Local Development Plan guidance for communities
- You don’t have to be an expert to get involved in helping to prepare your Local Development Plan
- The Scottish Planning system is plan-led, meaning that there is a presumption assumption in favour of a development if it aligns with the Development Plan and permission is less likely to be given for a development that doesn’t align. This means that the best way to protect a certain area from development is to get that protection into the Development Plan.
- There are several stages of the LDP preparation process specifically aimed at public engagement and input.
- There is no certainty that views put forward by a community will prevail. In an LDP, all development needs and pressures on land are considered. However, engaging with the LDP process is, in theory, a good way to have a say in the future of your area.
The Scottish Planning System
The Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 states that the purpose of planning is “to manage the development and use of land in the long-term public interest”. Anything that contributes to sustainable development or achieves Scotland’s national outcomes is considered to be in the long-term public interest. Scotland’s NPF4, and the new National Planning Policy it contains, was adopted in February 2023. Some of the new policies within it are significantly different from the previous ones, such as on climate and biodiversity, energy and housing delivery.
The planning system in Scotland is plan-led. This means that what can be built and where, as well as a vision and framework for the development and use of land, is set out in a system of plans.
Central to the planning system and decisions of local authority areas are Development Plans. These set out how places will change in the future, including where development should/should not take place, and guide decisions on planning applications. The ‘development plan’ includes both National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4), which covers all of Scotland, and the Local Development Plan (LDP), which covers each planning authority area. In addition, all areas of Scotland are covered by Regional Spatial Strategies (RSS), which are relatively new and still being developed as of 2023. They are long-term strategies for the development of a cross-council boundary area, typically setting out criteria or goals for that area. New LDPs must have regard to relevant RSS but the RSS are not part of the Development Plan.
Source: Scottish Government
Councils are legally required to make decisions on planning applications in line with the development plan unless ‘material considerations’ indicate otherwise.
Whatever your views about a particular planning application, what matters more than anything else therefore is to assess what is proposed against the detailed wording of the policies in the relevant LDP and NPF4. Planners should always refer to these policies as the principal basis for making their decisions or recommendations on a planning application. However, the Scottish planning system is ‘discretionary’, meaning that Councils can sometimes make decisions contrary to the development plan if sufficient ‘material considerations’ support doing so.
What is a Local Development Plan?
LDPs are intended to be place-based, relevant to that local area, and accessible to all who wish to view them. They can include both a policy and visual element, designed to create a spatial plan for the area.
All local authorities are required to introduce a new LDP within 5 years of NPF4 being introduced in February 2023 (ie. by February 2028). As of 2023, provisions in the Planning Act (2019) that allow for the modification of LDPs before the end of the 10-year span have yet to be implemented, though government intend to introduce regulations to allow this to happen within the next few years.
Local authorities must prepare at least one LDP for their area, which shows how local places will change in the future. They must cover all parts of their district in the plan(s). Planning authorities must take into account both NPF4 and Local Place Plans (LPPs) in that area when developing their LDP.
Councils must consult widely while preparing their LDPs. The Scottish Government has repeatedly emphasised its determination for Scotland to demonstrate a ‘plan-led system’. This means that if a piece of land is allocated for development in the LDP, there is a presumption in favour of its development; but if it is not allocated, there is a presumption against development and this is the most powerful argument against it. Therefore, it is likely that the most effective time to get involved in the planning process is during the preparation of a new LDP.
Different local authorities will use different tools to engage local communities and the public, including graphic and digital approaches, to develop and display their LDP. However, there should be a focus on clarity and accessibility. Engagement in the LDP planning process should be “early, collaborative, meaningful and proportionate, with views taken into account”.
How are LDPs prepared?
Before beginning LDP preparation, the local authority should publish a Development Plan Scheme (DPS) and Participation Statement, outlining the timescale for preparing the LDP and how they intend to engage the local community in the process. The local authority should publish the draft DPS, and communities will have an opportunity to comment and give any ideas for improvement. In theory, new DPSs are prepared every year, though this is often not the case due to capacity issues or a lack of need for a new scheme. Once the DPS is completed, the planning authority must publish this online and in any public library within the area to which it applies.
Local development planning has three key stages: Evidence Gathering, Plan preparation, and Delivery.
