We will move straight on, as we are really short of time now. The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-17781, in the name of Kevin Stewart, on the Planning (Scotland) Bill.
For the purposes of rule 9.11 of the standing orders, I advise the Parliament that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Planning (Scotland) Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interests, in so far as they are affected by the bill, at the disposal of the Parliament for the purposes of the bill.
I am delighted that we have finally arrived at the stage 3 debate on the Planning (Scotland) Bill. A lot has happened since it was first introduced in December 2017. However, even now, after all this time and all the amendments, I am not yet tired of talking about planning and I am looking forward to the debate.
Scotland needs a world-class planning system. Planning affects all our interests in the long term. Our future economy, our communities and our environment can all benefit if we get the bill right. The original aim of the bill was to streamline the system so that planners could focus less on procedures and more on planning places for people.
The global thinker and pioneering town planner, Scotland’s own Patrick Geddes, said that planning should be about place, work and folk. There is no neater way to summarise the contribution that planning can make to supporting sustainable and inclusive growth. We need a planning system that understands what people need and want, that enables good-quality development and that is truly empowered to deliver great places.
When the review of the Scottish planning system started, it aimed to look at planning from a user’s perspective. It recognised that users of planning include other public sector interests, communities and individuals, as well as developers. Although the review set out to support housing delivery, the independent panel’s report was not an agenda for deregulation or a developer’s charter. By making the system more collaborative, it aimed to empower planning to deliver great places.
Following that direction of travel, we carried out a great deal of work before the bill was drafted, in which we involved the many different interests in planning to help to shape proposals for change. However, it was clear then, and it has been clear throughout the parliamentary process, that it is very difficult for everyone to agree on how the system can be improved. The bill was always going to be a challenge. Planning is an important, but often controversial, subject. It is complex, because communities are complex, and at times its jargon can seem impenetrable. For a time, the bill became a little bit complicated too, but after many hours of discussion and debate, I believe that we have achieved what we set out to do.
Planning is clearly of interest to us all, and many members have raised important issues that they want the bill to address. The number of amendments at stage 2, and indeed at stage 3, has been remarkable. As we near the end of the process, I believe that we have struck a good balance. The bill should be clear about what the Parliament wants planning to do, but it should also allow local flexibility to reflect local circumstances and the different needs of Scotland’s people and places.
The structural changes that the bill introduces will make planning much more straightforward, more open and better placed to respond to a changing world. The Parliament has made it clear that, as well as supporting sustainable and inclusive economic growth, planning can improve our quality of life and should be more open and accountable to the communities that we serve. Amendments have underlined the importance of planning for housing—including housing for older people and disabled folk—as well as for equalities and health. The bill will bring new powers to address issues such as short-term lets and the impact of new developments on music venues.
Patrick Geddes pioneered the concept of thinking globally and acting locally. Sustainable development is now an integral part of a newly defined purpose for planning, and I am pleased that there is a clear requirement to tackle climate change as a high-level outcome in the text of the bill. We know that planning should help us to make the most of our natural assets, and the bill reflects the importance of rural development, forestry, green space, play, environmental protection and built heritage. Those things are important: our places, our wellbeing and our economy depend on the health of our environment. Although we may have had different views on the best way of achieving those aims, it is very welcome that the Parliament has set out those priorities so clearly.
I have been very keen to ensure that the bill will empower communities to have a positive say in shaping their future. We have built in opportunities for everyone in society—including children and young people, Gypsy Travellers and disabled people—to be engaged in creating development plans.
We have put in place local place plans, and I have been quite clear from the very beginning that we do not want conflict at the end of the process—we want folk to be empowered at the beginning of the process and to have their views heard at that point.
Communities will have a new right to prepare local place plans, which planning authorities will need to take into account, as they do with the national planning framework. I am confident that communities from all backgrounds are willing and able to grasp the opportunity to plan their own places.
We have also put in place new arrangements to support improved performance in the planning system. I want everyone to be confident that members of planning authorities have the understanding to enable them to make sound decisions.
So here we are at the end of the road of the most amended bill in the Scottish Parliament’s history. For MSPs, the journey started in December 2017, when the bill was introduced, but for others, it started much earlier. Way back in September 2015, the Scottish Government appointed an independent panel to review the planning system. In May 2016, the panel published a statement and its final report “Empowering planning to deliver great places”, which contained 48 recommendations for reform over six main themes.
In January 2017, the Government issued a consultation paper called “Places, people and planning”, and the consultation ran until April 2017. A position statement was issued in June 2017 and the bill was introduced in December that year. That is when the problems started. MSPs got their hands on the bill, and the minister started having sleepless nights.
The Local Government and Communities Committee did not hold back in its stage 1 report on the bill in May last year—it criticised virtually every section. The then convener, Bob Doris, was swiftly moved on, along with Jenny Gilruth. James Dornan came in as the convener and faced a barrage of amendments—more than 300 of them—and seven weeks of watching the minister squirm, after which the minister described the bill as “a guddle”. He was right.
In the stage 1 debate, I said that the bill achieved the almost impossible by pleasing no one—not house builders, councils or the environment lobby. It was silent on the environment and did nothing to achieve growth or deliver the new homes that we desperately need. My approach to stage 3 was to try to rectify that—to sort out the guddle and end up with something that delivers for all. I think that we have done that.
