Planning Reform - next steps

Actions to further simplify and streamline the planning system.

Simplifying and Streamlining

Significant changes have been made to the processes for dealing with planning applications and making planning information clearer. A hierarchy of planning applications was introduced to focus efforts on the larger proposals, which are also the most complex, as well as increasing scope for delegation of what are now termed local developments. Additional procedures such as pre-application consultation with the community on more major applications were introduced as well as greater transparency about planning decisions and how they have been arrived at. But there are areas where more can be done to improve the operation of the system. The key areas are:-

  • Permitted development rights
  • Pre-application consultation
  • Pre-application discussions
  • Supporting information and appraisals
  • More effective approaches to public information
  • Management of consultations
  • Schemes of delegation and Local Review Bodies
  • Multiple consents.

In addition we will work with stakeholders including the minerals industry, planning authorities and agencies to consider whether current arrangements for the Review of Mineral Planning Permissions provide a proportionate framework for consideration of environmental issues.

Permitted Development

Householders can now do more to their properties without the need to apply for planning permission. The Government is launching a consultation on proposed changes to non-domestic permitted development today. This proposes removal of some minor developments from planning controls in relation to the extension and alteration of existing commercial, industrial, retail and warehouse land and premises as well as more scope for local authorities and other institutions to carry out development without the need for specific planning permission. It also proposes that planning controls should be increased over hill tracks. The secondary legislation to bring the changes in to force will be laid in late summer.

Pre-Application Consultation

Effective pre-application consultation and discussion is a key feature of the modernised planning system. The Scottish Government remains committed to this but there are ways in which this can be made more effective and efficient.

An unintended consequence of the 2006 Act has been that reconsideration of relatively minor conditions attached to a planning consent for a major development cannot be progressed without the applicant going through a 12 week pre-application consultation stage. This adds delay but little value and we are committed to putting that unintended consequence right by removing this requirement in relation to applications under Section 42 of the Planning Act for a change to planning conditions.

Pre-Application Discussions

Some authorities have taken a very structured approach to pre-application discussion, for example the City of Edinburgh Council ( CEC) Business Concordat and The Highland Council's pre-application service which is recognised as good practice by Homes for Scotland. In addition, CEC informs the Planning Committee about major planning applications. The objective is not to pre-judge an application but to raise member awareness of major applications which could prove controversial and to give members the opportunity to raise issues which they feel should be addressed. We will work with HOPS, the Standards Commissioner and the development industry to identify, promote and share best practice in this area.

We believe pro-active early engagement should be standard practice across Scotland, delivering a project management framework for national and major applications. Well structured pre-application discussion should also help ensure any supporting information and appraisals are relevant and proportionate. The Key Agencies have recently issued a statement confirming their commitment to early and effective engagement for major and national developments supported by a plan-led system. The proposed new fee structure introduces a single fee to cover all elements of the development management system, including pre-application discussions.

Supporting Information and Appraisals

Decisions on planning applications need to be robust and taken against a background of sufficient information describing the impacts of development proposals. This can involve multiple appraisals and assessments to support an application for planning permission, even for permission in principle. While it is essential that environmental and other impacts are fully described in supporting appraisals the associated time and cost is a concern to the development industry, particularly when the outcome is uncertain. Moreover the methodology used in studies and appraisals may give rise to specialist assessment being commissioned by the planning authority to support their consideration of the proposal. The Key Agencies have made a commitment to ask only for information that enables a decision maker to reach a decision and to offer advice on what constitutes adequate appraisal. Overly complex technical material is less accessible to some stakeholders, including members of the public. There is considerable support among local authorities, agencies and the development industry for greater simplification and rationalisation of appraisals. The Scottish Government supports an approach where demands for information and analysis are clear, proportionate and add value to the decision and where there is no loss of rigour in the decision making process.

Considerable progress has been made in streamlining the Strategic Environmental Assessment ( SEA) process. Many planning authorities are now producing Environmental Reports that have a sharper focus on significant impacts and are more relevant and engaging. We believe there are similar opportunities for improving both the proportionality and utility of Habitats Regulations Appraisals ( HRA) of development plans and Environmental Impact Assessment ( EIA) of projects. We are determined to rationalise wherever possible and to shift the focus from following processes to achieving better outcomes.

By the end of 2012 we will have revised our core guidance on SEA and EIA of development plans, and published targeted advice to tackle key issues in HRA. We will continue to provide practical help to planning authorities on individual cases.

