SPEL Conference 2017 open for bookings

We’re pleased to announce that this year’s Scottish Planning and Environmental Law Conference is on Thursday 21 September in Edinburgh, and we already have a great lineup of speakers confirmed.

This conference remains the flagship conference in this field, reflecting our commitment to supporting knowledge sharing and excellence within the built environment professions.

The last year has witnessed many developments which impact on the planning system and the conference will provide a space for the planning and environmental law community to discuss and debate these.

Key topics

Moves to reform the planning system continue, with a Planning Bill now expected to come before Parliament in Winter 2017. The publication in June of a Position Statement from the Scottish Government indicates their future priorities for the planning system in Scotland.

Planning Minister Kevin Stewart recently said that “I firmly believe Scotland’s planners can lead the delivery of great places, empower communities and provide a stable environment for investment through the uncertain times we live in.” However new skills, knowledge and behaviours will be required to make the ‘new planning system’ successful.

Added to this the uncertainties around Brexit, especially the possible impact on environmental legislation, and it is clear that significant changes are likely to affect the sector.

The SPEL Conference will be addressing key issues of infrastructure development, housing supply and energy strategy, as well as planning and environmental legislation.

As usual we’ll also be reflecting on recent case law and considering how it relates to daily practice. The conference is an excellent opportunity for solicitors and planners to refresh their knowledge of recent changes in planning and environmental law, as well as providing time for quality networking.

Conference programme

The programme features a broad range of speakers, bringing perspectives from the private sector, local government planning, academia and central government to bear on the issues.

Confirmed key speakers include:

  • Professor David Adams, Ian Mactaggart Chair of Property & Urban Studies, University of Glasgow
  • Dr John Boyle, Director Research & Strategy, Rettie & Co
  • Fraser Carlin, Head of Planning and Housing, Renfrewshire Council
  • Greg Lloyd, Emeritus Professor of Urban Planning, Ulster University
  • Ross Martin, former Chief Executive, Scottish Council for Development and Industry
  • Pauline Mills, Land & Planning Director, Taylor Wimpey
  • Mark Mohammed, Terra Firma Chambers
  • Alasdair Sutherland, Terra Firma Chambers
  • Robert Sutherland, Terra Firma Chambers
  • Laura Tainsh, Partner, Davidson Chalmers
  • Ian Turner, Community Empowerment Team Leader, Scottish Government
  • Rt. Hon. Brian Wilson, former UK Energy Minister, Chairman Harris Tweeds Hebrides

We’re also delighted that Stuart Gale, QC, will be chairing the conference for us.

If you’re interested in planning or environmental law in Scotland then SPEL Conference 2017 is the perfect chance to hear about the latest developments and network with others.


The 2017 Scottish Planning and Environmental Law Conference is on 21 September at the COSLA Conference Centre, Edinburgh.

The full conference programme and booking form are available here.

The conference is supported by Terra Firma Chambers.

Scottish planning reform: new opportunities or more of the same?

spel conf banner

We’re pleased to announce that this year’s Scottish Planning and Environmental Law Conference is on Thursday 29 September in Edinburgh, and we already have a great lineup of speakers confirmed.

This event marks 25 years since the first SPEL conference and Idox is proud that it remains the flagship conference in this area, reflecting our commitment to supporting knowledge sharing and excellence within the built environment professions.

The last 12 months have witnessed many developments which impact on the planning system and the conference will provide a space for the planning and environmental law community to discuss and debate these.

Key topics

The major policy development is that we are currently awaiting a White Paper later this year from the Scottish Government in response to the Independent Planning Review report. The Government has already set out some immediate actions and longer-term work plans to be undertaken to create an “ambitious but practical programme of planning reform”.

However this agenda develops, it’s clear that the challenges facing the economy and communities remain – in the words of Kevin Stewart, Minister for Local Government and Housing, this means “supporting economic growth and house-building, whilst protecting and enhancing the quality of life of all our communities.” The SPEL Conference will be addressing these key issues of infrastructure development and housing supply.

Meanwhile the recent confusing messages from the UK Government on the new Hinkley Point nuclear power station have underlined the importance (and controversy) of energy security. The conference will include a discussion of the environmental, economic and moral consequences of Scotland’s energy choices.

