APRS Resources

Investing in Planning Consultation

A consultation on resourcing Scotland’s planning system

Closes 31st May

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.

Question 1: Which assessments might benefit most from improved proportionality?

Speeding up the planning process should not come at an environmental cost, and reducing the requirements for assessments without thorough consideration of the consequences could lower the bar in terms of environmental protections. Communities frequently express concerns to us that the biodiversity surveys carried out to inform planning applications by consultants on behalf of applicants are mainly desk based or only involve brief fieldwork, so in areas that are not already well recorded independently the surveys fail to capture the full extent (and value) of the biodiversity present. There are also concerns that some local authorities would be unlikely to have the resources to check.

We would emphasise the care needed in reducing reports, should the decision be made to do this. Though a precautionary approach can add to the time and resource needed for planning applicants, this approach can have huge benefits in reducing and avoiding harm in developments to biodiversity, pollution etc. 

In addition, while it is understandable to want consistency in required assessments between local authorities, it is also important that planning authorities have the flexibility to ensure that local contexts and priorities are accounted for in the planning application process. 

Question 2: To what extent do you agree that processing agreements are an effective tool for creating certainty in planning decision making timescales?

Strongly agree – processing agreements can be useful in the project management of an application and give clear timelines for outcomes of an application,

Question 3: Do you consider that current resourcing issues are impacting on the use of processing agreements?

Partially agree – however for major developments the time taken to draft an agreement is not extensive.

Question 4: Would you be prepared to pay a discretionary fee to enter into a processing agreement?
Question 5: What additional actions can we take to improve certainty in the planning process?

The Scottish Government has set out in National Planning Framework 4 that the planning system should be plan-led. This approach has several benefits, including improved certainty in the planning process. While this question is likely geared towards improving certainty for developers, communities should also have an understanding of how their area will change over time and be empowered to make decisions in the planning process. Properly resourcing a plan-led approach will help to increase longer-term certainty and understanding in the planning process for communities. 

While uptake of the recently introduced Local Place Plans is likely to be patchy and uneven due to gaps in awareness, community confidence and resources, they provide an opportunity for communities to engage positively with the planning process. It is crucial that this engagement is built on by ensuring that LPPs are properly considered as part of the LDP reviews so that communities have certainty that their input is worthwhile.

A renewed focus on national improvement can also deliver greater certainty. This can largely be done through existing structures, such as HOPS and the Improvement Service.

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.

Question 6: Do you have further ideas on opportunities for streamlining, alignment or standardisation?

It is absolutely essential that any streamlining of the planning process does not reduce opportunities for community engagement and input on decisions. They should not reduce timing or opportunities for consultation with the public or relevant stakeholders. In addition, streamlining or standardisation should not reduce measures taken to environmental or biodiversity surveys required in a planning application. 

In standardising the application process across planning authority areas, local authorities should retain sufficient flexibility to adapt application requirements to local contexts. 

 

Question 8: Are there any skills actions not identified which you think would make a significant impact?

There is a possibility to increase potential for alternative pathways to a planning career, such as non-university or trade pathways. 

There is a huge shortage of landscape professionals in planning departments, which can have negative consequences for landscape and biodiversity protection and enhancement. It is important to highlight these roles and their importance when encouraging more people into planning careers.

There should also be opportunities for existing planners to upskill, particularly to gain knowledge of the climate and biodiversity crisis and assist in delivering the aims set out for planning in NPF4. There are several ways through which this could be done, such as through training courses or peer to peer learning and skill sharing but is difficult when resources are tight.

Question 9: Do you think that the concept of a ‘planning hub’, modelled on the Building Standards Hub would support authorities and deliver improvement in the system?

Partially agree

Whilst we would need to see more detail, this concept 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. It could also better empower and resource planning authorities to implement nature-based solutions to mitigate and adapt to climate change, and ensure that effective nature-based solutions are included in developments where possible. 

 

Question 12: How do you think a Planning Hub could be resourced?

We would discourage private sector funding as this could lead to a conflict of interests. 

Question 13: Do you agree that planning fees should increase annually in line with inflation?

Strongly Agree

Question 20: Do you agree with the principle that authorities should have discretionary powers to increase fees for a proposal on an unallocated site within the development plan?

Strongly agree – 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. 

This is also important from a democratic point of view. 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 as they may not represent the wishes of the local community. 

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.

Question 21: Do you agree that planning authorities should be able to recoup the costs of preparing a Masterplan Consent Area through discretionary charging?

We agree with the results of the 2019 Planning and Performance consultation that authorities should set their own fees for development to recoup the costs of developing the MCA. 

Question 22: Do you agree with the types of appeals that should incur a fee?

Yes

Question 23: Do you agree that setting the fee for applying to appeal the refusal of planning permission (to either DPEA or the planning authority) is set as a percentage of the original planning application fee?

An important consideration here is what the process of paying a fee for appeals would be in the advent of communities gaining the same appeal rights as a developer. APRS has long supported community rights of appeal and have worked with communities who have seen developments approved that they believe are not in the best public interest, but who have no accessible means of challenging the decision. Community groups campaigning on planning issues are typically voluntary-based, grassroots organisations. In the advent of communities gaining rights of planning appeals, planning authorities should consider how they will ensure that fees do not prohibit them exercising that right.

Question 28: Should the current threshold of 50MW for applications for electricity generation which are to be determined by authorities be altered?

Yes – Local authorities are capable of making these decisions and ensuring they are consistent with the area’s development plan. 

Local authorities should be encouraged to consider using Masterplan Consent Areas in siting and granting permission for energy developments. This might ease the resource strain on planning departments in making these decisions. 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. 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 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.

Question 30: What would be the resource implications of increasing the threshold for the determination of applications for onshore electricity generating stations?

If the threshold is raised, planning authorities should be properly resourced to make these decisions. This can be done through formalising voluntary contributions made to local authorities to make these decisions, and local authorities should receive the full fee.

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