A clear vision
Planning, unfairly, has a bad reputation. Most people’s experience of the system is limited to seeking permission to build household extensions or add new windows to their properties. Planners themselves are often seen as the gatekeepers, standing in the way of development and progress. However, this is unjust and mostly untrue. Planning is more important than most give it credit for. Every street, shop, road and almost every building we come into contact with each day is a result of planning. As Craig McLaren, national director of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) Scotland, said: “Planning is all about creating great places for people, it’s about working out how all the different things which affect the place come together.”
Despite the opinions many people have about the subject, attitudes among policy makers are slowly changing and becoming aware of the benefits good planning can bring, both at national and local level. To cement this commitment, the Scottish Government recently published plans for the third National Planning Framework (NPF3) and the draft Scottish Planning Policy (SPP), which are designed to influence development plans across Scotland and guide future planning decisions on a range of sectors including transport, energy and infrastructure.
The Government said the draft proposals are supported by ongoing measures to improve the overall performance of the planning system, ensuring smoother delivery and a stronger focus on economic recovery. The NPF3 propositions set out priorities for where important development should take place, identifying new, large-scale national developments including two carbon capture and storage schemes at Peterhead and Grangemouth; and Prestwick Airport and an adjacent enterprise area, focusing on the aerospace sector. For the first time, SPP will include references to maps of Scotland’s wild land – drawn up by Scottish Natural Heritage. In addition, ministers propose extending the separation distance between wind farms and cities, towns and villages. In relation to wind farms, proposals also include strengthening environmental protection in the 31 per cent of Scotland covered by our wildest and most scenic land, including no wind farms in the 19 per cent of Scotland covered by national parks and national scenic areas. It is expected that following consultation, the SPP will be finalised by the end of 2013, with NPF3 being adopted by 2014.
Local Government and Planning Minister Derek Mackay said: “Planning enables development. The right development in the right places, that’s my golden rule. Designing a system which achieves that, a policy framework which is clear; and a practice and a culture which encourages people to bring forward the right kind of applications.
“Scotland needs a planning system that has, at its heart, the overriding principle of delivering sustainable economic growth in order to maximise the country’s attraction to investors and visitors in a global economy. We want future planning decisions to give significant weight to the economic benefit of proposed developments, particularly the creation of new jobs.
“The consultation on the National Planning Framework and Scottish Planning Policy will influence development plans across the country for the next thirty years affecting every part of Scotland. By providing a clear vision, the proposals will be used to guide future development that will help Scotland achieve its ambitious renewable energy targets and also increase protection for our country’s most environmentally important areas.
“We will support our review of town centres by insisting that major new developments which attract people – like workplaces, leisure facilities and shops – are in town centres wherever possible. We want to see development which ensures lively, successful and viable town centres. I am keen that planning does more to encourage good design, and the creation of the kind of places we would all like to live in or visit. Our forthcoming policy on architecture and place will show what we are doing to achieve this. Scotland is enriched by a high quality environment and many special places to live in and visit. These physical assets underpin our economy and our quality of life and that is why we need to ensure developments go in the right place, providing positive benefits for our communities and environment.”
Mackay said facilitating much needed new development and investing in modernising our infrastructure, while maintaining and creating high quality, distinctive, sustainable and healthy places is “essential” in order for Scotland to maximise its attraction to investors and visitors in a global economy. He added that it is important we see continued and sustained improvement in planning performance “because it is only with an efficient and responsive planning system that we can fully realise these ambitions”.
He added that NPF3 is a long-term strategy for the spatial development of Scotland, continuing: “Our Government economic strategy sets out the measures we are taking to accelerate Scotland’s recovery and support jobs. I want the NPF3 to be the spatial expression of that economic strategy, informed by our plans and policies in areas such as transport, energy, health and wellbeing, climate change and land use. And informed, of course, by the views of communities, business, government agencies and other key stakeholders.
This is an important document, one that will influence development plans across the country and provide leadership to deliver change
“This is an important document, one that will influence development plans across the country and provide leadership to deliver change. It brings together the Government’s many programmes and initiatives, and explains their implications for our places and communities. However, it does more than reflect on the work we are doing anyway, and I want NPF3 to go beyond simply bringing together our existing plans and strategies. By providing a clear vision, it should also be a document that is used to guide future development and decisions. Planning also has a key role to play as part of community planning partnerships and the strategy set out in NPF3 should be considered by local authorities as they work with community planning partners to take forward their single outcome agreement as a binding plan for place. Each part of the country must use its strengths to build a prosperous, healthy and sustainable future. NPF3 looks to harness these strengths, foster collaboration and deliver successful places throughout Scotland.”
Craig McLaren said RTPI Scotland welcomed both documents. He added: “When you read the documents, they demonstrate that ministers see planning as one of the tools in the box to help them achieve their ambitions. From our initial examination, we think the direction of travel for both seem perfectly fine.
“[One] part which caught the eye was the ‘town centres first’ approach. The fact that that is something which is being extended beyond retailing is a good thing and something we’ve been pushing for over the years. Something which struck me in Scottish Planning Policy is the commitment which government has to place and place making. It seems to be something they are trying to mainstream and for me, that is really important.
