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Planning (Scotland) Bill

Overview

This Bill aims to overhaul the current planning system.

The changes include:

  • making the National Planning Framework a part of each development plan
  • scrapping Strategic Development Plans
  • introducing local place plans
  • introducing the power to bring in an infrastructure levy
  • replacing Simplified Planning Zones with Simplified Development Zones
  • introducing measures aimed at improving planning authority performance

For a guide to the jargon used, read our commonly used planning jargon and abbreviations

You can find out more in the Scottish Government document that explains what's included in the Bill.

Why the law was created

The Bill is part of a long programme of reform and aims to update the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997.

You can find out more in the Scottish Government document that explains what's included in the Bill.

The Bill at different stages

'Bills' are proposed laws. Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) discuss them to decide if they should become law.

Here are the different versions of the Bill that went through the Parliament before it became law:

The Bill as introduced 

Planning (Scotland) Bill

The Scottish Government sends the Bill and the related documents to the Scottish Parliament.

Bill is at ScottishParliament.SC.Feature.BillComponents.Models.BillStageModel?.DefaultBillStage?.Stage_Name stage.

Stage 2 – Changes to detail

Planning (Scotland) Bill with Stage 2 changes

Second version of the proposed law with changes from Members of Scottish Parliament (MSPs).

Bill is at ScottishParliament.SC.Feature.BillComponents.Models.BillStageModel?.DefaultBillStage?.Stage_Name stage.

Where do laws come from?

The Scottish Parliament can make decisions about many things like:

  • agriculture and fisheries
  • education and training
  • environment
  • health and social services
  • housing
  • justice and policing
  • local government
  • some aspects of tax and social security

These are 'devolved matters'.

Laws that are decided by the Scottish Parliament come from:

Government Bills

These are Bills that have been introduced by the Scottish Government. They are sometimes called 'Executive Bills'.

Most of the laws that the Scottish Parliament looks at are Government Bills.

Hybrid Bills

These Bills are suggested by the Scottish Government.

As well as having an impact on a general law, they could also have an impact on organisations' or the public's private interests.

The first Hybrid Bill was the Forth Crossing Bill.

Members' Bill

These are Bills suggested by MSPs. Every MSP can try to get two laws passed in the time between elections. This 5-year period is called a 'parliamentary session'.

To do this they need other MSPs from different political parties to support their Bills.

Committee Bills

These are Bills suggested by a group of MSPs called a committee.

These are Public Bills because they will change general law.

Private Bills

These are Bills suggested by a person, group or company. They usually:

  • add to an existing law
  • change an existing law

A committee would be created to work on a Private Bill.

Introduced

The Scottish Government sends the Bill and related documents to the Parliament.

Related information from the Scottish Government on the Bill

Stage 1 - Considered

Proposed law is considered by the lead committee.

Have your say

The deadline for sharing your views on this Bill has passed. Read the views that were given.

 

Who checked the Bill

Each Bill is examined by a 'lead committee'. This is the committee that has the subject of the Bill in its remit.

It looks at everything to do with the Bill.

Other committees may look at certain parts of the Bill if it covers subjects they deal with. 


Who spoke to the lead committee about the proposed law

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First meeting transcript

The Convener (Bob Doris)

Good morning and welcome to the seventh meeting of the Local Government and Communities Committee in 2018. I remind everyone present to turn off mobile phones. As meeting papers are provided in digital format, members may use tablets during the meeting. I am delighted to say that, despite the weather, we have a full house this morning—no apologies have been received.

Under item 1, the committee will take evidence from two panels on the Planning (Scotland) Bill at stage 1. Before we do so, I put on record the committee’s thanks to all those who attended our conference on the bill at Forth Valley College in Stirling on Monday. I will not invite members to comment on it at this point, because time is tight, although we would normally put that on the public record. However, a summary of the discussions will be published. I thank everyone who attended, because we got some really useful input that will help our scrutiny of the bill.

I welcome our first panel. We have Clare Symonds, chair, and Dr Andy Inch, trustee, of Planning Democracy; Dr Calum MacLeod, policy director of Community Land Scotland; Ian Cooke, director of the Development Trusts Association Scotland; and Petra Biberbach, chief executive of Planning Aid for Scotland. Thank you all for coming along and for making it through the bad weather, which has been called “the beast from the east”. I thank everyone in the public gallery for coming along, too. There is a lot of interest in this evidence session, so I thank everyone for making the effort to attend.

