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Places, People and Planning: A consultation of the future of the Scottish Planning System

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02 People make the system work

We want Scotland's planning system to empower people to decide the future of their places.

Proposal 6

Giving people an opportunity to plan their own place

Proposal 7

Getting more people involved in planning

Proposal 8

Improving public trust

Proposal 9

Keeping decisions local - rights of appeal

2.1 - People are at the heart of our proposals for reform. Everyone should have an opportunity to get involved in planning. People care about the places where they live, work and play, but many find the planning system complicated and uninspiring.

2.2 - We need a planning system that reaches out to people and encourages them to welcome and influence change. Previous reforms and legislation aimed to achieve this by giving people better opportunities to be informed and consulted early in the planning process. However, since then, a movement of community empowerment has grown across Scotland and public service reform has required service providers to respond to the principles of prevention, partnership, people and performance.[6]

2.3 - People rightly expect to have a stronger say in the decisions that affect them and their communities. Future changes to the planning system offer a valuable opportunity to achieve this. Moving from just informing or consulting people to involving them will take time and effort, but will improve confidence and trust in planning and lead to better outcomes.

Proposal 6: Giving people an opportunity to plan their own place

2.4 - We want to give people a stronger say in the future of their own place. New opportunities can arise where local people actively design, rather than comment on plans for the future. Local people know how their places work now, and are well placed to be involved in deciding how they can be improved in the future. Within any community there are many different views and priorities. However, where there are good opportunities for these to be fully discussed, people can reach a shared understanding on how future change and development can improve, rather than undermine, quality of life.

2.5 - Planning can lead a full and open discussion on the location, scale, pace, and design of change and development in our communities. To make that happen, planners need to do much more than simply consult communities on proposals from their local authorities or developers. People, and the relationships between them, are the key to successful planning. Community trust in the system can only grow if everyone is given a meaningful opportunity to get involved.

2.6 - We think that it is important to create a new right for communities to prepare plans for their own places. This could be achieved by giving communities the powers to create their own 'local place plans' and for these plans to be used as a framework for development within local development plans.

2.7 - We do not want to promote unreasonable protectionism. We believe that local place plans should help to deliver development, so that the choices that one community makes do not unfairly put pressure on others to take on a greater share of development. We want to see plans where communities say what they themselves will do to help deliver change in a sustainable way. Some communities have been doing this already, and we want others to get involved.

2.8 - In England 'neighbourhood plans' brought forward under the Localism Act (2011) give people the opportunity to influence the future of the place where they live or work. We want to consider similar opportunities for communities in Scotland. Whilst there is an existing space for community-led plans, there is no statutory link between such plans and the local development plan. We agree with the independent panel that community-led plans should have a clear connection with the statutory development plan. However, we also recognise that it is unlikely that all communities will have their own plans for some time. Building a culture of empowerment in planning so that people feel willing and able to bring forward their own plans will take time and an investment of resources.

2.9 - We have set out some possible key ingredients of local place planning in Figure 1. We propose changes to legislation which:

  • Allow communities to prepare local place plans that set out where development requirements, as defined by the broader local development plan, can be met; and
  • Place a duty on planning authorities to adopt these plans as part of the statutory development plan if the above requirement is met.

2.10 - We would support this with policy and guidance which makes sure that these plans begin to emerge as early as possible in the local development plan making process. To help inform this, we will commission further research to explore options for local place plans in more detail.

Figure 1: Key considerations for local place plans

Pre-plan preparation

  • Community bodies should be able to register their interest with a local authority if they want to prepare a local place plan. Community bodies could include existing groups (for example community councils) or any group of a certain size/location. Definitions of a range of community bodies can be found in land reform and community empowerment legislation and we would consider this further.
  • Local authorities would have a duty to consider applications from community bodies to prepare a local place plan and will need to monitor activity in its area. Where available this could be supported by the use of digital mapping.
  • Community bodies should give some indication of:
  • The boundary of the area the local place plan will cover. In many cases communities could define their own areas, but in others the local development plan or locality plans could highlight where they would add most value.
  • Who they have (and intend to) involve and how, whether there is wider community interest in a local place plan, and the issues it would cover.
  • If a community body is endorsed by the local authority, it would be this body the local authority empowers to prepare a local place plan.
  • Where another body wants to make proposals under community empowerment or land reform legislation, these proposals could help to shape both the local place plan and local development plan. We would encourage communities to work together and with others.

Plan preparation

  • It is the community body's responsibility to prepare the plan. They must make sure that the plan is: generally in line with local and national planning policies and other legislation; that they consult their community and get their approval; and that the plan plays a positive role in delivering development.
  • Local place plans need a mechanism to 'sign them off'. In England, a referendum is held and if more than 50% of the vote is in favour of the plan it is approved. While we agree with this in principle, it can introduce further costs and so we will look at using information technology to make this part of the process affordable in the event that this proposal is supported.
  • 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. The issues above can be assessed at the proposed development plan gatecheck.
  • Arrangements for local place plan proposals to be rolled forward into replacement plans would need to be included in legislation or guidance but could be partly addressed by new powers to update plans.
  • If the local authority does not adopt the local place plan as part of the development plan, the community body could appeal to Scottish Ministers.

Building local community capacity

2.11 - We will also continue to support innovation and the use of new techniques for involving communities in development planning and decision making.

2.12 - Through our design-led 'charrette' programme we have supported communities to take part in planning. Whilst there are many excellent examples of communities being proactively involved, we believe that action needs to be prioritised in and around communities where change is needed most. By refocusing and adding to our funding programme to support involvement, including charrettes, in the coming years we will help communities with the greatest levels of need to develop plans for their area as a priority. Community Planning can help to show where that investment can best be targeted.

2.13 - We recognise that communities vary and they may come up with a range of plans. Our proposals would not try to fully control the form that local place plans might take. For example locality plans which emerge as part of wider community planning could also be used in development planning where land use is relevant. We would welcome views on how communities might be identified and defined in the legislation and your ideas on the process that communities could follow when preparing local place plans, as set out in Figure 1.

2.14 - Section 1 sets out our proposals to improve development plans. It is vital that communities play an active role in preparing local development plans for their areas. Community councils already have a statutory role in the planning system and could play a key part in empowering people to get involved in planning. There are also many other organisations which could contribute to local place planning, and we expect that growing empowerment will add to this in the future. Current legislation says that community councils must be told when a development plan main issues report has been published. While we recognise that this is the legal minimum and that many planning authorities will do much more, we consider that there is value in providing more opportunities for community councils to be involved in preparing local development plans.

2.15 - We propose giving community councils a stronger role in planning by introducing a new duty to consult them in preparing plans. While in many cases, community councils will already be actively engaged in development planning, we believe that wider changes to the way in which plans are prepared (as set out in section 1) could include a stronger role for communities at key stages of decision making.

Isle of Rum - Community Land Use Plan

In 2015 the Isle of Rum Community Trust were assisted by PAS to produce a community land use plan. The community worked in partnership with organisations including The Highland Council and Scottish Natural Heritage to explore how its aims of increasing Rum's population to a more sustainable level, offer a better range of housing and improve tourism could be achieved. The plan needed to carefully balance these aims with protection of the unique natural and built heritage of the island. The collaboration produced a plan which was effectively 'owned' by the community. The plan was subsequently adopted by The Highland Council as supplementary guidance, which in turn forms part of the statutory local development plan.

2.16 - We also recognise that we need to provide support, training and guidance to help make sure community councils realise their full potential to contribute to the planning process. We offer support to community councils by working with the Improvement Service, Edinburgh Napier University and the Community Council Liaison Officers to encourage networking and the sharing of good practice. This has included launching a community council website (www.communitycouncils.org.uk); funding a series of digital engagement workshops for community councillors; hosting networking events for Community Council Liaison Officers (CCLO) twice a year; and setting up a CCLO knowledge hub to support improvement and development.

