The next item of business is the continuation of stage 3 proceedings on the Planning (Scotland) Bill. In dealing with the amendments, members should have the bill as amended at stage 2, the marshalled list, the correction slip for amendment 3 and the groupings of amendments. As this is the second day, the division bell will sound and proceedings will be suspended for five minutes before the first division of the afternoon. That first division will last for 30 seconds, but thereafter the first division after every debate will last one minute and all other votes will last for 30 seconds.
Yesterday, I tried to give members an indication of which were the long groups. I had been asked by a member to do that, but I got it spectacularly wrong, so I am not going to do it today. However, I will indicate that we are likely to take a break following group 25, which might be at around half past 4, and we might take another break following group 32. We will play that by ear and I will try to indicate to members in advance of when it is about to happen.
Members should now refer to the marshalled list. We will resume consideration of section 10, picking up at group 16, which is on land value capture/sharing. Amendment 112, in the name of Graham Simpson, is grouped with amendments 212 and 215.
It feels as though I have never been away.
Amendment 112 removes land value capture from the bill. It was introduced by an amendment that I lodged at stage 2. Initially, the bill had no mechanism for capturing any land value uplift. It was a subject that the Local Government and Communities had a close look at and I think that there is general cross-party support for the concept.
However, my stage 2 amendment has raised legal concerns. I have to be honest about that and say that I do not think that there is a place for it in the bill, because there are problems with it. Organisations such as the Scottish Property Federation have called it “premature” and welcomed amendment 112, which removes the provision. Scottish Land & Estates pointed out its possible incompatibility with the European convention on human rights. That point was also raised by the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee, which I convene.
Given the work that is being undertaken by the Scottish Land Commission on land value capture, this bill is not the place for it and I am happy to remove it. On that basis, I will not be supporting amendments 212 and 215, in the name of Alex Rowley.
I move amendment 112.
Amendments 212 and 215 require ministers, within 18 months of the bill receiving royal assent, to lay regulations to facilitate land value capture. Legislation to facilitate land value capture—or “land value sharing”, as the Scottish Land Commission has usefully termed it—is not a silver bullet that will solve our current housing supply crisis. We need to adopt a much more proactive approach to public interest-led development across the board and enable our public bodies to take the lead in major developments. However, land value sharing could play a key role in that process.
It is deeply disappointing to see the Tories and the Government teaming up to remove one of the transformative amendments to the bill from stage 2. It should not have been beyond the Government to resolve the legal change that would have been required to make land value sharing possible. Labour is giving the Government an opportunity to cement its support for the principle of land value sharing and to commit to providing the legislative framework to make it possible. We approached the Government before the deadline for lodging amendments and stated that we were open to considering its comments and to extending the timeframe if it was willing to support our amendments, so we do not accept timing as an explanation for its refusal to accept them.
The Government has failed to make formal responses to the Scottish Land Commission’s brilliant recent report on land value sharing and to say whether it accepts the report’s recommendations, so it can hardly blame Labour for starting to question its commitment to the concept.
I am not sure whether Alex Rowley was in the chamber when I asked the First Minister about that. She said that there would be a full response to the Scottish Land Commission’s report after the bill is dealt with. I am pretty sure that I also heard the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning say in the chamber that he accepted all the commission’s recommendations, but, no doubt, he will be able to confirm that himself.
It is interesting that we seem to have a coalition between the Scottish National Party and the Tories to block radical proposals on land reform. I know who the Tories speak for; it is now clear who SNP members speak for.
Will the minister state, in the
, that he will legislate on land value capture as soon as is reasonably possible? I think that that is a fair question to put to him. Will he also explain how he plans to make more publicly led development a reality? Despite what the Tories think, achieving both of those things would bring huge benefits, so I hope that the minister will answer those questions.
The Scottish Land Commission has successfully conveyed that land value sharing is not about negating all the benefits that the private sector currently gets from development. A publicly led approach can create additional value that can be used to establish ambitious, attractive, sustainable and healthy places that, above all, are built to work for communities—and surely communities and people should be at the heart of the bill’s intentions.
Many of the issues that we have already discussed and will go on to discuss this week—notably, adequate housing for older people and disabled people—would be much more of a reality if we embraced publicly led development, in which public bodies have more influence on the minimum standards for homes that are being built. Such a level of transformative change is required to realise the Parliament’s vision—not the limited provision that the Government has proposed and the Tory party has accepted.
I hope that both parties will consider supporting amendments 212 and 215.
Ahead of consideration of the bill at stage 2, I conducted a consultation on the proposal to enable local authorities to acquire land at its existing use value—a power that they had from 1947 until 1959 and which would strip out a substantial part of the profit that accrues to landowners and developers from the uplift in land values.
The developer Murray Estates, which is developing a large area in the west of Edinburgh, is a good example. Having secured planning consent, the company informed me in a meeting that it would simply sell the land, pocketing a very tidy profit though the granting of a public good—a planning consent.
I know that the Government is interested in the concept, but it has had 18 months to bring forward proposals. Instead, it has kicked the idea into the long grass and missed what might be the only legislative opportunity for some time to introduce such a power.
The power as envisaged—I had an amendment on it at stage 2, which I did not press because Graham Simpson’s amendment had got into the bill—would apply only in masterplan consent areas. It was a very limited power. We intentionally restricted it to enable it to be experimental, to an extent, and to avoid any of the bigger problems that might arise if we applied it across the piece. We focused the power on restricted areas and sought to allow councils to explore the more plan-led and public-led development model that has provided so much success in countries such as Germany.
We oppose the removal from the bill of proposed new section 54CA of the 1997 act and we will vote against amendment 112. We will support amendments 212 and 215.
As I have consistently made clear, we as the Government are interested in the concept of land value capture or sharing and we will explore how land value uplifts can effectively be captured to fund infrastructure. That is why the Government asked the Scottish Land Commission to investigate the issue and why I welcomed the report that it published in May. However, I believe that the provisions that were added to the bill at stage 2 were premature and that they risk breaching the European convention on human rights. I therefore welcome amendment 112, which removes from the bill proposed new section 54CA of the 1997 act.
Although I recognise the intention behind Alex Rowley’s proposals, I cannot support them. Changes to compulsory purchase should be made through primary legislation, and it is unrealistic to reform such a complex area of law in such a short timescale. The issue deserves careful examination and consultation, including on how proposals would interact with other mechanisms such as planning agreements and the proposed infrastructure levy.
We will therefore work with the Scottish Land Commission, the Scottish Futures Trust, local authorities and industry representatives to identify how local authorities can best use existing mechanisms to fund infrastructure and what support they may need to do so. We will also look at how new mechanisms such as the levy and land pooling might complement existing mechanisms, and hence whether any changes are required to existing legislation and, crucially, how we can ensure that any changes are fully compliant with the ECHR.
I refer members to the issues around this, including the Lands Clauses Consolidation (Scotland) Act 1845, which is, I am told, not going to be particularly easy to unpick if we are to get to ECHR compliance.
I have said constantly, and I will not move from this, that if legislative change is needed, we will pursue that. It may take time, and it may be in the next session of Parliament, but we will outline how we intend to move forward after the bill has been passed, as has been said. We will, of course, work with colleagues across the Parliament, because, like Mr Simpson, I think that there is, in the main, cross-party support on these issues.
I urge the minister to make a statement on the subject soon after the recess, once we have passed the bill, as we need to get moving on it. There is cross-party support. It might look as though there is disagreement today, but there is not really. We all want to move on this; it is just a question of how we do it in legislation. I do not think that the bill is the appropriate place. It is a very complicated area, and in my view a separate piece of legislation is needed to bring what is proposed forward.
I press amendment 112.
M asterplan consent areas are an area of the bill that has been broadly welcomed, although the exact impact remains to be seen.
I will first address my amendment 13. Section 10(3) introduces a new schedule 5A to the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997. Part 1 of the schedule is concerned with general rules about the content of any masterplan consent area. Section 3 of part 1 lists those areas that may not be included in any such scheme, such as world heritage sites and marine protected areas. Agreement to include such a list followed scrutiny of the bill at stage 1.
Included in the list of areas in which one cannot have a masterplan consent area are national scenic areas, which my amendment proposes to remove. I do not agree that national scenic areas should be excluded by law from such schemes and my amendment 13 would delete NSAs from that list. It is the only designation that should be excluded—I am perfectly happy with the rest—and I will explain why.
