Three days north of the border confirmed the longstanding perception that, on some issues, Scottish planning policy is perhaps ahead of England.
Albeit one issue, where our Scottish Divisions undoubtedly share our English pain, is the extra delays and costs incurred through liaison with the water industry. Indeed maybe more so, given that allocated sites in Scotland can routinely face huge delays and demands to fund capacity studies which, frankly, ought to have already been completed long ago to inform the development plan allocation.
As a planner the removal of strategic development plans in Scotland brings mixed feelings. Taking away the delays and complexity caused by an extra tier of plan-making obviously sounds attractive. But the reality is that strategic planning is simply better at making the necessarily difficult strategic decisions on the level and location of growth (and no growth).
With strategic planning long gone in England we are actually seeing local plans only providing for 88% of national housing need. The Duty to Cooperate down south has hardly been a huge success in accelerating housing delivery and, as a planner, I do question whether removing strategic planning delivers better planning no and growth. Albeit that strategic planning at the national (rather than regional) level may be more feasible in Scotland?
Also mixed feelings towards the huge recent increases in Scottish planning fees. Obviously such increases are accepted if they deliver a better and faster service in delivering growth. But again, evidence of this correlation can be hard to find when looking at England.
The introduction of the new Local Place Plans has strong political backing and appears to have many similarities with English Neighbourhood Plans. As always, the attraction for housebuilders is the opportunity to work with local communities to find out where housing growth is needed and how perceived impacts can be mitigated. English experience points to the necessity of the higher order plan being crystal clear on the level and location of housing need. Local Place Plans will fail in their purpose if they are simply used by anti-development groups as a means to prevent new homes in a locality.
There’s no doubt its exciting times to be a planner and/or a housebuilder in Scotland especially with this week’s publication of the new Scottish Planning Bill. That said, I can’t help thinking that an equivalent to the English NPPF is needed, making it clear that the presumption in favour of sustainable development kicks in if there is insufficient land supply and no up-to-date local plan. My reading of some recent Scottish appeal decisions only reinforces this view. Albeit perhaps this could be sour grapes from being on the wrong end of several Scottish decisions recently!!
Yet a few weeks ago, we won an appeal decision for new homes in Green Belt because the (entirely sensible IMHO) Green Belt policy allowed the development to come forward given the severe local shortage of housing AND the fact that the new homes would have no adverse impact on coalescence, openness and landscape quality.
PS Final point, on a completely different subject, is to mention the greatest living Scotsman, albeit I am biased as a Newcastle Falcons season ticket holder. Namely Doddie Weir who is currently doing unbelievably great work supporting MND via his Doddie’5 Trust. (@DW5Trust). Please join me in donating at https://t.co/QuQMfz2Rql