Scottish planning … on the long road to modernisation

Rural_Urban Landscape_iStock_000004526499MediumPlanning, and more specifically ensuring the delivery of new housing, has probably never had a higher profile on the political agenda in recent years. The focus on the performance of planning authorities is, of course, happening within a context of ongoing resource constraints and the wider Brexit-related uncertainties.

Within Scotland, there also appears to be a renewed debate and potential conflict between the plan-led system versus ‘planning by appeal’. And so its timely to look at some key recent developments which suggest the priorities in 2017.

Moving forward on the recommendations of the Independent Review

Work to take forward the reform of the Scottish planning system is ongoing, and six themed working groups are now in place in order to inform the preparation of a White Paper expected to be published for consultation at the end of 2016.

The themes covered by the working groups are:

  • Strong and flexible development plans
  • The delivery of more high quality homes
  • An infrastructure first approach to planning and development
  • Efficient and transparent development management
  • Stronger leadership, smarter resourcing and sharing of skills
  • Collaboration rather than conflict – inclusion and empowerment

Our August issue of SPEL Journal contained a number of articles commenting on the Planning Review.

Scottish Government plans for the year ahead

In addition to this, the Programme for Government published on 7 September included announcements in a number of areas of interest to planning and environmental law.

Legislation which will be promoted during 2016-2017 include a Forestry Bill which will complete the devolution of forestry to the Scottish Government. Early 2017 should see proposals for a new Climate Change Bill which will sit alongside a Climate Change Plan and accompanying Energy Strategy expected to be published this winter. These will outline the Scottish Government’s intention to reduce Scottish emissions by 80% between 1990 and 2050 and “represents a bold statement of Government’s priorities for the coming decades”. The Programme for Government also reiterates the continuing commitment to the target of supplying 100% per cent of electricity demand by renewables by 2020.

There is mention of a Circular Economy and Zero Waste Bill. This is due to be introduced in the second half of the parliamentary session. This Bill sits under the 2016 Circular Economy Strategy, Making Things Last, which, among other things, establishes Europe’s first food waste prevention target. No detail is given as to what this Bill will contain but it is mentioned alongside a commitment to continue working with local authorities on improving recycling rates and to consider the role of deposit return schemes, which perhaps gives some clues.

The key planning-related news in the Programme is that a Planning Bill is to be brought forward early in the parliamentary session (this was subsequently clarified to mean autumn 2017). This follows the recent independent review of planning.

The recommendation for Simplified Planning Zones, which came out of this review, is also to be implemented. This will be done ahead of the proposals for legislative change in the Bill. The purpose of these Simplified Planning Zones is to encourage housing development, and ties in with a commitment to deliver 50,000 new affordable homes over the next five years with 35,000 of them being available for social rent.

Indeed, on 13 October, the Scottish Government published further details of the SPZ pilots – Scottish Ministers have committed £150,000 to support 3 or 4 SPZ housing pilots and are inviting authorities to apply. They suggest that SPZ could be used to support housing in a variety of contexts, for example to:

  • support town centre living
  • support urban regeneration
  • promote diversification of housing types and supply, and innovative housing delivery.

The Programme for Government also suggests that we should see interim measures to modernise compulsory purchase orders so that vacant and derelict land can be brought back into use in communities. The Scottish Law Commission submitted a report at the end of  September to the Scottish Government on proposals for an overhaul of compulsory purchase, following consultation.

Finally, moves continue to be made in the controversial area of land reform following the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016. During this programme, the Scottish Government will be taking steps to implement the 2016 Act, including recruitment of the new Scottish Land Commissioners and consulting, in the autumn, on a Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement. There is also an ongoing consultation about proposals for a register of controlling interests in Scotland’s land to improve transparency in the ownership of land, with regulations to go before the Scottish Parliament in 2017.

Environmental Impact Assessment reform

In August the Scottish Government began a consultation about implementing reforms to the environmental impact assessment (‘EIA’) procedure. This relates to how Scottish Ministers propose to bring the requirements of European Directive 2014/52/EU (known as the ‘EIA’ Directive) into Scottish legislation, which must be done by 16 May 2017.

The consultation paper is accompanied by draft regulations in relation to town and country planning and electricity works, with parallel adjustments to be made to the other regimes where EIA applies, including forestry, trunk roads and marine licensing. A separate consultation will be held on ports and flood management. The consultation closes at the end of October 2016.

As Professor Colin Reid of the University of Dundee notes in the most recent issue of SPEL Journal “The overall goal of EIA remains that of ensuring that projects likely to have significant adverse environmental effects are identified and approved only after undergoing a thorough and open assessment procedure. The precise procedural formalities can go much of the way to ensuring that this is done effectively and efficiently, but ultimately it is how well the developers, authorities and public engage with the process that will determine how far it succeeds.”


As can be seen, the next year looks like it could bring some significant changes to the planning system in Scotland. The Scottish Planning and Environmental Law Conference, and SPEL Journal, provide much-needed channels for the planning community in Scotland to consider these challenges, and stay up-to-date.

Further reading

A Plan for Scotland: The Government’s Programme for Scotland 2016-2017. S King, Scottish Planning and Environmental Law Journal, Issue 177 Oct 2016, p102

Environmental Impact Assessment reform. C Reid, Scottish Planning and Environmental Law Journal, Issue 177 Oct 2016, pp102-103

An annual subscription to SPEL Journal is £145. For further details or a sample copy, please contact Christine Eccleson, SPEL Journal’s Advertising Manager, on 0141 574 1905 or email

3 thoughts on “Scottish planning … on the long road to modernisation

  1. Pingback: Night mayors: building bridges between businesses and communities | The Knowledge Exchange Blog

  2. Pingback: Latest developments in Scottish planning and environmental law | Idox iview

  3. Pingback: Latest developments in Scottish planning and environmental law | The Knowledge Exchange Blog

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