I have listened over the past two and a bit days to some utter rubbish from Labour and the Greens, such as accusations of a stitch-up between us and the Scottish National Party and of deals being made.
Yesterday, Monica Lennon even accused me of betrayal. That is a strong word that I hope that she will reflect on. I worked well with Mrs Lennon and Andy Wightman at stage 2. I was looking forward to working with Monica Lennon’s replacement, Alex Rowley, but he showed no interest in that. He has not engaged; he has hidden away in his 1970s tribal Labour cave and not come out.
I will not take interventions from Labour members; we have heard more than enough from them in the past two days.
The housing needs of older and disabled people will be recognised in the planning system, thanks to Jeremy Balfour, Alexander Stewart and, I should mention, Kenny Gibson. Mr Balfour worked with Mary Fee to bring in amendments on changing places facilities. Alexander Stewart tightened up the procedure on the infrastructure levy, so that people will not pay twice for the same thing. Adam Tomkins introduced the agent of change principle into the bill and, on Tuesday, we had the unedifying spectacle of three middle-aged men trying to show their street cred by reeling off the names of music venues that they had heard of.
Rachael Hamilton’s amendment 157, on short-term lets, will give councils the power to crack down in areas where there is a problem, such as Edinburgh. Combined—I hope—with a tough licensing regime, that should make a difference.
I, too, have had a few successes. The national planning framework must now include targets for the use of land across Scotland. When preparing the NPF, ministers must now be given information about an area’s built heritage, its educational capacity and the population’s housing needs. There is also now a robust procedure so that Parliament can scrutinise the NPF.
Local development plans, which are the bread and butter of the planning system, must also refer to the built heritage, and the housing needs of the population of the area must be taken into account. Ministers must issue guidance to planning authorities on undertaking effective community engagement in relation to the local plans. The councils that are covered by the central Scotland green network should consult the network on their LDPs.
We have a purpose for planning—a concise one. We have the beginnings of a self-build revolution. We now have a requirement for housing land allocations to be agreed before they go into the plan, which should provide certainty for communities and those wanting to invest. Councils must tell people that they can prepare local place plans, and those same people can say which places are important to them in those plans. Biodiversity now features in the bill. Yesterday, even the Labour Party agreed to an amendment in my name that introduced mediation into the system, which will give communities a real say and will, I hope, avoid the conflict that mires the system at present.
We now have a bill that can deliver growth across Scotland, that is greener and that includes communities in the decisions that affect them. I commend this Tory-style bill to the Parliament.
In leading on the bill for Labour, I have asked myself what the big issues are for planning and development in Scotland. First, there is the lack of up-front finance for infrastructure, which is a major block to housing development that I have raised many times in the chamber. By infrastructure, I do not mean roads and utilities, although there are challenges with those; I mean schools and health and community facilities. In my mind, that issue is a major block to house building, but will the bill do anything to address it? No, it will not.
Secondly, there is a sense of alienation in communities across Scotland that have experienced the planning process. Will the bill do anything to address that? It most certainly will not. Thirdly, the planning system as it stands does little to support development and regeneration in town centres and post-industrial communities. Will the bill do anything to address that? No, it will not. Fourthly, the only people who seem to be in denial about the impact on our communities of short-term lets are the Tory and Scottish National Party members in the Parliament. Will the bill do anything about those concerns? Sadly, it will not. Fifthly, will the bill address the unacceptable level of cuts to finance and staffing in planning departments? No, it will not.
For all those reasons,
Scottish Labour will vote against the bill. Frankly, it has become a missed opportunity to deliver the real change that is desperately needed in the planning system. That is not to say that the bill has no positive elements. I am pleased that we have managed to secure amendments that will make a difference but, on the whole, the bill does not go anywhere near far enough. The planning system should be more engaging and should be used to empower people and communities, drive economic regeneration and protect an environment that we can all be proud. It is disappointing that neither SNP members nor the Tories seem willing to support legislation that can achieve that. Instead, they seem content to vote together to put through legislation that will not tackle the big problems that our country faces.
The bill will not solve our housing crisis or tackle the lack of a joined-up approach to government, and nor will it deliver a national house-building strategy, which is necessary. Instead, it is unambitious in its scope, which is disappointing, as it had the potential to do so much more. The bill could have transformed the way in which we plan our communities. It could have made our planning system less opaque and introduced a much-needed democratic element to our approach to planning. The bill was an opportunity to introduce a more balanced share of power between communities and developers. It could have brought communities and social change to the forefront but, sadly, the approach that has been taken instead is unambitious and is, in essence, business as usual.
The SNP and Tories were happy to vote together to block communities having a form of equal right of appeal in planning decisions. I lodged amendments that would have rebalanced power in the planning system and given communities and not just developers a right of appeal in order to level the playing field and make the system fairer for all. However, those amendments were not supported by Tory and SNP members, who seem quite content to lend their support to big developers, rather than to the communities that they are elected to represent.
To be honest, the bill has become an SNP and Tory stitch-up, and I hope that communities across the country remember that when they experience the planning process. Regretfully, because there have not been the required changes to ensure that the bill delivers a planning system that works in the interests of the many, Scottish Labour will vote against the Planning (Scotland) Bill today.