The need for continued modernisation and efficiencies will be addressed in a session looking at leadership and smart resourcing. Research from the RTPI at the end of last year found that there’s been nearly a 20% reduction in planning department staff in Scotland since 2010. Gross expenditure in planning authorities has also dropped by £40 million between 2010/11 and 2015/16. Despite these pressures, councils have continued to deliver quality services but there is a very real risk around loss of skills.

As usual we’ll also be reflecting on recent case law and considering how it relates to daily practice. The conference is an excellent opportunity for solicitors and planners to refresh their knowledge of recent changes in planning and environmental law, as well as providing time for quality networking.

Conference programme

The programme features a broad range of speakers, bringing perspectives from the private sector, local government planning, academia and central government to bear on the issues.

Confirmed key speakers include:

  • Tammy Adams, Head of Planning, Homes for Scotland
  • Denis Garrity, Advocate, Terra Firma Chambers
  • John Hamilton, CEO, Winchburgh Developments Ltd
  • Greg Lloyd, Emeritus Professor of Urban  Planning, Ulster University
  • Rebecca Lunn, Professor and Head of CGEEG, University of Strathclyde
  • Ross Martin, Chief Executive, Scottish Council for Development and Industry
  • Craig McLaren, Director of Scotland and Ireland, RTPI
  • John McNairney, Chief Planner, Scottish Government
  • Stephen O’Rourke, Advocate, Terra Firma Chambers
  • Sara Thiam, Director, Institution of Civil Engineers

We’re also delighted that James Findlay, QC, will be chairing the conference for us.

If you’re interested in planning or environmental law in Scotland then SPEL Conference 2016 is the perfect chance to hear about the latest developments and network with others.


The 2016 Scottish Planning and Environmental Law Conference is on 29 September at the COSLA Conference Centre, Edinburgh.

The full conference programme and booking form are available here.

The conference is supported by Terra Firma Chambers.

Housing matters: our recent publications cover issues from homelessness to housing and health

tiny houses 4

By Heather Cameron

The Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) annual conference and exhibition, the largest housing-focused event in Europe, takes place this week. Over the next three days the conference will examine and explore the political and policy environment, the economic outlook and the latest thinking across the sector.

A variety of topics will be addressed, including housing supply, housing policy, social housing, welfare reform, regeneration and homelessness. These topic areas feature extensively on our database, some of which we have also written about. So this is a good opportunity to highlight some of our recent publications in this area.

What we’ve published

Our most recent ‘In focus’ briefing looks at housing retrofitting, something that has been highlighted as essential for improving the energy efficiency of our housing stock. It considers the benefits of renovating domestic properties to improve energy efficiency and environmental performance and describes the features and technologies of retrofit, such as heat pumps, combined heat and power and various types of insulation. The environmental, economic and social benefits as well as the barriers are summarised. Recent developments concerning retrofit schemes introduced by the UK government and the devolved administrations are also described, and there are examples of good practice from the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK.

Last month we published Delivering solutions to tackle homelessness (Ideas in practice), which looks at the scale of homelessness across the UK and its causes, and provides innovative examples of projects and initiatives that are tackling the problem.

The examples of innovative approaches highlighted include:

We have also written a series of blogs on the topic of homelessness. These include a look at the Christmas Dinner campaign for the homeless run by Scotland’s not-for-profit sandwich shop, Social Bite, while also highlighting the recent increase in homelessness in Scotland and the UK, and the shocking number of homeless children at Christmas.

Another blog post looks at the problem of the hidden homeless and its financial and human costs.

Digital inclusion and the social housing sector is the topic of another ‘In focus’ briefing. This looks at the benefits of digital inclusion, the barriers to digital inclusion for social housing tenants, and how these might be overcome. It refers to a 2012 report which found that almost half of the UK’s adult population who do not use the internet live in social housing, suggesting digital exclusion is a particular problem in the sector. It includes examples of good practice and highlights the importance of digital inclusion in the context of welfare reform.

We also recently blogged on this topic, highlighting one of the examples of best practice featured in our briefing: a case study of a collaboration between Reading Room – a digital consultancy which joined the Idox Group in 2015 – and Catalyst, one of the leading housing associations in London and the South East. This collaboration highlights the potential of technology for improving communications between social housing providers and their tenants, and for encouraging more people to reap the benefits of going online.

