1. Executive Summary
1.1 Executive Summary
The Scottish Planning Policy (SPP) is a statement of Scottish Government policy on how nationally important land use planning matters should be addressed across the country. The SPP currently has no statutory status.
An independent review of the Scottish planning system was undertaken in 2015-2016. One of the recommendations to come out of the review was that consideration should be given to integrating the SPP with the National Planning Framework (NPF), with both being afforded the same statutory weight as the development plan.
This change to the planning system was taken forward in the Planning (Scotland) Bill which was introduced to the Scottish Parliament in December 2017. The Bill was passed on the 20th of June 2019 and officially became the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 on the 25th of July 2019, when it received Royal Assent. The Act outlines that the status of the NPF will be elevated, from material consideration, to part of the development plan.
The Scottish Government appointed Ironside Farrar, to gather information on how planning authorities have incorporated Scottish Planning Policy (2014) policies into their development plans. The research undertaken has explored how future national policies could be developed in light of the changes brought forward by the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 which result in NPF being elevated from material consideration to part of the development plan.
The aim of this research was to undertake a review of how the existing arrangements are currently being applied in development planning and identify the issues that will need to be considered and addressed in framing future policies. The objective of this project was to ensure that the Scottish Government has a sound overview of how effective the policies in the current SPP are in influencing local development planning and decision making.
With a view to responding to the defined aim and objective of the project, Stage 1 involved desk-based data collection to gather a robust baseline of development plan policies identifying any direct correlation between SDP/LDP policy, SG and SPP. This established:
- Which SPP policies are widely applied in a consistent way.
- Which SPP policies appear to cause issues for implementation e.g. with interpretation, confusion or are being inconsistently applied.
- Where SPP policies have been changed or adapted to meet local circumstances, including possible explanations for doing so.
- Which policies not covered in the SPP appear frequently in plans.
In Stage 2, a survey was set up to gather feedback from Planning Authorities and other stakeholders with experience of dealing with the implementation of SPP policies through development plans and an understanding of how they are influencing planning decisions. The survey gathered 69 online responses, and a further 4 written submissions.
The following paragraphs summarise the findings of Stage 1 and 2 with regards to how well the range of topics covered in development plans relate to the existing policies in the current SPP, what SPP policies work well for decision making purposes, which policies are widely applied in a consistent way and which are causing issues for implementation.
The overall concept of Sustainability was well represented through all Local Development Plans and is widely regarded as a useful policy. Sustainability was one of the most selected answers for policies that work well for plan making purposes. Some concerns were raised about how to consistently apply the policy in Development Management as proposals may be sustainable in certain aspects but fail in others. The policy was described by some as too vague and open to interpretation yet others considered the term broad enough in its own right to merit flexible interpretation.
The overall concept of Placemaking was well represented through all Local Development Plans and is widely considered a useful policy. Placemaking was the most selected answer for policies that work well for plan making purposes. The policy is considered practical for Development Management purposes as it ensures that the material consideration of design is represented. Confusion arose around the wording of the policy and it was noted that it is unclear what parts of the policy are statements or guidance. It was noted that placemaking is sometimes compromised to meet housing targets, making it difficult to apply. Placemaking was the most selected answer for policies that need local flexibility as local context is important to design.
Promoting Town Centres
All Local Development Plans promoted a town centre first policy, but the requirements for retail impact assessments, town centre health checks and avoidance of clustering non-retail uses in town centres are less consistently applied. Five LDP policies were identified that varied from SPP to meet local circumstances. Promoting Town Centres was the second most selected answers for policies that work well for plan making purposes, noted as giving a clear and detailed statement of Scottish Government's expectations. Promoting Town Centres was the most selected answers for policies that work well for Development Management purposes, the sequential approach was identified as a particularly useful tool. It was considered that the policy could go further to promote mixed use development which would allow the role of town centres to adapt to the modern retail environment. Geographical differences require the policy to clearly distinguish how it should be applied in urban and rural areas.