I will allow the witnesses to make some brief opening statements. They should be around two minutes, in order to allow as much time as possible for interaction between the witnesses and members. We will start with the witnesses sitting on my left. I do not know whether Dr Inch or Clare Symonds want to make opening remarks on behalf of Planning Democracy.

Clare Symonds (Planning Democracy)

Thank you for inviting us; we are very appreciative of the opportunity. I am the chair of Planning Democracy, which is a volunteer-led charity that has been around since 2009. We campaign for a fairer, more inclusive planning system in Scotland. We have a community network of around 500 people, including community councils, individuals and organisations. We have regular interaction and try to provide support for each other.

I have a cold and a tickly cough, so I might have to suddenly throw a question over to Andy Inch to answer if I have a coughing fit.

Is this my opening statement?

The Convener

It absolutely is.

Clare Symonds

I had better get on with it, then.

Planning Democracy is asking for a planning system that is seen as a way of positively shaping the places that we live in. We see planning as a mechanism through which to change the way that the market delivers, to get better-quality housing and remove speculation on land and so on. We feel that the bill has possibly viewed planning as a negative thing or a problem that gets in the way of development, whereas we see it as a vital part of our democracy.

Everybody knows that one of the things that we have been campaigning for is equal rights of appeal. We think that that is a mechanism through which we can achieve a stronger, plan-led system. That is something that we really want to achieve. Indeed, across the board, a lot of people support having a plan-led system.

We are keen to overcome the lack of public trust in planning. We feel that ERA has been presented as a blunt instrument that slows things down and that it is seen as a divisive tool that polarises people. It was rather hastily dismissed as such, but we want it to be seen as a tool that can be used to design a new system, that reinforces the principle of a plan-led system and that encourages people to be engaged at an early stage.

That is all that I will say for now.

The Convener

You were almost bang on time, Ms Symonds. No pressure, Dr MacLeod.

Dr Calum MacLeod (Community Land Scotland)

On behalf of Community Land Scotland, I thank the committee very much indeed for the invitation to participate in this morning’s evidence session, which is on a bill that we think will be very important in taking forward the planning framework and in connecting planning to other areas of public policy in Scotland. It is very welcome that the policy memorandum talks about moving the planning process from being a reactionary process to one that helps to promote and support investment and good-quality place making.

We provided a very succinct submission to the committee, in which we focused on local place planning. We also focused on a wider set of issues that we think are important in helping to advance the planning process and to connect it to the wider agenda. Specifically, we thought about repopulation and resettlement and how they might tie in with elements of the planning process, as well as rural and urban sustainable development more widely. We also thought about the powers that we have in that area and how we can rethink and reimagine in a practical, policy-orientated way people’s place in rural landscapes.

The bill’s ambition of having more community engagement and consultation and a more progressive approach to the planning process is very welcome from our perspective. As a representative organisation, we look forward to discussing the various aspects of our submission within the context of the broader discussion.

The Convener

Thank you very much, Dr MacLeod.

Ian Cooke (Development Trusts Association Scotland)

Good morning, everyone. I am representing Development Trusts Association Scotland, which has 255 members in communities scattered throughout Scotland. All our members are involved primarily in what I would call place making, so our interest in the bill is very much to do with how it will help communities and others to create the kind of places that people want to live in.

I say at the outset that I am certainly not a planning expert. The views that DTA Scotland put forward to the committee were drawn from our membership, which consists of communities across the country that have engaged or tried to engage in the planning process to get consent for a community-led development or to influence planning applications that they felt would impact on them.

It is probably fair to say that, from our experience of speaking to members, there is a fairly strong view that the views of communities are not sufficiently taken into account and often tend to be overridden by the plans of developers. There is an imbalance that we hope that the bill will address.

We are keen to explore some of the cross-cutting policy agendas, such as community empowerment, how the bill connects with land reform and—given that planning is very much about local democracy—how it might connect with the forthcoming local democracy bill.

The Convener

Thank you very much, Mr Cooke.

09:30  
Petra Biberbach (Planning Aid for Scotland)

Thank you very much for inviting me. I am the chief executive of PAS and I was a member of the independent review that recommended changes in the planning system. I am also on the board of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority and I chair its planning and access committee, so I have first-hand experience of how the planning system works in practice. In addition, I am the vice-chair of the housing association Link Group.

Committee members will have read our response to the bill, so I take the opportunity to give a little more detail of how PAS operates. About 20 per cent of planners in Scotland volunteer for the organisation and, increasingly, because PAS has moved to having an agenda about place, other built environment professionals, including architects, urban designers and environmentalists, have come to work with us.