National scenic areas, which cover large areas of Scotland, include settlements where there is a need for more affordable housing. Those areas include large parts of Wester Ross, Assynt, Sutherland, the whole of Harris, south Lewis, Kintail, Loch Shiel and a quarter of the Cairngorms national park. As the minister is aware, Scottish Natural Heritage has a consultative role when a development of more than five houses is proposed in a national scenic area, but it does not have a consultative role when any such proposal is specifically provided for in the local development plan.
The minister is probably aware of the recent controversy over affordable housing in north Skye; he will also be aware that circular 9/1987 contains the relevant rules in that regard. In our view, masterplan consent areas could play an important role in providing rural housing. To exclude MCAs by law from being available in national scenic areas is illogical when development can already take place under existing planning provisions. In many areas, masterplan consent areas have the potential to provide a more effective means of providing rural housing—I have been told that by rural housing providers. For those reasons, I urge members to support amendment 13.
Amendments 125 and 126 reinsert notification, call-in and direction-making powers that were removed at stage 2. Amendment 125 reinstates provisions that allow ministers to direct planning authorities to notify them, which were removed at stage 2. Amendment 126 reinstates ministerial powers to call in proposals for masterplan consent areas and to modify them; again, my amendment 95 at stage 2 removed those powers. I will vote against amendments 125 and 126. I understand that ministers see those powers as a parallel to those that are in place for ordinary planning applications. However, given that we wish to see call-in powers curtailed and, in general, the power of ministers over planning authorities limited, we will oppose those two amendments.
I move amendment 13.
Masterplan consent areas are a new way in which planning authorities can take a proactive place-making approach and provide consent. Mr Wightman has argued that they should be allowed in national scenic areas. At stage 2, I outlined how we have worked with the relevant agencies and agreed that it would be right to restrict MCAs in international and national designations. I still believe that that is a clear and appropriate approach.
Mr Wightman suggests that MCAs could assist in repopulating NSAs in the islands. However, the island authorities have told us they would not envisage bringing forward MCA schemes for land in such areas. Therefore, I do not support amendment 13.
My amendments 125 and 126 seek to reinstate provisions that were removed at stage 2, which would require planning authorities to notify ministers prior to finalising certain MCA schemes and give ministers associated call-in powers. Those are important safeguards. Members will have seen the key agencies group’s letter highlighting the direct read-across to the equivalent mechanism for notification and call-in of planning applications and how leaving that out for masterplan consent areas would create a significant gap. Removing those provisions removed ministers’ ability to consider calling in schemes where there are unresolved objections from national agencies.
Proposals that key agencies object to frequently also attract significant local interest, with a public expectation that objections from a national agency will trigger a requirement for national level scrutiny. I hope that members will support amendments 125 and 126, to ensure that crucial layer of scrutiny for cases that raise issues of national significance.
I am disappointed with the minister’s response on amendment 13. I just do not understand why, if up to five houses can be built in some of the most pressured areas of Scotland, such as Skye and Kintail, b ecause they are in the local development plan, masterplan consent areas should not be available, too. Just because some local authorities have told the minister that they envisage no role for them, there is no reason to preclude any other local authority in any part of Scotland either today, or in five or 10 years, from availing themselves of such powers.
I am disappointed with the minister’s response, but I will accept however the vote goes. I press amendment 13.
The amendments in this group are mainly technical; they will remove duplication and tidy up wording. Just one of them—amendment 155—has a little more substance. Section 20B of the bill inserts new section 77A into the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997. That will enable ministers by regulations to make provision about the payment of compensation, where planning permission granted by a development order is withdrawn and a subsequent application for equivalent consent is refused or granted subject to different conditions.
In its stage 2 report on the bill, the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee recommended that that power should be subject to the affirmative procedure, because it deals with compensation and can apply or disapply provisions of primary legislation. I was happy to accept that recommendation and consequently lodged an amendment to enact it.
For the rest of the amendments in this group, I can provide more details if members have any questions, but I hope that these technical changes can be supported.
I move amendment 124.
Amendment 124 agreed to.
Amendment 125 moved—[Kevin Stewart].
The Presiding Officer:
The result of the division is: For 94, Against 27, Abstentions 0.
Amendment 127 agreed to.
Amendment 156, in the name of Andy Wightman, is grouped with amendments 157, 157A, 157B, 157C, 157D, 157E, 217 and 159. I point out that if amendment 156 is agreed to, I will not be able to call amendment 157 or, as a consequence, amendments 157A, 157B, 157C, 157D and 157E, as they will all be pre-empted.
Following concerns that constituents expressed to me shortly after I was elected in 2016, I began looking into the question of short-term lets. I got the opportunity to ask a question during general question time on 19 January 2017, and I asked the Scottish Government what plans it had to regulate the growth in short-term letting. The minister will probably remember it as the “audible sex parties” question.
The minister, Kevin Stewart, told me:
“The Scottish Government has no plans to regulate the growth in short-term letting.”—[Official Report, 19 January 2017; c 6.]
He told me that any change of use was a matter “for the planning authority” and that I should engage in the consultation on the planning bill. So, here we are at stage 3: I engaged with the Planning (Scotland) Bill.
I discussed the matter with planners and ran a consultation over summer 2018, and I concluded that the planning rules that govern change of use need to be changed. Put simply, the conversion of a domestic dwelling to a commercial short-term let is a change of use, and it requires consent if the change is material—that is the law today. Given that planning authorities across the country tend to assess the question on the basis of the intensity and frequency of visitors, the problem lies in determining whether such a change is material. Effectively monitoring the comings and goings of visitors is an impossible task for planning officers. Therefore, I lodged an amendment at stage 2 that provided that a simple change of use from a dwelling to a commercial short-term let, which is no longer the sole or main residence of any person, constituted a change of use for the purposes of planning law, with no additional inquiries needing to be made. The amendment was accepted at stage 2 and it formed section 11B of the bill. At stage 2, the minister promised to work with me in advance of stage 3, as did Conservative members.
My amendment 156 reflects recommendations from the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee to define short-term lets, which I have done. Amendment 156 does not, however, as has frequently been claimed, fetter the discretion or autonomy of planning authorities in any way. It merely makes a modest change to the framework for considering change of use—regulations that have been in place since 1997 and that are universal in their application across Scotland. Amendment 156 makes a modest change to the gatekeeping functions that determine what is, and what is not, a change of use. Today, in almost every instance, any change of use to a commercial short-term let is a material change of use, and planning authorities deal with those applications.
Local flexibility, which is at the centre of many people’s concerns, does not arise from planning law. To my knowledge, not a single piece of this planning bill or the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 applies only in certain parts of Scotland—Scots law is for Scotland. Local flexibility does not arise from law, but from plans and policies that enable planning authorities to be free to consent to as many or as few applications as they wish, in line with their own plans and policies. My amendment would not change that one bit.
Rachael Hamilton’s amendment 157 is a wrecking amendment. It would sabotage the central purpose of amendment 156 by making the modest change that I just outlined applicable only to so-called
“short-term let control areas”.
I am sure that the phrase will be repeated ad nauseum by the Scottish National Party and the Tories to pretend that they have done something about the problem. In addition, by making the provisions of amendment 157 subject to further regulations, the opportunity is created for the vested interests in the short-term let industry to influence those regulations in their own interest. That should be of no surprise to any member, given that Airbnb was a member of the Government panel on the collaborative economy.
We already know that some planning authorities are not even interested in the so-called zones. Last week, Glasgow City Council argued that the zonal approach that is suggested by the Conservative amendment does not fit with current policy. A council spokesperson said:
“It would fail to protect the amenity of residents living outside of those zones who may be affected by unauthorised change of use to short stay accommodation”.
All of that raises the question: if planning authorities are not interested in the provisions in amendment 157—the so-called areas, when they are finalised—what should they do? What if they think that the control areas are of no use to them?
I accept the parliamentary arithmetic, and that Rachael Hamilton’s amendment will probably pass. However, some weeks ago, I put a compromise to the Conservatives. I said that we should allow those areas that are not to be short-term let control areas to enjoy some modest improvement in the law—hence my amendments 157A to 157E to Rachael Hamilton’s amendment 157. They are designed to allow planning authorities for which control areas are deemed not to be the answer a more straightforward means of identifying properties that are changing their use. In other words, if the minister and Rachael Hamilton are genuinely interested in local choice, they should provide one.
I move amendment 156.
