Planning reform in Scotland

Since 1999 the Scottish Executive has been engaged in an extensive programme of consultations and stakeholder engagement on all aspects of the planning system.  Proposals to streamline the planning process and allow greater involvement of local communities were published in the White Paper 'Modernising the Planning System' in June 2005.  The plans aim to make the system fairer and more balanced while promoting sustainable growth, but have aroused a great deal of controversy amongst stakeholders. 

Malcolm Chisholm, the Communities minister, is due to table the final Planning Bill before the Scottish Parliament today.

Key reforms are likely to include a new 'fit for purpose' hierarchal structure, which will process developments according to national, major, local or minor significance.  There is an aim to extend the number of minor developments that do not require planning permission, a National Planning Framework (NPF) will be established and projects of national significance will be decided by ministers.  Plans will be quicker, more accessible and more predictable, and greater use of e-planning will be encouraged to promote efficiency. 

Most controversially, Mr Chisholm's proposals are not expected to include a third-party right of appeal in planning applications – a decision which will delight business leaders but infuriate environmentalists and local groups.

It is expected that the Bill will include a statutory requirement for pre-application consultations, but the proposals have been criticised for a lack of meaningful public engagement and will be unlikely to oblige developers or councillors to act on third party concerns.  The increased centralisation of the proposed new planning structure has led to a fear amongst environmentalists and community groups that the agenda will be driven by demands of 'big business' at the expense of local accountability and participation.

The business lobby, meanwhile, has urged ministers to take the opportunity of the planning reform to cut the burden on businesses in Scotland.  They maintain that the Bill should support and promote economic development by speeding up the planning process and making the system less bureaucratic.  House building is Scotland's largest source of private investment and employs more than 110.000 people, and business leaders argue that there is an urgent need for good quality, affordable housing in locations that support the needs of business and enterprise.

Andy Willox, Scottish policy convener of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: "If the Executive is serious about the main aim of planning being to facilitate economic development, then it's crucial that speeding up the process is the prime focus of its reforms."

The Bill is the last major piece of legislation to go before the Parliament this year.

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