2.17 - As these organisations are voluntary and therefore limited in what they can achieve, we will continue to encourage them to engage earlier in the process to help them actively shape proposals rather than just react to them. We do not believe that existing arrangements for community councils to be consulted on planning applications should be removed.

Design-led Charrettes and the 2016-2017 Activating Ideas Fund

The Scottish Government provides funding to help community groups, local authorities and third sector organisations design the future of their areas. Charrettes can bring together views about how an area should change and use these views to form proposals which are explored and tested in a collaborative way over a focused timeframe. The approach is design-led - it allows options for change to be clearly visualised, and in turn this has helped to inspire a much wider range of people to get involved in planning. This year, the programme has been accompanied by an opportunity to access further funds which can be used to help deliver the outputs from charrettes.

Proposal 7: Getting more people involved in planning

2.18 - Local authorities and organisations, including community councils, can do more to make sure that a broader cross-section of society takes on the challenge of active citizenship and gets involved in planning.

Children and young people

2.19 - Children and young people have a significant and particularly relevant contribution to make to deciding the future of our places. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child[7] states that the best interests of the child must be a top priority in all decisions and actions that affect children. This underlines the role that planning should play in creating good quality places that provide opportunities for leisure, play and culture, and support the children's right to have the best possible health. Plans which are put in place now will decide where and how today's children will live and work in the coming decades. For example, decisions affecting climate change are relevant not only to people now, but also to future generations.

2.20 - The independent panel recommended that there should be a new right for young people to be consulted on the development plan. Set within the framework of public bodies duties under both equalities legislation and arising from Article 12 (the right to an opinion and for it to be listened to and taken seriously) of the Convention, we are already aware that planning authorities are working to involve children and young people in their development plans. Examples in Aberdeen City, Dundee City, Tayplan and Highland have been recently recognised in our Scottish Awards for Quality in Planning.

2.21 - It could therefore be suggested that planning authorities already have the scope to involve children and young people in their development plans. Recent draft guidance on Children's Service Plans noted a wide range of existing structures to support the engagement of children and young people e.g. local youth councils, pupil councils, young people's organisations, young people's committees and other formal and informal structures.

2.22 - However, the independent panel reported that they had found little evidence of engagement with young people. We agree that more can be done to actively promote these examples rather than introduce a statutory requirement prioritising enhanced engagement for one set of people over another.

2.23 - We will therefore bring forward proposals that will require planning authorities to consult more widely, including by using methods that are likely to involve children and young people in the process. We will do this as a priority through secondary legislation using existing powers and recommend that the early examination gatecheck includes a test of the steps taken by the planning authority to engage children and young people in preparing the development plan. In addition, we will encourage planning authorities to work with organisations such as YoungScot, Youth Scotland, the Children's Parliament and PAS to develop and expand the use of innovative methods for involving children and young people in planning.

2.24 - We would like to work with other organisations to support planning authorities to work with schools to educate and involve young people across Scotland in planning. We will also show what can be achieved by specifically seeking to involve children and young people in preparing national planning policies. The Place Standard[8], a simple tool that is available for anyone to use, provides an excellent opportunity to involve people of all ages and have conversations about the quality and future of our many different places. The Royal Town Planning Institute has also been working to inspire young people who may be interested in a career in planning, and Scotland benefits from an active network of young planners.

Barriers to engagement

2.25 - We recently commissioned research to identify the factors that limit involvement in the planning system. We will consider the findings of this work and take appropriate steps to ensure that the barriers to involvement for all groups within society are tackled.

Greening Dunfermline Town Centre - A Placemaking Approach Led by Young People

The Scottish Government supported Greenspace Scotland to work with Youth Scotland, Youth First and the Fife Youth Advisory Group on a pilot placemaking project to improve the town centre in Dunfermline. The project trained and empowered young people to develop their role in helping to lead changes to their places. It used innovative, interactive ways of engaging people in planning and delivering town centre improvements. The young people used tools (the Place Standard and the Town Centre Toolkit) and this led to working with the local community to find opportunities for urban greening and increasing the connections between local greenspaces and the town centre, and making it a more attractive and enjoyable place. You can find out more details about the project at: http://www.scotlandstowns.org/greening_dunfermline_town_centre

Proposal 8: Improving public trust

2.26 - Planning authorities can go further to make sure they actively involve people. In preparing a development plan, there is already a requirement to set out how consultation will be undertaken. Some authorities have used imaginative and inspiring ways to involve people in preparing their development plan, but there is still room for improvement. People are contributing their own time when they get involved in planning, and we must use that time effectively.

Development Plan Schemes

2.27 - Development Plan Schemes define how and when people will be involved in preparing development plans. There is currently no requirement to consult on the content of development plan schemes. We propose requiring that community councils are involved in their preparation and will also extend this to the key agencies and other infrastructure providers. Measures to involve children and young people should be set out within the Development Plan Scheme. To reflect the need for shared corporate 'ownership' of the development plan, the development plan scheme should also have the input and authorisation of the local authority convenor and chief executive.

2.28 - While additional involvement at this stage may add a little time to the plan preparation process, this will help to ensure that people are able to shape how, when and why they get involved at each stage in the development planning process. We also propose that the new early stage independent examination of development plans allows for the approach to community engagement to be agreed alongside key components of the plan's evidence base.

Engagement in development management

2.29 - Involvement in planning is not just a matter for the public sector. Developments where the existing community have been fully involved from the start can often have a smoother journey through the planning process. At present, many developers consult local people on their plans for major developments but the effectiveness of current arrangements varies. While there are examples of good practice, limiting consultation to the current statutory requirements can mean that communities remain frustrated, uninvolved and often disappointed that their views do not appear to have been heard. In turn, this can lead to conflict, undermine positive outcomes and eventually result in substantial costs and delays.

2.30 - Developers can benefit where they take communities with them, rather than meeting local resistance to change at every stage. Communities also have much to gain from helping to shape change, rather than reacting to it. Planning must be done with, rather than to, communities.

2.31 - Involving people more fully at an early stage is essential. Whilst we can achieve much through training and good practice, we also want to look at how the statutory requirements can be improved to encourage everyone to get involved at the earliest stage possible. Planning authorities are already able to require further involvement beyond the statutory minimum.

We propose:

  • To improve and clarify the statutory requirements for pre-application consultation (PAC) for major and national developments, for example to require developers to hold more than one public meeting. We will consider how any second meeting or event can focus on giving more active feedback to communities. This will make sure that communities hear how their views have been taken into account before any formal planning application is submitted. We also recognise that the quality of the conversations which are held is fundamentally important, and that procedures will need to be supported by training and improved practice to make sure that people are listened to properly. We would welcome views on whether this can be accommodated within the current 12 week statutory timescale.
  • To strengthen requirements for community involvement in the case of development sites which have not been allocated in the development plan. As noted in section 1, we believe developers should have to undertake fuller and more meaningful engagement as the site will not have been discussed with the community while the plan was being prepared. We propose requiring that both the local authority and relevant community council should agree the approach to be taken for these cases and the cost should be met by the site promoter.

2.32 - Alongside this, we also want to see high quality and innovative training of the development sector in community involvement as a further priority. Much can be achieved from our continued work to mainstream the use of the Place Standard tool in informing plans and decisions.

Repeat and retrospective applications

2.33 - The independent panel reported that repeat applications can cause communities concern by contributing to a sense of frustration and undermining their trust that views are being listened to. Some applicants may also be reluctant to withdraw inactive or so-called 'legacy cases' from the system in order to keep their right to submit a further application for no additional fee.

2.34 - We propose:

  • Removing the applicant's right to submit a revised or repeat application at no cost if an application is refused, withdrawn, or an appeal is dismissed. Requiring a fee for all applications for planning permission is proposed to encourage a 'right first time' approach, to help to address community concerns and reflect the cost of processing repeat applications.
  • Substantially increasing fees in cases requiring retrospective planning consent.

2.35 - Our wider proposals on planning fees (section 4) also aim to encourage fuller involvement in the planning process and deter practices which undermine community trust in the planning system.

Enforcement

2.36 - It is important that development receives appropriate consent and that unauthorised development is minimised. People lose confidence in the system where unauthorised development is undertaken whilst the vast majority respect due process.

2.37 - The integrity of the development management process depends on the ability of planning authorities to take effective enforcement action where necessary. Public trust can be undermined where unauthorised development, which is unacceptable in planning terms, is allowed to go ahead without intervention. Research[9] into planning enforcement in Scotland shows that the overwhelming majority of enforcement cases are resolved informally and flexibly. As a result, much of the enforcement activity carried out by authorities may go unrecorded in national data. Nevertheless, appropriate powers must be available to deal with those breaches which cannot be resolved like this or in cases which merit formal action.

2.38 - The Planning etc. (Scotland) Act 2006 introduced stronger powers for planning authorities to take formal action to deal with cases where there has been a breach of control. We believe that there is scope to further improve how planning enforcement works. As well as proposals to increase fees for retrospective applications, we propose the following:

  • To make it easier for planning authorities to recover costs associated with taking enforcement action. If, for example, planning authorities incur costs through taking direct action against a landowner who has not complied with the requirements of enforcement notices, the landowner could be required to pay these costs. Introducing charging orders similar to those available in building standards legislation could help to ensure that planning authorities can recover their costs from the person responsible.
  • To substantially increase the financial penalties for breaches of planning control.

2.39 - We will also continue to work with Heads of Planning Scotland (HoPS) and planning enforcement officers to develop good practice and consistent approaches to planning enforcement across Scotland.

Proposal 9: Keeping decisions local - rights of appeal

2.40 - There have been calls for planning reform to introduce a third party right of appeal, also referred to as an 'equal' or 'balanced' right of appeal. We believe that this 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. Nationally, it would be a disincentive to investment in Scotland, compared to other administrations and, moreover, mean that more decisions are made by central government, without such a right necessarily being representative of the wider community. We support the view of the independent panel on this issue and do not propose a new right of appeal for third parties to challenge development decisions.

2.41 - However, we recognise that there are opportunities to look at how we can improve communities' trust in the planning system in a more positive way, and so we are now asking for views on the degree to which more decisions should be considered locally.

2.42 - It is important that applicants have recourse to a review of a decision on a planning application. Local review bodies were established by the Planning etc. (Scotland) Act 2006 to review decisions on certain 'local developments'[10] where that decision was taken by a planning officer, rather than by elected members. We believe there is scope to build on this move towards greater local responsibility by:

  • Expanding the range of planning applications which are subject to local review. We will review the hierarchy of developments to explore the extent to which reviews of decisions can be handled locally.
  • For major developments which accord with the development plan, we think there could be scope for decisions granting permission to be determined under delegated powers and reviewed by the local review body rather than appealed to Scottish Ministers.
  • Making provision for a wider range of other consents to be delegated. This would allow decisions on applications to be reviewed by the local review body, rather than appealed to Scottish Ministers.

2.43 - Apart from the cases that are currently handled by local review bodies, all other appeals are submitted to Ministers and most are decided by an independent reporter. If fewer appeals are determined centrally, this would allow Ministers to make more decisions themselves, rather than delegating most decisions to reporters. We would welcome views on whether this would help to ensure there is democratic accountability at all levels. In all cases, a professional planning view would still be needed, and that view would need to be taken into account when making decisions.

2.44 - We realise that the success of this change depends on the ability of the decision makers to make sound decisions that are rooted firmly in clear planning principles and policies. We are therefore also proposing training for all local elected members who are involved in a planning committee or a local review body and would welcome views on whether they should be tested on completion of training.

2.45 - The appeal process can add significant administrative cost and, where decisions are not made swiftly, this can involve all parties in further delay. We therefore propose to introduce a fee both for appeals to Ministers and for a review of a planning decision by the planning authority. These measures, together with those in section 4, are intended to move decision-making to the appropriate level of government whilst recognising the need to fund the planning system more effectively.

