Planning and Inclusive Growth

– in the Scottish Parliament on 5th December 2017.

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Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

The next item of business is a statement by the Minister for Local Government and Housing, Kevin Stewart, on planning and inclusive growth. The minister will take questions at the end of his statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions.

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

Scotland’s economy needs a world-class planning system. We need long-term planning to lay the foundations for inclusive growth and future infrastructure investment across Scotland.

When planning is done well, we get high-quality developments, well-functioning communities and places that we value. Planning in Scotland has had its successes, but there is room for improvement. It is crucial that planning is an active facilitator in the growth of our economy, particularly in light of the challenges ahead of us. For example, the Government is acutely aware of the particular threats to rural Scotland arising from Brexit and the importance of planning as an enabler of development in our rural communities. Planning needs a rethink if we are to realise its full potential as a driver for sustainable growth. Our planning system must take a strong and confident lead in securing the development of great places that will stand the test of time and help us to adapt to long-term climate change.

My first request to planning officials when I became the Minister for Local Government and Housing was for a full report of the independent panel that was set up to review the operation of our planning system. The review was independent of Government—it was not led by the development industry or the profession—and it had a focus on the experience of those people who use the planning system and whose places are shaped by planning decisions. The drivers for the planning review—the delivery of housing and infrastructure, the experience of our communities, and the effectiveness of development planning and management, resources, skills and leadership—were, I believe, the right areas to examine, and they remain the key areas for improvement.

The Government followed up the panel’s work with extensive consultation and discussion with a wide range of stakeholders and heard many views from professionals, the development sector and businesses. I was particularly pleased that many individuals and community organisations took the time to share their ideas. Bringing people together has not guaranteed consensus. However, we have listened to all views and I am grateful to everyone who has engaged in the process to date. Planning is important to all of us and the system needs to work for all interests.

Yesterday, the Scottish Government introduced the Planning (Scotland) Bill to Parliament and I take this opportunity to update Parliament on how the bill will change how planning operates in Scotland and how our legislation is supported by a wider programme to promote changes in approach and changes in attitude in planning.

Our communities need investment in development, which is a good thing. It brings much-needed housing, infrastructure and services that we rely on, such as schools, and places for our services and for enjoying our leisure time. Importantly, investment in planning and development also brings much-needed jobs.

The Planning (Scotland) Bill is about inclusive growth. It is about securing investment in all our futures and, at a time when Brexit brings nothing but uncertainties, it is even more vital that we support Scotland’s economy. The bill sets out a strong legislative structure for a much more proactive and enabling planning system. It will bring us clearer development plans that will be produced through collaboration without being stuck in process.

Development plans need to provide clarity about where development should take place and how our places may change over time. They should help us to design and deliver places where people can lead healthier lives, move around easily and have access to the homes, services, facilities, education and employment that they need. They should set out a vision for places that are low carbon and resilient to the future impacts of climate change.

We should be focused on delivery rather than a continuous cycle of plan making, so we will simplify the development plan system. We propose to remove the current tier of strategic development plans and ensure that the national planning framework and local development plans provide effective co-ordination and delivery of the infrastructure that we need to support development, including housing. The next national planning framework will provide a clear plan for Scotland as a place and support the delivery of all our policies on the environment, communities and the economy. It will play a central role in realising our climate change ambitions and set the course for the planning system as a whole.

We will empower people to play an active role in shaping the future of their places. The bill will ensure that people in our communities have a real influence over the future development of their places through meaningful early involvement. We will draw a clear, statutory link between community planning and spatial planning so that local development plans capture communities’ aspirations for better services and the development that is needed to support them. We will also give communities the opportunity to produce their own plans, which may ultimately form part of the local development plan.

We will ensure that the planning system is properly resourced to lead. There is wide agreement that the planning service has been underresourced and that that is having an impact on performance. We can change the legislation and revise planning fees, but there needs to be a clear and related upturn in performance standards.

