As we look forward to the Christmas holidays, here’s our seasonal selection box of what has been happening in the world of planning this month…

On Holyrood

Scottish budget 2023 – 2024 – while a lot of reporting around this month’s Scottish Budget announcement has (understandably) focused on tax rates and benefits, this also contains a number of other wide-reaching measures, with those of particular interest from a planning perspective being:

  • record funding for walking, wheeling and cycling programmes, as well as funding for national parks, nature restoration and biodiversity; and
  • a reduction in financial support for housing, place-making, town centre initiatives, and 20-minute neighbourhoods.

This is then somewhat of a mixed bag, reflecting the economic climate in which the budget has been announced, with the Scottish Government clearly having to make difficult choices as a result. However, given the importance of place-making to addressing many of the issues that are currently being faced across the country, we would question if this is a false economy, and we would like to see planning receiving more support.

Indeed, the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) Scotland’s annual Resourcing the Planning Services Report (also published this month) shows that planning services are one of the most severely affected of all local government services in terms of budgets, but calls from the RTPI for the Scottish Government to use the budget to find innovative ways to bring more resources into the planning system do not appear to have been answered.

Safeguarding Scotland’s marine biodiversity – with a vision of Scotland’s marine environment comprising clean, healthy, safe, productive and diverse seas, the Scottish Government is consulting on proposals for the designation of Highly Protected Marine Areas, which would have the highest environmental protection from activities such as fishing and aquaculture, as well as infrastructure developments such as new ports, harbours and offshore wind farms. Further details on the proposals are available here, with responses to the consultation invited until 20 March 2023, and we would encourage anyone with an interest in the marine environment to respond to this accordingly.

On local government

Local Development Plans – it’s been a busy month for the development plan teams in many Councils, in terms of which:

  • Aberdeen City Council has incorporated recommendations arising from the Examination of the Proposed Aberdeen Local Development Plan into a modified version of this, with the Scottish Ministers now to be notified of the Council’s intention to adopt the modified plan in early 2023, unless the Scottish Ministers direct otherwise;
  • while Aberdeenshire Council had hoped to adopt the Proposed Aberdeenshire Local Development Plan 2022 last month, the Scottish Government has advised that they require an additional seven days to consider whether this should first be further modified, and the Council has stated that the earliest that the new Plan could now be published would be early January 2023; and
  • the City of Edinburgh Council has submitted the Edinburgh City Plan 2030 to the Scottish Ministers for Examination, with this currently undergoing administrative checks before Examination gets underway.

Aberdeen Empty Shops Action Plan – earlier this month, our blog Deck the Halls looked at the Empty Shops Action Plan which was due to be considered by Aberdeen City Council. The Action Plan has now been approved, with the Council also agreeing to instruct the preparation of a £500,000 grant scheme to support the reconfiguration of empty shops on the city’s Union Street (the main shopping thoroughfare) in cases where there is a confirmed occupant lined up to move into the unit, but works are required before they can do so. It of course remains to be seen how effective this is in reducing the number of vacant units on Union Street, but it is hopefully a step in the right direction for the regeneration of our city centre.

On other jurisdictions

Short term lets one multi-jurisdictional topic that has come up a number of times in our blog and Spotlights is the question of how best to address issues associated with the over-provision of short term lets in some areas (see, for example, our August 2022 Spotlights and our blog We’re all goin’ on a summer holiday), with different approaches being taken in different devolved nations. Continuing this theme, this month has seen further developments in the approaches being taken outside of Scotland, with:

– the Government of Ireland having approved proposals for a new short-term let register for all hosts offering accommodation for periods of up to and including 21 nights, with fines of up to £5,000 for property owners who advertise their property for short-term lets without registering first, and registration being contingent on the property having the necessary planning permission to operate as a short-term let; and

– UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak having confirmed that the Government is committed to introducing a registration scheme for short-term lets in England and Wales as well, and to consulting on whether planning permissions should be required for new short-term holiday lets, especially in tourist hotspots.

Meantime, in Scotland, The Highland Council has begun consultation on draft planning policies against which applications for planning permission for short-term lets in the proposed Badenoch and Strathspey short-term let control area would be assessed, responses to which are invited up until 3 February 2023.  Further details on the proposals and how to respond to the consultation are available here.

On planning applications

A personal highlight for us this month was submitting a planning application on behalf of Scottish Enterprise for an £84.7m state of the art satellite manufacturing, operations, and research and development facility at the Prestwick International Aerospace Park for Mangata Networks; a development which has been welcomed by both Scottish and UK Governments and hailed by Scottish Enterprise as “a real game changer in helping unlock economic opportunities in the global commercial space sector”, not just for Ayrshire but for Scotland as a whole. In particular, it is anticipated that the facility will generate up to 575 new high-quality jobs over the next few years, in addition to being a catalyst for a new supply chain and, ultimately, providing high-speed internet services that will connect any community anywhere on Earth, thus removing barriers and inequalities for those without adequate internet access. So, a very exciting project to be involved in!

On other matters

Cumbernauld town centre not to be listed – at the beginning of this year, one of the topics covered in our January 2022 Spotlights was the confirmation of the award of category A listed status to eight blocks of 1960s multi-storey flats in Aberdeen. Now we end the year with the news that, having considered whether to designate the Cumbernauld Town Centre (which also dates from the 1960s) as a listed building, Historic Environment Scotland decided not to do so on the basis that, although parts are of special interest, proposals for the redevelopment of this are too far advanced to list them at this time. We are firm believers in valuing architecture of its time (although that not meaning that it must be preserved at any cost), with Cumbernauld town centre being a great example of 1960s architecture, and so we would agree with HES in its aspiration that its report will inform decisions made about the future of the site.

Historic Environment Scotland Strategy – also on the subject of the historic environment, Historic Environment Scotland (HES) has launched a consultation on a new strategy for Scotland’s historic environment, with the decisions referred to above highlighting the wide-reaching extent of the built assets that this may be relevant to. As such, we would encourage everyone to take a look at this, with responses invited until 20 February 2023.

RTPI Awards for Planning Excellence – in our October Spotlights, we trailed the then forthcoming RTPI Awards for Planning Excellence with a number of Scottish finalists. Winners were announced at the end of last month and we were delighted to see that Scotland featured in those. In particular, the Fife Pilgrim Way was commended for Excellence in Planning for Heritage and Culture as an example of outstanding engagement and partnership working using the area’s distinctive heritage to connect economic value to health and wellbeing growth. And we were very pleased to hand over our mantel of Small Planning Consultancy of the Year to Kevin Murray Associates! A full list of finalists and award winners is available here.

On us

We have again had a very busy year and so are now looking forward to some much-needed time off, with The Municipalists by Seth Fried (a novel described as being about a rule following bureaucrat and an irreverent, freewheeling artificial intelligence saving Metropolis, the gleaming city of tomorrow), on our holiday reading list. So, if you’re looking for some planning related escapism then look it out.

Meanwhile, we’d like to say thank you to everyone we have worked with over the year, we wish you all a great Christmas, and we look forward to 2023!

Thanks for reading!

Pippa and Maggie


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