APRS News

Recent Consultations on the Planning system

We have responded to three Scottish Government Consultations which are relevant for our work on the Planning System. These are on amending LDPs and NPF4, Masterplan Consent Areas and Investing in Planning.

APRS regularly respond to Government consultations on policy areas we are interested in and these three consultations came in around the same time, all looking at different aspects of the Planning System. The full responses are attached below as well as summaries of the main points we have made in each. There are some positive changes proposed in these consultations, however there are some key areas we will want to keep a watch on how they play out, particularly the Masterplan Consent Areas.

Masterplan Consent Areas – draft regulations: consultation 

Closes 22nd May

This consultation relates to proposed regulations on the procedures to prepare Masterplan Consent Areas (MCA). It sets out the proposed procedures and includes two sets of regulations: covering the main process for making MCA schemes and relating to environmental impact assessment.

Our response highlights that, although this is a power that is not envisaged to be used much by local authorities, if it is used, it has the power to grant a large amount of infrastructure all together. It is intended to be used for major developments of national importance such as those in NPF4 but could also be used for major housing developments, free ports etc.

We have suggested that there should be a 12 week consultation period to allow communities to input effectively to these potentially very powerful, and overarching, planning consents. We would be concerned if it would stay at the proposed 30 days, as this would make it very hard to get meaningful community input on these developments.

We also emphasise that the policies in NPF4 should not be overridden in these major developments and that they should be compliant with the local development plan, and indeed, be included within them.

These have the potential to do good, and bring together the various consent processes for major developments, allowing planned and needed infrastructure to be developed more efficiently and in a joined-up way. However we want to ensure that communities are adequately consulted and made aware of these things happening in their areas, and that they are subject to the same policies within NPF4.

Our consultation response

  • Masterplan Consent Areas Consultation

    This consultation relates to proposed regulations on the procedures to prepare Masterplan Consent Areas (MCA). It sets out the proposed procedures and includes two sets of regulations: covering the main process for making MCA schemes and relating to environmental impact assessment.

National Planning Framework and local development plans – proposals for amending regulations: consultation 

deadline 22nd May

Consultation covering proposals for the regulations on procedures to amend the National Planning Framework and Local Development Plans. The stated aim from Scottish Government is to ensure the planning system is more responsive and streamlined, whilst balancing the need for robust justification, engagement and scrutiny.

We believe that communities should be adequately consulted on changes to the Local Development Plans (LDPs) and Scottish Ministers should equip local authorities with proper tools and guidance to empower communities to understand and engage with the LDP amendment process. 

With regard to changes in LDP policies, the local authority should identify and consult with groups deemed to be relevant to that policy, as well as hold an open call for views and they should include information from Local Place Plans (LPPs) adopted since the publication of the LPP.

We recognise that many local authorities are currently under-resourced, particularly in planning departments, so tools like an engagement checklist or an advice hotline for planning authorities could really benefit community empowerment.

Planning authorities should also be required to take into consideration relevant upcoming legislation, namely the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy and National Adaptation Plan, once these are implemented.

Our consultation response

  • Consultation on Amending NPF4 and LDP

    APRS response to a Scottish Government Consultation on proposals for the regulations on procedures to amend the National Planning Framework and Local Development Plans.

Investing in planning – resourcing Scotland’s planning system: consultation

Closes 31st May

This consultation sets out a range of options which the Scottish Government believe have the potential to improve the capacity of the Scottish planning system, in particular in planning authorities, in the coming years.

Speeding up the Planning Process

Our response stated that speeding up the planning process should not come at an environmental cost, and we expressed concern that reducing the requirements for assessments without thorough consideration of the consequences could lower the bar in terms of environmental protections. Communities frequently have concerns that biodiversity assessments are not in-depth enough and often are only desk-based and we do not want to see standards of these assessments eroded.

We believe that the precautionary approach is vital, as it can have huge benefits in reducing and avoiding harm in developments to biodiversity, pollution etc. This should not be downgraded in these changes.

It is absolutely essential that any streamlining of the planning process does not reduce opportunities for community engagement and input on decisions.

Clarity in the Planning Process

The consultation asked about how to achieve clarity in the Planning System and we suggested that we should be making best use of the plan based approach that we already have in the Scottish planning system. Properly resourcing a plan-led approach will help to increase longer-term certainty and understanding in the planning process for communities. Local Place Plans (LPPs) should be properly considered in the development of Local Development Plans and we suggested that introducing a partial right of appeal for third parties, eg in cases where an application is made for a site not allocated in the development plan, might help to focus effort on delivering what IS in the plan and thus reduce uncertainty.

Resourcing Planning Departments

The consultation is seeking views on recruiting staff for Planning Departments and we advocated for diversifying pathways into planning careers, stressed the shortage of landscape professionals in planning departments and the need for upskilling existing planners to address climate and biodiversity challenges outlined in NPF4.

We believe that the proposal for a ‘Planning hub’, (modeled on the Building Standards Hub) has the potential to be a mechanism to provide specialist advice on a case-by-case basis in areas where local authorities may not have expertise. The hub could be used to embed good practice in areas where there is currently a skills gap and enable more innovative developments. One important area this hub could potentially provide advice on is biodiversity monitoring and evaluation.

Fees for Planning

We strongly support the proposal that authorities should have discretionary powers to increase fees for a proposal on an unallocated site within the development plan.

This is because development plans undergo consultation and require considerable resource, and determining whether unallocated sites are suitable for a development is an extra cost on planning authorities. 

The fee should deter this type of speculative application beacuse it goes against the democratic process. Development plans undergo several stages of consultation and input from both the local community and key agencies. They are an opportunity for communities to envision how they would like their area to change over time and should represent the best public interest. Planning applications on unallocated sites override this and should be discouraged.

However, in doing this, consideration should be given to smaller scale housing in remote and island communities which may not be allocated in the development plan, particularly in areas experiencing depopulation ie a potential exemption where a proposal meets the rural housing policy in NPF4.

Regarding fees for appeals – we pointed out that, in the advent of communities gaining rights of planning appeals, as we are campaigning for, planning authorities should consider how they will ensure that fees do not prohibit them exercising that right.

Consents for Energy Developments

we believe that Local authorities are capable of making decisions on energy consents and that is where decisions should be made in accordance with local development plan.

APRS believes that we need a more strategic approach to energy developments. Currently applications for some energy infrastructure are made on a first come, first served basis.

Local authorities should be encouraged to consider using Masterplan Consent Areas in siting and granting permission for energy developments.

While we recognise the need for scaling up renewable energy infrastructure, a strategic approach through MCAs can help to avoid unintended consequences of energy developments. These unintended consequences include building developments on high quality agricultural soils, damaging biodiversity habitats, impacting bird flight patterns, and overloading favoured landscapes with energy infrastructure.

However, taking a strategic approach through determining suitable sites and granting permission proactively can lessen these impacts, and perhaps streamline the planning process. It would also help local communities understand the scale of what is being proposed overall, rather than the current piecemeal approach

Our consultation response

  • Investing in Planning Consultation

    This is APRS’s response to a consultation which sets out a range of options which have the potential to improve the capacity of the Scottish planning system, in particular in planning authorities, in the coming years.

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