November means World Town Planning Day, with events to mark this taking place across the world. Of course, the coronavirus pandemic means that many of those took a different form than in previous years, inviting reflection on the role of planning in shaping the paces we live, work and play in response to the pandemic (a topic we have touched on in a number of our blog posts and Spotlights over the past few months). But, pandemic or not, planning affects many different areas of our lives, in many different ways, throughout the year. On which, below is some what’s been happening in planning in Scotland this month… It’s been a busy one!
The Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 Development Planning – Transitional Guidance – the Scottish Government has published guidance on transitional arrangements to allow for a smooth changeover to the new development planning system introduced under the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019, which is expected to commence in spring/summer 2022 (in line with the publication of NPF4). Meantime, plans will continue to be adopted under the current system if a proposed plan is published prior to that date, with the guidance also indicating that planning authorities should still focus on delivery of their adopted local development plan as well as considering what preparatory work can be undertaken to support the transition to the new system. We trust that this guidance means that planning authorities will get on with preparing new plans where appropriate to ensure that they remain up-to-date pending the new system coming into force.
Planning obligations – also as part of the process of implementing the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019, new provisions on the content, modification and discharge of planning obligations (Section 75 agreements) have been brought into force. These remove the requirement that obligations to make financial contributions must include a restriction on development or land use prior to at least some element of the contribution being made, and introduce more flexibility for modifications to, and discharges of, planning obligations. This includes allowing obligations to be modified or discharged by agreement in writing, and for planning authorities to suggest modifications to applications, rather than having the option of only either granting or refusing them. To reflect these changes, Circular 3/2012: Planning Obligations and Good Neighbour Agreements has also been revised and provides further information. These appear to be pragmatic changes that will improve the process, but it remains to be seen how they take effect in practice.
Scottish Planning Policy and Housing - technical consultation: analysis – following consultation on proposed changes to Scottish Planning Policy earlier this year, the Scottish Government has published a report providing an analysis of responses to that consultation. Interestingly this notes that, of 25 planning consultancies which responded to the consultation, all but one opposed proposals to remove the presumption in favour of development that contributes to sustainable development, with that one being Aurora Planning! We support removal of the presumption for a number of reasons (see our October blog post), and we’re sorry that more planning consultancies don’t share our view on this.
Transforming Places Together: digital strategy for planning – the coronavirus pandemic has made us all focus more on digital technology, and planning is no exception with the Scottish Government this month publishing its digital strategy for planning. This sets out how Scotland’s planning system can embrace the opportunities that digital technology and data present, and lays the foundations for a five digital transformation programme beginning in spring 2021 including, for example, using data to learn lessons from past policy experience, increasing and improving civic engagement, streamlining the application process, and improving collaboration in plan making. Related to this, research by the RTPI also published this month shows that digitised planning services could benefit the Scottish economy by £200m, and so we look forward to seeing the strategy’s measures being implemented.
Cleaner Air for Scotland 2 – highlighting that the air we breathe is fundamental to human life and the quality of our environment, the Scottish Government is consulting on a draft air quality strategy, setting out proposals for delivering air quality improvements over the next five years. This is based around 10 general themes, one of which is placemaking, with the consultation document noting that National Planning Framework 4 will provide an important context within which air quality improvements will be delivered, supported by the Place Standard tool and the Place Principle, besides having regards to any national strategy for the improvement of air quality prepared by Scottish Ministers. Responses to the consultation are invited by 22 January 2021 via the Scottish Government’s consultation hub, Citizen Space.
On the Courts
Space Hub Sutherland Judicial Review – regular readers will know that we were very excited with The Highland Council’s decision in August this year to grant planning permission for the UK’s first vertical launch spaceport to be developed in Sutherland (on which, see our August Spotlights). However, a judicial review of that decision is now being sought by an objector to the proposed development. Lodged by Wildland Limited, a company owned by Anders Povlsen, the petition for judicial review seeks to have the planning consent reduced, primarily on the grounds that the decision did not properly take into account all environmental impacts. At the same time, an article in The Herald on 28 November reported that another company owned by Anders Povlsen, Wild Ventures Ltd, has made a £1.5million investment in the proposed development of a spaceport on Unst in Shetland, stating that they want to see spaceports built ‘in the right place’. The Court of Session will first decide whether to grant permission for the judicial review to proceed before any further action is taken, for more on which, watch this space…
On planning applications
Hill of Rubislaw, Aberdeen – in an example of teamwork, collaboration, listening, adapting and vision delivering a good outcome for our clients, we were delighted to this month to obtain approval for the development of 245 private rented sector flats at Hill of Rubislaw in Aberdeen, subject to concluding a s75 agreement for relevant developer obligations. The proposed flats will overlook the historic Rubislaw Quarry, with the development also including a public bistro and promenade allowing the public to have open access to the Quarry for the first time. As we commented in our Spotlights in January when the application was submitted, private rented sector accommodation is still relatively new to Aberdeen, but offers significant economic benefits which the city is keen to embrace.
Edinburgh Royal High School – the category A-listed Royal High School building in Edinburgh is located within the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh World Heritage Site, the New Town Conservation Area, and a designed landscape, and has a notable history. Following relocation of the High School in 1968, it has been considered as a potential site for the Scottish Parliament, a Scottish National Photography Centre, a hotel and public art gallery, and a new home for Edinburgh’s St Mary’s Music School, but none of these have managed to progress and now the most recent proposals for a hotel have been rejected by the Scottish Ministers as not being “the right development in the right place”. Notably, the hotel proposals included demolition of some of the buildings and the construction of two large extensions and, while acknowledging that the scheme would result in significant economic benefits, the Scottish Ministers concluded that these would not be nationally significant or sufficient to outweigh identified adverse townscape and visual impacts. This demonstrates the importance of weighing competing benefits and impacts of a proposal, but does raise a question about the long-term sustainability of having a building such as this sitting empty; only time will tell what its future now holds…
On other matters
Glasgow City Council ‘Animating Spaces’ and ‘Stalled Spaces’ – one notable impact of the coronavirus pandemic has been the need to make more space available for pedestrians to allow for social distancing, and to do so in a way that doesn’t negatively affect businesses. In response, Glasgow City Council has launched a new grant programme, ‘Animating Spaces’, offering funding for community-led proposals to, “creatively animate streets to meet the needs for social distancing, increased local activity and economic stimulus”. This recognises the importance of supporting those who use the city’s streets to come forward with ideas for positive change, and we await with interest to see what community-led development projects might be implemented through this programme.
The Council has also embarked on the next stage of its ‘Stalled Spaces’ programme, which was first introduced in response to the 2008 financial crash and is now being adapted to respond to the coronavirus pandemic through funding projects which improve community engagement and tackle social isolation. Again, we hope to see some interesting projects come forward through this.
Another impact of the coronavirus pandemic has been to make this a particularly difficult time for school or university leavers to find work in any area, and planning is no different. Recognising this, we are very pleased to have this month welcomed a new intern to our team, Martin Walker. With a degree in geography, Martin is studying for an MSc in Spatial Planning and Sustainable Urban Design and the internship will give him practical experience to complement his studies, including advising on the prospects of securing planning permission and handling a variety of planning applications. By making use of technology, we hope to give Martin the best possible intern experience without him being able to visit the office, and look forward to working with him over the coming weeks.
Meantime, to find out how we can help with any aspect of the planning process, please visit our website or email us at email@example.com. Or, if you would like to see our other blogs or sign up for email updates, please click here.
Thanks for reading!
Pippa and Maggie