The latest set of official statistics on planning decisions was published this morning. Although there has been some moderate improvement in the pace of decision making in recent years, we need to be sure that planning processes and application handling are as swift as is reasonable and add real value. Our bill aims to do that. It will include scope for additional discretionary charging to fund a better service. For example, a higher fee could be paid for faster decision making. We will also consult on further increases to planning fees once the shape of the new planning system is clear. That will be coupled with the bill’s proposals for taking a stronger, statutory approach to planning performance assessment and improvement.

Even now that the Planning (Scotland) Bill is before the Parliament, we continue to listen to what people tell us. For example, I am attracted by the prospect of embedding the agent of change principle into our planning system so that we can protect the established and emerging talent in our music industry. Our live music venues should not become financially disadvantaged or have their viability threatened as a result of new development in their vicinity.

I understand the pressure in some parts of the country for new controls over short-term letting of residential properties. The Scottish expert advisory panel on the collaborative economy is currently considering that issue and the panel’s report is expected shortly.

We will continue to engage closely with our stakeholders on developing the best proposals. I will be happy to lodge amendments to the bill if that is the right thing to do, but only when there is a robust evidence base for doing so.

I am sure that members from across the chamber will share the Government’s aspirations for a well-functioning and effective planning system, as have the many stakeholders with whom we have engaged. However, I accept that people can have differing views on how we should go about that. For example, I fully acknowledge that there is some disagreement around rights of appeal. We agree entirely with the view of the independent panel that better inclusion and collaboration at the front end of the system will bring more positive results than pursuing further options for conflict and dispute resolution at the back end. Our bill does not include a third-party right of appeal. That would run entirely counter to the thrust of the reforms to support inclusive growth, and would introduce significant and unwarranted risks to our economy, but I am equally certain of the need to retain the existing rights for applicants to appeal against decisions to refuse planning permission. As an illustration of why those rights should be retained, it is the case that, since 2014, around 5,500 housing units have been approved on appeal, following refusals by planning authorities.

If we are serious about growth—about securing investment and delivering the homes, jobs and economic growth that Scotland needs—we cannot afford to put unnecessary obstacles in the way. I look forward to the discussions and debates over the coming months, and to us reforming and modernising Scotland’s planning system so that it delivers on the investment in good-quality development that our communities deserve and our economy needs.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

The minister will now take questions on the issues raised in his statement. I intend to allow around 20 minutes for questions, after which we must move to the next item of business. As usual, it would be helpful if members who wish to ask a question could press their request-to-speak buttons now and if they could make their questions succinct. I have 12 members who wish to ask questions.

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

I thank the minister for advance sight of his statement. The Planning (Scotland) Bill contains some positive steps that we support, but I want to focus on some of the more draconian measures that are being proposed. For example, the proposed infrastructure levy could be retained by Government, not councils. Why, and on what grounds, and why has the Government not decided what sort of levy it wants? The bill would also order councils, which are already cash strapped, to prepare annual performance reports. Will they be given extra money to do that?

Quite separately, there is a power to send in a Scottish Government troubleshooter if a minister decides that a council’s planning department is not performing, and there could be fines for non-co-operation. The Scottish Government would even be able to take over a planning department. That runs a coach and horses through any pretence of localism. Can the minister say under what circumstances he would use that power grab, and on what grounds he has brought forward the proposals? How does he define underperformance? The bill certainly does not do so. What is the problem that he is trying to fix?

Finally, councillors would have to pass an exam to take planning decisions. That affects all councillors, whose right to take those decisions is surely determined by the voters who elected them in the first place. Again, the Scottish Government reserves the right to take over if a council does not play ball. What is the justice in that affront to democracy?

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

As Mr Simpson points out, the bill includes a provision for the introduction through regulations of an infrastructure levy, but that levy would be spent locally and not nationally. Beyond that, as I have pointed out in previous discussions with Mr Simpson, I do not feel that we are currently in a position to knowledgeably introduce that infrastructure levy. That is why we will continue to work on that issue.

