Planning and Inclusive Growth

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 5th December 2017.

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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.