Promoting Rural Development
The promotion of rural development was represented in the majority of Local Development Plans, not as applicable to some authorities due to geographical make up. Policies regarding the provision of leisure accommodation, promoting special qualities of an area, discouraging the suburbanisation of the countryside and refusing development which requires new defences against coastal erosion are less consistently applied. The policy was considered to work well for plan making purposes as it provides a sensible distinction between pressured and remote areas. For Development Management purposes the wording of the policy was noted as articulate and still allows for appropriate variation when required. It was considered that the policy could be improved by providing more detail on how wild land policies should be applied, adopting a more lenient approach to protecting land of less than prime agricultural quality and a more consistent approach to rural housing. Promoting Rural Development was the most selected answer for policies that need local flexibility as each rural locality has widely different priorities.
Supporting Business and Employment
All Local Development Plans supported business and employment, but the requirements for home working/community hub units, appropriately allocating land for accessible freight movement and business land audits are less consistently applied. Three LDP policies were identified that varied from SPP to meet local circumstances. The policy was considered to work well for plan making purposes as it sets out detailed requirements on how to allocate business land. For Development Management purposes the policy was considered non-contentious and allows decisions to be made that consider wider social and economic implications. Very few thought the policy to be unclear or difficult to apply. Local flexibility is required for this policy area due to differing economic strategies and disparity across the country.
Enabling Delivery of New Homes
All Local Development Plans supported the delivery of new homes, but the requirements for specialist housing provision and sites for travellers are less consistently applied. The policy works well for plan making purposes as it promotes the development of housing and recognises the need for an effective 5-year supply. The main downfall is the absence of a standardised method used to calculate housing supply figures. This has a subsequent effect on Development Management procedures, and was the prevailing reason why Enabling Delivery of New Homes was the most selected answer regarding policies that are unclear or confusing and policies that are difficult to apply. Local flexibility is required for this policy area to allow authorities to meet their housing targets.
Valuing the Historic Environment
All Local Development Plans valued the historic environment, but the requirements for Marine Protected Areas and World Heritage sites are less consistently applied as they are not relevant for many localities. 3 policies were identified that varied from SPP to meet local circumstances. The policy works well for plan making purposes as it provides a clear list of considerations that should be covered by local policy. For Development Management purposes the policy provides a good balance between the conservation of historic buildings and locations and the need to promote economic development. The policy could provide more clarity on battlefield and archaeological sites, but the fact that key agencies like Historic Environment Scotland provide additional detailed guidance means this policy is potentially superseded. Archaeological studies are difficult to apply due to resourcing issues in smaller localities. Flexibility was not deemed as suitable for this policy to ensure historically important assets are preserved but the right balance should be sought in areas of high sensitivity.
Delivering Heat and Electricity
All Local Development Plans included policies that helped deliver heat and electricity, but the requirements for microgeneration technologies and repowering existing wind farm in suitable sites are less consistently applied. 2 policies were identified that varied from SPP to meet local circumstances. The policy works well for plan making purposes as it supports renewable energy infrastructure and the national aim of a Low Carbon Place. For Development Management purposes the policy works well as it provides a clear spatial hierarchy and provides a comprehensive list of criteria to consider specifically for wind farms, however it was suggested that basing decisions on landscape capacity studies would be more robust. This is partly why Delivering Heat and Electricity was one of the most selected answers regarding policies that are unclear or confusing and policies that are difficult to apply. The idea of heat networks is supported in principle but the reality of implementing them is much more difficult. Flexibility is required for this policy as new forms of generating renewable energy may become more sustainable than current technology.
Planning for Zero Waste
All Local Development Plans included policies that helped deliver heat and electricity, but the requirements for maximising the value of secondary resources and utilising energy from waste facilities for renewable heat and energy are less consistently applied. 1 policy was identified that varied from SPP to meet local circumstances. The policy works well for plan making purposes as it provides clear direction and guidance for allocating land for waste management facilities. Planning for Zero Waste was the least selected answer for policies that work well for Development Management purposes, more guidance should be provided about the impacts that waste facilities have near non-compatible uses. Buffer zones were identified as useful for plan making purposes but were identified to be difficult to apply and should be made stronger. Few selected Planning for Zero Waste regarding policies that need local flexibility.
