Scottish Ministers have put development planning in the south east of Scotland, including the Scottish Borders, into a state of confusion with the rejection of the Strategic Development Plan (SESplan 2), submitted in June 2017. On 16 May, the Scottish Government’s Chief Planner announced that Scottish Ministers were not satisfied that the Plan had been properly informed by an adequate and timely Transport Appraisal and that it did not take sufficient account of the relationship between land use and transport. It is the view of Scottish Ministers that the Plan does not properly acknowledge and address the region’s infrastructure constraints to support the spatial strategy for delivering housing land across the area. It does not include sufficient information on the transport interventions required to support the spatial strategy.
The existing development plan in the Scottish Borders currently consists of the Scottish Borders Local Development Plan (LDP), adopted in May 2016 and the Strategic Development Plan produced by SESplan, a partnership of six local authorities in the south east of Scotland; Edinburgh, East Lothian, Midlothian, Fife, Scottish Borders and West Lothian, which was approved by Scottish Ministers in June 2013.
SESplan 2 sets out an ambitious vision to guide the growth of the South East Scotland Region over the next twenty years. For the next 12 years (2018-2030), SESPlan proposes that most growth will be largely met by land already identified in existing and proposed local development plans. In the Scottish Borders, existing towns provide the focus for retail, commercial and strategic employment opportunities. The potential future expansion of the Borders Rail line to Hawick and beyond could provide further opportunities for growth and regeneration in the Central Borders and Hawick. On the East Coast Main Line, a new station at Reston would provide settlements in Berwickshire with easier access to employment and education opportunities in Edinburgh and stimulate tourism in the area. Dualling of the A1 and improvements to the A68 and A7 would improve journey times to and from England.
In relation to housing supply, SESplan 2 indicates that there is sufficient housing land supply to meet housing land requirement for the 2018-2030 period in the Scottish Borders based on the land supply set out in the Local Development Plan. However, a step change in the level of house building is needed if housing supply targets are to be achieved and this may warrant the permitting of proposals for additional housing on sites not identified in the local development plan, subject to it being consistent with the spatial strategy of the development plan and a number of other criteria. Additional housing land allocations are likely to be required to meet the housing land requirement for the period 2030-2038. These will need to be made in new Local Development Plans.
The Examination of SESplan 2 by Reporters appointed by Scottish Ministers was undertaken in 2017/2018 and their report was submitted to Scottish Ministers on 20 July 2018. The Reporters recommended a number of modifications to the Plan. In relation to the spatial strategy, the Reporters recommended that the location of any additional sites to those identified in local development plans, that require to be identified for development in the period 2018-2030, should be in and around Edinburgh and along transport corridors. In relation to Key Areas of Change in the Scottish Borders, the Reporters recommended that the Strategic Development Plan should give more emphasis to the fact that major flood schemes in Selkirk, Hawick and Galashiels will provide opportunities for growth and regeneration in the Central Borders.
In relation to housing targets, the Reporters increased the housing supply target for the Scottish Borders for the period 2018-2030 from 4,176 homes to 5,202 homes and the housing land requirement from 4,594 to 5,760 homes. In relation to the five year effective housing land supply, where a shortfall is identified, sites for greenfield housing development not allocated in local development plans may be granted planning permission subject to the development being consistent with the spatial strategy of the development plan and a number of other criteria.
SBC’s review of its adopted local development plan, to date, has been very much influenced by the recommendations of the Reporters in relation to the housing requirements of SESplan 2. The Main Issues Report (MIR) relating to the new Scottish Borders Local Development Plan (LDP2) was published in November 2018 and has been the subject of wide consultation. A report on the representations received is expected soon and it was proposed in the council’s Development Plan Scheme of March 2019 that the proposed LDP2 would be published in the autumn/winter of 2019/2020. With the rejection of SESplan 2, this programme has been placed in doubt. It will be interesting to see how the council intends to proceed.
Whilst Scottish Ministers have been deliberating on SESplan 2, the Planning (Scotland) Bill introduced to the Scottish Parliament on 4 December 2017 proposes that Strategic Development Plans should be removed from the development plan system to be replaced by more proactive regional working partnerships. So, the consequences of the rejection of SESplan 2 for the council’s new local development plan LDP2 remain uncertain. It is open to the Strategic Development Planning Authority to prepare a new SESplan 2 but the implications of the Planning (Scotland) Bill complicate the matter. We shall have to see what the planning authorities in South East Scotland decide to do. The decision should raise considerable concern for the Scottish Borders Council in relation to the finalisation of its new local development plan. Any delay would in its production would not be good news for developers or for the future development of the Scottish Borders Region.