After many hours of debate and months of parliamentary procedure, we have reached the end of the road. Despite our differences along the way, I thank my colleagues on the Local Government and Communities Committee—particularly Alex Rowley and Monica Lennon—for their willingness to work together and for putting in substantial effort on the bill. We have had some fun along the way, too.
I also thank the minister and his officials for their constructive engagement on some issues in which my Green colleagues and I were interested. We secured important amendments on public toilets and water refill points, which took up some time at stage 2; Gypsy Travellers; air quality; open spaces; forestry strategies; and the purpose of planning.
At the third reading of the Town and Country Planning Bill in 1947, Lewis Silkin, who was Labour’s Minister of Town and Country Planning, noted that
“planning is concerned to secure that our limited land resources are used to the best advantage of the nation as a whole, and it provides for resolving the often conflicting claims upon any particular piece of land.”—[
, 20 May 1947; Vol 437, c 2196.]
Over the past few decades, the private developer, rather than the public authority, has become the prime mover in the planning system. As a result, public trust has broken down and been eroded, and powerful private interests and money have corrupted the public interest.
The bill provided an opportunity to fundamentally reform how planning works. Yes, we had the opportunity to streamline and simplify where possible but, more important, we could have delivered a decisive shift in favour of a proper plan-led planning system in which planners, elected members and communities can work together in a collaborative effort to shape the places where we live, work and play.
That ambition is about much more than legislation, and I note that a variety of excellent practice is taking place across Scotland to engage communities and to facilitate high-quality place making. However, the whole system still suffers from excessive complexity and, over the past 30 years, greater and greater emphasis has been placed on benefiting private interests.
Nowhere is that point more clear than in our collective failure, again, to reform appeal rights—not, I stress, to introduce a third-party right of appeal but to reform the whole system of appeals. In the committee’s stage 1 report, we were clear in our recommendation 224, which was agreed unanimously. It said:
“The Committee is conscious that the availability of appeals to applicants undermines confidence in a plan-led system. Appeals can be lodged free of charge and irrespective of whether an application is in accordance with the Development Plan. The Committee believes that in a plan-led system appeals should only be allowed in certain circumstances.”
As Dr Andy Inch from Planning Democracy said, the planning system
“is adversarial because of the discretion that exists at the end of the process, which, by and large, means that speculative development applications are put forward and people react to them.”—[
Local Government and Communities Committee
, 28 February 2018; c 46.]
An ambition to provide up-front planning has to be matched by the integrity of the plan. In such a scenario, no appeals should be allowed at all, and a properly considered determination should stand as the final word.
“a ‘root and branch’ review”,
“game-changing ideas for radical reform”.
When the independent panel reported back, planning minister Kevin Stewart welcomed the work, noting that it would
“help form the basis to kick-start a new, focussed and revitalised planning system.”
Instead, we were given a bill that delivered business as usual for the planning system and proposed a degree of centralisation that was quite alarming.
Does Mr Wightman recognise that the independent panel was not in favour of a third-party right of appeal and that, in the bill, we have followed its suggestion that we needed to do more up-front engagement?
I recognise that the panel rejected a third-party right of appeal, but it said nothing about the applicant’s right of appeal. It did not even look at that.
As we contemplate the bill in its final form, apart from a bit of tinkering around the edges, we see nothing that is radical or game changing, nothing to protect communities against their hollowing out by short-term lets, and nothing to bring the vandalism of hill tracks under democratic scrutiny.
At the heart of that failure is a failure of process. Had I been planning minister, here is how I would have proceeded: first, I would have convened cross-party round-table talks to discuss the interests and concerns of members; secondly, I would have introduced a consolidating bill rather than the amending bill that has proved so difficult for the electorate to understand; and thirdly, I would have set out a coherent vision and set of principles to underpin the bill. It was notable at stage 1 that, when I asked the minister what the general principles of the bill were, he did not have an answer. Finally, I would have maintained and worked to build cross-party consensus throughout the process. However, we are where we are.
“The alternative to planning is no planning: it is chaos and waste”.
The purpose of planning is at the very least to prevent chaos and waste but, more positively, it is to promote the allocation of land in the public interest and for the common good. That ambition is still not being realised.
In the stage 1 debate, I made the following comments:
“Greens believe that planning can and must be a force for good for delivering high-quality environments, reducing inequalities and promoting the public interest in the use of land. To that end, substantial amendment is required. If the bill before us was the final bill, we would be voting against it tonight. However, it can be improved, so we will vote to keep it in play.”—[
, 29 May 2018; c 32.]
It is our considered view that the bill has not had the substantial amendment required to transform the planning system in the way we envisaged to deliver a plan-led system in which communities have autonomy to determine for themselves.
In the tidal wave of insults that Graham Simpson offered members during one of the more indecorous contributions that I have heard in the chamber, he reminded us of two things. The first of those was the establishment in 2015 of the expert panel on which no planner sat and which was given almost impossibly tight timescales in which to report. The second was that this is one of the most amended bills in parliamentary history. Those realities provide two of the many reasons that my party—and, I am glad to say, the Labour Party and the Greens—will not be supporting the bill. It is bad legislation.
The Liberal Democrats were the only party to oppose the bill at stage 1. I will come to the reasons for that, but I welcome the Labour Party and Green Party standing in opposition to it. We opposed the bill because it is a manifest exercise in centralisation. It presupposes that Edinburgh-based bureaucrats know more about the needs and interests of communities around this country than locally elected councillors do. We cannot accept that. It relegates councils to the role of mere consultees. The national planning framework is a document that will not have adequate scrutiny and which will set the mission for planning authorities and make them its delivery tool. That is unacceptable.
