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Scottish Planning Reform: The Planning (Scotland) Bill 2017

  • United Kingdom
  • Real estate planning


The release of the Planning (Scotland) Bill heralds the next key stage of Scottish planning reform. The Bill is intended to transform the planning system: to strengthen and simplify planning processes and positively enable development rather than regulate it.

The coherent reform of the planning system is an express priority of the Scottish Government. The reform process has its roots in the systematic independent review of the planning system, commissioned in September 2015. The independent panel concluded that whilst technical adjustments, the promotion of good practice and process improvement would be of value, a “fundamental rethink of the system as a wholeis necessary to ensure the planning system is much better equipped to deal with future challenges and opportunities1.

The Bill establishes the structure for the new planning system. Significant changes are proposed in relation to both policy development and development management.  

In relation to plan-making, the Bill proposes the restructuring of the plan-led system, as “continuous plan-writing” and “repetitive policy-writing” is preventing implementation and achievement of outcomes2.

Scottish Planning Policy will be incorporated into the National Planning Framework (NPF) and this revised NPF will form part of the statutory development plan. In the event of incompatibility between the revised NPF and a local development plan (LDP), the most recent will prevail.

Focused strategic planning at a regional scale will be included in the NPF and strategic development plans abolished. Strategic development planning authorities will be dismantled.  

Instead, planning authorities will be under a duty to assist Ministers in preparing the NPF. Bespoke regional partnerships can be created and there will be a flexible duty of regional collaboration to inform NPF content on long-term city-region development and infrastructure issues. The statutory NPF will be subject to a review on a 10-year cycle but Ministers can update or amend between statutory review cycles.   

With the incorporation of the NPF in LDPs, the LDP need not restate national policy in the absence of variations of national policy to reflect local circumstances. A further suite of procedural changes to LDPs is intended to strengthen these plans and provide a greater focus on local places and delivery of development and infrastructure. These changes include an extension of the LDP timescale to ten years and a streamlined, front-loaded preparation process. Detailed preparation of a plan will proceed once a report setting out the evidence base has passed an early ‘gatecheck’ to be undertaken by an appointed person, likely to be a Reporter.

Current provisions for supplementary guidance will be repealed. Key policies are to be more clearly set out in the LDP and subject to the full consultation and scrutiny of a draft LDP. Scope remains for non-statutory guidance or advice to be a material consideration in the determination of planning applications. Scottish Ministers anticipate specific policy or technical matters addressed in supplementary guidance can be incorporated into amendments to the SPP (which will form part of the statutory development plan). As introduced, the Bill does not provide for the immediate repeal of provision for supplementary guidance to be prepared and adopted to form part of the development plan. This part of the Bill will come into force on a day to be specified in secondary legislation.  

LDPs are to be better aligned with community planning through a requirement to take into account the local outcome improvement plan prepared by community planning partnerships.

Greater participation in the planning system is proposed through the introduction of local place plans. Where a local place plan is submitted to a planning authority, the authority is expected to have regard to it in preparing its LDP, either through an amendment to the LDP or to inform a future review of the LDP. A significant opportunity to link local place plans with local outcome improvement plans is expected.

For decision-taking, a suite of changes are proposed to make the development management system more efficient, to promote more constructive early engagement and more local decision-making.

The Bill empowers Ministers to establish an infrastructure levy, to raise funds to support the provision of necessary infrastructure and services across a wider area and help to unlock sites planned for development. Infrastructure is designed to include communications, transport and drainage systems; systems for the supply of water and energy; educational and medical facilities; and facilities and other places for recreation. It is proposed that the levy be designed to capture a proportion of land value uplift.  

The Scottish Government commissioned research into potential options for an infrastructure charging mechanism. Further research and consultation will be undertaken to develop a model for the levy and to create the necessary regulatory framework to include details of when liability will arise, options for local exemptions and discounts, ability to appeal a levy decision, aggregating and spending levy income and consequential impacts of the levy on other legislation.

The development of this levy will be complemented by a review of the policy on planning obligations, the appropriate use of obligations and the relationship between obligations and the levy.

The provisions setting the duration of planning permissions are to be simplified. The Bill requires a condition setting the duration of a planning permission to be attached. For planning permissions, the default period is three years from the date of grant and the default period for permissions in principle is five years. This change will allow developers to make an application to seek an extension to a permission through a variation application.

Fees for planning applications are to be revised to move towards full cost recovery. The Bill makes provision for a planning authority to set a discretionary charge for the provision of its services and for a charge to be levied for a person acting under a scheme of delegation. The Bill also provides for fees to be charged by Scottish Ministers for performing planning services. The means by which additional fees may be charged is to be for planning services provided by planning authorities and Ministers will be consulted upon in revisions to the relevant fees regulations.

Other changes to the development management system include:

  • Mandatory training in planning matters for Councillors sitting on Planning Committees;
  • Setting out the content of planning training and the minimum requirement for attendance or completion of a test;
  • A time limit on submission of a planning application following pre-application consultation, to ensure consultation outcomes are still relevant;
  • Greater detail on the content of a PAC report and clarity on when a PAC report is not required;
  • Additional types of development to be considered under delegated decision-making authority and subject to local review procedure, including certificates of lawful use and development; and;
  • Encouraging greater consistency in handling of small applications and decision-making by requiring planning authorities to have regard to forthcoming Scottish Government guidance on small-scale applications and schemes of delegation;

Planning reform is a perennial political interest and the high-level procedural and system changes outlined in the Bill may well be revised as a result of the Parliamentary scrutiny process. Significant changes are being proposed relating to sensitive issues in planning reform, such as community engagement and decision-making, as well as the appropriate balance between enabling development and providing safeguards. A wealth of detail will be contained in the secondary legislation and guidance which will need to be developed to flesh out the system changes in the Bill.

1. Crawford Beveridge, Petra Biberach and John Hamilton, “Empowering planning to deliver great places: An independent review of the Scottish planning system” (May 2016).

2. Scottish Government, “Planning (Scotland) Bill: Policy Memorandum”, December 2017