Issue 14 - December 2016

REPOSITIONING PLANNING

By Craig McLaren, Director, RTPI Scotland

Scotland in the 21st century faces serious challenges and – rightly - has ambitious aspirations. How do we solve the housing crisis? How do we tackle climate change? How do we deliver inclusive growth? How do we create a fairer Scotland? How do we become a low carbon economy? How do we protect our most valuable landscapes, places and buildings? How do we support our town and city centres?

I would argue that we need a plan.

The Scottish Government Planning White Paper is a once in a generation opportunity to reposition the system, to provide the plan that we need to be successful in the 21st century.

Facing these challenges and fulfilling these ambitions is complex. Planners are trained and experienced in looking at the big picture and working with all the interests to agree a vision to deliver the best solution possible. The Scottish planning system is already respected across the world for this reason. However, the way planning works, and the way it can be seen by others, means that we don’t always fulfil our potential. RTPI Scotland believes that the Scottish Government Planning White Paper is a once in a generation opportunity to reposition the system, to provide the plan that we need to be successful in the 21st century. This requires transformations in both the way that planning works, and the way that it is perceived by other practitioners and the general public:

 

RTPI Scotland believes that for this repositioning to happen, the planning system should be based on four key principles:

Planning should be both delivery and outcome focused. Planners should write and deliver plans, and have the financial and skills resources available to them that allow them to do this.

The planning system must be more proactive and frontloaded. This requires a truly plan-led approach that promotes the primacy of the Development Plan. Community and stakeholder engagement should be embedded throughout the process, from the outset looking to build consensus and provide. Clarity on responsibilities for delivery.

Planning must be more collaborative and corporate. It needs to be able to coordinate the range of players interested in land use and be influential within local and national Government, key agencies, and the private and third sectors. It should instigate collaboration and influence policy and resource allocation across organisations to maximise benefits for places. This requires spatial planning to link effectively with community planning, and vice versa. It also needs to be integrated with key Scottish Government strategies that rely on planning to deliver their ambitions.

To play its part in shaping a better and more sustainable Scotland, the planning system must be properly resourced, in recognition that it is a preventative spending opportunity that costs money upfront, but adds value in the long term by contributing to Scotland being more successful. Necessary resources are not just financial, but also include skills, information, intelligence and systems. Current budget cuts are drastically hampering the ability of planning to fulfil its potential, and risk it being reduced to a minor regulatory role...

Planning…. needs to be able to coordinate the range of players interested in land use and be influential within local and national Government, key agencies, and the private and third sectors.

RTPI Scotland has therefore framed a number of key ‘game-changers’ that would see this realised.

  1. Make the Role of Chief Planning Officer statutory in local authorities
    The status of planning should be enhanced by establishing in legislation the role of a Chief Planning Officer in each planning authority, and therefore guaranteeing spatial planning expertise at senior management level. The responsibilities of this post would set out where they would need to be involved in decision making within and beyond the planning service. It would also establish how and when the Chief Planning Officer would be required to be consulted. We believe that this will provide a better planned approach to services and development.
     
  2. Establish a Community Right to Plan
    A community right to plan could involve a mechanism for communities to prepare their own spatial plans, or reflect a more collaborative and frontloaded approach to producing local development plans. The process should be embedded in the timescales of frontloaded local development plan engagement and the preparation of Local Outcome Improvement Plans. Professional planners should take an enabling role, using their expertise and experience to help communities to explore opportunities for their area whilst also recognising constraints and context. This will require resourcing, to ensure that all communities who want to are able to take a more active role in planning their places.
     
  3. Ensure full cost recovery for planning application fees and ring-fence them for development management
    Research published by RTPI Scotland shows that between 2010 and 2015 up to 20% of posts were lost from planning departments across Scotland, alongside a loss of £40m from planning budgets. The average proportion of local authority budgets used directly for planning functions was 0.63%. Meanwhile, only 63% of the costs of processing a planning application were recovered by the fee charged. The principle of full cost recovery for assessing planning applications should be established. Planning application fees should be ring-fenced so that they are only used to support the assessment of planning applications. There is a need to explore where planning authority costs can be covered for pre-application and post-application tasks and services.
     
  4. Reconfigure the next National Planning Framework as a National Development Plan which has a stronger role in delivering new housing
    A new National Development Plan should look at how Scotland functions, outwith the scope of political boundaries, and use this understanding to set out how much and where housing should be provided. Specific locations and sites would then be identified in Strategic and Local Development Plans. Through integration with other national strategies such as the infrastructure investment plan and the national transport strategy a National Development Plan should identify and contribute to delivering areas of growth and future infrastructure investments to support it. 

By Craig McLaren, Director, RTPI Scotland

Issue 14 - December 2016

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