Welcome to our first quarterly bulletin, which focusses on national policy and legislation, and the key sectors in which we now operate (renewable energy infrastructure, emerging technology related developments, and projects that deliver community and social benefits). A lot has happened in the three months since we announced our change in direction, not just with the changing of the clocks and the first signs of Spring, so without further ado, here’s what’s been going on in the world of planning since the beginning of the year…
Fourth National Planning Framework (NPF4) – in what is probably the biggest and most publicised planning story of this quarter, the long awaited NPF4 was adopted by the Scottish Government on 13 February and is now part of the statutory Development Plan, while Strategic Development Plans and Scottish Planning Policy have ceased to be of effect. Consequently, planning applications now need to be determined in accordance with both NPF4 and the relevant Local Development Plan (LDP) for the area in which they are located (unless material considerations indicate otherwise), with the more recent of the two documents to take precedence in cases where there is any conflict between the two.
In terms of our own sectors, NPF4 places increased emphasis on the role that planning can play in facilitating the transition to a net-zero Scotland, including by introducing a requirement for significant weight to be given to the global climate crisis when development proposals are being assessed, and for LDPs to address this by ensuring their spatial strategies will reduce emissions, with these requirements aligning with broad support for renewable energy related developments (but not for fossil fuel related developments – for more on which, see below). We are though still in the early days of seeing what this means in practice, especially since the time taken to prepare LDPs means that some will now be being adopted subsequent to NPF4, without the requirement to address the climate crisis having been taken into account when these were being prepared – on which, watch this space…
But whatever sector you are working in, it is important that the Plan is read and applied as a whole, as highlighted by the Chief Planner in their letter on transitional arrangements for NPF4 (issued on 8 February), which acknowledges that there will be conflicts between policies, but emphasises that factors for and against development will be weighed up in the balance of planning judgement.
The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development and Use Classes) (Scotland) Miscellaneous Amendment Order 2023 – on 31 March, a number of changes to permitted development rights and use classes are due to come into force, including the introduction of:
- a new use class (class 1A) covering shops as well as financial, professional and other services (which had previously been in two separate use classes), providing greater flexibility for changes of use within the combined class; and
- permitted development rights allowing:
- cafes, restaurants and pubs to use part of a public road adjacent to their premises as outdoor serving/seating space, including rights to place counters or stalls for selling or serving food or drink in such locations, as well as placing items of furniture such as tables, chairs, heaters, etc. there. This is though subject to a condition that no furniture may be placed in a public road so as to cause an obstruction unless consent has first been obtained from the relevant roads authority under section 59 of the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984, such that Councils can prevent and deal with obstructions that make it difficult for people to access pavements safely and effectively, including people in wheelchairs or with visual impairments, or people with children in pushchairs;
- premises used as a betting shop, pay day loan shop, hot food takeaway, or for purposes falling within the new class 1A to undergo a change of use to class 3 (food and drink), unless situated below or within 1m of a dwelling;
- any of the foregoing premises with a floor area of up to 300m2 to undergo a change of use to class 4 (business); and
- wall mounted electrical outlets for recharging electric vehicles to be installed in more places, and also the installation of solar canopies and associated equipment for recharging vehicles from solar energy.
Combined, it is hoped that these measures will help to boost the hospitality sector and town centre recovery, while also encouraging electric vehicle use, with responses to public consultation on the proposed changes indicating there to be strong support for these.
And there are more changes on the horizon, with consultation on the next phase of the Scottish Government’s work on permitted development rights, focussed on domestic and non-domestic renewable energy equipment, expected to take place this Spring, something which we will obviously be following with interest.
Scottish Government Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan – with the intention of delivering an energy system that meets the challenge of becoming a net zero nation by 2045, while also supplying safe and secure energy for all, the Scottish Government is currently consulting on its Draft Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan, and proposals for Scotland’s energy future as set out in that. These include, for example:
- increasing the contributions that solar, hydropower and marine energy make to the energy mix;
- a potential presumption against new exploration for North Sea oil and gas, as well as a preferred policy position of no support for coal extraction or conventional onshore oil and gas exploration or development (with a finalised position of no support for unconventional oil and gas having been announced previously); and
- maximising household, business, and community benefit from energy projects, including through shared ownership of renewables.
