Blog: How we are influencing the Scottish Planning Bill



Craig McLaren outlines how RTPI Scotland is influencing the Planning Bill.

Craig McLaren

In July I blogged on the ambitions that RTPI Scotland had on the Planning (Scotland) Bill. At that time the Bill was about to be considered in the Scottish Parliament with its Local Government and Communities Committee scrutinising it line by line and considering proposed amendments made to it. 

At this time we had five key aims:

  • to introduce a new purpose for planning which emphasised that it was about working in the long-term public interest;
  • to change provisions in the draft Bill that aimed to remove strategic development plans;
  • to introduce statutory Chief Planning Officers in planning authorities;
  • to refocus the Bill to take a more supportive approach to performance improvement; and
  • to resist any calls to introduce a third party right of appeal.

So how did we do? I would like to think that our hard work has led to a number of wins. 

We are delighted that thanks to our lobbying a new duty has been introduced for local authorities to appoint Chief Planning Officers in every planning authority in Scotland.  Although it is a fairly light touch provision, it is ground-breaking and we will be working to influence guidance that will be published on this by Scottish Government.

There were 390 amendments tabled to the Bill and 244 of these were agreed. Many of them have introduced new duties and responsibilities for planning authorities and Scottish Government without any consideration given to their resource needs.

The Bill now includes two new purposes of planning. One of these is a direct lift of our suggested amendment about planning managing development in the best long-term public interest, whilst the other definition expands upon our wording. Politicians will now need to agree which one they prefer.

We worked with MSPs to get an amendment agreed to repeal the planning penalty clause which had allowed Ministers to reduce application fees in planning authorities they consider are under performing. We have never supported this given a lack of definition of what constitutes good or bad performance, and our view is that it would be better to incentivise rather than penalise performance.

In discussions held with MSPs we also pushed for the retention of statutory approaches to strategic planning. We were pleased, therefore, when the committee voted against the clauses that proposed the abolition of strategic development plans. 

Although the draft Bill didn’t contain provisions to change appeal rights there has been a campaign to introduce a third party right of appeal and amendments were tabled to introduce them. The Institute didn’t support these and so we lobbied MSPs to this effect, worked with a range of organisations to promote our view and managed to secure media coverage outlining the implications of introducing new rights of appeal. After debate on this in the Parliament the amendments were not supported.

The story is not finished however. The Bill has another stage to go through before it can receive Royal Assent. Crucially this stage allows for further amendments to be tabled and discussed.

This means that there is a need for us to work to secure the changes and provisions we support, to make the case against the introduction of provisions we believe wouldn’t work, and, to consider if there are any issues we would like to take forward at this time.

As part of this we will be highlighting the resource implications of the Bill. There were 390 amendments tabled to the Bill and 244 of these were agreed. Many of them have introduced new duties and responsibilities for planning authorities and Scottish Government without any consideration given to their resource needs. This could be a major headache at a time when we have seen a 23% reduction in planning staff on Scotland in the last 7 years.

The next stage will likely take place in March or April next year so watch this space to see what happens….

  • Craig McLaren is director of RTPI Scotland

This article was originally published on the RTPI website.



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