Last month we got a new Minister responsible for planning, this month it was announced that the Scottish Government’s Chief Planner, John McNairney, is to retire after nine years in the role. John has been described as a champion of the profession. We would certainly echo that sentiment and wish him well in his retirement. Meantime, there has been plenty happening in planning under John’s watch this month, on which, read on below…
National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4) – following consultation on the Scottish Government’s NPF4’s Position Statement between November 2020 and February 2021 (on which, see our December 2020 Spotlights), an independent analysis of the responses to that has now been published, and is available here. This sets out key themes arising from those responses, in terms of which there was broad support for the general direction of NPF4 and the four key outcomes (of net-zero emissions, a wellbeing economy, resilient communities and better, green places) and the focus on the Place Principle. At the same time there were calls for it to go further in a number of areas, including providing clear requirements (rather than merely encouraging change), the need for resources to ensure delivery, doing more to support recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and for there to be greater involvement for communities in planning decisions. It is anticipated that the draft NPF4 will be laid in Parliament in Autumn 2021, with a further round of consultation following that.
Short term let control areas – as highlighted in our blog We’re all goin’ on a summer holiday from earlier this month, the level of interest in second homes and rental properties in popular holiday spots is raising particular planning challenges, with the question being whether new Regulations on short term let control areas will help the planning system ensure that these places can be vibrant and sustainable for people to live in, as well as to holiday in. Providing some further guidance on those new Regulations, the Scottish Government has now published Circular 1/2021: short term let control areas, which highlights the importance of balancing the needs and concerns of communities with wider economic and tourism interests. At the same time, the Scottish Government is consulting on a revised Licensing Order and a related draft Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment as part of plans to also establish a licensing scheme for short term lets. Depending on what your holiday plans are, this could be something to add to the holiday reading list?!
Scottish Government support for Aberdeen energy transition zone – the Scottish Government has announced that it will invest £26m from its Energy Transition Fund in the Aberdeen Energy Transition Zone (ETZ), which is intended to transform the region into a globally integrated energy cluster, focused on accelerating to net-zero through energy transition activities. Specifically, these activities are expected to include, amongst others, a floating offshore wind centre of excellence, green hydrogen test and demonstration facilities, a low carbon marine field test and demonstration facility, a UK clean fields meterology centre, and an Energy Skills Academy Hub. This is not though without controversy, with many local residents objecting to the fact that land earmarked for the ETZ includes St Fittick’s Park in Torry and Doonies Rare Breeds Farm, resulting in the loss of valued green space and natural habitats and raising questions about the sustainability of the project as a whole.
Impacts of proposed planning reforms – proposals to simplify the English planning system as highlighted in last month’s Spotlights may be having unintended consequences, with these cited as having featured heavily in the campaign that saw the Liberal Democrats take the former Conservative safe seat in the Buckinghamshire constituency of Chesham and Amersham this month. While there will of course have been many issues at play in the by-election, this is an important reminder of just how much planning matters to many people (as indeed it should!). Meantime, the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee is urging the Government to inject £500 million into England’s planning system over 4 years to ensure any changes to this are properly resourced, along with making a number of other recommendations as to how Government proposals could be refined.
On local government
The future of Aberdeen City Centre and the Beach – as part of the process to update the 2015 Aberdeen City Centre Masterplan, Aberdeen City Council is seeking views on which parts of the City Centre and the beach are most important to people, and what could be done to make these better. The consultation takes the form of a simulator in which respondents are given a total of 500 points to allocate to potential interventions, inviting reflection on what the priorities for these areas should be. It is also makes for an interesting exercise to do, giving an insight into the challenges of allocating limited resources across a wide and diverse range of projects! The consultation can be accessed here, with responses invited by 2 July.
On planning applications
Loch Lomond Flamingo Land – over the course of the past two years, we have seen plans by Flamingo Land for a tourist resort on the banks of Loch Lomond divide opinion, with a planning application for this withdrawn in September 2019 after receiving a record number of objections and being recommended for refusal, and new plans announced in December last year (for a summary of which, see our December 2020 Spotlights). While a new planning application has yet to be made, an Environmental Impact Assessment screening and scoping request has now been submitted, with a Proposal of Application Notice for the revised scheme expected to follow. And the revised proposals look set to be no less controversial than the original ones, with objectors to that already vowing to fight the new plans. As we have noted previously, this demonstrates just how contentious the planning system can sometimes be.
Stanstead expansion – plans to expand the annual capacity of Stansted Airport by eight million passengers have been approved on appeal, with a panel of three inspectors also ordering Uttelesford District Council to pay costs on the basis that its reasons for refusal were “unquestionably vague and generalised”. Of these, the ground that is likely to be of most general interest is climate change, with regards to which the panel concluded that “carbon emissions are predominantly a matter for national government”, and that UK climate change obligations would not be put at risk by the development. This will be a blow for environmental campaigners, particularly as it paves the way for a similar approach to be taken with regards to other airport expansion projects, although each application of course requires to be considered on its own merits, and so it remains to be seen what happens elsewhere now.
On other matters
MyLand.scot – the Scottish Land Commission has launched a new campaign which aims to connect people to the land around them, illustrating how the ownership, use and management of this impacts all of us, and encouraging Scottish residents to participate in land-related conversations to ensure it is used fairly and productively. The focus of this will be a new content hub, MyLand.scot, which provides relevant information and resources, including inspiring stories of communities taking an interest in the land around them so that it benefits everybody. Definitely worth checking out, and getting involved in the conversation!
On the 13th of this month, we celebrated having been in business 4 years. It seems time really does fly when you’re having fun! And we’re very grateful to everyone who has worked with and supported us over the years for this!!
Now looking to the future, another highlight of this month was being invited to take part in a focus group on “examining the operating environment to embed digital planning in Scotland”, work on which is an important element in delivery of the Scottish Government’s strategy for digital public services. Key themes arising from the discussion included the importance of getting the basics rights, with consistency across local authorities in terms of access to information and data. Feedback from focus group sessions, together with an online survey which ran until earlier this month, and consultations which took place in parallel with this, will inform the building of the future skills investment plan for digital capabilities in the planning sector, and we look forward to seeing that take shape.
Meanwhile, if we can help with any aspect of the planning process, please visit our website or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, if you would like to see our other blogs or sign up for email updates, please click here.
Pippa and Maggie