There has been growing concern about platforms such as Airbnb, which are revolutionising the short-term renting of properties in popular tourist destinations. However, Scotland must be a welcoming country, and we must have flexible and affordable accommodation right across Scotland. The major cities of the world, in particular, have been experiencing the pressure. The main focus here has been on Edinburgh—
The Presiding Officer:
That is not a point of order. It is up to each member to decide whether others may judge whether they have something to declare. It is entirely a matter for the member to decide.
Of course, the main focus in Scotland has been on areas in Edinburgh, in particular the Old Town. Such areas have been weighed down by the burden of an increase in inward-bound visitors. The Scottish Conservatives are well aware of the concerns of local residents and understand that antisocial behaviour and a lack of housing are just two areas of concern—which Andy Wightman has spoken to me about.
Despite the lack of concrete data, we believe that there is anecdotal evidence to signify a regional variation, with Edinburgh experiencing the highest concentration of short-term let pressure, as I have mentioned.
Of course, I completely disagree with Kezia Dugdale. Amendment 157 delivers a flexible approach, allowing local authorities discretion to set short-term let control areas. We well understand the pressures that are experienced by residents. My amendment seeks to find a solution for local authorities in regulating in those areas that are saturated. I would have thought that Kezia Dugdale would welcome the amendment, and I hope that Labour members will support it after they have heard what we have to say.
I thank the Government for working with the Scottish Government—sorry, that was a Freudian slip—I thank the Government for working with the Scottish Conservatives to achieve that aim. Furthermore, amendment 157 will devolve discretion to local authorities to create short-term let control areas, as I have set out. The purpose of amendment 157 is to target the requirement for planning permission to the most pressured areas, where the local authorities can choose whether or not to promote short-term let control areas, within which planning permission will always be required.
Proposed new section 26B allows a planning authority to designate all or part of the area concerned as a short-term let control area. In designated areas, the use of a dwellinghouse to provide short-term lets would be
“a material change of use of the dwellinghouse” and would require planning permission. For clarification,
“a tenancy of a dwellinghouse (or part of it) where all or part of the dwellinghouse is the only or principal home of the landlord or occupier” does not constitute a short-term let.
The member said that, within the control areas, such a change of use will always require planning consent. Is she not aware that that is the case across Scotland today and that the only question is about the materiality of that change of use? Therefore, her amendment 157 does nothing for the vast majority of authorities in Scotland, which will probably never use those control areas because they will probably be far too bureaucratic and will be subject to the rules that the Scottish Government deems appropriate in defining what a short-term let is.
Unlike Andy Wightman, we are taking this situation very seriously and we are putting residents first, while also being a welcoming country and ensuring that we create job opportunities and grow the economy.
Moreover, my amendment 157 seeks to deliver a flexible approach—which is the right one—allowing local authorities that are saturated by short-term lets to regulate, while, on the other hand, allowing for those authorities that do not have that burden not to be legally bound by regulation. My amendment clearly demonstrates a willingness to ensure a positive outcome for residents and communities, some of whom live in attractive and popular tourist hotspots.
Andy Wightman’s amendments 157A to 157E will, if they are supported by the Scottish Parliament, create a situation whereby all short-term lets that do not fall under any of the exemptions in section 11B will constitute a material change of use six months after the bill receives royal assent and will therefore require planning permission. Many owners and operators may find that the use of property as a short-term let was unauthorised, putting them in breach of planning control and potentially exposing them to enforcement action, should planning authorities be minded to take such action. As a consequence, a burden will be placed on local authorities, owners and operators in obtaining retrospective planning consent.
It seems to me that Andy Wightman’s amendments to my amendment 157 take the kill approach, whereas my amendment takes the cure approach. My amendment seeks to find a balance between happy tourists and happy residents. It will drive tourism growth while protecting residents with regulation. Andy Wightman’s amendments would kill off future growth in tourism in areas that need it, whereas my amendment provides a solution to local problems. I appeal to members to see sense and not support Andy Wightman’s amendments.
I thank Andy Wightman for the huge amount of work and effort that he has put into this very important issue. We, as well as the whole city of Edinburgh, owe him thanks, because we have a city-wide problem in Edinburgh.
I make one observation, because small observations often signify much larger change. If we look around the streets of Edinburgh, we will see that key safes have started to appear on doorway after doorway of the city’s tenements. That is a sign of a much larger change: thousands of residential properties have been taken out of residential use, which has had a huge impact on the city, particularly in my constituency.
Rachael Hamilton says that we do not have data, so let me give her some data. In my constituency alone, 1,810 addresses out of a total of 35,443 are registered with Airbnb—that is 5 per cent of all dwellings in my constituency. That has had a huge impact on the city and it is why citizens in Edinburgh say that we are increasingly experiencing a Disneylandification of the city. It is changing the nature and affordability of living in Edinburgh.
We must acknowledge that the original purpose of Airbnb has changed. It is now a business that attracts investment, which has had an impact on people and the city. Of course, short-term lets have their place, but they should not be used to the extent that they have been used in Edinburgh. The reality is that average house prices in the city are cruising towards £300,000. We have to regulate the system.
Andy Wightman’s amendment 156 is proportionate and will made a difference. Quite frankly, Rachael Hamilton’s amendment 157 is deficient, because it is reactive, not proactive. It would simply be a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted and would give no additional powers—no meaningful change—to local authorities to regulate planning in this critical area.
I urge members to vote for Andy Wightman’s amendment 156, which is critical to ensuring that buildings cannot undergo a disproportionate change of use and that houses are not taken out of residential use into business use. This city needs that change, and I urge members to vote for the amendment with that in mind, for the sake of Edinburgh. I say particularly to members who represent Edinburgh areas that amendment 156 is required.
.] The finance secretary can shout all he likes, but the fact is that, once again, a progressive proposal is being halted by the alliance between the Tories and the SNP. That is the bottom line.
We believe that Andy Wightman’s amendments are a proportionate response to the growth of short-term lets across Scotland—from urban centres to the Highlands and Islands. Unfortunately, the proposals have been misrepresented as interventions that will prevent buildings from becoming short-term lets; in fact, only a change of use is required, with local authorities being the arbiter of the change. An Airbnb that is no longer someone’s sole residence represents a change of use—it becomes a commercial entity, not a home. That is simply a fact.
I am listening with interest and I have some sympathy with Andy Wightman’s position.
The argument is that protection is needed, and I heard what Daniel Johnson said about the situation in Edinburgh.
Proposed new section 26B(2) of the 1997 act, in Rachael Hamilton’s amendment 157, is about short-term let control areas. If those who support amendment 156 are right, the issue is about localism. Under amendment 157, a local authority could choose to designate its whole area as a short-term let control area, and people would have to apply for planning permission in such an area. Amendment 157 would support localism and allow local authorities to make the decisions, and the outcome would be the same, as people would have to apply for a change of use. Does Alex Rowley not support such localism?
The fact is that local authorities require a strong understanding of housing need in their areas. It is right that they should know when a home undergoes a change of use and becomes a short-term let, particularly when housing is in short supply in many parts of our country.
We are proud of Scotland’s thriving tourism industry and we consider the room sharing and access to affordable accommodation that Airbnb has enabled to be a positive contribution. However, a high concentration of short-term lets in a small area can have a negative impact on shared spaces and community cohesion. Local authorities understand the crucial role that tourism plays in local economies and we trust that, when they form their policies on short-term lets, which I emphasise are separate from amendment 156, they will reach a balanced position that is in the public interest.
We do not support Rachael Hamilton’s amendments 157 and 159. The ineffective rent pressure zones are a case in point for why we should not trust ministers with such regulations. I urge the new SNP and Tory alliance to think again, to vote in the interests of the people of Scotland and to vote for Andy Wightman’s amendment 156.
I support amendment 156 and oppose amendment 157. I commend Andy Wightman for his thorough work over a number of months and years; he has done detailed work on the legislation and has taken colleagues with him. He has provided opportunities for briefings and has met the industry every step of the way—he has done a serious and thorough job.
Amendment 156 is particularly astute because it is not particularly radical. I urge members to look at the detail. The amendment does not represent a crusade against the industry of Airbnb or equivalent websites. It seeks to curtail the proliferation of commercial lets where we have allowed big companies or wealthy individuals to buy up properties across a city for the sole purpose of putting them on the internet for short-term lets. Such properties are not residential; they are businesses.
Amendment 156 would make no difference to and have no effect whatever on individual citizens who want to rent out their property for a certain number of days or months in the year or who want to rent out a room in the house in which they live. The amendment would simply curtail the proliferation of commercial lets.
