Highlights of the SPEL conference 2017

This year’s Scottish Planning and Environmental Law conference, held in Edinburgh’s COSLA building, focused on Anticipating and preparing for change and covered a range of topics from the impact of Brexit on planning and environmental law in Scotland to how planning and planners can help tackle the growing housing crisis. Delegates were given the opportunity to reflect on the challenges for planning and environmental law in Scotland as well as the great opportunities the next few years may present to the profession.

Bringing the planning profession together

The conference provided an opportunity for professionals from across the planning and law professions to come together to discuss some of the key challenges to their profession going forward. While Brexit was high on the list of discussion topics, the possibilities for reform, and the opportunities for practitioners to learn and share their experiences and knowledge with one another, for what is now the 26th year of SPEL, continued to be at the heart of the conference discussions.

Is planning fit for purpose?

Chaired by Stuart Gale QC, from event sponsors Terra Firma Chambers, the conference was opened by Greg Lloyd who addressed the issue of the “distinctiveness” of the Scottish planning system, asking the question, “Is planning fit for purpose?” In the context of Brexit and with the benefit of years of planning knowledge, Greg discussed the performance of planning and how its modernisation is equipping planners to deal with challenges in the future.

The Rt. Hon Brian Wilson, former UK energy minister, spoke next on the challenges energy targets are posing not only for environmental lawyers and practitioners but also for planners. He discussed how the drive to achieve energy targets both in renewable and traditional energy generation needs to be tackled as much by planners as environmentalists and politicians. He also highlighted the need to meet the growing demand for energy by helping to reduce energy use and tackle wider socioeconomic issues relating to energy in Scotland.

Brexit – the impact on planning

The morning session was brought to a close firstly by Laura Tainsh from Davidson Chalmers who spoke about the intricacies, expectations, challenges and potential opportunities for environmental law and practitioners in Scotland following the UK’s decision to leave the EU. She highlighted the importance of ensuring that the essential elements of environmental law are retained within any future UK or Scottish legislation and that a system is created which provides an opportunity for robust scrutiny and maintenance of standards, specifically in relation to the consistency of application. She also discussed some of the ways in which existing principles and policies can be future proofed. Following on from Laura, Robert Sutherland gave an overview of recent developments in community right to buy in Scotland.

The morning session also included a case law roundup which reviewed and discussed recent significant cases including: RSPB vs Scottish Ministers (2017); Douglas vs Perth and Kinross Council (2017); and Wildland ltd vs Scottish Ministers (2017).

Delivering new housing

The afternoon opened with a panel session, where speakers tackled the million-dollar question of whether planning reform will assist in the delivery of new homes to help tackle the growing housing crisis. Speakers from Renfrewshire council, the University of Glasgow, house builder Taylor Wimpey, and Rettie & Co. discussed a range of topics from barriers to the delivery of homes and infrastructure, to the setting of national housebuilding targets, as well as the challenge of building the right sort of housing, in the right place at the right cost, and the role of local authorities in meeting housing need.

The afternoon session included a second case law roundup which saw review and discussion of recent significant cases including: Taylor Wimpey vs Scottish Ministers (2016); Angus Estates (Carnoustie) LLP vs Angus Kinross Council (2017); and Hopkins Homes Ltd. vs Scottish Ministers (2017).

The role of planning in driving inclusive growth

The conference was closed by self-professed “economic agitator” Ross Martin, who discussed the role of planning more widely within Scotland’s economy and its role as an agent for driving inclusive growth. He stressed the need for planners and other related professionals to look at the “bigger picture” when it comes to planning, using the system as the engine for growth and development, rather than as a barrier, and challenged those in the room to think creatively about how planning can play a role in strategic, but inclusive growth in Scotland going forward.

Some of the key points of discussion to come out of the conference were:

  • Planners, and planning lawyers need to recognise the importance of the wider social and economic context on their decision making, even if that decision only relates to one single building
  • Brexit is providing a lot of uncertainty and raising a lot of questions about the future of planning and environmental law in Scotland and the UK as a whole, but it may provide an opportunity for practitioners to take the lead and shape the system in a way that better suits current needs
  • There is scope and appetite, following the UK’s decision to leave the EU, to create a specialist planning and environmental law court to help scrutinise decisions and fill the void left by the EU in terms of accountability and implementation of environmental law, practice and strategy going forward

SPEL Journal is a bi- monthly journal published by the Idox Information Service. The journal is unique in covering all aspects of planning and environmental law in Scotland. Each issue contains articles on new legislation, significant court cases, expert comment on key planning appeals, government circulars and guidance, ombudsman cases and book reviews. SPEL deals with matters of practical concern to practitioners both in the public and private sector. Please contact Christine Eccleson at christine.eccleson@idoxgroup.com if you are interested in learning more about the journal or our subscription rates.

