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.

The changing landscape of planning: views from the Scottish Planning and Environmental Law Conference 2015

The Scottish Planning and Environmental Law Journal (SPEL) held its annual conference in Edinburgh on 17th September. This year’s theme was “the changing landscape of planning”.

Rebecca Jackson, 2015

Photo: Rebecca Jackson

The death of strategic planning?

The keynote speech of this year’s conference was delivered by Professor Greg Lloyd, Emeritus Professor of Urban Planning, Ulster University. He outlined a concept of ‘landscapes of planning’, taking delegates on a whistle-stop tour of what he viewed as the four landscapes of modern planning: post WWII; post 1979; post 1997; and post 2011.

This reflected a journey from post-war social democratic principles, to immature new liberalism under Thatcher, to a third way synthesis under Blairite Labour and what he described as ‘pure unadulterated Neoliberalism’ post-recession.

Professor Lloyd argued that we will soon be transitioning into a fifth landscape which may see the ‘de-coupling of capitalism and democracy’; as the state becomes smaller and more interested in pursuing private rather than public interest (he specifically referenced books by Mason, 2015 and Streck, 2014).

He emphasised the need for planners to be aware of these transitions and for the profession to attempt to remove itself from the current path dependent, money driven culture. Otherwise it would result, he argued, in “reactionary, short term planning; the death of strategic planning and the rise of the know nothing school.”

Unconventional gas … a need to build public trust

The second topic of the morning was a discussion about planning’s future relationship with energy, particularly unconventional gas. Public controversy in the UK over fracking has received considerable news coverage in the last few months. The Scottish Government also announced in January a moratorium on granting planning consents for unconventional oil and gas developments, including fracking, while further research and a public consultation are carried out.

Tom Pickering from INEOS Upstream presented on INEOS specific practices, while Sandy Telfer, DLA Piper Scotland, discussed the impact of increased regulation on the contamination of water supply at shale drilling sites in Pennsylvania.

The key thing to come out of these presentations, and the questions from the floor which followed, was the emphasis on education and making information accessible to members of the public to gain their trust on the subject of fracking and horizontal drilling.

Rebecca Jackson, 2015

Photo: Rebecca Jackson

Linking community and spatial planning …”it’s not rocket science”

Following a quick coffee break the next session was delivered by Nick Wright, Principal, Nick Wright Planning and Karl Doroszenko, development planning and regeneration manager at East Ayrshire Council. They spoke on community planning and spatial planning in Scotland and how it should, and can, work effectively to deliver better services for communities.

Nick Wright gave an update on research by the RTPI on the benefit of linking spatial and community planning. This was followed by Karl Doroszenko who spoke about the experience of East Ayrshire Council and the creation of their community planning partnership.

The presentations provided a useful insight for delegates, particularly planners, as to how they could integrate shared planning into their practices. Karl spoke at length about cooperation and the benefit this had on delivering services for the local community in East Ayrshire.

Just before lunch there was the first round up of Planning Case Law delivered by Maurice O’Carroll, Advocate at Terra Firma Chambers.

Priorities and game changers in the next parliament … “planners have an important role to play”

The afternoon session began with Stefano Smith, Vice Convenor of RTPI Scotland, looking at priorities and game changers in the next Parliament. He spoke of the need for planners to discuss and engage with the 2016 election in Scotland. It is planners themselves who need to take responsibility for promoting the importance of planners and planning in order to generate public discussion about the planning system.

He identified 7 key themes which the RTPI believe should shape how planning is approached in the next parliament. He emphasised the necessity for planning to realise its full potential and to work towards key priorities to deliver planning effectively.

Rebecca Jackson, 2015. Stefano Smith addresses the conference.

Photo: Rebecca Jackson, 2015. Stefano Smith addresses the conference.

“We need radical change, centred on land use and management”

Following Stefano Smith, three speakers considered the priority actions of land use and delivering land for new homes in Scotland. Blair Melville of Turley began by outlining the housing situation in Scotland. He commented that planners are using the economy as an excuse not to plan effectively for housing but that this should not be the way forward for planning in Scotland.

Robin Holder, MD of HolderPlanning then reflected on whether planning was helping or hindering the delivery of housing. Housing land supply has been an eternal argument for planners, which has led to a large shortfall in housing supply. He suggested a new approach where there is a move away from regional Strategic Development Plans and Main Issues Reports, which he saw as a drag on the planning process, in favour of local community-based development plans which could be consulted on instead.

