Scottish Planning Policy - finalised amendments: December 2020

The Scottish Government’s response to our recent consultation on changes to the Scottish Planning Policy.

7. Conclusion: Policy Changes

Taking into account the views and evidence received and summarised above, we have decided to:

1. Retain, but reword the presumption in favour of development that contributes to sustainable development so that it can be applied in a more straightforward way.

We acknowledge that, overall, the planning system has a vital role in helping to deliver the homes that we need. However, the challenges around delivering housing are complex and not wholly attributable to the extent of effective housing land available. This requires further consideration to inform our fuller review of national planning policies in National Planning Framework 4.

In the meantime, we want to ensure that the existing system is flexible and able to operate effectively within the context of COVID-19 and economic uncertainties in the coming months.

In our view, taking into account views and available evidence, the role of the presumption in decision-making to date may be overstated. However, we recognise the concerns raised by respondents about the broad and positive role of 'the presumption' in the SPP as a confirmation of our commitment to supporting sustainable development. We are concerned that, if the current policy remains un-amended, its application may now lead to approval of some development proposals which are not sustainable. The presumption was never intended to be used to support development which is not sustainable development and the changes we make will make it clear that the policy is to support development that is sustainable development rather than development that contributes to sustainable development.

We are therefore amending the policy so that it more clearly supports sustainable development. It will now provide that there is 'a presumption in favour of sustainable development.'

2. Remove references to plans being 'out of date' and the direct link with calculating the land supply to the presumption and replace them with a more straightforward policy.

Ideally housing should be built on sites allocated in the plan, and the plan and its policies should be kept up-to-date. However, we accept that plans cannot foresee every eventuality. In addition, whilst planning authorities should strive to keep their plans up-to-date, in the months ahead this may not be feasible in some cases, as a result of the constraints arising from the pandemic, the limitations on people who may wish to be involved, as well as the significant changes to the system and NPF4 that will be coming forward in 2021-22.

A shortfall in the land supply should not be the sole or overriding factor in determining whether or not a planning consent should be granted. In the first instance wider policies within development plans can still apply to assess whether developments are sustainable.

In the absence of such policies, reworded paragraphs 32 and 33 would provide decision-makers with more clarity on how the amended presumption should be taken into account.

3. Undertake further work to inform an updated approach to housing land audits within the new system.

We recognise that the proposed amended paragraph 123 and definitions may not provide sufficient clarity and that removal of PAN 2/2010 may generate further confusion. It is clear that there is scope for improvement, but also that there are different views on the best way forward.

We are not proposing to take forward changes to paragraph 123 of the SPP.

We consider that a more fundamental review of this aspect of the system is needed, as part of the development of a new policy approach for National Planning Framework 4, and will take this forward in the months ahead. In the meantime PAN 2/2010 was prepared prior to SPP (2014) and this should be taken into account when applying it.

4. Support the use of the average method to determine whether or not there is a 5 year land supply as a reasonable benchmark to be taken into account in assessing applications.

A single methodology for calculating the 5 year land supply is needed to make the system clearer and more consistent. However, as this is a methodological and operational matter, we have decided to set this out in associated advice rather than in the policy itself.

We accept that any methodology has limitations. Whilst the residual approach takes into account any emerging shortfall in the number of homes being built out, it can lead to unrealistic revised targets. The average approach is more straightforward and predictable, but it is not responsive to variations in the number of homes that are delivered. We recognise that there is an important question about how planning policies can better support delivery, and this will be addressed in National Planning Framework 4.

In the meantime, in our view the average method provides the most appropriate methodology at a time when external factors, including COVID-19 restrictions, market uncertainty, and economic challenges are more likely to influence housing delivery than the availability of land in the planning system. We consider this to be reasonable, taking into account evidence on the land supply across Scotland as a whole. We have also decided to base the calculation on the housing land requirement set out in the development plan, so that the calculation is based on an assumption that we should be planning for a generous supply of land.

The approach will apply between now and a new policy in National Planning Framework 4 being adopted in summer 2022.

5. Monitor decisions to establish how the revised policy is being applied, and consider calling in applications where Ministers consider it would be necessary.