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Beyond Brexit? How to assess the UK’s future – a new resource

The EU flag, with the Brexit on it appear, in the form of a jigsaw puzzle.

By Steven McGinty

Although Brexit negotiations are officially underway, there is no clear vision of how the UK will look once it’s left the European Union.  Politicians – including those within government – appear to be divided on the issue, with Chancellor Philip Hammond’s wish for a softer Brexit seemingly at odds with Brexit Secretary David Davis and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

This uncertainty has left businesses, local authorities, and the general public struggling to plan for the future, and in search of answers to help navigate these difficult Brexit waters.

One valuable resource they may turn to is Professor Janice Morphet’s new book, Beyond Brexit? How to assess the UK’s future.

In this short guide, Professor Morphet – an expert in infrastructure, the EU and public policy – takes a long term view and attempts to understand the whole range of options that may be deployed by the UK, EU, and other international institutions.

Below we’ve outlined some of the main themes of the book.

Implications for devolved nations and territories

The impact of the EU referendum result has been strongly felt by the devolved nations and territories.

For example, Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has argued that Scotland (where 62% voted to stay in the EU) should be recognised in the Brexit negotiations, and that Scotland should be allowed to come to an arrangement on continued EU membership.

Similarly, Gibraltar (where 96% voted in favour of remaining in the EU) is looking to retain access to the EU’s single market and free access across the EU border. There have also been diplomatic tensions, with the suggestion that there should be no UK/EU agreement – that includes Gibraltar – without the consent of Spain.

But beyond these specific issues, Professor Morphet raises the wider point that EU legislation is a fundamental component of specific devolved powers.

This is because much of the powers devolved to Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales are derived from legislation initially agreed within the EU. In Professor Morphet’s view, devolved nations will need clarification on how they’d retain decision-making powers, including whether a new set of powers would need to be introduced. One suggestion discussed is the need to create a federal constitution guaranteeing the devolution arrangements.

Benefits of the EU

During the referendum campaign there was limited discussion on the value of EU membership. Even the Remain campaign focused on the negative impact of leaving, rather than the positive impact of being a member of the EU.

Professor Morphet provides an authoritative look at some of these benefits, including the:

  • importance of being inside the world’s largest market;
  • ability to engage diplomatically as part of a global diplomatic group;
  • development of an EU-wide energy policy, ensuring energy security; and
  • commitment to achieving higher environmental stands across the EU.

Options for future UK/EU institutional relationships

Much of the UK’s future relationship with the EU will be dependent on the current Brexit negotiations. As such, it’s unclear whether the UK will achieve a bespoke arrangement with the EU, gain an agreement similar to another country (such as the Norway or the Swiss models) or if there will be any deal at all.

Professor Morphet discusses this wide variety of options, and considers some of the challenges for the UK Government – who at the moment appear undecided on how far outside the EU they would like to be.

Immediate actions that must be taken by the UK

Before the EU Referendum result many high profile individuals and institutions claimed the UK economy would collapse. This included former Chancellor George Osborne, who suggested there would need to be an emergency Brexit Budget, and the Bank of England’s governor Mark Carney, who warned that the UK risked heading into a recession.

However, even though the economic slowdown has not occurred, there have been signs that the referendum result has impacted the UK on a variety of levels. For instance, Professor Morphet highlights that there has been an effective 11-16% devaluation of the pound, and that inflation is likely to rise in 2017. For her, stabilising the economy should be the priority for the UK government, arguing that it needs to offer a clear view of Brexit to reduce the political uncertainty.

Final thoughts

Professor Morphet’s latest book is a must read for anyone with an interest in how the country will look post Brexit. By her own admittance, the book does not provide all the answers, but it does provide a framework for making sure the right questions are asked during the negotiation period and beyond.


The Idox Information Service is a unique source of information and knowledge on public and social policy and practice. Organisations that join the Information Service will have access to our fortnightly Brexit update, highlighting all the latest Brexit publications, commentary, and developments.