One of the amendments that we secured was that, for the first time, the national planning framework will be subject to a resolution of Parliament, so there should be greater scrutiny. It is fair to concede that point.
I absolutely accept that. I still do not believe that it will have the necessary scrutiny that we, as Liberal Democrats, would have liked to see, but I recognise the progress made at stage 2, as I did in some of the meetings that I sat in on at stage 2. I am grateful for the forbearance of committee members, because although I am not a member of the committee, I obtained a number of changes in that process.
The one that survived is going to be really important in forcing local authorities to produce reports that denote the obligations of developers’ planning commitments in section 75 of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997—and the like—which they have not yet delivered on.
I very much hope that that will see an end to shameful practices by developers who make false promises to communities before reaping the profits of a development and not delivering on their obligations to planning gain.
That was the one amendment of mine that survived—sadly, my others did not. Yesterday, we had a rather bizarre debate about the protection of greenfield, when it was suggested that the amendment that I had secured at stage 2 would have banned any development on greenfield sites. That was not, in any way, the intention of my amendment. If someone wanted to extend their house, they could reasonably suggest to their local authority that it is not possible to build on a brownfield site if that brownfield site is not attached to their house. I think that that would be a completely acceptable reason to allow someone permission to proceed.
It is, as Andy Wightman said, a bill of missed opportunities. Although we have different approaches to planning, the Liberal Democrats wanted reform on appeal rights, too. Our vision for that was rejected at stage 2. Frankly, this is a case of the needle returning to the start of the song—we are going round again and again. There is recognition that the appeal rights do not work for communities, and that represents—
I am closing in 30 seconds.
On holiday lets, as an Edinburgh MSP with an interest—I refer people to my entry in the register of members’ interests—I still think that we have missed a trick in not using the bill to properly regulate the holiday lets market, which is hollowing out cities such as Edinburgh. We have not grasped the opportunity to protect areas such as wild land or to regulate hill tracks either.
We are told that planning bills come every 10 years. That is a great shame, and I hope very much that the next planning bill comes sooner than that. I very much look forward to repealing this one from the Government benches.
I am surprised that you said that just as I was getting up to speak, Presiding Officer. I thank Alex Cole-Hamilton for his weak joke at the end of his speech.
As the convener of the Local Government and Communities Committee, I am truly delighted that we have reached stage 3 of the Planning (Scotland) Bill. After the successful passing of the Fuel Poverty (Targets, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Bill, the committee is nearing the end of the legislative process for a second bill in as many weeks, which is in marked contrast to the inaction at Westminster. Once again, we are showing that it is this Parliament that truly works for the people of Scotland.
I can say without bias, as I was not a member of the committee at the time, that the work done at stage 1 was truly gargantuan. The committee made visits all over Scotland, took part in a major planning conference in Stirling, engaged with school students and the Scottish Youth Parliament, took evidence from 25 different organisations at formal meetings and produced a thorough report that made recommendations on every major aspect of the bill.
I pay tribute to colleagues who were on the committee at the time—except, perhaps, Graham Simpson, because of his opening comments—particularly the then convener Bob Doris, for their commitment and hard work. More important, I thank the many professionals, community bodies and individuals who engaged with the committee at stage 1 and, indeed, throughout the bill’s progress, with informed and, at times, passionate views.
Ultimately, planning is about communities, homes, jobs and quality-of-life issues. Because of that, the debate has sometimes been passionate and even on occasion heated, but that is no bad thing and goes only to underline the importance of the reforms that we have been considering.
I became the convener of the Local Government and Communities Committee on the very first day of our consideration of the bill at stage 2—Bob Doris needed a rest after having to put up with Graham Simpson throughout stage 1. Since that day last September, the parliamentary process has been a bit of a marathon. I am reliably informed that that was the longest stage 2 for well over a decade and the longest stage 2 ever considered by a local government committee in Parliament.
I am sure that I speak for all committee members when I say that I hope that that record stands for a very long time. In total, 394 amendments were lodged. Looking back, if feels as though they were considered over the same number of meetings, but there were actually only seven meetings.
Many non-committee members took part in our proceedings, which, again reflects the very wide interest that there has been in the bill throughout the process.
I sincerely thank all my committee members, our fabulous clerking team, along with their colleagues from the Scottish Parliament information centre, everyone who appeared before the committee, and, of course, the minister and all his officials.
It is fair to say that the bill that emerged at stage 2 was a rather different beast to the one that went into it, with well over 100 amendments agreed to, which added to or removed text from the bill. That included new provisions on key matters, including on the agent of change principle to protect live music venues, on planning permission for short-term lets, on the call-in of applications, on enhanced community engagement and on a host of other important matters, which, if I listed them now, would take up all the remaining time in my speech and get me into trouble with the Presiding Officer.
We have had two—long—days of great debates, with 40 groups of amendments, and we are now in the home straight.