I draw members’ attention to the recent analysis that has been posted on the Scottish Government website. I have asked my officials to continue to work on the issue, and that will be the case.

As I said in my statement, in terms of performance reports and additional costs, I would look to increase planning fees if we see a movement in performance. I have already done so since I took up my post. I have made it clear that I want planning authorities to invest that money in their planning services. Many authorities are doing that and we are seeing much better performance in that regard.

A number of the issues that have crossed my desk since I have been in post have been about performance. The Planning etc (Scotland) Act 2006 contained provisions to look at performance more closely and allow further ministerial intervention if that was required. I would hope not to use that power, but the reality is that if an authority is not performing well, our options should be open.

Mr Simpson’s final point was about the training of councillors and councillors having to sit an exam. Councillors who are on licensing boards have to undergo statutory training and sit an exam at the end of it. A number of people believe that that has led to improvements in the decisions about licensing. A lot of people are not entirely happy with the current lack of training for elected members. The bill will allow for such training, and I do not see what problems that would cause. The most important thing is that decision makers should understand the reasons why they take the decisions that they are taking.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

The Planning (Scotland) Bill aims to give people a greater say in the future of their places and it aims to empower communities. However, it contains no provisions for redress for communities that feel a deep sense of unfairness in relation to planning processes that they feel favour one side over the other. What remedies will communities have if they feel that a decision is not appropriate or that the development plan has been breached? There is no tangible or specific statutory right of any kind in the bill to allow communities to challenge decisions.

Will the minister at least recognise that early engagement under the 2006 act has not worked? Communities can produce a local place plan, but how meaningful is that? Will any resources be allocated to help communities, particularly poorer communities, to achieve the production of that plan, and how will it be incorporated into the final development plan?

Will the higher fees that are proposed for faster decisions not create a hierarchy that means that richer applicants will have an advantage, given that fees have already risen in the planning system? How does that sit with a quasi-judicial system that should be open and transparent?

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

As I said in my statement, we want to see more communication and co-operation at the beginning of the process. Pauline McNeill has heard me speak previously about linking community planning with spatial planning. We have the ability to use local plans and to join them up with local outcome improvement plans to create better places. In some parts of the country, communities are already putting together their own local plans. That happened recently in Linlithgow. I have not seen that plan myself but I understand that it is a good example of a community coming together to come up with a positive local plan. Many communities will be able to do that kind of thing without much help, and I encourage such communities to do so and local authorities to co-operate with them.

Pauline McNeill is right to point out that some other communities might have a bit more difficulty putting plans together. I expect local authorities to give more help to socially-excluded communities that might face such difficulties. I do not think that that resource will be a huge amount, to be honest, because community planning should already be taking place in those places and that intertwining should bring those services together.

On the point about faster decision making, we will look closely at what is required in that regard. We know that, in many parts of the country, the decision-making process is slow. I continue to keep a close eye on statistics, including this morning’s statistics. It is not just about timescale; it is also about quality. Beyond that, we have to reach a point in the system itself where planners become enablers and deliverers rather than people who are just going to say yes or no. If the answer is no, there have to be reasons for that and maybe there should be an opportunity to say, “If you change this, it might make your plan much more viable.”

We need much more co-operation and much more communication. I agree that the early engagement that was set out in the 2006 act has not worked as well as folk hoped that it would but we have a huge opportunity to get folk much more involved in planning through new technology. That is why, alongside the work on the bill, I continue to work with the digital task force that I put in place to make sure that we can use technology to engage people at an early stage.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I have allowed leeway for the first two questions but I now have 10 people who want to ask questions so can I have short questions, please, and—if I may respectfully ask this of you, minister—succinct answers?

Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party

On the one hand, we want economic development, with more homes and other services, but on the other hand, we want the local community to have a real say. Does the minister believe that it is possible to get a balance between those things that will satisfy everybody?

