights those proposals of most significance to the development industry.

Policy framework

  • The role of the National Planning Framework is to be enhanced, and will provide the national context for development plans and planning decisions.
  • Scottish Ministers will be able to fast track national developments in certain circumstances.
  • Development plans are given an enhanced and central role.  The two-tier development plan system is retained for the four largest city regions (Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow), which will be required to work together to produce strategic development plans under the umbrella of a new body, the Strategic Development Authority.  Local development plans will cover the whole of Scotland.  A new statutory requirement to update all development plans every five years is to be introduced.  Authorities will also be required to produce action programmes, setting out the steps required for implementation of the development plan, the body responsible for those steps and timescales for completion.  These programmes are to be updated every two years.

Application process

  • Of most significance to developers is the distinction between major and local developments.  In particular, major developments (shopping centres, large scale housing developments etc.) are to benefit from a new application procedure designed to minimise delay and ensure a better response from planning authorities.  Developers and planning authorities will be required to draw up a timetable for determination of the planning application in a processing agreement. 
  • Major developments will be subject to increased fees; these are still based on the scale of the development but will be more reflective of the actual cost of processing the application. 
  • Developers will be required, in certain cases, to carry out pre-application consultation with local communities, and planning authorities required, in certain cases, to hold a hearing before a decision on an application is taken.
  • The responsibility for issuing neighbour notifications is to be placed on planning authorities.
  • The framework governing planning agreements will be improved; in particular, developers will be able to submit unilateral obligations, as opposed to having to enter into section 75 agreements.  This should simplify infrastructure contributions in practice.
  • The introduction of mezzanine floors will be brought within the planning system.

Appeals

  • A reduced timescale for appeals is proposed: from 6 months to 3 months. For major developments the right of appeal to the Scottish Ministers is retained.
  • A fast track mechanism – early determination – will be introduced for assessing appeals.
  • Of particular note is the Executive's proposal that appeals are to be confined strictly to reviewing the planning decision on the basis of the information available at that time.  Only in exceptional circumstances will appeals take into account additional factors. 

Enforcement

  • An enhanced enforcement regime is proposed and a new measure – temporary stop notices – are to be introduced; as with stop notices, there will be no statutory right of appeal.
  • The ability of developers to appeal enforcement notices is to be restricted by a re-definition of the criteria for appeals and imposition of strict time limits.
  • Authorities are being encouraged to use their enforcement powers; to that end compensation will only be payable where there has been a "clear, avoidable, major error".

Colin Innes, Head of Shepherd+ Wedderburn's Planning and Environmental team comments: "Overall the White Paper package represents new challenges for the development industry.  The enhanced profile of the National Planning Framework will increase the importance of engagement with the Executive.  This will potentially increase the role of representative national bodies.  Developers will have to consider the changes in the application process in formulating proposals.  The changes in the development plan process will provide regular opportunities for developers to seek to influence more localised planning policy".

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