Image © Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body 

As our regular blog readers will know, we’ve been following the Planning (Scotland) Bill’s progress through the Scottish Parliament with great interest since it was introduced in December 2017. Regular readers will also know that it’s not been an easy passage for the Bill, with such a significant number of amendments made at Stage 2 that, at that time, there were questions as to whether it would ever make it into law. In June this year though, the Bill was passed in what has been described as “a radical shake-up of planning laws”.

The aspirations for this radical shake-up of course pre-date the Bill itself, the starting point for which was the announcement of the review of the planning system back in 2015.  At that time, the focus was to be on “delivering a quicker, more accessible and efficient planning process, in particular increasing delivery of high quality housing developments”, as well as, importantly, seeking to ensure that planning plays a more positive and effective role in creating high quality places.

In doing that, the Minister then responsible for planning (Alex Neil) recognised the need to take a holistic approach, looking beyond the nuts and bolts of the workings of the system to also look at how infrastructure is funded and planning led and resourced to ensure that the system really delivers.

But has the Bill ultimately created the radical new framework anticipated to achieve these aspirations?

The obvious starting point is the purpose of planning which is now defined in statute as being:

“…to manage the development and use of land in the best long-term public interest.”

However, as we said in our November 2018 blog when this purpose was proposed at Stage 2 of the Bill, planning has always been carried out in the public interest, and so it is questionable whether this purpose is sufficiently ambitious to go beyond that bare minimum and really deliver the high-quality places envisaged.

This then sets the tone for the Bill as a whole; there are a number of individually welcome changes within it but, overall, we think that it sells planning somewhat short.

The provisions are too numerous to recount here, but some notable introductions to the new planning system (some of which we have comment on previously) and our observations on them include:

–  planning authorities to set targets for meeting housing need – although it is not clear how this will overcome current obstacles to the consenting and delivery of much needed high-quality housing on the ground, which was of course one of the primary objectives of the review of planning;

–  the ability for Councils to adopt masterplan consent areas, which may be used to facilitate the delivery of development – this though requires local authorities to buy in to the concept (which they hadn’t done to any great extent with the predecessor to these) and to be resourced to do so (which will be challenging for Councils with limited budgets and other pressures on them);

–  compulsory training for Councillors before they can be involved in making decisions on planning applications – a change likely to be welcomed by anyone who has ever wondered how some planning decisions have been reached, but it will be important that this is done to a nationally approved scheme to ensure consistency across the country:

–  provision for the introduction of a new levy to fund infrastructure essential for the delivery of development – but, despite the provision of infrastructure being recognised as a significant constraint to planning delivering development on the ground, there is as yet no commitment to actually implement that provision;

–  Local Place Plans, giving communities the right to set out proposals for the development and use of land in their area – which may cynically be seen as justifying continued opposition to calls for a Third Party Right of appeal (with no such right introduced into the final Bill), while also adding another layer into an already trifle like process.

In trying to find a balance between accessibility, efficiency and inclusiveness, as well the competing interests of planning’s very diverse range of stakeholders, compromises inevitably had to be made in the Bill’s passage through Parliament, and as a result the ultimate output is not nearly as radical as it might have been. As such, it remains to be seen whether the Bill as passed will actually achieve what it set out to do.

Planning is often seen as a black art by those not directly involved in it (and indeed even sometimes by those who are!) and the new legislation does not really change that.  It is though only part of the story, and it is what we now do with this that will determine the impact it will have in terms of creating great places.

Meantime, if you would like to find out about how aurora planning can assist you in any aspect of the planning process, please visit or email If you would like to keep up to date with our blogs and bulletins, sign up using the form below.

Thanks for reading!

Pippa and Maggie


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