A cun­ning plan

New rules will sim­plify de­vel­op­ment process

The Herald Business - - Professional Brief -

THE Min­is­ter for Com­mu­ni­ties, Mal­colm Chisolm, has de­scribed the Plan­ning etc. (Scot­land) Bill as “a once in a life­time op­por­tu­nity for re­form that would be both more ef­fi­cient and in­clu­sive”. The ob­vi­ous ques­tion there­fore is: Has the new leg­is­la­tion re­alised that op­por­tu­nity?

The bill pro­poses ma­jor changes to the plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tion process by in­tro­duc­ing three tiers of pos­si­ble de­vel­op­ment. Na­tional de­vel­op­ments will be of strate­gic im­por­tance to the coun­try, ma­jor de­vel­op­ments will in­clude the largest plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tions, and lo­cal de­vel­op­ments will be the low­est tier. The Bill also an­tic­i­pates that plan­ning per­mis­sion for most mi­nor house­hold al­ter­ations will no longer be re­quired.

Dis­pens­ing with the re­quire­ment for mi­nor de­vel­op­ments to ob­tain plan­ning per­mis­sion will have ben­e­fits for both the plan­ning author­ity, by freein gup time, and for own­ers of res­i­den­tial prop­erty.

The re-al­lo­ca­tion of man­power within plan­ning au­thor­i­ties is in­tended to speed up the process for na­tional, ma­jor and lo­cal de­vel­op­ments and should mean a wel­come re­duc­tion in the de­ci­sion time.

De­vel­op­ers may ad­di­tion­ally dis­cover a cost-sav­ing within this sys­tem as plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tions are de­ter­mined with greater speed al­low­ing de­vel­op­ment projects to be run with greater ef­fi­ciency.

The sup­port­ing guid­ance ac­com­pa­ny­ing the bill sug­gests that the new regime will not change the ex­ist­ing di­rect cost im­pli­ca­tions for na­tional de­vel­op­ment and lo­cal de­vel­op­ment ap­pli­cants. How­ever, costs are ex­pected to in­crease for plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tions re­lat­ing to ma­jor de­vel­op­ments.

Cur­rently the max­i­mum plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tion fee for a de­vel­op­ment is £13,000. Un­der the new regime it is an­tic­i­pated that this fig­ure may triple.

The po­ten­tial in­crease will be a sig­nif­i­cant pre-de­vel­op­ment ex­pense for de­vel­op­ers, in par­tic­u­lar for those de­vel­op­ers who ul­ti­mately have their plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tion re­fused. How­ever, the sugar coat­ing on this pol­icy is that there will be a re­duc­tion in pro­cess­ing time for ap­pli­ca­tions. Plan­ning au­thor­i­ties will aim to re­duce ma­jor de­vel­op­ment ap­pli­ca­tion process time from two years to six months and it is likely that de­vel­op­ers will be able to agree the timescales for de­ter­mi­na­tion at the out­set of the ap­pli­ca­tion process.

Im­por­tantly, the re­moval of what is ef­fec­tively an 18-month de­lay for the de­vel­op­ers should at best pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties to save money in other ar­eas and, at worst, al­low the de­vel­op­ment it­self to progress with greater speed.

Ma­jor de­vel­op­ments will how­ever be re­quired to go through a sig­nif­i­cant pe­riod of pre-sub­mis­sion con­sul­ta­tion to en­sure lo­cal peo­ple are aware of the is­sues and have an op­por­tu­nity to com­ment.

The bill pro­vides that ma­jor de­vel­op­ment plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tions will con­tinue to be de­cided by coun­cil­lors, whereas lo­cal de­vel­op­ments will be de­cided by plan­ning off icers. The route of ap­peal for lo­cal de­vel­op­ments re­fused at the ap­pli­ca­tion stage will no longer be to Scot­tish min­is­ters, but in­stead to coun­cil­lors. Plan­ning of­fi­cers are in essence em­ploy­ees of coun­cil­lors so this pro­ce­dure raises hu­man rights is­sues re­gard­ing the right to a fair hear­ing by an in­de­pen­dent and im­par­tial tri­bunal. Lit­i­ga­tion is to be ex­pected.

The new approach to plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tions is an ac­knowl­edge­ment by par­lia­ment that the cur­rent sys­tem is all too of­ten a cum­ber­some beast that does lit­tle to re­duce de­lay or in­volve the pub­lic early enough. De­vel­op­ers ea­ger to move their projects for­ward with greater speed will wel­come the ef­fi­ciency the new sys­tem prom­ises.

How­ever, the bill places a new onus on ef­fi­ciency with plan­ning au­thor­i­ties. It will be up to them to em­brace the chal­lenge if the min­is­ter’s vi­sion is to be achieved.

Con­tent sup­plied by Mo­ray Thom­son, as­so­ci­ate spe­cial­is­ing in plan­ning and en­vi­ron­ment, Shep­herd+ Wed­der­burn

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