Source: Scottish Government
It is expected that plan preparation should take around 3-4 years, allowing more time for a focus on the delivery of the plan in the remaining years and subsequent monitoring and evidence gathering to inform the next plan.
The key stages of LDP preparation are:
- Early engagement and data collection:
- Evidence report: Gathering of appropriate evidence to inform the LDP and creation of evidence report.
- Gate check: Review of evidence report by Scottish Ministers, who can request further information if appropriate.
- Plan preparation
- Proposed plan: Development of spatial strategy informed by the evidence report. This can also include a call for ideas and/or further consultation with Scottish Ministers and those involved in early engagement.
- Consultation: Publish and consult the public on the proposed plan for a statutory minimum of 12 weeks. Planning authorities also consult with key agencies and Scottish Ministers.
- Examination: Publish the modification report arising from the previous consultation and recommendations for alterations. Planning authorities will modify the LDP where appropriate.
- Adopted plan: Adoption and publication of the finalised LDP by the planning authority.
- Delivery programme: Adopt and publish a delivery report which aims to monitor the impact of the LDP.
- Monitoring and delivery: LDP is kept under review with the delivery report updated at least every two years.
How and when can I influence my Local Development Plan?
There are several stages where you can best have your voice heard:
Try to get involved in the LDP preparation process early on
- Get involved early on – contribute to the evidence report
The purpose of this stage is to gather initial evidence on the views of communities on their areas and consolidate this information into an evidence report. Local authorities must also evaluate play opportunities in the area and involve children and young people. This is an opportunity to mainly highlight how it feels to live in an area, what works, and what is lacking.
In preparing the evidence report, the planning authority must consult
- children and young people – including school pupils, youth councillors, and youth parliament representatives;
- the public;
- disabled people;
- Gypsies and Travellers;
- community councils;
- key agencies; and
- other persons prescribed.
Local authorities can use different tools and formats to gather information for their evidence report. These can range from in-person public meetings to online surveys. The best way to stay informed on this is to sign up for your local authority’s LDP or planning newsletter or email alerts, check the planning section of their website, or check the LDP section of the APRS website.
- Prepare a Local Place Plan (LPP) with your community organisation
The Scottish Government introduced the opportunity for community organisations to prepare LPPs in 2022. LPPs are intended to be community-led plans that set out proposals for the future development and use of land. Once completed and registered with the planning authority, LPPs must be taken into account when preparing the LDP.
Local authorities should give guidance to community bodies who wish to prepare LPPs. In some cases, funding opportunities may also be available. An LPP must be prepared by a community body, either within the definition given in section 19 of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 or a community council, and set out proposals for the development of land. Planning authorities will issue invitations for community groups to register interest in developing an LPP.
However, there are several drawbacks to preparing an LPP. They are a big commitment in terms of time and resources. Their preparation will typically take between 12-18 months, and costs can vary depending on the approach used and the size and complexity of the plan. In some cases, LAs can offer grants or other support for this, though there is no dedicated grant for community groups interested in preparing an LPP. LPPs also should be purely concerned with the use and development of land. They are not intended to outline proposals for improvements to local services unless there is some implication for land or buildings. Furthermore, while LAs are required to take into account any registered LPP in their area when preparing an LDP, they are not obliged to incorporate them. This is a matter for the council’s judgement, and currently the effectiveness of the LPP approach is not clear.
More information and guidance can be found on the LPP Planning Circular issued by the Scottish Government, and Falkirk Council has written a thorough outline of the process. The Scottish Government will also finalise ‘how to’ guidance in 2024. More information about LPPs is available on the Our Place website. Local authorities will issue more specific guidance on preparing an LPP including any deadlines for drafting and registering new LPPs in time to be considered during the preparation of the next LPP .
- Look out for a call for ideas
Once the Gate Check has been completed satisfactorily the local authority can continue with the preparation of the PLDP. Planning authorities are encouraged to inform and, if possible, collaborate with communities at this time, though there is no specific requirement for robust public involvement at this stage.
Planning authorities may also wish to involve communities further through a call for ideas stage, though there is no requirement to do so and authorities can also determine the timing for this stage.