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

Yes, I believe that it is possible. Our reforms aim to strengthen planning’s contribution to inclusive economic growth through the delivery of the development that we need and to empower communities. We need an effective planning system that helps to create quality places, with the housing infrastructure and investment that current and future generations need.

Giving people a greater say in how their areas will develop is central to our reforms of the planning system. For example, as I have already said to Pauline McNeill, that link from the local outcome improvement plans to the new local place plans is a huge opportunity for communities and will help communities to meet their aspirations.

Beyond that, this bill will help us to achieve our ambition of 50,000 affordable homes during the course of this session of Parliament. No matter where I have gone in Scotland since I have taken up this post, people have said, “We need more housing here.” We have to get planning right for communities and I think that this bill will do that.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I think that I will have to redefine “succinct”.

Photo of Dean Lockhart Dean Lockhart Conservative

In his statement, the minister acknowledged that the planning service has been underresourced, and that that has had an impact on performance. If that is the case, why has the Scottish Government not acted sooner to address that underperformance, and what additional support and financial resources will it make available to do so?

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

Earlier this year, as I pointed out in a previous answer, I allowed a rise in planning fees. That means that more resource is going into local authorities and I would expect local authorities to use that resource wisely and to invest in their planning services.

Photo of Andy Wightman Andy Wightman Green

I welcome the bill. I remind the minister that the independent review did not include any questions on rights of appeal and that discussions on that topic were banned in stakeholder workshops. Does the minister accept that if we are to have more meaningful, up-front engagement in the system, it is illogical and counterproductive to deny the need to equalise appeal rights?

Does he accept that retaining existing rights for applicants to appeal will inevitably in some cases overturn, frustrate and erode trust in the very community engagement and local accountability that he seeks to promote in the bill?

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

I said earlier that the independent panel did not support a third-party right of appeal. We do not propose to remove applicants’ right to appeal against planning application decisions. Without a doubt, we want to see early engagement right at the beginning rather than conflict at the very end of the process.

Many folks have given examples of the third-party right of appeal in Ireland. The situation in Ireland has changed dramatically. Special development zones are being put in place where third-party right of appeal is not allowed, in order to allow for the investment that is required. There is also much more judicial review in Ireland than in Scotland. The key in all of this is getting it right at the beginning rather than having conflict at the end.

Photo of Alex Cole-Hamilton Alex Cole-Hamilton Liberal Democrat

Will the Planning (Scotland) Bill do more to protect areas of green belt and natural heritage, such as the Cammo estate in my constituency, particularly when development in such areas would lead to intolerable pressure on local roads infrastructure and health services?

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

Mr Cole-Hamilton is being a bit naughty by talking about a particular place. He knows that I will not respond about a particular place in my role as planning minister.

It is up to each local authority to put together its local development plan, taking into account the needs of the community that it serves. It is not for me to say exactly what local authorities should be doing in that regard; it is up to them to put the policies in place. However, local development plans are required to meet the housing need of a particular area and, in recent times, the City of Edinburgh Council has failed to meet that need, with its new local development plan being some 7,500 houses short.

We need to see improvement on that, which is another reason why we require the training of elected members, so that they know exactly what they are doing when they put together local development plans. Of course, they should also take cognisance of the communities that they serve.

Photo of Fulton MacGregor Fulton MacGregor Scottish National Party

How does the Scottish Government intend to strengthen the planning system’s contribution to inclusive growth and growing the economy? How will local communities as a whole be able to affect plans for large-scale developments?

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

The bill will ensure that planners move from regulating development to making things happen. At the moment, when a local development plan is completed, the planners immediately move on to formulating the next local development plan. That does not provide security for communities and does not allow for development. We want development to progress, which will give much more confidence that it will be completed. The bill will ensure that there is a much more consistent approach to performance. Of course, all of that has to be done with communities, who will have a stronger say on and influence over positive changes that are happening to their places. The local plans are extremely important. Interlinking between local plans and community planning is all-important, and I want to see that right across the country.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

I welcome the minister’s reference to the agent of change principle, which as he will know is set to be taken forward to protect live music venues in Wales and greater London. If amendments are lodged to add the agent of change principle to the Planning (Scotland) Bill, will they have his Government’s support?

