Planning bill's new duties on Scottish councils could cause system to 'grind to a halt', warns RTPI

Scottish local authorities face 63 new unfunded duties under the latest draft of Holyrood's planning bill, according to the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), which warned that the new measures could cause the planning system to 'grind to a halt'.

The Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. Pic: Tom Parnell, Flickr
The Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. Pic: Tom Parnell, Flickr

Last month, the Scottish Parliament finished line-by-line scrutiny of the Planning (Scotland) Bill under stage two of the legislative process.

But the RTPI has today warned that a raft of new duties, which it said have been introduced after debate in Parliament at stage two of the bill, would add additional stress to underfunded planning departments.

The body said its analysis shows that recent amendments to the bill would add 63 new and unfunded duties put on local planning authorities, with a further 25 responsibilities placed on the Scottish Government.

The RTPI said new duties for councils include the need for planning authorities to ensure that local development plans (LDPs) assess the need for public toilets, water refill points and for preserving disused railway infrastructure.

Others include requiring councils to address cultural issues, self-build homes, student housing, health needs and education in their LDPs.

New requirements for consulting on plans would also be introduced, the RTPI added.

RTPI Scotland Convenor Fraser Carlin said: "Adding these new duties to the workload of already stretched planning departments could see the system grind to a halt.

"If we are not able to process planning applications and agree development plans we won't be able to build more new homes, help regenerate our town centres or protect our most treasured buildings and landscapes.

"Many of these new duties could be covered by existing processes. We urge MSPs to consider carefully if they really need to be included in the bill. 

"The alternative would be to fund them properly and this could cost planning authorities hundreds of thousands of pounds."

In October, MSPs on the committee scrutinising the bill agreed an amendment to the legislation which would allow councils to compulsorily purchase land at existing use value in designated simplified planning areas.

In November, the committee amended the bill to include a statutory requirement for local authorities to appoint a chief planning officer but rejected a move to include a third party right of appeal.

In September, a survey of planning and development professionals found that many expressed concerns about the third party right of appeal proposal, with more than eight in ten of those surveyed believing that the bill would fail to improve housing and infrastructure delivery.

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