The consultation is running until 9 May 2023, and we would encourage anyone with an interest in energy related development to respond!
Conventional oil and gas – alongside the ongoing consultation on the Draft Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan, the Scottish Government has issued a statement on its preferred policy position of no support for conventional onshore oil and gas development, confirming that this includes all development connected to the onshore exploration, appraisal or production of petroleum, or crude oil, and raw natural gas from the ground by conventional means and methods. It will now be interesting to see the implications of this for the application of Policy 33 of NPF4 which, on the face of it at least, allows for such development in exceptional circumstances, where it can be demonstrated that the proposal is consistent with national policy on energy and targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
At the same time, the Scottish Government has also issued a Direction requiring planning applications for conventional oil and gas to be notified to the Scottish Ministers within 7 days of validation, with authorities also restricted from granting planning permission for conventional oil and gas development without first notifying Ministers (this being the case for both new applications, and those already in the system).
The Role of Local Government and its Cross-Sectoral Partners in Financing and Delivering a Net-Zero Scotland – although not primarily focussed on planning, the Scottish Government’s Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee published a report in January which raised concerns about “churn, repetition and delay” in the planning process holding up major renewables and other projects necessary to help meet net-zero goals, and identified a need to reverse the long-term decline in numbers of Council-employed planners in order to meet the ambitions of NPF4. As such, the report recommends that the Scottish Government set up a short-life working group on renewable energy within the planning system as part of the implementation programme for NPF4, while also supporting the creation of an apprenticeship scheme for planners, and inviting the Scottish Government to comment on whether it has considered supporting planning being treated as a STEM subject within the tertiary education system.
Overhill battery energy storage system consent – in a personal highlight of the quarter for us, we were delighted to have helped our clients, One Planet Developments Limited, to secure consent for a new battery storage system at Overhill Farm near Rothienorman in Aberdeenshire, which was granted at the end of February, with facilities of this nature playing an important role in enabling Scotland to increase the percentage of our energy needs which can be met from renewable resources. Comprising 42 battery containers, along with 21 inverters and 13 transformers, this will store energy generated by nearby wind turbines and solar panels at a time when supply exceeds demand, so that this can then be released back into the grid when required.
Forres Friends of Woods and Fields consent – we have also recently enjoyed working with Forres Friends of Woods and Fields (FFWF) and, this quarter, were pleased to secure planning permission for a community growing site for them, including the erection of a polytunnel, potting shed and compost toilet for use by members. This will now be used for growing fruits and vegetables for the local community which will be distributed amongst FFWF’s members and volunteers, food banks, and other local outlets, all to the benefit of the local community, and will contribute to the creation of a robust local food economy. At the same time, the site will also provide a place for members and volunteers to learn about growing their own food, soil ecology, and organic gardening practices, and we’re very much hoping to visit next time we’re in the Forres area!
National Planning Improvement Champion – this month, the Scottish Government took steps to implement one of the key reforms to the Scottish planning system introduced in the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 in seeking to recruit a new National Planning Improvement Champion. The post holder will support planning authorities to make improvements or efficiencies and provide tailored advice to all stakeholders where appropriate. We look forward to seeing who is appointed to this post and the difference they will be able to make.
RTPI Code of Professional Conduct – planners often get bad press, and are rarely portrayed as anything other than corrupt in works of fiction. But, in fact, all members of the Royal Town Planning Institute are required to comply with a Code of Professional Conduct which sets out ethical standards by which we must practice our profession. And, earlier this year, the RTPI updated that Code to ensure that it continues to hold planners to the highest level of conduct, something which none of us would argue against.
And finally, competition time! – this has been the first of our new-style bulletins, but we have yet to come up with a suitable name, so let us know your suggestions, and the winning entry will be awarded a (very limited edition and much coveted) Aurora Planning mug!! And, if there is anything in particular you would like us to cover in future bulletins, please let us know and we’ll try to help …
Meantime, to find out how we can help with any renewable energy infrastructure or emerging technology related developments, or if you are a charity or community group looking for assistance, then please visit our website or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, if you would like sign up for email updates, please click here.
Thanks for reading!
Pippa and Maggie