PAS is celebrating its 25th anniversary. It is volunteer led, with more than 400 volunteers, and has three key services. In the organisation’s first 15 years, the main one was an advice service, which it still has. That service is reactive, because people phone or email to ask for advice. In the past year, we dealt with about 800 cases and there were about 1,000 inquiries that were not necessarily cases because we did not ascribe them to a volunteer.

We also help community organisations that work in social rights processes and on the ground with community groups that may want to take on assets or become small-scale developers. We have considerably expanded that programme proactively over the past 10 years, and we work quite closely with development trusts and associations.

Increasingly, to address anomalies in the planning system, we work with what we call seldom-heard groups, including Gypsy Travellers—Scotland still has a system that does not provide enough sites in appropriate locations for them. We engage very proactively with young people, because one of the failures of the planning system is that too few people know that it exists and get involved only very late in the process. By working with schools, community groups and youth clubs, we have found that young people are very ready to be involved in the place agenda. Last month, we launched the youth volunteer programme and 200 people have volunteered.

The Convener

We appreciate everyone’s opening remarks. We will move straight to questions.

Jenny Gilruth (Mid Fife and Glenrothes) (SNP)

Good morning. The legislation proposes a local place plan as a new feature of the planning system, and LPPs would have to have regard to the local development plan and the national planning framework. Is the requirement that local councils must have regard to LPPs sufficiently robust?

Dr Andy Inch (Planning Democracy)

It is a weak mechanism. Local place plans sound rather like neighbourhood plans, which have existed in England since around 2010 and are, along with the local plan, part of the statutory development plan, which gives them greater weight in decision making. An odd feature of the planning systems in Scotland and England is a gap between an indicative plan and subsequent decisions, which do not have to follow the plan if other material considerations indicate otherwise—I am sure the committee is aware of that. That means that the aspiration for a plan-led system can be difficult to achieve.

A risk of a weak status for local place plans in decision making is that communities and others can invest hundreds of hours and huge amounts of voluntary time and effort into producing the local place plans, only to find that subsequent decisions broadly disregard their provisions. That has happened in some celebrated cases in England recently, despite the stronger status that neighbourhood plans have compared with what is proposed for local place plans. There is concern about asking people to invest time and effort in a process without there being any guarantee that there will be any accountability for the decisions that are subsequently made.

Local place plans could be a very positive way to engage people early on, but you need to think about what will happen at the end of that process and how those plans will be implemented.

Ian Cooke

Local place plans are not particularly new. Communities up and down the country have done variations of them for some time. In our experience, there is little evidence of planning authorities recognising or giving any weight to those plans, so we are concerned that there should be a clear link between local place plans and the statutory planning process. We are very supportive of the proposal for local place plans, but they will achieve very little unless they are accompanied by a clear statement about their purpose and status.

Some of that might be done within statutory guidance, but we think that there is a way to evolve local place plans so that they have criteria. Depending on what communities want to build into their plans, there will be a legal consequence regarding what the planning authority must do to acknowledge that and respond to it.

The Convener

Thank you.

Jenny Gilruth

I have a brief supplementary question.

The Convener

Before you ask it, I will just check whether other panel members want to come in and answer the question.

Jenny Gilruth

Sorry.

The Convener

No—my apologies for cutting across you, Jenny.

Dr MacLeod, did you want to come in?

Dr MacLeod

Yes. Thank you very much, convener.

We reiterate and emphasise that local place plans are a welcome development as regards the decision-making infrastructure of the planning process and how it connects to wider issues. As colleagues have already said, it is very important to ensure that there is a clear connection between local place plans, their purpose, how they are resourced and what they are designed to achieve, and the development plan and the wider framework in that context. It is important that there is a link that is clearly achievable and capable of being implemented in practice. It is an opportunity for local communities to have a stake and a voice, which are sometimes airbrushed out of the planning process, in deciding what should be developed and moved forward at local level. The local place plan is a useful mechanism in that respect, but there needs to be a connection with the local development plan that is clear within that context and timetable.

The Convener

Petra, do you want to add something?

Petra Biberbach

Yes. As it currently stands, the local place plan system is too weak. We want to see a much stronger duty. If we are to have a plan-led system, it has to cascade up as well as down. The local place plan is a key driver in changing the current planning system and in affording everyone in the community the chance to come together to plan for their place. Therefore I agree with the comments about better alignment with other policy formulations such as the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 and the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016.