Despite what we have heard from some of my colleagues, who will take the credit for any good bits in the bill at this stage and say that the rest of it is rubbish, these reforms will create an effective planning system that will help deliver the housing infrastructure and investment that current and future generations need. It will strengthen and simplify the planning system and ensure that planning better serves Scotland’s communities and economy, and I look forward to seeing how these reforms will shape a fairer and more equal Scotland in future.
As I have said before in the chamber, I was a councillor for 18 years, and I know only too well the issues raised by the planning process. Many amendments have gone through during the various stages of this bill, but I think that some real progress has been made.
Planning is often characterised as a zero-sum game with winners and losers, but it should be a place for people and it should lead to good development. Everyone acknowledges the need for more houses, and we believe that a vast majority of people are not against development itself. However, they are against developments that do not have the necessary infrastructure requirements.
The bill has come a long way from what was originally introduced, but many of the amendments that have been lodged strengthen it. I have always thought it important to do all we can to encourage communities to engage in the planning process in a constructive manner and at the earliest stage. In that respect, the introduction of local place plans will give communities a greater say, and it is exactly the positive step that we want to see. In the bill’s early stages, we were concerned about the time, effort and money that communities would be required to put into developing these plans, but I think that those concerns were erased at stage 2.
There is no question but that we ended up with a guddle at stage 2, but we have managed to iron out many of the problems at stage 3. I welcome the commitment to greater public consultation and the fact that planning authorities will formally be required to take local place plans into account in their local development plans.
Another community engagement issue that proved to be more contentious in our debates was the third-party right of appeal. Previously, we said that we would closely examine the case for such a provision, and we did so, concluding that such a change would simply slow the planning process further and stifle development. However, it became clear that the status quo was not an option, and we sought to reach a compromise and strike a balance. That is what we have achieved, and with the changes made as a result of the amendment in question, mediation will become an integral part of the planning process and not just something that will be attempted once it is too late. It will actually mean something, and it will lead to developments and much more progress.
It can often be difficult to bring two different points of view together—
I would like to, but time is tight.
In reality, it is difficult to bring two different points of view together, but what we are seeing with that amendment is an attempt to find common ground.
I pay tribute to my colleagues Graham Simpson, Adam Tomkins and Jeremy Balfour for their measured contributions to this process, and I am proud of the constructive role that the Scottish Conservatives have played at every stage to strengthen the bill and to ensure that we end up with a fundamentally better planning process. We are protecting the environment as well as older and disabled people; we are ensuring that there is much more to the process; and we are attempting to ensure that it includes mediation.
Good planning requires communities, developers and councils to work together constructively to build the houses that we need and which communities want. We are ambitious for our planning process, and that work is now taking place. It is by no means an easy task, but I think that the bill as it now stands will go some way to helping us achieve our objectives. Indeed, that is exactly what we are trying to do: to ensure that the bill’s objectives make things better for communities and individuals. I support the bill.
It was planning that got me into elected politics, so I want to focus on how planning impacts on communities and on how the bill has failed them. In my time, I have seen developers with deep pockets hiring consultants to write so-called independent reports, produce glossy documents and buy off opponents. When applications were refused, they had the right to appeal those refusals and to resource public inquiries.
Communities, on the other hand, have no resources, no consultants, no lawyers, no expert witnesses for hire and no right of appeal. Some have found themselves being thrown into the maelstrom of a planning inquiry for which they have been required to invest huge amounts of time in writing precognitions, preparing cases and being questioned by lawyers and even Queen’s counsel, with zero resources being made available to them. How on earth is that fair? It is not, and it is a democratic outrage that it still happens.
I will paraphrase a letter that I received almost 20 years ago from Mary Allison, who was objecting to an application for an opencast coal mine in Blackridge. She said that no matter how open ministers claim the system is, communities are intimidated by the power of the professionals whom they face, and their views as residents are dismissed as being less competent or credible than those of the so-called experts.
However, professional presentations are simply a collection of information—they are not right or wrong until we apply our values and judgements to interpretation, and can assess whether the community or the developer is set to gain or lose with a development. Those who present information as scientific evidence are elevated to a position of greater value than the people in the community, who might for various reasons struggle to express individual or community positions. Personal, emotional and moral values are the centre of our society, but because they are subjective, they can easily be disregarded. Scientific evidence can be just as subjectively gathered, but objectively presented. Why does a study that is conducted one day by a so-called expert from outside the community mean more than the daily lived experience of people who have lived there all their lives?
I will give an example. I value the rugged moorland of my home village: it is where I fished, camped, walked and cycled when I was growing up. The landscape gives me a sense of place and of who I am. It is valuable to me and my community—it cannot be recreated. This is not about nimbyism: it is about community-led development that has popular support, not a neoliberal planning system in which profit and economic growth trump everything.
This week, the SNP, the Tories and their business allies have stitched up the Planning (Scotland) Bill. The dogs in the street know it. On equal rights of appeal and on short-term lets they have shamefully let down communities. They have been bought and sold for developers’ gold. They had a chance to introduce equality, but they have failed miserably with a shabby deal that was done across the chamber between members on the front benches of the SNP and the Tories.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. That is helpful.
Today’s debate is the culmination of countless hours of work and contributions from numerous people and organisations across Scottish society. As a member of the Local Government and Communities Committee I heard, with colleagues, evidence from numerous organisations. Engagement by the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning, Kevin Stewart, has also been invaluable.