Professor David Adams rounded off the discussion and put it to delegates that they should be taking a more radical approach to land use in order to reform planning. He commented that planners need to rediscover the fundamental link between use of land and planning. He looked specifically at the Land Reform Review Group and their suggestions on Compulsory Sale Orders and the creation of a new Housing Land Corporation for Scotland in the proposals being considered currently in the 2015 Land Reform Bill.

Rebecca Jackson, 2015. Speakers take questions from the floor

Rebecca Jackson, 2015. Speakers take questions from the floor

Continuous improvement in the planning system

The final session of the afternoon was given by David Leslie, Acting Head of Planning and Building Standards at Edinburgh City Council who gave his reflections on continuous improvement in the planning system in Scotland and how joint working and innovation in future projects can drive planning forward. He commented that both transformational and cultural improvement is needed to promote effective planning.

Finally there was a second roundup of planning case law delivered by Alasdair Sutherland, an advocate at Terra Firma Chambers.

What is the future of planning in Scotland?

A key message which emerged regularly throughout the day was the question of consultation: how do planners strike the balance between consulting fully with a community and creating a quick planning process which sees decisions reached quickly and clearly.

Another was the question of land in Scotland and how we can maximise its use to help achieve the outcomes set out in the national planning framework.

A third key theme was how local communities can be integrated into the planning system more – are community planning partnerships the way forward or is there another way?

And finally how do we review and evaluate planning – should central government be taking a greater role in ensuring that outcomes are met and concerns of the public are taken into account?

The day provided an opportunity for individuals involved in the planning sector to get together to share ideas and understanding about how planning in Scotland should work and the changing nature and demands of planning. The topics covered drew together a diverse range of themes, and it was good to see delegates and speakers interacting and debating. As the planning process in Scotland continues to adapt to meet new challenges in the future, it’s clear that Scottish Planning and Environmental Law Journal will remain at the forefront of commentary and insight.


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Read our other recent articles on planning:

The changing landscape of planning: Scottish Planning & Environmental Law Conference 2015

spel conference image 2By Morwen Johnson

This year’s SPEL Conference is on Thursday 17 September in Edinburgh, and we’re finalising an insightful programme. In a fast moving economic and political environment, the last 12 months has witnessed many developments which impact on the planning system. This year’s conference will provide a space for the planning and environmental law community to discuss and debate these.

Key topics

Key issues to be explored include planning issues around unconventional gas. Public controversy in the UK over fracking has received considerable news coverage in the last few months. Just two weeks ago, the shale gas firm Cuadrilla announced it was to appeal against the decision by Lancashire County Council to refuse permission to drill and frack at two sites in the county (Little Plumpton and Roseacre Wood on the Fylde Coast). The Scottish Government also announced in January a moratorium on granting planning consents for unconventional oil and gas developments, including fracking, while further research and a public consultation are carried out. We’re bringing together representatives from the legal and business viewpoints at the conference to explore the implications.

Another hot topic is how the planning system can ensure the delivery of housing land. Neil Collar from Brodies LLP wrote in the last issue of Scottish Planning and Environmental Law Journal about how planning authorities and developers both have a role to play. From a practitioner point of view, he highlighted that local planning authorities need to address development promotion – not just identifying sites in in plans but taking a proactive approach to delivery, for example addressing issues such as multiple ownership or infrastructure requirements at an early stage. The SPEL Conference will explore this in more depth.

As usual we’ll also be reflecting on national planning policy, and the programme of planning modernisation. We’ve been running the SPEL conference for nearly 20 years and in this time it has gained a reputation for being a forum for open and critical debate about the operation of the planning system in Scotland.

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 and Urban Studies, University of Glasgow
  • David Leslie, Acting Head of Planning and Building Standards, The City of Edinburgh Council
  • Nick Wright, Nick Wright Planning and due to be Convenor, RTPI Scotland in 2016
  • Maurice O’Carroll, Advocate, Terra Firma Chambers
  • Alasdair Sutherland, Advocate, Terra Firma Chambers

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

If you’re interested in planning or environmental law in Scotland then SPEL Conference 2015 is the perfect chance to hear about the latest developments and network with others.


The 2015 Scottish Planning and Environmental Law Conference is on 17 September at the COSLA Conference Centre, Edinburgh.

The full conference programme and booking form are available here.

Morwen Johnson is the Managing Editor of Scottish Planning and Environmental Law Journal.