I support the amendment for three key reasons, which I will run through quickly. Airbnb is causing misery to countless numbers of my constituents across Edinburgh—particularly those who live down at the Shore, on Leith Walk or off Easter Road, who are represented by Ben Macpherson; those who live in Portobello or Abbeyhill, who are represented by Ash Denham; and those who live in the Grassmarket or the new town, who are represented by Ruth Davidson. All those members will vote for Rachael Hamilton’s amendment 157. There is antisocial behaviour in those areas en masse.
Another reason why it is important to look at amendment 156 in detail is that commercial lets are distorting the property market. When big companies buy up properties, that makes it harder for working people to live in the city. On the internet today, the monthly cost of renting a one-bedroom property in the Grassmarket or on Easter Road is £850. That is pushing people out of the city and beyond its limits, and that is all because people are buying up properties for the purposes that we are voting on today.
There is another reason to support amendment 156. Perhaps the whole point of Airbnb is to provide tourists who come to Edinburgh with the experience of a home and what it is really like to live in the capital city, but all that is lost when the system is commercialised in the way that we have talked about today. I say to Rachael Hamilton that, far from killing off tourism, amendment 156 would provide a sustainable alternative, because it would protect the means by which people can experience what it is like to be in the city as a resident and a citizen.
I believe that amendment 157 is a wrecking amendment. It bulldozes right through the purpose of amendment 156 by introducing control areas and it kicks the can down the road into some grass called “One day, maybe.” There is no scrutiny whatsoever in relation to the size of the control areas, how they would operate and who would decide that. It is far too late. SNP members should be uncomfortable in their seats today in voting with the Tories for amendment 157, but some of them should be more uncomfortable than others: those who represent areas where working people are being pushed out, where families are being priced out of their communities and where communities are being hollowed out by a largely unregulated industry.
Amendment 156 would make a small but important change. I commend Andy Wightman for his work and I hope that the constituents of the members who vote against his amendment hold those members to account at the next opportunity.
Andy Wightman has done exactly the right thing on the issue and he has support from a great number of people across Scotland. He has worked diligently to address the real concerns that have been raised by constituents in areas where short-term lets are impacting on the lives of people in the community. Those issues are very real in Edinburgh. I doubt whether there is any representative of the city in the chamber today who has not had representations on the impact of short-term lets.
Short-term lets are an issue not just in Edinburgh but across the world. Last year, I was in Barcelona, where there is a massive movement reacting against short-term lets. Today, the Government and the Tories are coalescing to dismiss the concerns of the people and communities whose lives are affected by the sector. No one is saying that Airbnb and the like should not exist, but we have to ensure that they are regulated and that local authorities, who know their local housing markets, are the regulatory bodies.
Working-class people are being driven out of Edinburgh because they cannot afford to live here. Representatives of the city need to look at themselves in the mirror. I have seen at first hand the growing social movement across the world against such letting. That movement will come here and it will grow here. This debate is just a marker for what will happen because, the more that people are driven from the communities where they should be living, the bigger the reaction will be against such letting. The Tories and the SNP should take note.
I, too, thank Andy Wightman for his efforts on the subject. It is well recognised that he has brought his knowledge to the Parliament, which is to be welcomed.
In my view, Rachael Hamilton’s amendment 157 is a wrecking amendment. Unfortunately, it prioritises—although no more than that—the tourism industry over the rights of individual residents. Rachael Hamilton wants to deal with short-term lets in pressured areas. However, the amendment does not affect the blight that some short-term lets have on residents who do not live in the so-called pressured areas. As we have heard, short-term lets can still cause immense problems for residents who are not in pressured areas.
I listened carefully to Rachael Hamilton. It has been made clear that the control areas are meant to cover pressured areas. Amendment 157 kicks the can down the road on what is an important issue that we should have addressed a long time ago. I was pleased that Andy Wightman addressed the issue, so it is disappointing that the Government, in coalition with the Conservatives, is going to push through amendment 157.
I have a sense of déjà vu because, in the third session of Parliament, such things always happened. I inform members who were not here in that session that the SNP Government and the Conservative Party always got together to push things through. [
.] I am only stating what happened. Conservative members should take credit where it is due. In a way, I am congratulating them for the influence that they had over the SNP Administration. [
I am astonished at the kick-back that I seem to be getting. The smiles from the front benches are amusing, I have to say.
We used to accuse the UK Government of kicking the can down the road on Brexit. Amendment 157 kicks the can down the road by—yet again—providing for Government regulations. I have never thought it a good idea to leave regulations to ministers. It is our role in this Parliament to put what we think is right in bills and not to kick the can down the road and leave it to Government ministers to produce regulations that we cannot amend.
I am of course very aware of concerns in certain parts of the country and particularly here in Edinburgh about the effects on local communities of houses and flats being used for short-term lets. We need to consider how to address those concerns without undermining the economic benefits of tourism, particularly in parts of the country where there is a wish to increase the amount of holiday accommodation.
Let me be clear on a number of points. First, Mr Wightman said that what he is proposing is a “modest change”, but amendment 156 would require a significant number of new applications, costing applicants up to £4.6 million and planning authorities up to £1.7 million.
No. I will finish what I am saying first.
It is for planning authorities to determine what constitutes a material change of use of any property. It is Mr Wightman’s opinion that a change of use from sole or main residence to short-term let should always be considered material, but that position is not universally taken in planning decisions and appeals. A lot depends on the location of the property, the impact on amenity, and housing availability in the area, which is not the same in all parts of Scotland.
This is one of the issues that has bedevilled the conversation. The minister produced a revised financial memorandum that talked about millions of pounds. However, the only people who can determine whether a change is material are planning authorities, and therefore planning applications are required in all instances—that is the case now and would be if amendment 156 were agreed to.
The minister says so in his own consultation paper, “Short-Term Lets: Consultation on a regulatory framework for Scotland”, which was issued in April 2019. He says:
“There is no definition of what constitutes a material change of use from residential to short-term letting. Whether a material change of use has occurred, and planning permission is therefore required, is a matter of fact and degree for the relevant planning authority to consider on a case-by-case basis.”
Therefore, the applications that we are talking about should all be coming into the planning authority anyway, and amendment 156 would make no difference to the volume.
That argument has been rehearsed in my office on a number of occasions. Mr Wightman will not shift in his opinion—I repeat, “his opinion”—on all this.
Let me move on. Separately from the bill, the First Minister announced a Scottish Government consultation on short-term lets on 29 April, which will run until 19 July. The consultation paper calls for views on the regulation of short-term lets to enable councils to control the number of lets and ensure that such properties make a contribution to the services that they use, with appropriate regulation and enforcement. The intention is to help to deliver our programme for government commitment to give local authorities the powers that they need to balance the needs of their communities with the economic benefits of short-term lets.
We have heard a lot today from Edinburgh members about what is right for Edinburgh. That does not surprise me in the least, but this is not a Scotland-wide difficulty.
That is why I support Rachael Hamilton’s amendment 157, which gives different local authorities, and parts of them, flexibility. What is right for Portree might not be right for Caithness—as I have found out in conversations with members—and what is right for Aberdeen city might not be right for parts of Aberdeenshire. That is why the localism and flexibility in Rachael Hamilton’s amendment are needed. That approach would allow planning authorities to consider the impact of short-term lets in every part of their area, to implement measures where needed, and to exercise their local knowledge and judgment to address short-term letting proportionately. It is always frustrating when members speak out in favour of localism but, when it comes to the crunch, are often willing to vote against it. That does not wash with me.
I do not support Andy Wightman’s amendment 156, or amendments 157A to 157E, which would wrap around short-term let control areas to perpetuate the situation in which all short-term lets across Scotland would require permission for change of use.
Amendment 219 would bring the provisions of section 11B into effect six months after royal assent, and would leave landlords and planning authorities very little time to prepare for the changes, whichever version of section 11B is agreed to.
I therefore call on members to reject the amendments in this group that are in the name of Mr Wightman and to support amendments 157 and 159, which are in the name of Rachael Hamilton.
I am beyond despair at this debate. We have properties in this city, in Aberdeen, in Portree—I know that there is a problem in Portree, because my mother lives there—and right across Scotland for which people have not applied for planning consent and for which they should be applying for planning consent. Nothing in my amendment 156 changes the fact that they should be applying. It merely makes it easier to identify the circumstances in which they should, and it prevents planning officers from having to stand at properties and gateways working out who is coming and going.