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

I welcome Mr Macdonald’s discussions with me on the issue, just as I welcome the discussions with Tom Arthur

, Fiona Hyslop—the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs—and the industry. We all know that there have been difficulties in certain places with live music venues, and we have to do all that we possibly can to ensure that we protect that vital part of our heritage. The Government is aware of proposals in Wales, where the issue is being dealt with through planning policy rather than legislation. I am also aware that the mayor of London is looking at the agent of change principle for the next London plan and that planning policy in the state of Victoria in Australia has something similar in that regard.

As Mr Macdonald is aware from the discussions that I have had with him, I do not know whether primary legislation is necessarily required; it might be that changes to Scottish planning policy are required. However, whatever change is required, he can be assured that I will be positive on the issue.

Photo of Ruth Maguire Ruth Maguire Scottish National Party

In what way does the minister see the Planning (Scotland) Bill as being key in contributing to the delivery of much needed affordable homes and infrastructure in Ayrshire and throughout Scotland?

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

Members will be absolutely sick to the back teeth of me constantly talking about housing. It is absolutely essential that the bill moves us forward with our affordable housing delivery targets, whether in Ms Maguire’s patch in Ayrshire or other parts of the country. Everywhere that I go, people say that they need more housing, so we need to get on with the job of providing warm, affordable homes for people around Scotland. The bill will allow that to happen and there will be areas that can be zoned for housing with permission granted up front. We must also ensure that we get the infrastructure and investment right as we build those homes.

Photo of Alexander Stewart Alexander Stewart Conservative

Will the minister confirm that local place plans that are prepared by local community bodies will not be undermined by Scottish ministers? Will he detail the support that will be provided to community bodies to ensure successful outcomes?

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

I have already given my view on local plans, which currently have no statutory basis. People in Linlithgow and other places who have come up with their own plans are to be applauded and I am certainly not going to undermine anybody’s plan. There might be occasions when communities and others have to agree to disagree, but I encourage communities the length and breadth of Scotland to get involved in spatial and community planning.

Since taking on my role, I have gone to great lengths to encourage people to become involved in planning; in particular, I want young folk to be more involved. There has been great success in Galashiels academy in your constituency, Presiding Officer, where pupils, with Planning Aid for Scotland, are learning about the place standard. They have different ideas from older folk and all those ideas need to come into the mix, so I hope that young folk will get involved in local planning.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I thank you for the namecheck.

Photo of Clare Haughey Clare Haughey Scottish National Party

How does the Scottish Government intend to encourage stronger engagement with communities earlier in the planning process, rather than at the end, to ensure that the system works for all, including those who want to invest in the quality of our places and our economy?

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

I know that Ms Haughey has taken a great interest in the issue—particularly in Cambuslang, if I remember rightly—from the engagement that she has had with me.

I want communities, such as those in Cambuslang, to have early engagement with the plans for their places, which the bill encourages. The local planning aspect will give people, such as those in Cambuslang, the opportunity to shape their community.

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

Will the minister explain what an inclusive growth approach will mean for Scotland’s poorest areas, and will he ensure that the new planning process will adequately engage and empower local communities?

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

Absolutely. I want communities the length and breadth of Scotland to be engaged and empowered. In particular, as I said in my answer to Ms McNeill, I want local authorities to put an emphasis on helping socially excluded communities to fulfil their ambitions for local place and community planning. As a Government, we will continue to do all that we can on community capacity building to ensure that such communities have the same abilities as wealthier communities.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I thank the minister and members—thanks to the minister being succinct, I managed to get all questioners in. That concludes questions on the statement.

15:09 Meeting suspended.

15:10 On resuming—