As reported in my June update, Scottish Ministers rejected the Strategic Development Plan for South East Scotland (SESplan2), which includes the Scottish Borders, in May. On 16 May, the Scottish Government’s Chief Planner announced that Scottish Ministers were not satisfied that SESplan2 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 was 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.
As anticipated, this decision has led to uncertainty about housing land supply targets and housing land requirements for south east Scotland as a whole and for each of the six constituent planning authorities. At its meeting on 2 September, the Scottish Borders Council’s Planning and Building Standards Committee considered how to deal with this uncertainty. The report to committee explained that, following the decision of Scottish Ministers, senior officers of the constituent authorities had met to discuss a way forward. Counsel’s opinion had been sought on the chances of success of a judicial review of the decision but the chances of this succeeding were limited. Accordingly, officers had advised that a consistency of approach to speculative development was required until such time as progress had been made on a regional spatial strategy for the region, which would supersede the strategic development plan under the new development plan system proposed in the new Planning (Scotland) Act 2019.
This approach suggests that when assessing development proposals for sites not allocated for development in local development plans, member authorities should have regard to the following:
- The provisions and requirements of policies 7, 8 & 9 of the approved Strategic Development Plan (SDP1), which address housing land supply, transport and infrastructure provision;
- The level of housing provision allocated and/or safeguarded in adopted local development plans;
- Updated information from the latest Housing Land Audit; and
- The Housing Needs and Demand Assessment 2015.
The Scottish Ministers decision to reject the proposed SDP also has major implications for the progress of the Proposed Local Development Plan for the Scottish Borders (LDP2) and for the review of the local development plans of the other planning authorities within the SESplan area. Scottish Borders Council’s Development Plan Scheme, approved in March 2019, indicates that the Proposed LDP2 would be published towards the end of 2019 with formal consultation during the winter of 2019/2020. Whilst officers of the council are no doubt continuing to progress the proposed LDP2, it is a matter of conjecture as to when the Proposed LDP2 will be submitted to the council for approval. Scottish Ministers have certainly put ‘the cat amongst the pigeons!’
The Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 received Royal Assent on 25 July 2019. In an effort to simplify the development planning process, the 2019 Act abolishes strategic development plans (SDPs) and replaces them with regional spatial strategies (RSS), a long-term spatial strategy document. Unlike SDPs, the RSS will not form part of the development plan. LDPs must, however, take into account matters such as housing need, the availability of housing land, and the health and education needs of the local population set out in the RSS.
The 2019 Act also introduces provisions for Local Place Plans (LPPs), produced by local communities, which set out their priorities for the development and use of land in the local area. The LPP will not form part of the development plan but must be taken into account by the planning authority in the preparation of the LDP. Research carried out by the Royal Town Planning Institute (Scotland) indicates that a considerable amount of funding will be required to facilitate the production of LPPs. Support in terms of skills and resources will need to be provided to communities by planning authorities if LPPs are to be effective.
In addition to the introduction of regional spatial strategies and local place plans, the new Act places 49 new and unfunded additional duties on planning authorities. How these duties are to be implemented has yet to be detailed but additional funding and staff resources are likely to be required if the planning service is to continue to function. Is central funding from the Scottish Government to be increased? A formal programme for implementing the Act is awaited from the Scottish Government! However, one of the first aspects of the reformed system to be implemented will be the preparation of a new National Planning Framework (NPF4) by the Scottish Government. This will now form part of the statutory development plan along with local development plans.
So a number of major changes in the planning system are afoot. The implementation of the Act though secondary legislation and guidance will take some time (years!). Meanwhile planning authorities will have to continue to deliver an efficient and effective development planning and management system. Not an easy task!