Another topic we have looked at is the integration between housing and health. Housing conditions can affect the physical and mental health of people, and can contribute to many preventable diseases and injuries. The ageing population is also putting pressure on the NHS, and growing numbers of older people have to stay in hospital longer because their homes are unsuitable for their recovery. Our briefing notes that housing associations, local authorities and healthcare providers have been working on solutions to tackle these challenges, and provides case studies from London, Tyneside and Bristol as examples of greater collaboration between housing and health services.

The challenges of an ageing population for the housing sector has also been highlighted in our briefing on meeting the housing needs of older people. It indicates that there will be a need for: adaptations to existing housing stock; mainstream rented accommodation built to accommodate wheelchair users; and newly built specialist accommodation. Examples of good practice – including case studies of extra care housing from Calderdale Council, and adapting homes for older and disabled residents in Knowsley, Merseyside – are highlighted.

This is just a flavour of what we’ve recently covered on housing-related topics, and we will inevitably produce more as the sector responds to a time of change and uncertainty.


Some of our briefings are only available to members of the Idox Information Service.

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in policy and practice are interesting our research team. 

February issue of SPEL Journal (Scottish Planning & Environmental Law)

spel feb 2015The Knowledge Exchange publishes a bi-monthly journal covering all aspects of planning and environmental law in Scotland. SPEL Journal (Scottish Planning & Environmental Law) launched over 30 years ago and is one of the leading information sources on land use planning and environmental legislation across the country.

The latest edition of SPEL includes articles focusing on:

Key court cases examined in the February edition include:

  • Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government v Venn – Aarhus and Protective Costs Orders
  • The John Muir Trust v The Scottish Ministers  – Protective Expenses Order
  • South Lanarkshire Council v Coface SA  – Liability for restoration payment
  • Hallam Land Management Ltd v The Scottish Ministers  – Housing supply and education infrastructure

SPEL was launched in 1980 as ‘Scottish Planning Law & Practice’, to be a journal of record of Scottish planning. When it became apparent that the emerging field of environmental law was strongly linked to land use planning, the name of our journal changed to reflect this.

Written by a wide range of subject experts, SPEL Journal includes accessible commentary on topical subjects and current issues; details of new legislation and significant court cases; expert comment on key planning appeal decisions, government circulars and guidance; as well as notes about ombudsman cases and book reviews.

SPEL Journal is read by decision makers in Scottish planning authorities, planning law practices, planning consultancies, architects, surveyors, civil engineers, environmental managers and developers across Scotland. It is also valued by many practitioners outside of Scotland who need to keep abreast of developments.

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 christine.eccleson@Idoxgroup.com.

Empty homes … Britain’s wasted resource

Boarded up homes in Kensington, Liverpool. Image by Mikey via Creative Commons.

Boarded up homes in Kensington, Liverpool. Image by Mikey via Creative Commons.

By Heather Cameron

Government statistics indicate that there are just over 635,000 empty properties in England, with a third lying empty for six months or more. In Scotland, there are around 23,000 ‘long-term’ empty homes (unoccupied for six months or more) that are liable for Council Tax.

With increasing house prices and a continuing rise in homelessness, the demand for affordable homes in the UK is unlikely to subside. And with new housebuilding unable to keep up with demand, bringing empty properties back into use would seem an obvious solution that could go some way to easing the housing crisis as well as addressing the blight caused to local communities by empty properties.

Unsightliness, loss of amenity, anti-social behaviour, pest infestations, the devaluing of neighbouring properties and a negative impact on people’s health have all been cited as potential outcomes of empty homes.

However, while the government claims to be committed to reducing the number of empty homes, recent welfare reforms appear to contradict such intentions.

A recent Inside Housing article on empty homes in County Durham, suggested that the bedroom tax has had a direct impact on the increasing number of vacant properties in the area, with many landlords seeing an increase in the number of voids following its introduction. Single people used to be housed in two-bedroom properties (which make up the majority of the empty properties in the area), but this is no longer an option as the bedroom tax cuts the housing benefit of people under-occupying by up to 25%.

This has also had a knock-on effect on the costs to social landlords due to maintaining vacant properties. Local housing association, Accent, estimates that its vacant homes are costing it £600,000 per year due to costs like council tax and security.

Tackling the issue

Despite recognition of the problem, powers to help bring empty homes back into use have seemingly been underused by English councils. Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMOs) were only used 17 times in 2014, with councils preferring to use other powers such as council tax charging and compulsory purchase orders, despite EDMOs being specifically designed for the purpose.