I have two examples of unregulated flats in this city. One was occupied by an 83-year-old woman who is the last resident in her stair. She keeps her front door open—not the main door on the road. One day a naked woman ran in, followed by a naked man. They had sex in front of her in her living room. They were followed by another naked man who ran in and shouted, “You are in the wrong flat.” That is the kind of breakdown in social order in places that people regard as home that short-term lets are causing.
In another case, a fifth-year pupil who needed to pass her English exam to get into university got no sleep because there was a bunch of what were probably rugby fans partying all night in the flat above her. She failed her exam and did not get into university. That is why I feel passionately—as do many other members—that a more effective solution is required in the planning system, in which the means already exist.
This debate has been bedevilled by misinformation. Rachael Hamilton talked about flexibility and Michelle Ballantyne about localism. Nowhere in the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Scotland) Order 1997, the Planning (Scotland) Bill, or the 1997 act is any planning authority allowed to opt out of planning law. The flexibility comes in plans and policies.
I have in my hand a report from Glasgow City Council that says that an enforcement action is necessary regarding use of a “flatted dwelling” that
“is contrary to policy CDP10 (Meeting Housing Needs) and Supplementary Guidance SG11 (Meeting Housing Needs), contained within the City Development Plan, adopted in March 2018.”
Glasgow City Council has designated areas of the city—which it can call short-term let control areas if it wants—in which it has said that there shall be no short-term lets. That has been done through plans and policies. If Aberdeen, Portree or Paisley wants lots of those areas, they are free to have them. Nothing in my amendment prevents that.
Given that the minister has a consultation on this very area, is it not advisable to wait for the results and end up with a much better situation, as there is in Paris, where an Airbnb let has to be the main residence, is only let for a third of the year and has to be registered? Is there not a possibility that we could get a much better system?
I thank the member for that intervention, but I am not sure that she has read the consultation. It is on a proposal to licence the operators, not any changes to planning law. The approach is just like the approach that is taken in relation to alcohol licensing: the first box that you have to tick if you want to have an alcohol licence is to confirm that you have planning permission for the premises from which you intend to operate.
The situation will be resolved by the use of a more effective planning regime that determines whether those uses can take place and then by a licensing regime that makes sure that the operator is a fit and proper person. I welcome the approach that has been taken in Glasgow.
This process has been disappointing, to put it mildly. Promises to work together have been broken. In fact, I was told that Rachael Hamilton’s original amendment—amendment 1, which was lodged in December—was not even endorsed by her party. I first became aware of amendment 157 when it was handed to me by a Conservative MSP, minutes before I was due to have a meeting with representatives of the short-term let industry. Worse still, they had been given a copy of it before I had. I was put in the rather strange position of knowing nothing about what was in the amendment while the representatives of the short-term let industry, who had flown up from London, knew all about it and thought that it was a wonderful compromise.
It is no surprise that the Conservative Party’s tourism spokesperson had nine meetings with the industry and has lodged one amendment to the bill. I had six such meetings, during which I worked hard to find some changes that would address industry concern—
The Presiding Officer:
I note that the member wishes to correct the record. There are a number of methods by which that can be done, and they are open to both members. In this case, she has alerted the member to her feelings about the matter and it will be up to Andy Wightman to decide whether to take action.
I thank Rachael Hamilton for that intervention. I have examined the lobbying register and I am happy to share with her the nine occasions on which she met the industry. She has not met Airbnb nine times; she has met the wider industry nine times.
I worked hard with the industry. We were even at the point where we had agreed drafting changes, and then, four weeks ago, amendment 157 landed in front of us.
Airbnb, HomeAway and all the other companies have lobbied hard against the regulation of this out-of-control industry all across the world, and they have got what they want: an anodyne amendment that is worse than the status quo and which requires further regulations by ministers, which will no doubt be the target of further industry lobbying with the aim of watering them down.
From conversations that I have had with planning officials, constituents in Lothian and people throughout Scotland—including in Portree—I know that the reform that is proposed by amendment 156 would be welcome. Unfortunately, it has been sabotaged by an amendment in the name of Borders-based Tory MSP Rachael Hamilton, with the connivance of the SNP Government. Her amendment is designed to restrict my modest reform to short-term let control areas, which, as I say, would result in a situation that is worse than the status quo.
I stood up before to say that I had empathy with Mr Wightman. I have read everything that he has sent around, and I had a huge amount of empathy with the issue. On a personal level, I debated with myself between the two options. However, the way that he is phrasing his argument now has lost my empathy.
Mr Wightman started his contribution by saying that what he is asking for already exists and that, under planning law, everyone who has a short-term let should already be applying to the authorities. However, if that is the case—personally, having looked at the issue, I do not necessarily agree with that point—the authorities have not enforced that. He is now saying that they all want the provision that he is proposing because it would help them. However, if, as he has been arguing, they already have that power, why have they not been using it? I am now thoroughly confused about what Mr Wightman’s position is.
I think that the Conservatives have been confused about this all the way along. The Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Scotland) Order 1997 cites 11 use classes of property, including businesses, residential institutions, assembly and leisure premises and so on. Short-term lets are a sui generis use class—they exist outwith those 11 classes. That means that, prima facie, they constitute a change of use, and only planning authorities can make a determination about whether that change of use is material, which would mean that, in all instances, a planning application is required.
One of the problems that we have in this city—I know that it is a problem in Portree, too—is that people are operating and changing use illegally. That is why there are so many enforcement actions. That is why Glasgow is doing what it is doing—and it is doing it effectively, because it has good plans and policies. All that I am arguing for, as Kezia Dugdale said, is a modest reform to remove the difficult-to-apply materiality test.
I will wind up. The short-term let industry has run a sustained campaign of misinformation and downright lies about the impact of amendment 156. It has frightened folk in this city and across Scotland who are just letting out a room in their homes into believing that I was intent on shutting down their enterprises. I know that, because they wrote to me with that concern. I was pleased to correct the record and say that amendment 156 would have nothing to do with them.
It is deeply disappointing that I have been unable to secure improvements in the planning system for those who are affected by the blight of short-term lets. SNP and Tory MSPs might be pleased with themselves this week, but I will continue to fight to defend the residents of Scotland in every way that I can.
The Presiding Officer:
Before we move to the question on amendment 156, I point out that, if amendment 156 is agreed to, I will not be able to call amendment 157 or any of the amendments to amendment 157—that is, amendments 157A, 157B, 157C, 157D and 157E.
The question is, that amendment 156 be agreed to. Are we agreed?
The Presiding Officer:
The result of the division is: For 87, Against 33, Abstentions 2.
Amendment 157 agreed to.
I point out to members that the debate on the previous group was a long one and we are running slightly behind.
Group 20 is on assessment of health effects.
Amendment 198, in the name of Monica Lennon, is the only amendment in the group.
I refer members to my entry in the register of interests: I am a member of the Royal Town Planning Institute Scotland.
At stage 2, I argued strongly that planning has a unique role in protecting and improving public health, and I presented a number of ideas to maximise the potential of the Planning (Scotland) Bill to make a real difference. I successfully amended the bill to allow an assessment of the “likely health effects” of “national ... or major” developments to be considered
“before planning permission ... is granted”.
That is a requirement on Scottish ministers to make regulations, and amendment 198 is an add-on that would strengthen that.
Amendment 198 sets out what the regulations should take account of. I will run through that as briefly as I can. I stress that the amendment is about making sure that public health is central to the planning system. It would add to the requirements on major and national developments, and is not about small-scale or household applications.
Amendment 198 includes consideration of “walking and cycling routes”, “access to ... greenspace” and “play and recreation facilities”. I have lodged the amendment because the health of people in Scotland must be to the fore when we are planning our communities. I think that we would all agree that that must include physical health and mental health, and that it has to be done in a way that also tackles health inequalities.
What would the assessment do? It would look at things such as the provision of “infrastructure, including housing quality”. All colleagues will know from their case work that poor-quality housing, in which people are living in homes that are cold and hard to heat, that are damp or cramped or that have little outdoor space, can have a negative impact on health. Respiratory problems come up a lot, so that needs to be taken into account in large-scale developments.
On transportation, the requirement would be to consider active travel, “public transport provision” and “car dependency”. Members will recognise that the benefits of active travel go far beyond the positive physical impacts. Walking and cycling are good for our mental health, better for the environment and reduce transport costs.
Members might be wondering why we need amendment 198. It is because we cannot take for granted that those matters are being properly addressed under the current system. Last year,
Scottish Housing News covered a report entitled “Progress on low car neighbourhoods in Scotland”. It found that housing developers are locking people into unhealthy and expensive car dependency by failing to provide infrastructure and failing to enable access to healthier travel options including walking, cycling and car sharing.