Valuing the Natural Environment
All Local Development Plans valued the natural environment, but the requirements that plans should address the potential effects of major-accident hazard sites on the natural environment was less consistently applied. 1 policy was identified that varied from SPP to meet local circumstances. The policy works well for plan making purposes as it provides a clear list of considerations that should be covered by local policy. For Development Management purposes the policy provides clear and articulate direction for appropriate reasons to refuse a proposal. The policy could provide more detail on the treatment of biodiversity and ecosystem services sites, but the fact that key agencies provide additional detailed guidance means this policy is potentially superseded. Lack of depth on how positive outcomes for biodiversity can be realised can make the policy confusing and difficult to apply. Few selected Valuing the Natural Environment regarding policies that need local flexibility.
Maximising the Benefits of Green Infrastructure
All Local Development Plans include policies that maximise the benefits of green infrastructure, but the requirements to encourage the temporary use of unused land and promote the creation of new green infrastructure though a design led approach are less consistently applied. The policy works well for plan making purposes as it provides a clear approach to the importance of green networks, outdoor sports facilities and community growing spaces. This is also useful for Development Management purposes. The policy is considered not to be unclear but could be easier to apply through the introduction of clearer standards and minimum requirements. Flexibility is required to deliver appropriate measures for both dense and rural areas.
Promoting Responsible Extraction of Resources
31 of the 33 examined Local Development Plans included policies that promote the responsible extraction of resources. Most requirements are taking into consideration with the exception of identifying areas where surface coal extraction would be acceptable and supporting the maintenance of a landbank of permitted reserves for construction aggregates of at least 10 years at all times in all market areas. Promoting Responsible Extraction of Resources was the joint least selected answer for policies that work well for plan making purposes, and joint second least selected answer for policies than work well for Development Management purposes. The subject policy was also the least selected policy for policies that are confusing or unclear. The protection currently in place for peatlands needs clarification and the protection of carbon rich soils does not align across other policy topics. The policy is difficult to apply as the right balance between the use of existing facilities for extraction and the impacts of transporting materials over long distances has not been created. Few selected Promoting Responsible Extraction of Resources regarding policies that need local flexibility.
The support of aquaculture development was not applicable to all authorities due to geographical constraints and was only represented in 18 of the 33 examined Local Development Plans. The three main aspects of the policy area have not been incorporated consistently although this reflects the number of authorities where aquaculture takes place. Few responses were received regarding the policy due to limited applicable authorities, meaning that the subject policy was one of the least selected answers for policies that work well for plan making purposes and policies that work well for Development Management purposes. Respondents found the policy confusing as there is a general lack of clarity over the role of planning in relation to marine farming, and difficult to apply as there is no guidance to assess impacts on marine environment.
Managing Flood Risk
All Local Development Plans include policies to manage flood risk with all requirements consistently applied. 1 policy was identified that varied from SPP to meet local circumstances. The policy works well for plan making purposes as the risk framework is robust. For Development Management purposes the policy is useful as several concepts are very well addressed, with the only confusion arising around the role of key agencies like SEPA and how to assess proposals in areas with existing flood defences. Difficulty in applying the policy comes from balancing flood risk with promoting waterside development and is more challenging to apply in rural areas. Flexibility is required to account for climate change and recognise a departure from policy may be required.
Promoting Sustainable Transport and Active Travel
All Local Development Plans promote sustainable transport and active travel, but the requirements to promote disused railways lines, electric vehicle charging points, safeguard strategic freight sites and canals are less consistently applied. 2 policies were identified that varied from SPP to meet local circumstances. The policy works well for plan making purposes as it clearly sets out principles for transport policies. For Development Management purposes the policy works well but other guidance is largely duplicated. It is hard to understand the role planning can have on promoting this subject policy and is hard to meaningfully apply it to large scale rural development. Flexibility is required to cater for different localities but tools such as lower parking requirements should be set to promote sustainable travel.
Supporting Digital Connectivity
All Local Development Plans include policies to support digital connectivity with all requirements consistently applied. The policy works well for plan making purposes as it clearly indicates what is required for local policy. For Development Management purposes the intent is clear and sufficiently broad to allow for application of appropriate statements for individual applications. Priorities over social and economic benefits against visual impact could be revisited to rebalance Development Management decisions. The subject policy is unclear over the appropriate weight that should be given to telecommunication applications. Having to explain why the need for development is making the policy harder to apply. Flexibility is required due to the ever increasing rate of technology improvements to allow the planning system to provide sufficient support.
