Posted on 24 Jan 2017 by Marion
by Cliff Hague, Chairman
Communities should be given new rights to come together and prepare local place plans. This is the most eye-catching proposal in the consultation paper from the Scottish Government on the future of our planning system. It echoes a practice called Neighbourhood Planning, which was developed in England under the Coalition Government after 2010 when localism was briefly in vogue.
So the intention is that communities would “actively design, rather than comment on plans for the future” (para.2.4). The “local place plans” could be adopted as part of the statutory development plan. However, the road leading to this new planning adventure is carefully nuanced. The overall aim of the proposed reform is to make the planning system a more effective tool for delivering new development, a theme that runs through the consultation like the lettering in a stick of rock.
Alongside the rhetoric about “empowering people to bring forward their own plans” are a series of caveats. It will take time and an investment of resources, though exactly what resources and who is to provide them are not clearly specified. The new opportunities must not be used to promote “unreasonable protectionism”, and the new plans should be about how a community wants to deliver “change in a sustainable way”. In the real world, what looks like “unreasonable protectionism” to some may be seen as greenspace conservation to others, and “sustainable” is a notoriously malleable term.
Nevertheless, the idea of local place plans should not be dismissed cynically. The Government’s proposal is that local authorities would have a duty to adopt the local place plan as part of the local development plan, unless they think the plan opposes the wider aims of the local development plan. Furthermore, the community would have a right of appeal to the Scottish Ministers if a council refused to adopt their local place plan.
Equal rights of appeal
The Cockburn has supported the idea of Equal Rights of Appeal (ERA) and continues to do so. A group called Planning Democracy (www.planningdemocracy.org.uk) has probably been the leading voice on the issue. ERA is also sometimes called Third Party Rights of Appeal, and would mean that “third parties” such as a community group could object to the granting of a planning permission. However, the consultation firmly rules out ERA. It “would work against early, worthwhile and continuous engagement that empowers communities by encouraging people to intervene only at the end of the process rather than the beginning where most value can be added. This would also ignore the important role of elected members in representing communities in planning decisions and community involvement in the development plan process, whilst delaying and undermining much needed development” (para.2.40). In short, ERA is not going to happen.
My own personal view is that it would be better to probe a lacuna within the local place plans idea. If such plans are indeed an exercise in co-design, and written into the local development plan, then surely the community producing them is no longer a third party. It has as at least as much ownership of the local place plan part of the development plan as does the local authority. In those circumstances, it should have the same rights as the council on development matters pertaining to that local place plan.
Time to respond
The Places, People and Planning document is more wide ranging than the selective summary I have provided here. It includes proposals for a stronger role for community councils, but also is strongly focused on means of delivering on housing targets. It proposes scrapping the regional scale of plans (SESPlan in the case of the Edinburgh area), and instead strengthening the regional dimension of the National Planning Framework. It announces the intention of raising planning fees and discouraging repeat applications from developers (c.f. the old Royal High School).
The full document can be downloaded from https://consult.scotland.gov.uk/planning-architecture/a-consultation-on-the-future-of-planning/ . The consultation closes on 4 April 2017.