Access to healthcare came up a lot at stage 2; I know that it is important to members. When I was working as a planner and we talked about infrastructure, that often concerned drainage and roads, for example, and was not so much about healthcare. However, I know, from speaking to colleagues from across the chamber, that, increasingly, people in new housing find that they cannot get general practitioner appointments and that GPs are closing their waiting lists. That is why consultation of the national health service and the chief medical officer, which we discussed yesterday, is really important. We are not joining up systems.
Amendment 198 is about healthcare services and the opportunities that we need to provide in communities. We talk about building units—as house builders do—or houses, but what we actually need to build are communities. The amendment is about how we can build strong, resilient and cohesive communities that bring people together and create opportunities for participation, so that we do not see an increase in the social isolation and loneliness that exist at the moment.
Another healthcare issue that came up at stage 2 was access to public toilets, which some colleagues thought was not for the planning system to consider in great detail. Many members have raised the issue. Because of poor and limited access to public toilets, some people with disabilities are not able to get out and participate in our communities, and there are particular issues for women and older people. We want that to be looked at.
Amendment 198 would also require that regulations consider green space and children’s play areas. We know that access to green space has a positive impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing, and that play is vital for children’s development and wellbeing. The aim is, therefore, to put such matters at the heart of decision making in planning. We must give people the right opportunities to live healthy lifestyles, including making choices to cycle, walk, access green space, play and be active in their communities. Planning has the power to do that.
Amendment 198 has the potential to contribute positively to public health and to improve the health and wellbeing of all our communities.
I cannot support amendment 198. Its list of matters to be considered is too prescriptive and should not be set in stone without further consideration and consultation.
Although all the items in the list are clearly valuable in the right circumstances, the wording of amendment 198 means that all of them would have to be considered in every health impact assessment. The World Health Organization is clear that screening and scoping should be used to ensure that such assessments are appropriate to a proposed development.
The Scottish Government’s public health reform agenda is considering place and public health reform, and the place principle. The place principle is a key consideration for planning, and it is about services and assets coming together to deliver better outcomes for the people in an area. We expect that work to inform regulations on health impact assessments. It would therefore be premature to include a set of criteria for the regulations at this stage. I therefore ask members not to support amendment 198.
This afternoon, there has been some talk about the Government’s having accepted Tory and other amendments. In that regard, I note that, apart from the amendments that were lodged by Rhoda Grant, all the Scottish Labour Party’s amendments were lodged in the final two days that were available for doing so, when it had had seven months in which to discuss its ideas with us, if it had wished to do so. In many cases, it chose not to do that. That is why the Government has not supported some of Labour’s amendments. We have supported many of Rhoda Grant’s amendments because of the time that was available to communicate about them and to get things right. I cannot force members to come and engage with the Government, but some have done so and the bill has benefited from the resulting communication.
I do, Presiding Officer.
I want to pick up on the minister’s final point. I am very privileged to be a member of the Local Government and Communities Committee, which considered the bill at stage 2. As someone who worked as a planner for 12 years, across industry and in the public sector, I find it very disappointing that the minister had meetings with selected MSPs, which amounts to cherry picking. [
No, I want to continue. I will let the minister back in in a moment, if he would care to sit down for a second.
I see in the public gallery people who care very deeply about these issues. Andy Wightman and I—with others, including Graham Simpson—worked very hard and in good faith to find points of agreement. However, as we have seen during the past two days, we have obviously been betrayed by Graham Simpson—[
.] When other colleagues and I had individual meetings, the minister did not come to them with an open mind, so I feel that the minister has been very selective. I am sure that Rhoda Grant is very grateful that he picked her out, but Labour members are a team and we are very—[
No, no, no.
The planning bill actually matters to people in communities—some of them are in the gallery. I think that the minister will reflect on stage 2 and will know fine well that he was very selective about what he was willing to discuss. He had a closed mind on equal rights of appeal, which we will get to.
On amendment 198, which we are talking about now, the minister’s response was pitiful and showed how timid the Government is when it comes to the opportunity actively to transform the planning system. If we step back and look at the many challenges that the country is facing, we hear about record levels of investment in the NHS and record workforce levels, but people’s health is not improving. It is outcomes that matter. I do not know where the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport is, but she will know that Audit Scotland is saying—
Ms Lennon is quite incorrect to say that people’s health in Scotland is not improving. I advise her to look at the statistics and to understand health in Scotland before she makes such random comments.
I do not think that it is “random” to care about the health inequalities that persist in Scotland. Despite successive health secretaries, we are not seeing real improvement. In fact, we have the Auditor General warning that the future of the NHS is not sustainable. Let us join systems up and see what we can do through the planning system to help people to live longer and to live well in their communities.
We have well-established frameworks for environmental impact assessments. I am sure that the education secretary—to whom the minister is talking—knows much more about this, but if the minister cares to listen for a moment, he will hear me ask why, if we can do environmental impact assessments, we cannot do health impact assessments to the same standard.
The minister talked about amendment 198 being overly prescriptive, but we cannot leave such matters to chance. I am very disappointed that the minister is not willing to accept or support amendment 198, which is simply an add-on to the bill that would clarify what we expect in all our planning authorities. Communities want such transparency. How else is the minister going to satisfy colleagues such as Alex Cole-Hamilton and Iain Gray, who know from their communities of examples of people being unable to get a GP appointments? They have the keys to a shiny new house, but they cannot see a doctor.
I would be happy to give way on that. The minister is shaking his head, but what I described is the reality. We need practical solutions. I am willing to give way to the minister, but—
Ms Lennon will give way, so I will intervene. She has spoken “eloquently”—I put that in inverted commas—about the health effects related to housing developments, but not all national and major developments are housing developments. How would amendment 198 fit in with and be relevant to infrastructure projects on flood prevention or renewable energy?
I make the point again that Ms Lennon chose not to engage. If she had engaged, we might have come up with an amendment that was workable. Unfortunately, she chose, once again, not to engage.
I do not remember receiving an invitation, but I would say—[
.] We are not here to discuss diary issues, but I would say that I have worked with and I still know—[
The Presiding Officer:
Thank you. [
.] One second, members. I am conscious of the time and I am afraid that we are running rather behind schedule, so before we move to the vote on amendment 198, I say to the Minister for Parliamentary Business and Veterans that, under rule 9.8.5A, I am minded to accept a motion without notice to extend the time limit by up to 30 minutes.
The Presiding Officer:
I will put the question again, and I will make sure that extra condiments are put outside for Mr Lyle to keep his blood sugar up.
The question is, that the motion be agreed to.
Motion agreed to,
That, under Rule 9.8.5A, the time limit be extended by up to 30 minutes.
The question is, that amendment 198 be agreed to. Are we agreed?
The Presiding Officer:
The result of the division is: For 32, Against 90, Abstentions 0.
Amendment 198 disagreed to.
Amendment 128 moved—[Kevin Stewart]—and agreed to.
Group 21 is on renewable energy infrastructure. Amendment 199, in the name of Claudia Beamish, is grouped with amendments 203, 220 and 221.
The aim of amendment 199 is to require renewable energy infrastructure to be included in commercial and domestic new-builds over a certain scale, as is highlighted in the amendment, after a certain date. I have used the Town and Country Planning (Hierarchy of Developments) (Scotland) Regulations 2009 definition of “major development”, which refers to housing, business and general industry.
Amendment 199 builds on the one that I was delighted to have passed at stage 2, which obliges local authorities to consider renewable energy in the formulation of local development plans. I am clear that in this climate emergency, it is imperative that the Scottish Government sets clear guidelines about what is acceptable in relation to how our dwellings and commercial properties are heated and lit. However, I have not gone as far as to lodge an amendment to say that every newly built house and commercial building must have only renewable energy installed, tempting as that was. That would be the obvious and logical next step, and nothing in amendment 199 prevents that from happening in the near future.
In relation to larger developments, Scottish ministers would, by regulations, require an application for planning permission for a major development to include renewable energy infrastructure. Regulations to meet the aims of amendment 199 would have to be drafted and laid before Parliament two years after royal assent. That would give the construction industry time to plan for the deadline, and sends a clear signal to manufacturers about where they should be going in the climate emergency.
The shift could be part of the just transition with appropriate strategic planning and relevant training strategies developed.
There is also a consequential amendment to make the regulations subject to the affirmative procedure.
The amendment is supported by Scottish Renewables, which agrees that it would give important support to small-scale renewable energy projects, such as solar photovoltaic and hydro, and Scotland’s renewable heat industry.
