Scottish government urged to beef up role of chief planners

The Scottish government has been urged to give chief planning officers greater powers over local decision-making.

Scottish parliament: Planning White Paper in the pipeline
Scottish parliament: Planning White Paper in the pipeline

The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) Scotland said it has written to every Scottish cabinet secretary making the case for each planning authority’s chief planning officer to be given statutory powers so that they are consulted when key strategic decisions, both planning and non-planning, are made.

It is one of a number of recommendations made by RTPI Scotland in a new report which it says the Scottish government should include in its forthcoming Planning White Paper.

In a statement, RTPI Scotland said strategic decisions by local authorities in areas such as economic development or education are currently "often taken in isolation from planning departments and this needs to change".

The report calls for every council to have a statutory chief planning officer whose role "should be established in legislation to ensure expertise about place and spatial planning at senior management level".

It adds that the the legislation should set out where the chief planning officers "would need to be involved in decision-making within and beyond the planning service. It would also establish how and when the chief planning officer would be required to be involved in strategic decision making".

"We believe that this will provide a better planned approach to service delivery and development which will benefit places and people." 

The report said that RTPI Scotland plans to draft a paper exploring how the idea would work and the potential benefits.

Among the other 14 "game changers" that RTPI Scotland has suggested the Scottish Government include in its white paper are:

  • the introduction of a "Community Right to Plan", in which communities would be able to prepare their own spatial plans
  • ensuring that councils are able to charge a fee that covers the full cost of processing a planning application
  • introducing a national development plan that outlines where and how new housing and infrastructure should be provided, with more specific sites allocated in lower-level development plans

Nick Wright, convenor of RTPI Scotland, said: "The impending reform to the planning system is our golden opportunity to adopt a more holistic, corporate approach to planning and improve the places that people live in.

"A chief planning officer with the right powers will be able to broker the buildings and infrastructure needed to deliver on the ambitions of their colleagues in other departments such as education and economic development, and crucially, from among the wider community."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "We will consider the RTPI Scotland’s proposals for change as part of our ongoing programme of planning reform.

"We are currently developing detailed proposals to improve the Scottish planning system which respond to the recommendations of the independent panel who reported earlier this year.  We will consult fully on these proposals before bringing forward our Planning Bill."

The RTPI Scotland report Repositioning Planning: Building a Successful and Sustainable Scotland can be found here.

*This article was updated at 4.15pm on Friday November 25 to include a comment from the Scottish government

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