Adoption of Scottish planning policy in local development plans: research

Research that looks at how effective Scottish planning policy has been in influencing local development planning and decision making.

2. Introduction

2.1 Introduction

2.1.1 Ironside Farrar was commissioned by Building Standards Division (BSD) of the Scottish Government on behalf of Planning and Architecture Division (PAD).

2.1.2 The following research has gathered information on how local authorities have incorporated the policies in Scottish Planning Policy (2014)[2] into their development plans. It has explored how future national policies could be developed in light of the proposed new arrangements included in the Planning (Scotland) Bill.

2.2 Background

2.2.1 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 includes policies on the following subjects:

Table 1: SPP Principal and Subject Policies

Principal Policies

- Sustainability

- Placemaking

Subject Policies

- Promoting Town Centres

- Promoting Rural Development

- Supporting Business and Employment

- Enabling Delivery of New Homes

- Valuing the Historic Environment

- Delivering Heat and Electricity

- Planning for Zero Waste

- Valuing the Natural Environment

- Maximising the Benefits of Green Infrastructure

- Promoting Responsible Extraction of Resources

- Supporting Aquaculture

- Managing Flood Risk and Drainage

- Promoting Sustainable Transport and Active Travel

- Supporting Digital Connectivity

2.2.2 The SPP currently has no statutory status. There is, however, an expectation that strategic and local development plan policies (including supplementary guidance) will be consistent with the policies set out in the SPP. These development plans are currently the basis for planning decision making in Scotland, as decisions are to be made in accordance with the plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise.

2.2.3 An independent review of the Scottish planning system was undertaken in 2015-2016. This suggested that existing arrangements have led to substantial repetition of national policy throughout local development plans.

2.2.4 The Independent Review Panel's report[3], published in May 2016, recommended that the role of the SPP should be extended so that there is no need for national policies to be repeated in development plans. This would ensure greater consistency between national and local policies whilst allowing development plans to be less focussed on policy and more effectively based on the places that they cover. It was, however, accepted that local development plans should be able to waive or vary national policies to reflect local circumstances.

2.2.5 The Panel also recommended 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 would mean that, for the first time, policies in the SPP would have a statutory status.

2.2.6 Existing legislation includes provisions for the preparation of supplementary planning guidance. This can be adopted and issued by a strategic development planning authority in connection with a strategic development plan, or by a planning authority in connection with a local development plan. Any such guidance currently forms part of the development plan. The Planning (Scotland) Bill however has proposed that these provisions be removed from legislation to ensure that key policies are more clearly set out in development plans.

2.2.7 The above changes to the planning system were taken forward in the Planning (Scotland) Bill which was introduced to the Scottish Parliament in December 2017[4].

2.2.8 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.

2.2.9 The Act outlines that the status of the NPF will be elevated, from material consideration, to part of the development plan.

2.3 Aim and Objective

2.3.1 As the Planning (Scotland) Act has received Royal Assent, the format, content and influence of the future NPF is going to change significantly given it now has an elevated role in decision making as part of the development plan.

2.3.2 Aim - The aim of this research is 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.

2.3.3 Objective - The objective of this project is 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.

2.4 Research Methods

2.4.1 The outputs from this research gathers information on how local authorities have incorporated the policies in Scottish Planning Policy (2014) into their development plans. It then explores how future national policies could be developed in light of the proposed new arrangements included in the Planning (Scotland) Bill.

2.4.2 The Research Methodology employed is set out in Table 2, below.

Table 2: Methodology



Stage 1a


  • Met with Client Group to discuss and agree programme of work, main aims, strategic vision and work programme.
  • Developed and explored understanding(s) of the legislative context, breadth & opportunity of project and key issues.
  • Discuss and agree the reporting, format, information and data recording and agreement on consultation arrangements.
  • Agree study methodology and identify key contacts, key information requirements and sources.
  • Add to outline study programme presented within this submission to illustrate when each of the methodology stages will be undertaken.

Stage 1b

Desk Based Data Collection

  • Gathered a robust baseline of development plan policies which covered policies from 33 of 34 authorities to allow the opportunity for all planning authorities to engage when it comes to Phase 2 consultation. This was felt to be the most appropriate means by which a true picture of existing policies across Scotland's adopted and emerging Strategic Development Plans (SDPs), Local Development Plans (LDPs) and Supplementary Guidance (SG) could be formed.
  • Extracted pertinent policy points of the 2 principal and 14 subject policies within SPP to ensure a robust understanding of what each of the 16 policy areas are trying to achieve, to assist with comparison of SPP policies against emerging and adopted development plan policies.
  • Set up workbook spreadsheet 1 to include all SDP policies for comparison with SPP.
  • Set up workbook spreadsheet 2 to include all LDP policies for comparison with SPP.
  • Based on the workbooks, prepare a Phase 1 Initial Findings Report. This would include a succinct review of each SDP/LDP identifying any direct correlation between SDP/LDP policy, SG and SPP and establishing:
  • - 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.
  • Discuss Stage 1 findings with steering group.

Stage 2


Gather and analyse information 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 throughout Scotland.

Stage 3

Written Report

  • Draft of the report issued to Client Group for comment.
  • Final version of the review for approval and finalisation by the Client Group. The output being a written report covering project aims and objectives, including an executive summary and conclusions and interpretation of information where relevant.

2.5 Report Structure

2.5.1 The report will be structured as follows:

Section 1 Executive Summary

Section 2 Introduction

Section 3 Stage 1 – Desktop Findings

Section 4 Stage 2 – Consultation

Section 5 Conclusions and Recommendations



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