Amendment 203 would remove the requirement for planning permission for small-scale renewables. Certain small-scale renewable developments would automatically be permitted development and so would not need planning permission. For the purposes of the provision, “small-scale renewables” would mean renewable sources of energy
“including ... anaerobic digestion, biomass ... solar, wind or water with a total power output of 20 megawatts or less.”
I stress that the amendment says “including”. The crucial element is that it is an accurate description of what constitutes “small-scale renewables” from the Renewables Obligation (Scotland) Order 2009.
Ministers would by regulations be able to set appropriate exemptions, for a listed building or a property in a conservation area, for example.
The permitted development system is under the development orders that ministers can make under section 30 of the 1997 act. In terms of precedent, some amendments at stage 2 sought to piggyback on that system as a way to say that planning permission should be granted automatically or could not be classed as permitted development in certain circumstances. An example is John Finnie’s amendment 164 on Gypsy Traveller sites.
I have included regulation-making powers for Scottish ministers to adjust exemptions and circumstances as they see fit, and the whole amendment is subject to the affirmative procedure through consequential amendment 221.
Amendment 203 is also supported by Scottish Renewables, which notes that the small-scale renewables sector urgently needs attention in response to the closure of the feed-in tariff and the limited utility of the smart export guarantee.
I hope that the Scottish Government can lend a hand in this area. In this climate emergency, I hope that all members will accept the necessity of supporting this straightforward amendment, which would enable a speedy, reasonable and proportionate way for residents to transfer to ways of heating and lighting their homes that contribute to the transformational change that we all need to act on as we shift to net zero emissions.
I move amendment 199.
The Scottish Government is fully committed to ensuring that the planning system contributes to achieving a net zero economy. Although I commend the intentions behind amendments 199 and 221 on renewable energy infrastructure, I cannot support the introduction of provisions that could add complexity and regulatory burden and which cut across the proper consultation and public engagement that is already under way. That engagement includes a review of the energy standards in the Scottish building regulations, and we are considering next steps to further enhance the energy performance of buildings, which will include investigation of the continuing role of renewable technologies to deliver new buildings that have very low energy demand and emissions. It would be inappropriate to pre-empt the outcomes of the review with primary legislation that could not then be changed without a further bill.
Amendments 203 and 220 seek to impose a requirement on ministers to introduce permitted development rights for renewable energy infrastructure for both domestic and non-domestic properties. However, permitted development rights are already in place for the majority of technologies that are listed, and we have previously consulted on others.
Further, the amendments seek to introduce permitted development rights for developments that could fall within the category of major developments, such as a 20 megawatt wind farm. Such permitted development rights would remove public consultation, including pre-application consultation, if they were to be progressed.
We have already committed to consulting on a work programme to expand permitted development rights following this bill, alongside a sustainability appraisal that has been progressed with input from a wide range of stakeholders. We should not pre-empt the outcome of that consultation.
Through energy efficient Scotland, we are putting in place a regulatory framework to make it the norm to invest in improving energy efficiency and reducing emissions from existing buildings. We are also taking steps to strengthen our policy framework for low-carbon heat and will publish a heat decarbonisation policy statement and action plan in summer 2020.
In short, the amendments cut across a wide range of work that is already under way to support renewable energy infrastructure. I ask Ms Beamish not to press them. She can be assured that I will continue to engage with her on the issues, as I have done in the past.
I find it perplexing that the minister has said that my amendment on small-scale renewables would, if I understand him correctly, make for more complexity. I am attempting to make things much simpler for people, particularly for the many constituents of mine who are off grid and want to move to low-carbon sources of heat and light but who have found that they would have to go through quite onerous processes in order to do so.
I do not really understand why the minister made those comments. I am hoping that he will make an intervention, to explain his point of view.
Again, if there had been earlier discussion on the issues, we could have got it right. As it stands, Claudia Beamish’s amendments would make things much more complex in some cases at points where we want to get rid of complexity.
That illustrates why it is always good to talk at early stages about issues, so that we can help to get it right.
I will not press the amendment, because it is not something that should be voted down. I am disappointed by what the minister has said. In the lead-up to the bill, I have worked on other issues with the minister, his ministerial colleagues and others, and I would be prepared to work in that way again. Frankly, I lodged the amendment at a lateish stage because I thought that it was quite straightforward.
I am not prepared to have the amendment voted down. I will have dialogue with the minister about what can be done in the future.
The minister highlighted a point about the building regulations—I was keenly aware of it, which made me hesitate about whether to lodge an amendment on the larger-scale infrastructure that I have argued for. I am aware that issues in the building regs will be consulted on, and that gives me some cause for optimism.
Amendment 199, by agreement, withdrawn.
The Presiding Officer:
The result of the division is: For 87, Against 32, Abstentions 0.
Amendment 129 agreed to.
Group 22 is on determination of applications: brownfield land. There will be a short break after this group. Amendment 130, in the name of Kevin Stewart, is the only amendment in the group.
I fully recognise the importance of the green belt. Our policy for it is set out in the Scottish planning policy and planning authorities have a key role in applying it locally. Naturally, we would expect that anyone who wants to develop in the green belt would set out how their proposals fit with national and local policies, and the planning authority would take that into account in making its decision.
However, there are many problems with Mr Cole-Hamilton’s approach. It is very restrictive, definitions are unclear, and it could effectively ban all development in the green belt.
The green belt is important, but it is not a blanket restriction on development.
I look forward to hearing the minister’s remarks to expand on his ludicrous claim that the provisions would lead to a complete ban of any development in the green belt. My amendment that was agreed to at stage 2 would merely force conversations to be had about the prioritisation of land use in any local authority area.
That is not what Mr Cole-Hamilton’s amendment said.
The green belt is important, but it is not a blanket restriction on development. For example, w hat would happen if someone who lives in the green belt wanted to extend their home in a modest way? Should there be a ban on sensitively designed car parks that allow people to access the countryside around our cities? Perhaps most worrying, it could lead to councils reducing their green belts and creating new, more flexible designations to allow for appropriate and necessary development.
I fully expect that, as we take forward our review of the national planning framework, we will have a proper debate on the future role of green belts in Scotland. I also expect that we will closely consider the issues of greenfield versus brownfield development. In the meantime, to avoid imposing on authorities, residents and businesses an overly restrictive and unworkable set of requirements, I call on members to support amendment 130 to remove section 14D from the bill.
I move amendment 130.
Thus far in the debate, the minister has admonished several members for not coming to the table to discuss the workability of amendments that are before this Parliament. He said that my approach in section 14D goes too far, y et he has made no overtures to me to talk about making it workable or finding an amendment that would deliver on what I sought to do at stage 2.
I will take the opportunity to address a number of the points that the minister made in his remarks in support of amendment 130. He said that it would be impossible for somebody who lives on green-belt land to build an extension. However, my amendment stated that the developer has to demonstrate why it would not be possible to make that development on existing brownfield land—if a homeowner is looking to build an extension, and does not own the brownfield land that might be available several miles from their house, it would be impossible to build their extension on that brownfield land.
We created the concept of green-belt and brownfield land for a reason. The section that I introduced was in response to a problem that is particular, but not unique, to Edinburgh. Over the past decade, my constituency of Edinburgh Western has experienced a rampant proliferation of housing development, some of it on greenfield land and some of it on much-loved natural heritage land. Liberal Democrats are not instinctively or ideologically opposed to housing—we recognise that Edinburgh needs new housing and we support the growth of Edinburgh’s housing. However, it must be in the right spaces and provided on an intelligent basis.
Just two weeks ago, the SNP-led administration on the City of Edinburgh Council, along with members of other parties, green-lighted a much-unwanted development on the Cammo estate that will see a loss of much-loved areas of natural heritage. I should add that they are not green belt—but that is only because the SNP-led administration changed their designation in 2016. The garden district at the Gyle—again, green-lighted by the City of Edinburgh Council—will see the proliferation of 2,000 homes on areas that are already designated as green belt.
We need to engender discussions around the issue. We cannot have just a lip-service commitment to the idea of green belt or brownfield while there is no legislative imperative for councils to receive representations from developers as to why there is no way of building on a brownfield site. There are many deindustrialised areas in Edinburgh that are crying out for regeneration, and for the development of much-needed houses for mid-market rent and social housing. Frankly, developers are cynically not considering those houses, because they know that they can build mansions on greenfield land in my constituency instead.