Membership packages can cover an entire organisation or a specific department or team. We also offer subscriptions to our current awareness services to individuals who are not affiliated with a subscribing organisation.

To find out more information please contact our team on 0141 574 1920 or contact us online.

Hate crime in 2016 – pre and post Brexit

by Stacey Dingwall

Alongside economic warnings and forecasts, a suggested increase in hate crime has been the social issue dominating headlines in the fallout from the vote to leave the EU in June. In the fortnight following the vote, the British Transport Police recorded 119 allegations of racist abuse and attacks on trains and at stations, which represented a 57% increase on the number of incidents recorded in the previous two weeks, and an 87% increase on the same period in 2015. Overall, according to figures released by the National Police Chiefs Council, more than 6,000 hate crimes were reported in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in the month from 16 June. This is equivalent to more than 200 per day, and 20% more than the same period last year. In response, the new Home Secretary Amber Rudd has announced a review by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) of how police forces in England and Wales respond to incidences of hate crime.

Brexit – the catalyst?

The decision to ‘Brexit’ has undoubtedly highlighted divisions in the country that some fear may never be healed. While it obviously cannot be said that only those with the inclination to commit a hate crime voted to leave, there are those who argue that the result has only served to ‘legitimise’ the views of those that do hold xenophobic views.

British politicians have been criticised by a UN committee on racial discrimination for their role in fuelling hate crime during and after the referendum campaign. The committee said that it was “deeply concerned” about the “divisive, anti-immigrant and xenophobic rhetoric” employed by some parties, with the media also coming in for criticism of its negative portrayal of minorities, immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. While it’s easy to think of examples of this type of rhetoric from Leave campaigners (e.g. Nigel Farage’s ‘breaking point’ poster that was reported to police for inciting racial hatred), it’s important to consider that prominent Remain figures – including David Cameron, who once described migrants trying to reach Britain as a “swarm” – may also be partially to blame for the situation. The new government’s failure to guarantee the future of EU nationals currently resident in the UK is creating further unease.

Hate crime in UK

Of course, Brexit is not wholly responsible for the increase in hate crimes recorded. Nor are migrants the only group to be victims of crime, although racial hatred accounts for 82% of hate crime recorded by police. This is followed by religiously motivated crime, homophobic incidents, transgender hate crime, and disability hate crime. While misogyny is not currently included in the official definition of hate crime, Nottinghamshire Police recently announced that they would begin to record such acts, including wolf whistling, as hate crimes. The police say this is due to the “unacceptable” experiences of women on a daily basis, and has the aim of helping more victims to have the courage to report incidents. The force also recently treated an attack against a teenager who identifies as a goth as a hate crime, following Greater Manchester Police’s decision to treat these attacks as such in 2013.

Underreporting of hate crime makes it extremely difficult to gain a picture of the true extent of the problem in the UK. The UK government’s recently published plan for tackling hate crime notes the discrepancy between the numbers of crimes reported to the police and those recorded by the independent Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW), which means that hate crimes are significantly underreported. The CSEW estimates that there were 222,000 hate crimes on average each year from 2012/13 to 2014/15, which represents a decrease of 56,000 since the previous period covered by the survey. At the same time, the number of hate crimes recorded by the police increased from 44,471 in 2013/14 to 52,528 in 2014/15, which the government attributes to better practice from the police and victims becoming more confident in coming forward. Nevertheless, the CSEW indicates that victims of hate crime are less satisfied by the response they receive from criminal justice agencies when compared with other forms of crime. Additionally, incidences of online hate crime are not covered by either sets of figures meaning that due to the dominance of social media, neither are likely to be truly indicative of what’s really going on.

Moving on from Brexit

In recognition of the need to record online hate crime, the Metropolitan Police announced earlier this month that it has received funding from the Mayor of London and the Home Office to set up a specialist team dedicated to identifying online abuse and supporting victims. The two-year pilot has been set up following claims by community groups that the present police response to a problem they view as being of increasing concern has thus far has been inconsistent.

Encouraging responses to hate crime at the community level can in fact be seen across the country. Post Brexit, EU nationals have seen demonstrations of support in the form of safety pins and messages of solidarity both on and offline. It can only be hoped that those criticised for exacerbating tensions within and between communities will start to follow these examples as we continue on in deeply uncertain times.

If you enjoyed reading this post, you might like our previous post on the impact of Brexit on the Digital Economy Bill.

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