I offer my sincere thanks to everyone who contributed. The process would have been impossible without the evidence that led to 394 amendments being lodged at stage 2, and 223 being lodged ahead of stage 3.
The journalist Alistair Grant said that “Planning (Scotland) Bill” are
“The three most distressing words in the English language”.
However, consultant architect Malcolm Fraser, who gave evidence at stage 1, said that,
“Planning should be a wonderful, joyful thing.”—[
Local Government and Communities Committee
, Date 7 March 2018; c 46.]
I think that most of us have a view that is somewhere between those two extremes.
The bill will overhaul the current planning system and amplify the voices of local people and communities throughout the planning process. I will touch on broad provisions in the bill. Part 1 will enhance the role of the national planning framework and will remove the requirement to produce strategic development plans, while introducing a new right for communities to produce their own local place plans.
Part 2 will provide for simplified development zones in order to front load scrutiny of potential sites, and will provide for delivery of consents through zoning land.
Part 3 will change development management processes in order to improve efficiency, support local consultation and move toward localised decision making.
Part 4 will strengthen planning authorities’ ability to use their powers effectively in order to ensure appropriate enforcement on unauthorised developments, and to widen the scope for charging fees in relation to planning functions, while taking a more structured approach to performance improvement across planning services.
The final part of the bill provides for the introduction of an infrastructure levy that will be payable to local authorities and be linked to development, in order to fund or contribute to projects that will incentivise development delivery.
It was important to me that the bill should contain provisions to support the needs of older people and disabled people. I thank Age Scotland, in particular, for its assistance with my amendments at stage 2, through which I sought to place the housing needs of older and disabled people at the heart of the national planning framework. Good and accessible housing is central to the health and independence of older people and disabled people, so I am pleased that, under the bill, the NPF will contribute to improved outcomes for older people and disabled people. Ministers will be required to publish a statement on how that will be achieved.
I was pleased by the minister’s willingness to engage with me, Graham Simpson and other colleagues who were willing to engage with the minister on a cross-party basis, in order to take forward the spirit of the amendments, while streamlining the bill to avoid unnecessary duplication and cost. That involved removing some of my amendments, but what is important is not whose amendment is in the bill, but what the bill will achieve in practice. I am delighted that our hard-working and listening minister has delivered for older people and disabled people.
Following a somewhat arduous process, we now have a better bill that more closely corresponds with the planning needs of Scotland’s people and communities. Planning requires a system that balances the needs of many people. It is disappointing that we have had gripes from the Greens, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who seem to think that the bill is worse than the status quo. I am struggling to understand how they can believe that, given what we have been through over the past 18 months or so of the process. They clearly want to throw the baby out with the bath water.
We have now arrived at a more coherent, fair and inclusive system that will work for Scotland. I urge all members to vote in favour of the bill at decision time.
I am thankful for the opportunity to contribute briefly to the final debate on the bill. I congratulate the minister, his team and all the committee members on having got us to where we are today. I disagree fundamentally with the other three Opposition parties: we have a bill that is workable and is better than the current system. Could it have been better? Clearly, that would have been the case had all my amendments been accepted. However, we are in a better position and are further down the road than we were some years ago.
Like other members, I used to be a local councillor, and I sat on the planning committee in the City of Edinburgh Council. I completely disagree with Alex Cole-Hamilton—the bill will not take power away from local councils: it will help local councillors to make decisions. Ultimately, in 99 per cent of cases that is where power should lie, because councillors know their communities. That is what the bill will allow.
I have been frustrated—perhaps even more than the minister—by the debate around appeals, and the third-party right of appeal in particular. Many people have painted the issue in a simplistic way by suggesting that it is about community against developer. However, in my time as a local councillor here in Edinburgh, that was hardly ever the case. On almost every controversial planning application, some of the community wanted it and some of the community did not want it. In all the debates that I have heard over the past two days, no one has mentioned people who are in favour of a development. Where is their voice? Where are they allowed to say that they want a development to go ahead?
I am afraid that I am almost out of time.
It is oversimplistic to say that it is a case of community against developer. It was never that simple in my time as a councillor.
Like Kenny Gibson, who spoke earlier, I am particularly pleased that the bill is giving disabled and older people greater rights. One of the things that will stand out from the bill is that it will change our approach to public toilets. That might seem to be very simple and straightforward, but for the Scottish economy and, more important, for families and individuals, it will radically change what Scotland looks like over the next 50 years. For that, I am grateful for the support of all the parties in Parliament. I will be happy to vote for the bill in a few minutes.
Given the time that is available, I will focus on just a few issues.
First, it is vital that communities have a meaningful role in the planning process. I know very well from constituents that, in many cases, they feel that they are under siege from developers. Although a system that will please everyone can never be devised, I am encouraged by the approach of the bill in front-loading community engagement. That approach was recommended by the independent planning review panel, which concluded that it would be more beneficial to use available
“time and resources to focus on improved early engagement”.
I am also encouraged that statutory guidelines are to be drawn up on what effective community engagement will comprise. It will be important to ensure that the guidelines provide for meaningful engagement, if we want to keep faith with affected communities across Scotland.
The role of the local place plan is another important development, but, again, it will be of relevance to local communities only if they have the wherewithal to get involved.