I therefore ask members to reject amendment 130. Section 14D is important for instilling a conversation about the use of greenfield at a planning level. It does not lead to a ban on any development whatsoever on greenfield land. I ask the Parliament to reject the minister’s amendment.
Although I supported Alex Cole-Hamilton at stage 2, this is an example of where we need to consider what we have passed. It comes down to the words that are in the bill at the moment, which I will read out. The section states:
“Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1), where an application is made to a planning authority for planning permission for development on land designated as green belt land, a planning authority may not grant planning permission—
(a) if the applicant has not included in the application for planning permission a statement setting out—
(i) why the development cannot be achieved on land the planning authority consider brownfield land”.
So, let us think about that extension—how will that be managed? The section also requires the statement to set out
“(ii) the brownfield land that was considered and why it was not considered suitable to the development”.
The person therefore has to show that they considered a piece of brownfield land. How on earth is that achievable in the case of a small-scale extension or a conservatory?
The point was made by the minister that anyone living on green-belt land who had an existing house and who wanted to build an extension would have to make a representation to the council as to why it was impossible for them to build on brownfield land. The argument that they would make to the local authority, quite reasonably, is “That brownfield land is not attached to my house.”
I simply read the provisions that were passed at stage 2, which refer to
“the brownfield land that was considered”.
Therefore, a piece of brownfield land has to have been considered if someone wants to extend their house. I am not against the principle of what Alex Cole-Hamilton was trying to achieve, but this is another example of where members just have to accept that they perhaps did not get things quite right at stage 2. I have done that.
I know that people have been trying to contact Alex Cole-Hamilton to discuss the matter. He could have requested a meeting with the minister, but it appears that he did not do so. That is to be regretted. We could have had improvements, rather than voting the provisions down.
We have to work with what we have. Section 14D requires that planning authorities could not approve any application for development that was
“likely to have an adverse effect on any intrinsic natural or cultural heritage value of the proposed green belt land.”
That is a very high bar and it allows authorities to consider the benefits of the proposals—for example, facilitating access to the countryside.
Section 14D would also conflict with section 25 of the 1997 act, which sets out that decisions should be made in accordance with the development plan
“unless material considerations indicate otherwise”.
Planning authorities must have the discretion to appropriately weigh up relevant issues in making decisions.
Beyond that, definitions, as are, are unclear in section 14D. There is no statutory definition of “brownfield land”, and local authorities are not required to designate it, so it is not clear how an applicant could know what land is considered to be brownfield by the planning authority.
There is also a difference between designated green-belt land and greenfield land. There can be brownfield land in a green belt—for example, old quarries or derelict farms, which could very well benefit from redevelopment.
As it stands, section 14D is a guddle. I ask members to back amendment 130 to remove it.
The Presiding Officer:
Apologies to Mr Rumbles, whose light went on just as I called the minister to speak. I have called every other member wishing to contribute.
I will sum up shortly about where we have reached. Before doing that, I will put the question on amendment 130.
The question is, that amendment 130 be agreed to. Are we agreed?
The Presiding Officer:
The result of the division is: For 88, Against 32, Abstentions 0.
Amendment 130 agreed to.
I point out that, altogether, we are five and a half hours into our stage 3 proceedings. Members might have noted that we have passed the extended agreed time limit by another five minutes, so I exercise my power under rule 9.8.4A to allow the debate on the group to continue.
Members should note that we are roughly 35 minutes behind schedule, but we might catch up some of that time. We will still take a short break of up to 10 minutes, but if members are back before that time, we will start sooner.
16:25 Meeting suspended.
16:36 On resuming—
Group 23 is on the assessment of environmental effects. Amendment 200, in the name of Claudia Beamish, is grouped with amendments 181 and 219.
Amendments 200 and 219 aim to bring climate change considerations more firmly into the process of determining an application for planning permission for a national development. Amendment 200 states that, before planning permission is determined, a planning authority must consider
“the development’s lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions”,
and the impact that those will have on our emissions reduction targets.
Earlier, in speaking about amendment 186, which related to section 1, on the national planning framework, I mentioned amendment 219, as it is consequential to that earlier amendment and to amendment 200. Amendment 219 defines “lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions” as
“the emissions associated with the construction, operation and decommissioning of a development.”
In my view, that rounded approach is correct.
At stage 2, I lodged a similar amendment to amendment 200, but I have made adaptations following the minister’s comments. I have removed a reference to “major” developments, which is an improvement and will prevent duplication. As I said, I had a similar amendment to section 1, on the national planning framework, and amendment 200 can work alongside that. The duty in amendment 200 is placed on the planning authority.
Again, I highlight the context of the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill and the process of agreeing a target of net zero emissions by 2045, and the fact that the Government and other parties have declared a state of climate emergency in Scotland. In the light of that, national development proposals must be explicitly considered within that framework. The long-term cost implications and climate change impacts must be weighed up against potentially competing considerations, which may well be more short-term economic considerations. That can lead to an approach that is more aligned to sustainable development and it can help to guide us to make decisions that avoid investment that will not serve us well in future and could well lock in unsustainable developments in Scotland.
I move amendment 200.
At stage 2, I attempted to get through an amendment that was similar to amendment 181, but it was voted down by mistake when Monica Lennon voted the wrong way—she later admitted that it was an error. That was unfortunate.
However, if the amendment had been agreed to and its provisions included in the bill, I would have been proposing to change them because, as with the issue that we debated in the previous group of amendments, my stage 2 amendment went too far.
I have therefore brought the issue back in a different form. Amendment 181 establishes the principle that development needs to result in positive outcomes for biodiversity and should provide assurance to communities that decisions to approve development will be positive for nature.
We will not support amendment 200, in the name of Claudia Beamish. There are environmental impact provisions elsewhere in the bill—including the provisions that amendment 181 will insert, if it is agreed to. However, we support her amendment 219, which defines “lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions” as
“the emissions associated with the construction, operation and decommissioning of a development.”
There is an example of a brief speech, Presiding Officer.
I supported amendment 186, in the name of Claudia Beamish, which requires assessment of the life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions of national developments, as part of the preparation of the national planning framework. That is the right time to undertake such an assessment. To introduce the same requirement for individual planning applications relating to the same developments risks introducing duplication, uncertainty and delay. For that reason, I do not support amendments 200 and 219.
I support amendment 181, in the name of Graham Simpson. I lodged amendment 173, to provide that
“securing positive effects for biodiversity” will be a key outcome for the national planning framework. In addition, our strong track record in Scotland on environmental assessment means that consideration is given to biodiversity, where appropriate, in determining individual planning applications. I am happy to include the additional wording that amendment 181 offers.
I am disappointed that the minister is not prepared to accept amendment 200. If the national planning framework identifies concerns about the life-cycle emissions of developments, it is only logical and appropriate that those emissions should be assessed in the context of an individual planning application. The approach would put an onus on local authorities to carefully consider what they are doing in that regard. I will press amendment 200.
Amendment 168 concerns the pre-application consultation process for major developments. As I am sure many members are aware, the pre-application consultation is often the starting point—a very important one—for making sure that what is delivered, perhaps months or years later, is suitable and correct. The amendment calls for access panels, where they are available in a local authority, to be consulted at the pre-application stage. That is particularly in relation to major developments, because too often disability issues are not looked at or identified in an appropriate way. Planners and developers will talk about wheelchair access but, as we are all aware, disability is much wider than that, and the issues are often not addressed.
Amendment 168 would help developers and those who have disabilities to engage properly in the process, and I look forward to hearing what the minister has to say.
I move amendment 168.
The Scottish Government absolutely supports the principle of disabled people being involved in shaping the places where they stay, and I have introduced an amendment to require planning authorities to engage with disabled people early on their development plans.
However, I cannot support amendment 168 as it stands for a number of reasons. As I noted at stage 2, access panels are not statutory bodies, and not all authorities have access panels that cover the whole of their area. Mr Balfour’s amendment would require consultation after the application for a major development had been received by the planning authority, at which point it would be difficult to make any significant changes. Applications for major development include engineering works and energy projects, to which access panels might feel that they have little to add.
I consider that engaging disabled people at the pre-application stage on the right kind of developments will provide a better opportunity for access issues to be considered before finalised proposals are brought forward. We will bring forward proposals for changes to development management procedures, including pre-application consultation, following the completion of the scrutiny of the bill.
I am happy to commit that engaging with disabled people will be part of those proposals and that the Scottish Government will certainly highlight the role of access panels, where they exist, in that process. I ask Mr Balfour not to press amendment 168.