Planning Circular 2/2008: statutory guidance on strategic development planning authorities

Guidance setting out how planning authorities should work together to prepare strategic development plans.

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8. The principal role of SDPAs is to prepare strategic development plans. Scottish Ministers want SDPs to be prepared and reviewed on at least a 5-yearly basis, so that plans can effectively lead and manage change. The Act therefore requires that proposed SDPs will be submitted to Ministers for approval within 4 years of the date of approval of the last plan. The achievement of this timetable will require strong political leadership and rigorous project management.

9. Strategic development planning authorities should form a joint committee of members representing the constituent planning authorities. This should be serviced by a small dedicated team of officers.


10. The preparation of up-to-date, relevant and achievable SDPs will require councillors to think beyond the boundaries of their own local authority and consider the best strategy for the whole city region.

11. Membership of the joint committee should be on an equal basis, with the same number of councillors from each authority. To ensure that meetings are manageable, it is recommended that 2 councillors from each authority are represented on the SDPA. It may, however, be possible for a greater number from each authority, for example, where the SDPA is made up of a small number of planning authorities e.g. the Aberdeen city region. In all cases, however, each constituent authority should have equal representation.

12. Nomination by local authorities of councillor members to sit on the joint committee is entirely a matter for the respective councils, as is the appointment of a Chair who will have a key role in managing the business of the joint committee and ensuring decisions are made.

13. There may also be scope for the joint committee to co-opt additional non-voting members to represent other interests or provide specialist expertise. For instance, it could be appropriate to co-opt a representative from the relevant regional transport partnership or other key agencies. Such an approach could help ensure that SDPs are properly integrated with other strategies, and that other policy makers properly buy-in to the SDP strategy.

14. The Government envisages that major decisions, for instance about the content of the SDP, will be ratified by the individual planning authorities. But authorities may conclude that delegating some more routine decisions, such as responding to consultations, to the joint committee may assist in the speed and efficiency of decision-making. The level of delegated authority the joint committee has, to make decisions or authorise spending, will be for the individual authorities to decide.

15. It is expected that most decisions will be reached by consensus. However, on occasions where authorities cannot agree on the content of the proposed plan to be submitted to Scottish Ministers, the Planning Act allows one or more of the constituent authorities to set out alternative proposals, along with their reasons for those alternatives.


16. Strategic planning is a continuous process that requires a dedicated team of professional and support staff to manage effectively. Each SDPA joint committee should therefore be supported by a dedicated team of officials, whose responsibility is to service the joint committee and carry out the work to prepare and review the strategic development plan. It is the view of Scottish Ministers that dedicated teams represent the most effective way to deliver an effective plan for the city region. This ensures that no individual council has greater or lesser influence over the shape of the strategic development plan and that it truly reflects the best strategy for the area as a whole. A dedicated team also allows for the appointment of specialists, e.g. statisticians, that might not be viable for an individual authority.

17. SDPA teams are likely to be small in size, drawing in expertise from constituent authorities and beyond. A flexible approach may be adopted, allowing the team to expand and contract depending on the stage of plan preparation and the pressures being faced. A neutral location, separate from any of the individual councils' offices, would help to emphasise the city-region role of the team as would co-location with other city region wide functions, for example, transport. While planning authorities may also find it helpful for the SDPA team to take on broader responsibilities for research, analysis or other shared services to deliver economies of scale for the constituent authorities, that is entirely a matter for the authorities.

18. Where Ministers are concerned that effective arrangements are not being established, they may use their powers under to S.4(3) of the Act to direct that an employee of one of the constituent authorities be assigned to manage the process of preparing and reviewing the plan and that other employees be assigned to assist in that process. This is not about Ministers identifying a specific individual or post to take on the role of the SDP manager, but rather to identify one of the authorities as the employing authority, and tasking that authority with the job of identifying a manager. Neither that manager, nor the supporting officers, would require to be currently employed by that authority. Although these powers are available, Ministers expect arrangements to be established by consensus between the authorities.


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