Can Planning Changes Deliver Sustainable Growth for Scotland?
Savills Planning team in Scotland hosted a debate at the Scottish Parliament this Spring, where they invited an audience of key Scottish housebuilders, developers and funders to challenge a cross-party panel of politicians to find ways to improve Planning and Development in order to deliver economic growth. The panel included SNP’s Derek Mackay, Minister for Local government and planning and senior opposition spokespeople from the Labour, Liberal Democrat, Conservative and Green parties. It was Chaired by Terry Murden, Business Editor of The Scotsman.
Some of the ideas discussed are contained in the updated National Planning Framework (NPF3) and new Scottish Planning Policy (SPP) which was published on 23rd June, refreshing the national spatial strategy and national planning policy positions covering Scotland.
But how significant are the changes?
The biggest potential change comes as the new SPP mirrors its English counterpart, the NPPF, by introducing a presumption in favour of sustainable development.
Housing: Where plans are out of date, or for housing where it can be demonstrated there is not an adequate five-year land supply, proposals should be allowed unless it is clear that any adverse impacts significantly outweigh the benefits when considered against the policies of the SPP as a whole.
In England, this change heralded a wave of new applications and appeals for housing when introduced in March 2012 and a rush by Local Authorities to update Development Plans. Typically, most Local Development Plans in Scotland are pretty well up to date. The key area that will undoubtedly be tested over coming months is the effectiveness of five-year housing land supply figures, which have been hotly debated between Local Authorities and the development industry of late. Of particular focus has been whether allocated sites are truly deliverable at the rates anticipated in the five-year timescale. As such, the appeals system will likely feel the effects first.
Renewables: With regard to onshore wind development, SPP affords significant protection to areas identified in Scottish Natural Heritage's Wild Land map, also published today. The areas of wild land cover significant parts of rural Scotland. The SPP also affords significant protection to areas around communities. The SPP requires planning authorities to determine an area not exceeding 2km around cities, towns and villages identified in the Local Development Plan. In areas of significant protection, such as wild land and areas around communities, SPP notes that wind farms may be appropriate in some circumstances.
NPF3: The updated NPF3 sets out the broad strategic focus for planning in Scotland and identifies 14 projects of national importance to the delivery of the strategic aims. The 'National Developments' focus on transport and energy infrastructure, environmental improvements and the strategic development sites at Dundee Waterfront and Ravenscraig Steelworks at Motherwell.
Half of the National Developments in NPF2, published in 2009, have been retained in some form in NPF3. The delivery of the National Developments over the past five years has been sporadic, which the retention of many in NPF3 confirms. Of the National Developments contained in NPF2, only the port development at Loch Ryan and the works associated with the Commonwealth Games have been completed. Significant progress has been made on the replacement Forth crossing and the improvements to the electricity grid through the Beauly to Denny line upgrade, however limited progress appears to have been made in many of the other areas, not least the delivery of a new power station at Hunterston, which has been shelved in the face of public opposition and financial constraint.
The introduction of a presumption in favour of sustainable development within the SPP is a big step forward. For Local Authorities, this means that they should positively seek opportunities to meet the development needs in their area. For decision-taking it means approving satisfactory development proposals without delay. Whether this new 'can do' attitude is played out in practice remains to be seen.
For clarification with regard to how these changes may affect new planning applications, please do not hesitate to get in touch with Savills Planning Team in Scotland.