A spokesperson from the Local Government Association (LGA) suggests that “the existing powers open to councils are complex and difficult to use. The government should simplify existing powers to support local authorities to bring empty properties back into use.”

In a report at the end of December 2014, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has similarly argued that local authorities should be offered an enhanced set of powers to address the problem of empty homes. It recommends two changes to the current rules:

  • The existing cap on the ’empty homes council tax premium’ should be removed, effectively allowing local authorities to determine their own banded premiums charged on long-term empty dwellings.
  • Local authorities should be allowed greater discretion to tax long-term empty dwellings appropriately, and to ensure that those holding on to an empty property contribute more to the economic costs of providing housing for those in need.

Indeed, councils have previously called for the compulsory purchase order system to be simplified to bring empty homes back into use so perhaps such changes would make a difference.

Good practice

There are recent examples of good practice in reinstating empty homes through various approaches, such as homesteading, refurbishing and leasing, and repairing and selling.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council, for example, bid for funding from the Clusters of Empty Homes Fund so that it could renovate 124 long-term empty properties and bring them back into use.  The redeveloped properties were offered for £1 each to carefully selected buyers who had shown they would be actively engaged in the area’s regeneration.

According to the council’s Director of People, this initiative has resulted in the restoration of local pride and a new-found sense of community ownership that will drive lasting improvements.


Further reading

Some resources may only be available to Idox Information Service members.

Playing ‘house’ (redevelopment of empty homes), IN MJ, 15 Jan 2015, p21

Tackling the housing crisis: alternatives to declining standards, displacement and dispossession (2014) Centre for Labour and Social Studies

Re-imagining regeneration: empty and difficult to let homes (2014) National Housing Federation

Landlords revise threat of universal credit after delays, IN Inside Housing, 5 Dec 2014, pp10-11

Broken market, broken dreams: let’s end the housing crisis within a generation (2014) National Housing Federation

Ideas for change: community-led self-help housing, IN New Start, No 526 Nov 2014, pp1-7

Filling the void (Helena Partnerships and the private rental market), IN Inside Housing, 24 Oct 2014, pp28-30

Cutting back on waste (bringing empty homes back into use), IN Property Journal, May/Jun 2014, pp44-45

Evaluation of the Empty Homes Community Grants Programme (EHCGP): Midlands region (2014) University of Birmingham

Meeting ambitious targets: Scottish Planning & Environmental Law conference 2014

SPEL Conference brand image

There’s less than two months to go until this year’s Scottish Planning and Environmental Law conference so we thought we’d flag up some of the expected highlights. We’ve been running the SPEL conference for nearly 20 years and in this time its gained a reputation for being a forum for open and critical debate about the operation of the planning system in Scotland.

This year’s conference focuses on the theme of “meeting ambitious targets”. Scotland has some of the most ambitious targets in Europe – if not the world – when it comes to addressing climate change issues. Like the rest of the UK, Scotland is also facing challenges around ensuring adequate housing supply, especially affordable housing.

We expect that the conference will provide an ideal opportunity for discussing the implications of recent decisions on key renewable energy applications, as well as the intersection of the planning system with the housebuilding industry.

As usual we will also be reflecting on national planning policy, assessing the potential impact of NPF3 and Scottish Planning Policy on planning outcomes and performance, three months after they were laid before Parliament.

The programme features a broad range of speakers, bringing perspectives from the private sector, local government planning, academia and central government to bear on the issues.

Key speakers include:

  • Professor Greg Lloyd, Head of School of the Built Environment, University of Ulster
  • John McNairney, Chief Planner, The Scottish Government
  • Lindsey Nicoll, Chief Reporter, Directorate for Planning & Environmental Appeals
  • Nick Wright, Nick Wright Planning and Junior Vice Convenor, RTPI Scotland
  • James Findlay, Advocate (QC England and Wales), Terra Firma Chambers
  • Michael McGlynn, Head of Planning & Building Standards Services, South Lanarkshire Council

We’re also delighted that Rt. Hon Sir Menzies Campbell will be chairing the conference for us.

If you’re interested in planning or environmental law in Scotland then SPEL 2014 is the perfect chance to hear about the latest developments and network with others.

 

Note about the conference:

The 2014 Scottish Planning and Environmental Law conference is on 24 September at The Teacher Building in Glasgow.

The full conference programme and booking form are available here.