The call for ideas stage is an opportunity to present ideas for:
- How to improve your neighbourhood or community
- Making your area more sustainable and biodiverse
- Building resilience to the impacts of the climate crisis
- Regeneration of previously used land or buildings
- Landscapes which should be safeguarded from building or development
- How to support rural areas
There is no strict format for how planning authorities can ask for submissions, though typically they should be based on the what, where, and why of your idea. They may also allow for visual elements in a submission, such as photos, illustrations, or boundary maps. The call for ideas may also be framed within a particular aim or strategy of a given planning authority, such as local living, compact urban growth, or rural regeneration. However, if undertaken, this stage should be open to everyone and accept ideas for any aspect of the plan and not limited to suggestions for any particular type of site or development.
Proposals submitted at the call for ideas stage should be assessed by the planning authority and considered in the preparation of the Proposed Plan.
- Respond to the consultation on the Proposed Local Development Plan (PLDP)
Local authorities must consult on the PLDP for a minimum of 12 weeks. This provides an opportunity for communities and individuals to formally respond to the content of the plan.
Notice of the proposed plan being publicly available must be published in local newspapers and on the internet and sent to community councils, key agencies, and Scottish Ministers. This must also contain information on where more information on LDPs can be found and how the public can input into the plan. The PLDP must be displayed at an office of the planning authority, on the internet, and at every library in the local authority area. In addition, neighbours that will be significantly impacted by any proposed development must also be notified.
Where required, this stage also involves consulting on impact assessments relevant to the LDP, which can include:
- Strategic Environmental Assessment;
- Habitats Regulations Appraisal;
- Public Sector Equality Duty;
- Fairer Scotland Duty;
- Island Communities Impact Assessment; and
- Children’s Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment.
This is an opportunity to outline any changes you would like to see in the proposed plan. Submissions can be related to policy proposals, development sites, or objectives of the plan. Where suitable, it is best to be specific and clearly indicate the document, chapter, policy, site, etc. you are referencing in the proposed plan. Any changes you suggest to the plan should be as specific and comprehensive as possible. Local authorities often use a form for you to use in the consultation, helping to guide you through the process of responding.
What if there is something missing from the PLDP? Or something that does not benefit the local community or the environment? You can respond to this consultation and make suggestions to improve the final LDP. These can either make reference directly to the text within the PLDP or be more general. They can also reference specific sites identified in the plan. Suggestions can include
- Wording which you believe would make a policy more robust or ways which existing policies can be strenghtened.
- Constructive criticism of an existing policy suggestion.
- Raise any issues you feel were not sufficiently addressed in the PLDP.
- As there is no opportunity to raise concerns should you feel the engagement process was not properly conducted, this may be your only opportunity to highlight insufficient public engagement.
- Highlighting any sites in the PLDP that are important for biodiversity conservation that have not been identified or are proposed for development.
- Advocating for green belt protection where it is proposed that the boundaries will be altered since the previous LDP or where development on the green belt is proposed.
- Possible linkages between biodiversity-rich areas which could be used as biodiversity or wildlife corridors, which can be used for the migration or dispersal of wildlife.
- Do the proposals in the plan meet the six qualities of successful places?
- Do the areas allocated for new housing meeti the diverse needs of the area? Will they be sustainable and livelable, with provisions for public transport and community amenities?
- Are the areas allocated for new housing in the PLDP consistent with policy on local living, infrastructure first and do you feel they meet the diverse needs of an area?
Particularly with regard to creating space for nature and accelerating the decarbonisation of communities, reference to NPF4 may help to make the case for sustainability initiatives. Suggestions for this can be found in our upcoming Biodiversity and Climate LDP guidance.
Modifications to the PLDP will be considered following the close of the PLDP consultation. Those who responded to the consultation may be asked for further evidence or information on their submission. Planning authorities will inform communities of any alterations made to the plan through a modification report.
The planning authority will then submit the LDP to Scottish Ministers, publish, and adopt it.
How can I keep updated?
Local authorities usually have newsletters or e-bulletins to keep local citizens informed on the progress of the LDP. This can either be specific to LDPs or included in a general planning newsletter. Signing up for these is likely the best way to keep up to date with LDP preparation progress and engagement opportunities.
Local authorities also share information on the planning section of their websites, and those with online consultation hubs also share information on active consultations there. They can also share information relating to the LDP preparation process on their social media.
At certain stages of LDP preparation, planning authorities have an obligation to publish notices online, in local newspapers, and in every library in the local authority.
Other useful resources: