NPF4 call for ideas: analysis of responses

Independent analysis of responses to the call for ideas to inform the preparation of a new National Planning Framework (NPF), launched in January 2020.

Land assembly and compulsory purchase

Proposed key objective of NPF4: To promote a proactive, infrastructure first approach to land assembly, including the use of compulsory purchase powers where appropriate, and to underline that doing so can support the delivery of planning/placemaking objectives.

The work of the Scottish Land Commission around improving the operation of the market for land for housing and development was highlighted, including around supporting more effective community engagement in land use decision making. Other themes were reported as work to:

  • Investigate the effects of land value and availability on rural housing.
  • Understand and assess the consequences of land vacancy and dereliction.

In relation to land value sharing, comments included that public interest-led development is based on the principle that a more proactive involvement by the public sector should enable additional value to be created through the development process that would not otherwise exist. It was suggested that, by creating a framework that would enable landowners and developers to share this additional value, it should be possible to harness their rational self-interest in pursuit of the common good.

However, it was argued that no single legislative or policy mechanism will achieve this but that NPF4 could help achieve a fundamental shift in culture in which relationships between landowners, developers and public planners are based on mutual trust and respect and conducted in the spirit of collaboration and shared purpose. To this end, it was proposed that NPF4 should adopt the principles and language of land value sharing and encourage local authorities to embed this in practice.

With regard to approaches to land allocation, it was reported that the way land currently comes forward for development reflects Scotland's current model of speculative development in which decisions are largely driven by commercial interests. There was a call for a more plan-led approach that delivers on the public interest and creates resilient, thriving and sustainable places. It was suggested that the planning system has to continue to develop its role as an enabler of development, working with landowners, developers and agents to assemble sites and bring them forward for development and attract investment. Specific suggestions included that:

  • NPF4 and SPP should strongly empower planning authorities to take a more proactive, plan-led approach to allocating sites for development.
  • Allocation of land for development should be evidence-led by early engagement with key agencies, infrastructure providers and communities in advance to the proposed gatecheck stage.
  • Closer working with economic development services and other agencies, with available funding is required to deliver land for employment purposes.
  • If local authorities had the funding, a more proactive approach to land assembly could be taken along with an infrastructure first approach to have development ready sites. This could include use of compulsory purchase or similar powers. Masterplan consent areas offer potential to explore this further and to create a simpler planning system for developers.

Also in relation to land assembly, it was suggested that the creation of a national spatial framework requires a national strategy and a whole system approach, and it was suggested that there should be an alignment between National Investment Bank priorities and NPF4. Other suggestions included that:

  • The potential circumstances in which a proactive approach to land assembly might be appropriate should be clarified, with guidance on how such an approach can be provided.
  • Any valuation requirements should not put a burden on the public purse. At present land is too often valued at housing value, making the delivery of schemes unnecessarily challenging. Circular 4/1998 on planning conditions is currently a barrier where developers could play a part as it restricts actions that can be seen as 'planning gain'.

A concern was raised that the absence of a clear strategy on development of an infrastructure levy and Infrastructure Agency will lead to progress with land assembly and compulsory purchase projects being inhibited.

Other comments also addressed compulsory purchase, with the connection sometimes made to the use of Vacant or Derelict Land. They included that no one should have the power to create gap sites and derelict spaces in towns and cities or hold up vital infrastructure, but that landowners should be encouraged to adopt a responsible and voluntary approach to land reuse.

However, it was suggested that, if necessary, compulsory measures such as Compulsory Sales Orders could be used to bring sites back into productive use, support the infrastructure first approach or the creation, development or connection of green infrastructure or networks.

In terms of the policy or approach to be taken forward it was suggested that it should be flexible/adaptable, including because of the need to respond to economic change. Other comments included that:

  • The purchase of vacant and derelict buildings to facilitate the improvement of town centres needs to be built into NPF4.
  • Local authorities should be given powers to forward-purchase and prescribe what developments should look like.
  • Community buy outs of land should be given priority.
  • Enabling the compulsory purchase and then rewilding of grouse moors could offer major environmental benefits.



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