We will commit to monitoring the impact of the revised policy to establish its application in practice and would be willing to intervene by considering the need to call in decisions, should any unintended consequences of this policy arise.

The amended text and new advice is set out below.

Scottish Planning Policy – 2014 – Amendments[2]

Policy Principles

This SPP introduces a presumption in favour of sustainable development.

28. The planning system should support economically, environmentally and socially sustainable places by enabling development that balances the costs and benefits of a proposal over the longer term. The aim is to achieve the right development in the right place; it is not to allow development at any cost.

29. Planning policies and decisions should support sustainable development. For the purposes of this policy, to assess whether a policy or proposal supports sustainable development, the following principles should be taken into account:

  • giving due weight to net economic benefit;
  • responding to economic issues, challenges and opportunities, as outlined in local economic strategies;
  • supporting good design and the six qualities of successful places;
  • making efficient use of existing capacities of land, buildings and infrastructure including supporting town centre and regeneration priorities;
  • supporting delivery of accessible housing, business, retailing and leisure development;
  • supporting delivery of infrastructure, for example transport, education, energy, digital and water;
  • supporting climate change mitigation and adaptation including taking account of flood risk;
  • improving health and well-being by offering opportunities for social interaction and physical activity, including sport and recreation;
  • having regard to the principles for sustainable land use set out in the Land Use Strategy;
  • protecting, enhancing and promoting access to cultural heritage, including the historic environment;
  • protecting, enhancing and promoting access to natural heritage, including green infrastructure, landscape and the wider environment;
  • reducing waste, facilitating its management and promoting resource recovery; and
  • avoiding over-development, protecting the amenity of new and existing development and considering the implications of development for water, air and soil quality.


Development Planning

30. Development plans should:

  • be consistent with the policies set out in this SPP including the presumption in favour of sustainable development;
  • positively seek opportunities to meet the development needs of the plan area in a way which is flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances over time;
  • support existing business sectors, taking account of whether they are expanding or contracting and, where possible, identify and plan for new or emerging sectors likely to locate in their area;
  • be up-to-date, place-based and enabling with a spatial strategy that is implemented through policies and proposals; and
  • set out a spatial strategy which is both sustainable and deliverable, providing confidence to stakeholders that the outcomes can be achieved.

Development Management

32. The presumption in favour of sustainable development does not change the statutory status of the development plan as the starting point for decision-making. The 1997 Act requires planning applications to be determined in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise. Proposals that accord with development plans should be considered acceptable in principle and the consideration should focus on the detailed matters arising.

33. Proposals that do not accord with the development plan should not be considered acceptable unless material considerations indicate otherwise. Where a proposal is for sustainable development, the presumption in favour of sustainable development is a material consideration in favour of the proposal. Whether a proposed development is sustainable development should be assessed according to the principles set out in paragraph 29.

Maintaining an effective housing land supply

125. Planning authorities, developers, service providers and other partners in housing provision should work together to ensure a continuing supply of effective land and to deliver housing, taking a flexible and realistic approach. Proposals that do not accord with the development plan should not be considered acceptable unless material considerations indicate otherwise. Where a proposal for housing development is for sustainable development and the decision-maker establishes that there is a shortfall in the housing land supply in accordance with Planning Advice Note 1/2020, the shortfall is a material consideration in favour of the proposal. Whilst the weight to be afforded to it is a matter for decision-makers to determine, the contribution of the proposal to addressing the shortfall within a five year period should be taken into account to inform this judgement. Whether a proposed development is sustainable development should be assessed according to the principles set out in paragraph 29.

Planning Advice Note 1/2020

Assessing The Extent Of The 5 Year Supply Of Effective Housing Land

To calculate the 5 year supply of effective housing land required, the housing land requirement set out in the adopted development plan should be divided by the plan projection period (i.e. the plan period) (years), in order to identify an annual figure.

This annual figure should then be multiplied by 5.

5 year supply of effective land requirement = (development plan housing land requirement / plan period) x 5

This figure should then be compared with the 5 year supply of effective housing land, based on information collected as part of the housing land audit process, to establish whether or not there is a shortfall or surplus.



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