PLANNING AND INFRASTRUCTURE: A LITTLE LESS CONVERSATION, A LITTLE MORE ACTION PLEASE...
By Sarah Baillie, Planning Partner, Addleshaw Goddard LLP
Since 2014, conversations in the property and development sector have centred around the Scottish Government’s vision of creating a "game changing" world class planning system. When the new planning bill was introduced into the Scottish Parliament, over a year ago, many of us hoped it would ultimately reflect this and the aim of enhancing efficiency and improving delivery. It was envisaged that a stronger, high-performing framework would be created to contribute to inclusive growth by enabling housing and infrastructure delivery as well as supporting quality of life by promoting quality of place and empowering communities.
Unfortunately, the only reason why the Bill may go down as "game changing" is due to its potential to make the system worse.
During its Stage 2 process, there were a significant 300 plus amendments presented by MSPs, with 230 of them accepted. They were scrutinised and considered alongside the rest of the Bill in only a matters of hours - over only seven committee meetings. It is now completely unrecognisable from its original form, difficult to follow with contradicting and complex provisions. There are also genuine serious concerns that it would be unworkable and fail to meet its intended policy objectives.
Figures published by RTPI Scotland are also concerning. They show that the latest draft of the Bill will add 66 new, unnecessary and unfunded duties to local planning authorities with a further 25 on the Scottish Government. This is in addition to the other demands that the Bill will place upon already constrained planning departments.
World Town Planning Day actually occurred during Stage 2, a day celebrating the accomplishments of planners, their contributions to communities and an opportunity to look at planning from a global perspective. Yet, along with the Minister, most property and planning professionals and bodies in Scotland were likely rejoicing at the rejection of an amendment to allow an “equal” right of appeal for third parties that had been voted down the previous day.
You cannot blame them, it would have resulted in uncertainty and entrenched confrontation between and amongst developers, competing business and communities. Its inclusion will be counter-productive to inclusive economic growth and delivering development as well as undermining democracy and placing further demands on planning departments. It may be raised again at Stage 3 but the right of appeal is not the solution to facilitating collaborative engagement.
As for a world class system, there is certainly a growing list of the world's problems MSPs are expecting planners to have a statutory duty to resolve, ranging from public toilet provision to water refill points.
MSPs need to remember that this Bill is about streamlining and improving efficiency and making the system less not more complicated. The Bill is after all there to set a legislative framework and process for the delivery of practice within which policy operates and ultimately development is implemented and delivered - not to debate and set policy within it.
If you take infrastructure as an example, we’ve been talking about its provision being a major challenge to delivering development, especially housing, for a generation. It was one of four key themes of the planning review where the real significant change was to come through an "infrastructure first approach" with a much better integration between planning authorities, infrastructure providers and developers.
However, as amended, the Bill contains a requirement for the NPF to contain housing targets but they appear to be fixed in isolation to infrastructure requirements. The Bill does introduce potential powers for an infrastructure levy but then disappointingly leaves the practical details as to how this will operate in practice to be consulted on later. There are also concerns whether the infrastructure levy is truly an infrastructure tax or rather a land value tax but there is also an amendment relating to land value capture itself, but it is unclear how this will operate with any infrastructure levy and developer contributions.
Most frustratingly, it does not address the question as to how physical infrastructure provision whether in the form of transport networks, utilities or facilities to allow communities to thrive will be delivered. This was also meant to be an opportunity to let planners focus on delivering outcomes and not process.
Take Susan Aitken, Leader of Glasgow City Council's approach, who established the independent Glasgow Connectivity Commission producing "Connecting Glasgow; Creating an Inclusive, Thriving and Liveable City" as an example. The commission were invited by her not to “shirk from making tough recommendations”. It is a refreshing and collaborative mix of independent experts across both the public and private sector, focussed on outcomes, who appreciate and recognise the intrinsic role effective planning and infrastructure plays in delivering much wider transformational benefits for local communities, city regions and the country.
It makes a number of recommendations, aligned to connectivity and transport investment influencing the dear green place's quality of life, its urban fabric and the type of economic activity it supports. It calls for a national focus on Scotland’s principal engine for productivity growth ¬– it is "now Glasgow’s turn" for infrastructure investment. It is everything the Bill currently isn’t. It is a visionary narrative that is bold, imaginative, rejuvenating, inspirational, innovative, collaborative and game changing.
Like Connecting Glasgow, the review of the planning system also started with an independent panel of experts. Democratic engagement has to be actively encouraged, but political gamesmanship and populism should not cast aside pragmatism, expert opinion and efficient scrutiny of legislation.
The approach to infrastructure is just one of the many concerns for developers and investors right now amongst the Bill as it stands. As it enters its final stage, MSPs need to start listening to them and the planning and property professionals who are calling for support of Stage 2 amendments that are actually only necessary in the national interest. They need to start to collaborate and cast aside political divides otherwise there is a real risk the Bill will become entirely self-defeating and legal questions may in fact be raised over the Bill’s competency.
So during its final stage of parliamentary consideration, politicians are urged to listen to the wise words of the great King himself as all this aggravation isn't satisfying. Please have a little more bite and a little less bark, a little less fight and a little more spark and take action to ensure that the Bill satisfies its purpose, as it is a matter that affects all of us who work, live and play in Scotland, not just themselves.
Sarah Baillie is a Planning Partner with international business law firm Addleshaw Goddard LLP. She is one of the few Law Society of Scotland accredited planning law specialists but is uniquely also dual qualified as a chartered town planner retaining membership of the Royal Town Planning Institute.
By Sarah Baillie, Planning Partner, Addleshaw Goddard LLP
RAIL REVIEW, BBC, PLANNING BILL, TRANSPORT IN EDINBURGH, AND MORE PLANNING
It’s here. After much hype, much anticipation, and much expenditure, the new BBC Scotland channel is now in its second month and the political bubble has been active in debating the good and bad, rights and wrongs, fair and unfair.
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