“One thing which I would like to see articulated better is the link between both documents. We have said previously that they should be both focused around the same outcomes and I’m not sure, the way they sit right now, if they do. They may well be trying to achieve the same outcomes but it is not articulated as well as it could be.”
While the plans have garnered a generally positive response, the Scottish Greens have warned SNP ministers to be careful that proposals do not risk Scotland’s important carbon reduction and renewable energy targets.
Patrick Harvie MSP, co-convener of the Scottish Greens, said: “Ministers are right to resist calls from the anti-wind lobby to legislate for a blanket ban on turbines but it is equally important we don’t compromise our ability to meet our carbon reduction and renewable energy targets. Steering developments away from important landscapes and habitats must be balanced against the need for a transition to a sustainable society. The Trump debacle shows ministers can ignore the need for balance when it suits them.
“We agree with the idea that local authorities should be able to consider the impacts on communities and the environment during applications for coal-bed methane and fracking, and we hope the language around restoring coal sites is met with action. But SNP ministers have a long record of failure to recognise the need to move away from fossil fuels.”
From a business point of view, the plans have been viewed with interest. The CBI is the UK’s premier business lobbying organisation, providing a voice for employers at a national and international level. Laura McMahon, CBI Scotland policy executive, told Holyrood: “CBI Scotland welcome the Scottish Government’s emphasis on jobs and the economy as announced alongside publication of the third National Planning Framework. A good and responsive planning system is so important to the success of Scotland’s economy and we look forward to working with Scottish ministers during the consultation period. We have consistently argued that planning is of crucial importance to Scotland’s economy and its future prosperity, and that greater weight should be given to the needs of the economy within the planning system.
“We welcome the Scottish Government’s positive ambition to raise the growth rate of the economy, and the NPF programme is crucial to achieving this and to helping underpin successful planning reform. Planning for growth must be the priority. The fact that the NPF is being continually monitored and updated every five years is sensible, and provides the opportunity to ensure that the aims and objectives are being delivered.”
Planning Aid for Scotland (PAS), an independent and impartial organisation, working across Scotland to help people shape their communities and engage more effectively with planning, hailed the launch of the threemonth consultation as an opportunity for all people in Scotland to comment and have an input on the plans.
Petra Biberbach, chief executive of PAS, said: “We welcome the launch of the public consultation of the National Planning Framework Main Issues Report and the draft Scottish Planning Policy. These will play an important role in shaping our places – from the national to the local level – and we encourage people to have their say, offer their opinions and comments.
The General Registrar for Scotland estimates that by 2035, there will be 1.43 million people of pensionable age in Scotland
“In particular, PAS welcomes the importance of closer alignment between land-use planning and community planning. Aligning landuse planning and public service delivery will help produce better outcomes for our places and local communities, informed by people’s aspiration and needs. We also welcome the emphasis on Scotland’s transition to a low carbon economy and the focus on long distance walking and cycling routes. The NPF3 Main Issues Report and the draft Scottish Planning Policy are accessible on the Scottish Government’s website, including questionnaires for people to respond.”
Planning is a matter which affects different groups of people across Scotland. Steve Wiseman, managing director, McCarthy & Stone Scotland, warned of the issues surrounding Scotland’s ageing population.
He said: “The General Registrar for Scotland estimates that by 2035, there will be 1.43 million people of pensionable age in Scotland – approximately a quarter of the population.
“Such a massive increase, 82 per cent, has major implications for housing, planning, health and social care policy, implications yet to be fully understood. For instance, the adult social care bill is expected to more than double to £6.5 billion by 2031, but there are few preventative measures open to the Government. Better housing for older people is a central part of a coherent strategy, playing a critical role in improving or maintaining wellbeing while reducing the need for residential care. Yet there are just 36,000 sheltered housing units in Scotland built for older people, with 90 per cent socially rented and just 10 per cent privately owned. Consequently, many elderly people are unable to find accommodation suitable to their stage of life; they remain in family homes too large for their needs, but with the continuing financial burden of maintenance, heating and – too often – poor care provision.
“Despite the step-change that is needed, there is little evidence that national or local government have prioritised this issue. To ensure the pace of change is accelerated, the revised SPP should include a section specific to housing for the elderly. It would be of particular assistance if, in their local development plans, Scotland’s councils were required not just to identify suitable housing land, but were also asked to identify sites suitable for the development of retirement housing for all tenures.
“Scotland faces a massive challenge if it is to meet the needs of our growing elderly population. The private sector can make a significant contribution to meeting that challenge; its ability to contribute should be recognised in the new SPP.”
Proposed national developments:
1 Onshore infrastructure for offshore renewable energy
2 Grid infrastructure enhancements
3 Baseload capacity at existing sites: Longannet and Cockenzie
4 Grangemouth and Peterhead Carbon Capture and Storage
5 National Cycling and Walking Network
6 Metropolitan Glasgow Strategic Drainage Plan
7 Central Scotland Green Network
8 Dundee Waterfront
10 Aberdeen Harbour
11 Grangemouth Investment Zone
12 Freight capacity on the Forth
13 High-speed rail
14 Airport enhancements: Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Prestwick