2.46 - In all these decisions, we agree with the independent panel that those making the decisions should clearly summarise in their decision notice how community views have been taken into account. We will address this through guidance and practice.

Recognising the distinctiveness of all our communities

2.47 - We recognise that planning in our island communities presents a different set of issues to many other parts of Scotland. Whilst Scotland's inhabited islands are diverse, they share particular challenges, including added development and infrastructure costs. Development in an island setting tends to be more gradual and finely grained and so changes to the planning system which focus on larger scale development are less likely to be relevant. Island communities can be particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, including increased severe weather events and coastal erosion. More immediately, running a planning service in these circumstances can bring logistical challenges.

2.48 - There are also island-specific opportunities, including a more readily identifiable community, strong local relationships extending to a tradition of self-sufficiency in many places, and a resource-rich high quality environment that supports good quality of life.

2.49 - An improved planning system should respond to the unique circumstances of all our communities and this principle underpins many of the wider proposals set out here. For example, some scope to depart from national policy within the local development plan will benefit island communities where their circumstances demand a more tailored approach. Island communities could also lead the way in putting many of the proposed changes in place, including by preparing local place plans. The proposals to broaden the scope for regional working could help the authorities to share skills to help address resourcing challenges.

2.50 - Alongside our work to develop more detailed proposals for the Planning Bill and accompanying non-legislative changes, we will continue to work with the six local authorities who are represented on the Islands Strategic Group, to ensure any proposals for change are sufficiently flexible to respond to their unique but varied local circumstances. We will also look at opportunities for innovation, including using digital technology to overcome travel and distance barriers.

2.51 - We have also considered the independent panel's recommendation that the powers of the Cairngorms National Park Authority should be reviewed. Whilst the arrangements for planning in the Cairngorms vary from those in the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, we recognise that the character, capacity and sensitivities of each park are also quite distinctive. As a result, we are not proposing to debate or change these arrangements as part of the wider review of the system as a whole.

2.52 - We are aware that a well-functioning planning system is vital for the business activities of Scotland's farmers and rural communities. We will be examining a number of planning issues, such as permitted development rights, which could potentially contribute to the development of economic activity in rural Scotland. We will also be examining what measures need to be taken to increase the supply of affordable housing available for retiring tenant farmers.

People make the system work - consultation questions

Key question

B: Do you agree that our proposed package of reforms will increase community involvement in planning? Please explain your answer.

Optional technical questions

9. Should communities be given an opportunity to prepare their own local place plans?

9(a) Should these plans inform, or be informed by, the development requirements specified in the statutory development plan?

9(b) Does Figure 1 cover all of the relevant considerations?

10. Should local authorities be given a new duty to consult community councils on preparing the statutory development plan?

10(a) Should local authorities be required to involve communities in the preparation of the Development Plan Scheme?

11. How can we ensure more people are involved?

11(a) Should planning authorities be required to use methods to support children and young people in planning?

12. Should requirements for pre-application consultation with communities be enhanced? Please explain your answer(s).

12(a) What would be the most effective means of improving this part of the process?

12(b) Are there procedural aspects relating to pre-application consultation (PAC) that should be clarified?

12(c) Are the circumstances in which PAC is required still appropriate?

12(d) Should the period from the serving of the Proposal of Application Notice for PAC to the submission of the application have a maximum time-limit?

13. Do you agree that the provision for a second planning application to be made at no cost following a refusal should be removed?

14. Should enforcement powers be strengthened by increasing penalties for non-compliance with enforcement action?

15. Should current appeal and review arrangements be revised:

15(a) for more decisions to be made by local review bodies?

15(b) to introduce fees for appeals and reviews?

15(c) for training of elected members involved in a planning committee or local review body to be mandatory?

15(d) Do you agree that Ministers, rather than reporters, should make decisions more often?

16. What changes to the planning system are required to reflect the particular challenges and opportunities of island communities?