Recommendations and Conclusions
The following recommendations on possible priority areas for change to be considered as part of the review of SPP have emerged following the research.
- NPF should clearly set out the remit of the Local Development Plan making it clear that national policies are not required to be repeated in Local Development Plans, unless justified amendments have been made.
- NPF should include a clear and concise set of national policies to enable greater consistency in decision making across Scotland based broadly on the Principal and Subject policies included in the 2014 SPP. This will ensure consistency and support an efficient Planning Authority function. Specific criteria for the assessment of planning applications was considered useful.
- NPF should clearly identify where there is flexibility to adapt policies at a local level. This would ensure policies can be varied where appropriate to reflect the varied nature of Scottish planning authorities. Through the research examples have been identified where SPP policies have been changed or adapted to meet local circumstances. The following two examples demonstrate the type of local variations identified:
- Angus Policy TC18 (Core Retail Areas) states that development proposals seeking to change the use of existing ground floor retail premises will be acceptable where the proposed use is a restaurant/or at least 10% of units are vacant. SPP notes that town centres should display a diverse mix of uses and wider economic and social activity during the day and in the evening. Angus Council have quantified their policy, an adaptation of SPP Subject Policy on Promoting Town Centres to meet local circumstances.
- Loch Lomond National Park Authority (Economic Development Policy 3) safeguards land for economic purposes and will only be contravened if, after twelve months of marketing, there is not viable interest in the site. SPP notes that allocations should be flexible enough to accommodate changing circumstances, but Loch Lomond National Park Authority have quantified their policy, an adaptation of SPP Subject Policy on Supporting Business and Employment to meet local circumstances.
- NPF should consider the inclusion of policies that frequently appear in LDPs but that are not covered in SPP whilst retaining a level of flexibility to cater for local circumstances. The following policy areas were identified through the research:
- Developer Obligations
- Householder Development
- Cemeteries/Crematoria Provision
- Social, Community and Health Facilities
- Pipeline and Hazard Consultation Zones
- Public Art
- As widely advocated through the consultation process, NPF should enable planning to support and deliver climate change mitigation and adaptation, whilst recognising the role of Building Standards and other regulatory functions. NPF should take the opportunity to promote aspirations for active travel, energy efficiency, waste reduction, heat networks, reducing energy demand and other means of reducing carbon emissions and, where practicable, look to increase those associated minimum standards currently set out in relevant regulations.
- Where possible, policy principles throughout NPF should continue to be cross referenced to relevant detailed guidance, adding weight to the policy requirement. While SPP provides sufficient guidance for topics such as the historic environment, natural environment and flooding, key agencies such as Historic Environment Scotland and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency provide more detailed guidance. This would ensure consistency and support an efficient Planning Authority function.
- The presumption in favour of sustainable development should remain at the forefront of the plan making process. Policy wording should ensure sufficient weight is given in the Development Management process.
- Placemaking should be at the forefront of development. NPF should be more prescriptive to ensure that placemaking principles are carried through to Development Management. Pressure to meet housing targets should not compromise the ability to deliver high quality design and local context should be considered to ensure new developments respond appropriately to the surrounding area.
- A significant issue for the delivery of new housing was noted as the absence of a robust methodology which could be consistently applied to calculate housing land requirements. NPF should provide a robust methodology and measures to evaluate site effectiveness.
- Planning authorities should be required to critically review the effectiveness of housing and business land when preparing LDPs to ensure LDPs support effective sites.
- Development should deliver an infrastructure first approach which encourages longer term strategic planning and subsequently addresses future transportation, health, education and community facility requirements.
- More coherent guidance should be provided regarding SPP Subject Policy on 'Delivering Heat and Electricity' to ensure the delivery of renewable energy to meet low carbon ambitions. The Spatial Framework should provide more certainty on the circumstances in which windfarm sites are considered acceptable. The policy should be further detailed to ensure other renewable electricity generating technologies and storage are appropriately addressed.
- Improvements to digital infrastructure and connectivity should be supported through NPF to reflect the significant economic and social benefits that connectivity will bring to businesses, residents and visitors. Policy should allow flexibility to support technological advances throughout the lifespan of the plan.
Opportunities for community growing spaces and allotment provision should be further encouraged within NPF.