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Planning shake-up


A wide-ranging package of improvements to make Scotland's planning system leaner and fitter were announced today.

The reforms will build on work to improve efficiency and ensure planning is geared towards supporting increased sustainable economic growth - particularly important in the current economic climate.

Key measures include:

  • Simpler and more transparent processes
  • Government agencies to focus increasingly on matters of genuine national interest
  • Scottish Government and agencies to publish annual reports on performance
  • Up to date development plans that provide investors and communities alike with greater certainty
  • Quicker decision making by councils on high-quality applications
  • A new electronic planning system to be formally launched next Spring

The moves have been developed in partnership with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Scottish Water, Architecture and Design Scotland, Historic Scotland, Transport Scotland, the Scottish Property Federation and Homes for Scotland. The package also been endorsed by the Scottish Society for Directors of Planning and the Royal Town Planning Institute.

Speaking at a major Planning Summit in Edinburgh today, Finance Secretary John Swinney said:

"The reforms I am announcing today, in partnership with COSLA, council leaders and chief executives, agencies and the development industry, demonstrate a fundamental shift in the way we approach planning. We will work collaboratively to ensure we make planning quicker and more proportionate.

"Planning is critical to increasing sustainable economic growth - a sustainable, dynamic and growing economy means a better quality of life for all. Planning reform needs to help, not hinder, the economy - especially in the current climate. While the Planning Act has reformed the law, legislation alone will not deliver the fundamental culture change we need.

"We do not want development anywhere or at any price. What we do want to see is planning valued for its positive, promotional and enabling role much more than it is resented for its regulatory one.

"In Government we will be less prescriptive in setting planning policy centrally and will let local circumstances drive local decisions and innovation. We will instead focus in the future on identifying and spreading good practice across Scotland. And we will take a more proportionate approach to notification and call-in of applications, recognising and respecting the important role of local authorities in planning decision-making.

"Better joint working to free up resources will ensure local priorities are addressed. With the right partnerships in place and a smarter approach, we will provide applicants with quicker decisions.

"This demonstrates that all partners are committed to a planning and development regime which is joined up, combining greater certainty and speed of decision making for the benefit of everyone in Scotland - not least the business community."

Councillor Alison Hay, COSLA Regeneration and Sustainable Development Spokesperson, welcomed the reforms. She said:

"The last few months have seen a concerted effort by COSLA, SOLACE (Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers), Heads of Planning, Scottish Government and the statutory consultees to the planning process such as SEPA, SNH and Transport Scotland and representatives of the private sector around how best to reform the planning system. The common statement, launched today, is a significant stage on the journey towards a more effective and efficient planning system.

"We have sought to find a balance between streamlining the system, while retaining the necessary rigour that ensures quality and consistent decisions. I believe that we now have that, and today sees the launch of a planning system where communities get the development they need and want, built to a quality standard, friendly to the environment and something that future generations can be proud of.

"COSLA and local government colleagues are committed to playing our part. Together with our partners, I believe that we are now planning for a better future."

Dan Macdonald, chairman of the Scottish Property Federation, said:

"It is imperative that the development industry and public sector work together in genuine partnership to speed up planning reform. The likelihood of economic recession makes it even more important that applications can be dealt with quickly in the national interest. The planning system has to be more than just a regulator of development. It must also be a facilitator of sustainable economic growth."

David Thorburn, chairman of CBI Scotland, said:

"The growth of the Scottish economy is more heavily dependent on an effective and straightforward planning system than many realise. We believe that planning delays cost Scotland £600 million each year in lost turnover and investment. These reforms are a welcome and detailed response to one of CBI Scotland's greatest concerns. It is particularly encouraging that government nationally and locally, and the national agencies, have signed up with developers to a business-like plan for change in processes and culture in Scotland. Scottish Ministers should be congratulated for this initiative."

To aid clarity, the Scottish Government is streamlining over 20 separate Scottish Planning policies into one. The first two parts, on core principles and the key elements of the planning system are published today. The third part, a statement of policy on a number of development themes, will be published in the Spring 2009.

Other measures announced today include setting up a dedicated unit to support the requirements of Strategic Environmental Assessment and a group to identify ways to get more people onto planning courses and get more interchanges between the public and private sectors.

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