We are currently consulting on a socioeconomic duty for local development plans, which will have to fit in. The discussion around what we need from local place plans must be had at a very local level, with everyone involved. It has to be given proper status, so that the approach does not become tokenistic. Furthermore, it needs to be aligned with the local development plan, which, as we know, works to a 10-year cycle. A regular update of the local place plan and a regular conversation with all the different drivers and communities within that will probably very important.

That is unlike the position in England, where the system has not worked or has worked only in certain areas but has been given very little credence. In Scotland, a different system is in front of us, so we can drive something very new here.

Jenny Gilruth

I want to go back to Calum MacLeod’s point. In your submission, you say that there is an associated issue on costs and the support that will be required to develop plans. I suppose that there is also an issue of community capacity. Ian Cooke, in your submission, you point to local place plans working well when there is a sense of genuine ownership among local people. However, not all communities start from the same base level or have the same buy-in and engagement. What are the panel’s views with regard to, for example, poorer areas not engaging with the process or feeling that they do not have the capacity to do so because they might not have done so in the past? Does the legislation, in its current form, disadvantage them?

Dr MacLeod

The levels of capacity that different communities might have in relation to responding to the challenge and the opportunity of local place plans are an important point to raise. It is very important that communities in that position have or are provided with resources to enable them to have a say and the capacity to shape the process and what will be in the place plans. Support from various sources—from the Government or elsewhere—should be part of the capacity-building process, and different partnership arrangements will need to be looked at very carefully to see what the optimal solutions might be. Clearly, it is unrealistic to expect communities that might have different levels of capacity to be able to engage unless they have support to do so. That is not a reason—it is quite the reverse, in fact—for those sources not to ensure that communities have that opportunity and that, from the bottom up, what communities’ aspirations are for place making fits into the broader framework. Community Land Scotland thinks that that needs to be driven forward and hard wired in the bill.

The Convener

Do you want to comment, Mr Cooke?

Ian Cooke

Our experience is that a lot of disadvantaged communities are involved in trying to improve their communities; such activity is not restricted to higher-capacity communities. I appreciate that disadvantaged communities might require additional support to do that, but there is definitely an interest.

The key is for communities to have anchor organisations, if there is no development trust, for example. A lot of disadvantaged communities have locally controlled or locally led housing associations, which are well placed to provide a key role in the production of and support for local place plans.

I accept that resourcing is crucial. The approach will not work unless it is sufficiently resourced. We perhaps need to reflect the particular needs of disadvantaged communities in how we make financial resources and technical support available.

Petra Biberbach

Many areas have local planning outcome agreements. If we are moving towards greater alignment between spatial planning and community planning, I suggest that, on a practical level, there could be some alignment between the budgets of community planning partnerships and spatial planning departments, so that people work together on the ground.

Capacity building is vital. It is important for the very communities that do not feel that they have been given a voice in the past to be much more empowered.

Andy Inch

I very much agree that the aspiration to join things up at a very local level with community planning and other processes is the right one. There is a challenge, in that the resource implications of the capacity building and work that would be required to achieve the aspiration are massive.

I think that the financial memorandum suggests a cost of about £13,000 per local place plan—my memory is not great, and I might be wrong. I think that the figure has been borrowed from research by Locality

on the neighbourhood planning process in England. I understand from speaking to colleagues who study the neighbourhood planning process that the figure is very much at the low end; a lot of neighbourhood plans have cost upwards of that, and some have come close to £100,000. In addition, local authorities in England are given at least £20,000 per neighbourhood plan, to provide support to the communities that are producing plans. None of that seems to have been costed into the current proposal. That will reduce capacity.

Another distinctive feature of neighbourhood planning in England is the very variable geography. It is typically happening in places that are much more socioeconomically wealthy and where there is higher capacity; it is not happening in other places. If Scotland does not want to reproduce that kind of geographical variation, we need to think about proactive mechanisms to avoid it.

Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

I remind members that I am a chartered member of the Royal Town Planning Institute.

I want to follow up Jenny Gilruth’s questions. Under the bill, community councils or other community bodies will have the power to produce a local place plan. Is the scope of the power correct? In its written submission, PAS said:

“PAS would suggest that Community Councils, as the only community group with a statutory role in planning, should be required to take a lead role in any Local Place Plan being prepared in their area”.

In my region, there are big gaps in community council coverage. In areas of Scotland where there is no community council, might other bodies be better placed to drive the local place plan process?

