Legal Report

Reform offers chance to shape details of system.

Modernisation of the Scottish planning system has been on the political agenda for as long as I can remember.

It is, after all, de rigueur to complain about the complexities and inefficiencies of what can often be a time-consuming and costly process.

We have discussed the need for planning reform for so long that the repeated rhetoric of modernisation is under threat of losing its impact. But the time for simple criticism of the system has passed. There is now a real chance to get involved in shaping the planning framework in Scotland. Those engaged in the planning system have a responsibility to actively participate in the modernisation agenda as it gathers pace.

Continuity reigns over reforms

In 2005, a Scottish Executive white paper set out its vision for planning reform. It identified an urgent need for modernisation to deliver a system that is efficient, inclusive and sustainable. Promises of modernisation have survived the recent transformations in Scotland's political landscape. These key themes have been reaffirmed with encouraging continuity by the Scottish National Party administration.

The urgency described in the white paper is reflected by parliamentary efficiency in bringing long-anticipated legislation into force. Implementation of the Scottish Planning Act 2006 continues to run on schedule. But we need that same attention and urgency to be reflected in the planning and development industry's response to this winter's round of consultations on the implementation of regulations.

Some sections of the act have already taken effect, including provisions covering public availability of information on determination of applications, tree preservation orders and business improvement districts. Consultation on the strategic development planning authority (SDPA) areas has now closed. Those areas falling outside the four city-regions detailed in the draft SDPA regulations will adopt a single-tier development plan structure.

The white paper promised a radical change to the planning system and we are starting to see that promise fulfilled, but some of the most significant details are yet to come. The Scottish Government will issue a raft of consultative draft regulations to implement the 2006 act over the next three months. This is likely to be a once-in-a-decade chance to take part in shaping the system.

Crucially, the opportunity to examine the content of the regulations is not the preserve of lawyers and politicians. The most meaningful consultation responses will come from planning professionals and developers. In my experience, civil servants maintained an open mind during preparation of the legislation and representations genuinely changed the legislative proposals.

The government will be interested in responses from individuals, professionals and representative bodies. Providing a meaningful response to consultations on implementing regulations will need commitment. It takes time to review draft proposals and discuss their potential impacts.

We all struggle to manage competing demands on our time and may be suffering from consultation fatigue. So it is probable that submitting representations to the latest round of government proposals is not viewed as a priority. Yet this is quite possibly the best, and last, chance that we will have to comment on the future of Scotland's planning system. We can all make a difference.

Involvement can shape system

The first draft regulations will be published before the end of the year and will invite comment on a range of issues. Those likely to stimulate serious debate include the replacement of outline planning permission with planning permission in principle, changes to the application process that will shift responsibility for neighbour notification from applicants to local authorities and tighter rules on validation procedures.

Views will be sought on pre-application consultation requirements and regulation of enforcement powers. More detail will be provided on significant reform to appeal procedures, including rules prohibiting additional supporting information at appeal. Only through participation in consultation on such matters will the views of those directly involved be reflected in the new rules.

The Scottish planning system is getting its long overdue shake-up. The responsibility now lies with everyone to participate in the reform process to ensure that when the dust settles, the new system delivers the change that is required.

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