On serial applications, I am pleased that the relevant period is being extended from the current two years to five years. However, that will be worth the paper that it is written on only if local authorities actually exercise their powers, which, it appears, they do not do at present. I therefore ask the minister to take up the issue with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities directly, because in failing to deal with serial applications, local authorities are letting down the communities that they exist to serve. I am also pleased that there will be greater focus in the planning process on local health service impacts, because that issue is raised by communities time and again.
Finally, I will say a few words about the third-party right of appeal. Yesterday, proposals on it were rejected by Parliament by 93 to 25 votes. Although I do not think that anyone would claim that it was an easy issue, I believe that Parliament has reached the best decision. As I said at stage 2, the body of evidence was not in favour of a third-party right of appeal being introduced to the planning system. It is worth noting that there is no third-party right of appeal in any country in the United Kingdom. It is interesting that in Ireland, where there is such a process, very few decisions have been wholly reversed. In addition, no such third-party right was recommended by the independent planning review panel: indeed, we received strong representations against the introduction of such a right from a myriad of relevant bodies.
Across Scotland, people need homes, workplaces and facilities. Therefore, we need to see objectives being met in accordance with a robust, fair and straightforward planning process. That is the only way we will restore faith in the planning process.
I refer to my entry in the register of interests, as I am a member of the Royal Town Planning Institute.
I went to planning school at the University of Strathclyde back in 1997. Even then, I had a deep interest in the power dynamics that play out in our communities and that ultimately shape the places where we live, work and play, to paraphrase Patrick Geddes. For me, the obsession about equal rights of appeal is fundamental to how our planning system operates and whose interests it serves.
There are many people to thank, and I add my thanks to the members of the Local Government and Communities Committee, the clerks, all the stakeholders, and the many people and organisations that gave us written and oral evidence.
When thinking about planning, one should get out of Parliament, and I was pleased to spend time with Graham Simpson at an engagement event in Motherwell, which is in the region that we represent. I have just looked at the committee’s report on that session. People made it clear that they felt strongly that the current appeals system works against communities and that it undermines the confidence that we all want people to have. I remind Graham Simpson of that, because we have not come into the process to make cheap political points. James Dornan reflected on how much scrutiny took place, and I thank James Dornan and Bob Doris for their convenership. The fact that more than 100 amendments were passed shows how much collaboration and consensus there was.
Graham Simpson knows the arguments well. At stage 2, he said that there was no doubt that the present system is lopsided, and that the Government did not address that in the bill. We talked about equal rights of appeal and whether that would lead to a more robust, plan-led system. Although we supported mediation because it will not do any harm, I am afraid that it will not do a great deal of good. Graham Simpson said that we have been talking rubbish; however, together with Andy Wightman, we spent a lot of time and worked really hard on the issue. I think that, privately, Graham Simpson will be disappointed, as many of us are.
We wanted to ensure that planning delivers better outcomes for all the communities that we live in and the people whom we represent. That is why we have talked a lot about improving health and reconnecting planning to public health. Andy Wightman has made the point very well, many times, about how planning has lost its way and become a wee bit too bureaucratic.
There have been some positive aspects. The work that Lewis Macdonald has led on agent of change and speaking up for live music venues has been very important, but has suffered some disappointments along the way—especially on short-term lets, about which strong feelings exist both inside and outside the chamber.
I do not have a great deal of time left, so I will move on. It is with great disappointment that I say that Scottish Labour will not support the bill. We all wanted to maximise the opportunity that it presented.
I will end by quoting Clare Symonds of Planning Democracy. In speaking about the community voice, which is what we need to hear, she said:
“We are deeply disappointed by this Bill, which has been a huge missed opportunity to transform the way we do planning. Scotland needs to take a different approach to development to tackle key issues such as the climate emergency ... this Bill reinforces a business as usual approach”.
She went on to say that the bill is a
“bitter pill ... that has nothing to offer in terms of citizen empowerment.”
I say to the minister that it is quite sad that that is how communities in Scotland feel.
Some 13 months ago, during consideration of the bill at stage 1, I said:
“the purpose of planning is to facilitate and enable growth in Scotland’s economy. To grow the economy, we need development, and to engineer development should be the focus of the planning system. Of course development needs to be environmentally sustainable, and of course growth needs to be socially inclusive, but first and foremost there needs to be growth, and the job of the planning system is to help to make that happen—to facilitate it and not to get in its way.”—[
, 29 May 2018; c 61.]
The Scottish Conservatives’ approach has been informed by those principles during all three stages of consideration. I welcome the fact that, mainly since stage 2, the Government has sought to work with us to ensure, as best as possible, that the bill delivers on that core mission, which I think it does—it passes that test. When we enact the bill in a few moments’ time, it will help to secure environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive growth that will help the development of the Scottish economy. That is the purpose of the planning system.
Not at the moment, Mr Wightman.
I will give two examples of the ways in which I think that the bill has been improved in the course of its passage through the Parliament and which will help it to deliver on that ambition.
First, I will talk about masterplan consent areas, as they are now to be called, which were dealt with in a part of the bill that was amended at stage 2, when a number of amendments in my name were agreed to unanimously by the Local Government and Communities Committee. Secondly, there was the welcome reintroduction of regional spatial strategies. I know that, going into consideration of the bill, one of the minister’s aims was the removal of the need for strategic planning. I absolutely understood the case for that, which was about removing unnecessary duplication in the Scottish planning system. However, at the same time, and as a number of members on both the Labour and Conservative benches pointed out, strategic planning has a valuable role in driving forward Scottish economic growth, which we have seen most recently and most importantly through the impact that city and regional growth deals are having across the country—not least in my own city of Glasgow.
