Planning & Environment

Last week the examination report was published on the proposed SESplan strategic development plan.

The recommendations from examination of SESplan are good news for housing developers, but are there lessons for the current reform of the planning system?

Increasing housing supply

The Reporter has recommended increasing the housing supply targets by approximately 30,000 new homes – an increase of 48%.

This followed detailed consideration of issues including:

  • the Housing Need and Demand Assessment wealth distribution future
  • the risk in setting excessively high housing supply targets
  • providing for the past shortfalls in delivery
  • redistributing some of Edinburgh’s housing requirement
  • the all-tenure approach and providing for affordable housing

Implementing SESplan

The SESplan housing supply targets have to be implemented through local development plans. Currently new LDPs have to be prepared every 5 years; the Planning (Scotland) Bill proposes to extend that to 10 years.

One assumes the councils in the SESplan areas will act timeously to bring forward appropriate policy changes to address the SESplan recommendations (if/ once approved by the Scottish Ministers). However, the 10 year time limit for preparing an LDP would remove the time pressure for making those changes, which could lead to delays, especially if there is local community concern about proposed allocation of new housing sites.

For example, almost half of the SESplan housing supply is to be in the City of Edinburgh Council area. The current Edinburgh LDP was adopted in November 2016. If a 10 year time limit is introduced, a new LDP would not need to be adopted until 2026 – in eight years’ time. This indicates a need for Scottish Ministers to consider introducing interim time limits for new LDPs.

The future

A key proposal of the Planning (Scotland) Bill is the abolition of SESplan and the other strategic development plans.

Following the abolition of SDPs, the Scottish Government says that the agreement of housing supply and demand figures is to be undertaken at a national level. Presumably that will be through the National Planning Framework.

Until further details are available, it is impossible to assess whether the new procedures will be more effective.

The SESplan recommendation shows the value of independent examination by an expert Reporter. In particular, the report shows the complexity of the issues. It is therefore a concern that the Scottish Government intend to remove that opportunity and, in effect, replace it with scrutiny of the NPF by the non-expert Scottish Parliament.

Comment

Although delivering houses is a key objective of the planning reform process, there are concerns that the reforms might delay implementation of the SESplan increased housing supply targets, and also remove the opportunity for similar independent expert recommendations to be made in the future. Food for thought for the Scottish Ministers and the Scottish Parliament in further considering the Planning (Scotland) Bill.

Neil Collar

Neil Collar

Partner at Brodies LLP
Neil is a partner at Brodies LLP and consistently rated as one of Scotland’s leading planning lawyers. He is well known for both his planning inquiry advocacy and his advisory work. Neil has a particular interest in renewable energy developments.
Neil Collar