As we enter into summer, we take a look back at what’s been happening in the world of planning during the spring months, continuing our focus 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).
Fourth National Planning Framework (NPF4) – having been adopted in February this year (for details of the implications of which, see our March bulletin), we are starting to see how NPF4 is taking effect in practice, with guidance on how key policy provisions of this should be applied also now emerging (for more on which, see below). This has though not been without its snagging issues, in particular with regards to the application of Policy 16 (Quality homes), with questions arising as to whether or not this can be fully in force until new local development plans are adopted, given that the policy wording is predicated on a Housing Land Requirement and the delivery pipeline for housing land being established by those. This has now come to a head with the Scottish Ministers having called in a residential development appeal in West Lothian (PPA-400-2147) for their determination on the basis that it raises national issues in respect of the application of Policy 16. Other appeals in which the application of this Policy is an issue are to be sisted meantime. This will inevitably result in delays in a number of cases, raising concerns about the impact for the delivery of much needed housing across Scotland.
And, whilst the focus of the current teething problems for the implementation of NPF4 is on Policy 16, there are other policy areas where further guidance is also likely to be helpful, including in respect of the biodiversity requirements for major development projects and the acceptability, or otherwise, of applications for new drive thrus. It is though understood that guidance on these matters is expected, and we will of course provide an update on any guidance as and when it is published.
New-style local development plans – as part of the process of bringing in new-style local development plans, the Town and Country Planning (Development Planning) (Scotland) Regulations 2023 came into force on 19 May. And, just a few days later, the Scottish Government published Local Development Planning Guidance, setting out its expectations for implementing the system of local development plans to deliver new-style, place-based, people-centred and delivery-focussed plans which focus on the outcomes that they deliver for people and places for a period of 20 years. Amongst other things, the new-style plans are expected to contain minimal policy wording, address the global climate emergency and nature crisis at a local level, tackle inequalities, be prepared collaboratively and facilitate the delivery of sustainable development.
The Guidance, which replaces and repeals Scottish Government Planning Circular 6/2013, brings together requirements from the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 (as amended by the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019) and the new Regulations, as well as advice in relation to NPF4. It provides a step by step guide to the process for preparing local development plans, and the transitional arrangements for new plans on which work had already commenced under the old system, and is recommended reading not just for those involved in the preparation of local development plans, but also for anyone who may be interested in engaging in the preparation of these.
Scottish Government consultations – alongside the publication of guidance on the local development planning process, the Scottish Government has begun consultation on draft guidance designed to clarify the level of engagement that may be required at different stages in this, as well as consultations on proposed new permitted development rights and new guidance on local living and 20 minute neighbourhoods, as follows:
- Draft Planning Guidance on effective engagement in local development planning (consultation open until 13 September 2023) – as part of its work on the reform of the planning system and implementation of the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019, this Guidance is intended to set out the Scottish Government’s high-level expectations on how planning authorities can comply with their legal duties to engage with the public when preparing their local development plans. In doing this, the Guidance should not just act as a sense check for planning authorities, but should also assist communities in understanding when their engagement will be most influential or effective, with improving community involvement having been a key aim of planning reforms. While all are invited to respond, the Scottish Government has said that they would particularly welcome views from planning authorities, community bodies, and representative groups;
- Phase 3 of the Review of Permitted Development Rights (consultation open until 23 August 2023) – following the introduction of a number of changes to permitted development rights (for the most recent of which, see our March bulletin), the Scottish Government is now consulting on further changes proposed as part of phase 3 of their ongoing review of these, the primary focus of which is the installation of renewables infrastructure on both domestic and non-domestic buildings. This includes, amongst things, proposals to remove the need to apply for planning permission to install solar panels on the rear elevation of buildings in conservation areas (subject to conditions), while also removing the output restrictions for non-domestic solar panels, and allowing free-standing solar panels to be erected within the curtilage of non-domestic buildings. Together with other proposals, it is hoped that these will make it easier for businesses and homeowners to install renewable energy equipment, with this helping to reduce bills and carbon emissions;
- Draft Planning Guidance on local living and 20 minute neighbourhoods (consultation open until 20th July 2023) – whilst we are getting to grips with the implementation of the new policies of NPF4, this Draft Guidance is intended to assist and support local authorities, communities, and others with an interest in local living and 20 minute neighbourhoods, as championed by Policy 15 of that. This is expected to be of particular relevance in the preparation of local development plans and local place plans, as well as supporting planning decision making by providing additional detail and clarification of the existing policy in order to support effective and efficient implementation.
We would of course encourage everyone to respond to these consultations, and please do not hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions about how any element of any of these may affect you.
Next steps for national parks – we have previously reported on steps being taken by the Scottish Government to identify new national parks (see our October and May 2022 Spotlights), with at least one new park to be designated by Spring 2026. To this end, the Government issued a call for expressions of interest from local areas in May this year, with communities across Scotland being asked to consider whether their area could be designated as a national park. Clearly, whilst national park status brings significant benefits in terms of protecting the natural environment, and tackling the climate and nature crises, that must be balanced with the need to support economic growth to maximise the benefits for nature, climate and people, which brings its own planning challenges, and so we will be following the process to identify potential new parks with interest.
National Planning Improvement Champion – at the time of our last bulletin being issued, the Scottish Government was recruiting for the newly created post of National Planning Improvement Champion, the role of which is to support planning authorities to make improvements or efficiencies, and to provide tailored advice to stakeholders where appropriate. Since then, it has been announced that Craig McLaren (the current Director of RTPI Scotland) has been appointed to this post, bringing with him a wealth of experience, and a passion for what good planning can deliver, which makes him ideally suited to drive improvements in the planning system. Craig takes up his new role in September this year, and we wish him all the best in this!
RTPI Scotland Awards for Planning Excellence – on the subject of what good planning can deliver, this was showcased at the 2023 RTPI Scotland Awards for Planning Excellence, which took place on 15 June. In particular, we were delighted to see Aberdeen City Council (where our Director Maggie was formerly Head of Planning and Sustainable Development) named Planning Authority of the year, and for the Aberdeen Net Zero Routemap to win best plan. But of course, the highlight for us was our Director Pippa being shortlisted for the Scottish Young Planner of the Year Award.
Unlocking opportunities in the space sector – another highlight for us this quarter was obtaining planning permission for a £84.7million 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. This also comes at an exciting time for the Scottish space industry in general, with it having been announced earlier in the month that construction has begun at Sutherland Spaceport (for which we obtained planning permission in August 2020) – the first vertical launch spaceport to be built on the UK mainland!
On us – last, but by no means least, we were delighted to celebrate having been in business for a full six years as of this month. We are incredibly proud of everything we have achieved in this time, and wish to extend our thanks to everyone who has worked with us and supported us along the way.
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 email@example.com. Or, if you would like sign up for email updates, please click here.
Thanks for reading!
Pippa and Maggie