Making the appraisal processes more streamlined could result in better understanding of the impact of proposals and see more resources put into better outcomes, for example more effective environmental mitigation or higher design standards.

We will work with a number of authorities, the development industry, agencies and community interests to pilot case studies over a range of development types. Options include exploring the use of accreditation, joint commissioning and procuring more focused appraisals. The pilots will be used to examine what assessments are genuinely needed to secure planning permission and the extent of their scope, along with how those assessments might be transferable to support other consent regimes and made more accessible to the public.

More Effective Approaches to Public Information

EPlanning continues to develop successfully and the provision of electronic information has greatly increased the access that communities have to planning information. The majority of routine enquiries are now resolved through online information and almost 40% of planning applications are submitted electronically. This greatly exceeds original targets and enables more savings and efficiencies to be realised by users. We are committed to building on this success and will continue to enhance the ePlanning website and to improve systems for publishing development plans online. Support is also being provided to planning authorities to improve the quality and simplicity of websites. The Scottish Government will ensure its own websites remain up to date and relevant and are a platform for sharing good practice.

The changes to development management in 2009 led to an increase in requirements to inform communities of particular developments and for greater access to planning information. We want to ensure that interested parties can access information about proposals that affect them or their communities in the most appropriate way and without undue cost and delay being added to the process. At present there are requirements for neighbour notification, for publication of the weekly list of applications available online and addressed to community councils, and in some cases there are further requirements for newspaper advertising. We will seek the views of stakeholders on whether current methods of informing people remain appropriate and whether or not some simplification of existing requirements would be welcome.

Management of Consultations

There is scope for more effective consultations on planning applications. The practice of over consulting needs to be reversed with planning officers taking professional responsibility for identifying the key issues raised by an application and consultations focused on these issues. There has been considerable progress by planning authorities and Government agencies in this area and this needs to be maintained, but an area where there is considerable scope for further improvements is in consultation within planning authorities. We will take forward pilots with some planning authorities to explore ways to reduce the administrative burden and delays, and to promote improved methods of handling planning consultations.

Schemes of Delegation and Local Review Bodies

All planning authorities have adopted schemes of delegation which enable decisions to be taken on local developments by officers rather than awaiting a decision by committee. Current legislation gives considerable scope for planning authorities to prevent delegation to officials where the council have an interest in the application. As a consequence, minor applications where the council have an ownership or financial interest are determined by committee with consequential delay and adverse impact on performance. We think this is unnecessary and, in the consultation on changes to development management, we will be seeking views on removing this constraint on delegation of council interest cases.

Local Review Bodies ( LRBs) have settled down well and recently issued best practice guidance should secure further improvements to practice - available from We are proposing to consider extending the scope of cases which can be considered by LRBs, for example to include appeals relating to consent to display advertisements.

Multiple Consents

Although planning is regularly cited by the development industry as a source of frustration and delay, a range of other permissions and licenses may also be required before a development can get under way. These include the suite of built heritage consents; waste management, PPC and CAR licenses; road construction consents; building warrants; and European protected species licences. Not all are the responsibility of local authorities but each requires an additional investment in time and resource. Meeting the requirements of other permitting regimes can also result in planning permission having to be revisited. We want to ensure that the consenting process is fit for purpose: that it is joined up and proportionate and that it makes the most efficient use of resource by developers, planning authorities and other regulators without eroding the quality of decisions.

Administrative improvements may involve more effective alignment of existing consents, for example of planning permission, building warrant and roads construction consent - all of which are normally handled by the same authority. It may include promoting a one-door approach within local authorities, or also working with agencies in relation to their decision-making roles on non-planning consents, to provide more certainty and efficiency for applicants. We will pilot options with authorities, agencies and applicants to improve project management of developments through various consenting processes. We will establish and promote good practice in this area, including overcoming obstacles to the wider implementation of Scottish Government policy on Designing Streets, but also consider options for legislative change where this will demonstrably add value.

Legislative change may, for example, remove duplication of effort and support modernisation. At present, consents granted under the Electricity Act for energy generating development carry deemed planning permission. We will consider what opportunity exists to combine other consenting processes in that way. Examples may include the alignment of planning permission with listed building consent, with advertisement consent or, in the case of minor works, with building warrant. We would also envisage exploring the scope for simplifying processes around more complex proposals such as waste to reduce duplication of resource within licensing and planning processes.

We appreciate that this is a complex area and will work with stakeholders to ensure that different perspectives are fully recognised. Where there is potential for more integrated approaches without loss of rigour in decision-making we will promote change. We will report on the lessons learned from this work later in the year.


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