If I may say so, the minister has done well in finding a compromise between his desire not to have duplication at that level and our desire not to see strategic planning entirely lost from the face of our planning system, through the introduction, at stage 3, of regional spatial strategies. As the minister said, when we were debating the set of amendments, such strategies
“are more agile and better able to reflect”—[
, 18 June 2019; c 83.]
and refine regional needs and priorities. I think that it is healthy that they adopt a bottom-up rather than top-down approach and they get the balance right between central and local government.
Those are examples of ways in which I think that the bill has been improved, consistent with the principled approach that we have taken to it during all three stages of its consideration.
I am sorry, Mr Wightman—I just do not have time.
There are things that I regret are still not in the bill. Let me say a few words about land value capture—or land value sharing, as it might now be called—which we discussed at stages 1 and 2. I note that, in the recommendations that the Scottish Land Commission made to the Scottish ministers just last month, Shona Glenn said:
“The debate how publicly created uplifts in land value should be shared between society and private landowners is one that has waxed and waned for decades. There is strong public interest justification for pursuing policies that would enable more of the publicly created increases in land values to be used to help make places where people want to live.”
I would have said “live and work”.
I accept that there is no quick fix for this, but we need to find ways of establishing a more collaborative approach to placemaking, and I want to continue to press the minister that land value capture should be part of that mix.
We recognise that there were fatal flaws in our attempts to get land value capture into the bill at stage 2 in the context of masterplanning consent areas, not least of which was lack of compliance with the European convention on human rights. Our agreement that the amendments should be taken out at stage 3 should not, however, be misinterpreted. We have not given up on the idea and we will continue to pursue the Government on it.
Finally, I want to say something about agent of change. I am absolutely delighted that, for the first time in Scots planning law, the bill puts the agent of change principle unambiguously on the face of primary legislation. The agent of change principle shifts responsibility for mitigating the impact of noise from an existing music venue to a developer moving into the area. In essence, it means that those who bring about a change take responsibility for its impact. That is a key change and it will be interesting to see whether Lewis Macdonald votes against a bill that puts that principle into statute.
First, I put on record my thanks to everyone who has engaged in the process, from the very beginning to where we are now—which is not the end of the road. I will come to that in a little while.
In particular, I thank my bill team, who have been exceptional. Andy Kinnaird and Jean Waddie have been absolute stars in all this.
One of the things that Mr Wightman pointed out is my love affair with the Aberdeen city local plan of 1952. He quoted Tom Johnston on it earlier and I will paraphrase him, because Tom Johnston also said that the only thing that would stop delivery of the plan was the red weevils of bureaucracy. I am afraid that, after stage 2, there were far too many red weevils of bureaucracy that would have held up the delivery of development in Scotland. I am glad that, in a lot of cases, folks chose to work together to make sure that we get it right now.
I turn to a few things that were said during the debate. Mr Rowley said that the bill does nothing for funding infrastructure, such as education and medical facilities, but the infrastructure levy proposals explicitly mention those things. He also said that the bill does not address the lack of funding for planning. It does, because streamlining the processes will free up money to ensure that local authorities can do much more community engagement. That is something that I wanted to see right from the start.
In her contribution, Ms Ewing said that planning authorities should use their existing powers and the new powers to be introduced under the new legislation to effectively safeguard communities, and I agree completely with that. As well as strengthening all the things that we have done, providing elected members with training opportunities will help.
I turn to comments that were made by Alex Cole-Hamilton, Mr Rowley and Mr Wightman. Alex Cole-Hamilton said that the bill assumes that a group of Edinburgh-based bureaucrats know better than communities across the country. The bill includes a range of measures to give local planning authorities and local communities more powers, including the power of local authorities to propose controls on short-term lets. Rather than imposing an Edinburgh-based solution on the whole, through the bill we have ensured that communities can make their own choices in that regard.
I agree that planning, as well as strengthening communities, should ensure sustainable economic growth. We all accept that.
To the members who have indicated that they will vote no tonight and try to vote down the bill, I say that they will be voting no to all of these things: a clear purpose for planning, putting the long-term public interest and sustainable development at the heart of the system; a stronger national planning framework, which was approved by this Parliament after further scrutiny; much better arrangements for strategic and local development planning, which will address the problems of the current system; and statutory support for climate change. They will be voting no to provisions on rural communities, disused railway lines, water refill locations, public conveniences, changing places toilets, open space, play, biodiversity, forestry and woodlands. They will also be voting against: the recognition of the role of planning in improving health inequalities; protection for live music venues; more consistent training for councillors; a performance improvement coordinator to support authorities and everyone who engages with planning, which is something that stakeholders wanted. They will be voting against a right for communities to plan their own places and new opportunities to broaden engagement in development plans, including for disabled people, older people, Gypsy Travellers, children and young people.
In order to ensure that we got this right, at every stage, I asked the chief planner of this country whether the bill would improve the system. At many points during the process, he said no. Today, he says that, yes, it will improve the system and build on what we had before. It is time to roll our sleeves up, grasp the opportunity and work hard, together with communities, to deliver great places.