APRS continues where possible to advise local communities about Green Belt protection issues and we have written manifesto proposals for the Scottish political parties ahead of the Holyrood elections in 2021. Our manifesto briefing highlights the importance of green spaces during lockdown and how Green Belts can continue to contribute to the nation’s wellbeing. Other Green Belt work has centred around the continuing changes to the planning system and growing concern about the likely impact of recent cases at the Court of Session on future planning decisions.

Local Development Plans (LDPs)

We have continued monitoring progress with new LDPs and have commented on Green Belt policies when opportunities have arisen. Over the summer comments were made on the Proposed Plans for Aberdeen City (thanks to Alliance Convenor Duncan Campbell) and for Aberdeenshire and on the Modified Proposed Plan for South Ayrshire. Our monitoring exercise showed that some local authorities were delaying their new plan process until further changes resulting from the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 have been enacted and there has been more progress with the review of the National Planning Framework. Delays have been compounded by Covid-19 and there is potential for more LDPs to become ‘out of date’ than usual, which has worrying implications for protecting Green Belts from speculative developments.

National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4) and Regional Spatial Strategies (RSSs)

The Government’s “Call for Ideas” consultation on NPF4 was extended until the end of April 2020 and both APRS and the Green Belts Alliance responded. In August the Scottish Government published an analysis of the 350 written responses and other contributions received along with an Executive Summary; both are on the www.transformingplanning.scot website. Pre-Covid the draft NPF4 was to be laid before the Scottish Parliament this September with a simultaneous public consultation, but we now expect an Interim Position Statement before the end of the year and the parliamentary and consultation process to start in Autumn 2021, with the final NPF4 in spring 2022.

In the meantime local authorities, either individually or jointly, have been required to produce indicative Regional Spatial Strategies (iRSSs) by September 2020, to inform the NPF review. The iRSSs are to identify the need for, and proposed locations of strategic developments, which presumably includes housing need estimates. There is no statutory guidance on the preparation of iRSSs and it seems that there is no requirement for consultation (other than eventual consultation on the draft NPF4). The Scottish Government is going to use the process of preparing iRSSs to help inform the statutory guidance on how to prepare the formal RSS. That RSS process will involve consultation with key stakeholders, communities and elected members. Scottish Ministers must ‘have regard to adopted RSS in the preparation, revision or amendment of the NPF’.

Green Belt Case Studies and Policy work

We have carried out case studies into a few controversial proposed developments on Green Belt sites around Scotland and the processes that follow. One of the themes that has emerged from the research so far is the serious weakening of Green Belt protection where either LDPs are out of date, or there is a shortfall in the housing land supply, in which case Scottish Planning Policy (SPP) says there is ‘a presumption in favour of development that contributes to sustainable development’. Several recent cases involving speculative housing proposals on unallocated sites have effectively been decided on the consideration that the provision of housing contributes to sustainable development and overrides other policies even if it is ‘not the right kind of housing in the right place’. This undermines the supposed ‘plan-led’ development planning system in Scotland and disadvantages communities who have made the effort to contribute to agreed development plans.

Planning Policy and Housing Consultation

A hearing at the Court of Session in June 2020 over an application for housing on unallocated land at Quarrier’s Village, near Kilmacolm in Inverclyde, again highlighted the shortcomings of the current SPP wording and crystallised growing concern amongst communities. In July, APRS wrote to Scotland’s Chief Planner raising concerns about the current policy on housing land supply and the negative impacts on Green Belts, sustainable development and meeting climate targets. Shortly afterwards (though probably not as a direct result!) Scottish Government issued a consultation called Scottish Planning Policy and Housing: Proposed Policy Amendments.

In brief, the Scottish Government proposes some interim changes to SPP ahead of the NPF review, including the following:

  • To remove the presumption in the SPP in favour of development that contributes to sustainable development (this may seem like a negative step, but see the above explanation of how new housing can be considered to contribute to sustainable development);
  • To remove policies on out of date Development Plans (which bring the presumption above into play);
  • To provide a new description of effective housing land supply that takes into account current economic circumstances;
  • To provide a clearer approach for decision-makers in establishing the extent of the 5 year effective housing land supply.

The Government terms these ‘technical amendments’ but APRS hopes that if implemented they could help rebalance the weighing-up of planning decisions and reduce the likelihood of permission being granted for speculative housing on unallocated sites, either at application or on appeal. Our response to the consultation can be seen here. We also produced a briefing note to explain the importance of the proposed changes for Green Belts and have had some positive comments from communities that used it to inform their own responses. We also worked with Planning Democracy and Scottish Environment LINK to widen awareness of the consultation and consider the complex issues raised by it.

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