Petra Biberbach

There are two parts to the response to your question. On one hand, you are right to say that community council coverage is quite patchy; community councils are struggling in many rural areas, and there is an ageing membership profile. On the other hand, community councils are the only democratically elected body at local level, in the pure sense. They are rooted in the kind of function that we are talking about, which gives them their credibility, to some extent.

Having said that, I would not say that it should be exclusively community councils that take on the role. We all need to work much more to empower more community groups to work together. Development trusts have a big role, as do young people, and there are many amenity groups. However, if someone has to drive the work forward, it must be an elected body, that is, a community council.

We stressed in the planning review that the role of the community councils should be extended to a statutory function in the development plan making. Unfortunately, that suggestion was not taken forward, but that would be a good opportunity to strengthen the role of community councils further. However, we are where we are. It would be good to have not only a lead body but a duty to include everyone in the community.

09:45  
Monica Lennon

Does Planning Democracy have a view on that?

Dr Inch

We broadly agree. The role of community councils is very variable across Scotland. That level of democracy has not been particularly well invested in across the country over time, which makes things very difficult.

In relation to local place plans, I am very interested in thinking about the local anchor organisations and institutions in local communities. The intersections with community empowerment agendas and local democracy agendas, as well as where we can vest some kind of institutional capacity that remains in communities, are issues for the committee to think about. In disadvantaged communities in Scotland, regeneration funding, for example, has been project based. A project arrives, organisations are set up, they run for the length of time of the project and then they disappear. A continuing institutional or organisational capacity has not been embedded at that level. That would be the ideal place to vest—whether it is community councils or something else—the local place planning process.

Dr MacLeod

The question of what types of organisations might be engaged in that process and have a lead role in the local place plans is critical. Andy Inch is right that the role of community councils is very important but, in some senses, that role has been challenging, given the hollowing out of their functions and capacity in some instances. There is certainly some merit in thinking about other organisations that might be able to contribute to, or lead, the development of the local place plans.

In that context, community landowners are one type of organisation that might have a contribution to make in that capacity—not least because, in contrast to other types of land ownership organisations, they have a democratic, accountable role to play in the process, in terms of the way in which they represent their memberships and the communities in which they are located. Different organisations, such as community landowners, could play a role in linking the appropriate organisational structures with a democratic mandate through community accountability.

Ian Cooke

DTA Scotland certainly wants that role to be extended beyond community councils. We should look at which organisations drive local place making, and ensure that they are eligible in certain respects. Under the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, community bodies are described in terms of a certain range of characteristics, including democratic accountability. A group that ticks those characteristics can access various community rights, so I want something along those lines to be produced to determine which community bodies are able to initiate and develop local place plans.

The Convener

Lots of members want to explore the issue further, but I have a question. We are specifically talking about the question that Monica Lennon raised of which anchor organisations, such as community councils, could drive this agenda forward. However, the question is not an either/or. In my area, a community council is as representative as it can be, given that there are rarely elections to elect community councillors. There is a democratic opportunity, but not much voting goes on—let us be honest.

We have formed a regeneration forum and undertaken a mapping exercise in which we have invited any organisation that we thought might be a community stakeholder, including housing associations, seniors forums and local colleges, to meet round one table every two or three months and start talking about local place planning and what that might look like. The question is not an either/or. I see nodding heads, but I will not put that as a formal question.

Who should do the mapping exercise across our communities, so that we can find out where the black spots are? The Big Lottery Fund had to do an exercise in Royston, in my constituency, because people were not applying for lottery funds. The Big Lottery Fund identified where the black spots were in relation to community planning, community empowerment and community activity. Should local authorities have a duty to identify where the weaknesses are in community resilience and drive forward work on that? If we wait for communities to do it, it might never happen. It might be in statute, but it might just never happen.

Petra Biberbach

It is quite an interesting point. Communities are different and if we are too prescriptive, we might miss some opportunities. For example, the community on the island of Rum was trying to create its own place plan through a development trust. It came to us, we helped it, and Highland Council adopted the plan as supplementary planning guidance, which was great, and the community can now grow. There are other practical examples like that, but many other communities do not come together in that way and do not feel the need to do so. I suppose that there is some duty on local authorities to assist in finding a road map. However, there are plenty of communities out there that have produced the equivalent of a local place plan, and south Glasgow is one of them.

The message should therefore not be that some communities have to or do not have to produce a place plan. There needs to be some flexibility around that.

The Convener

Are there any other thoughts on that?

Dr MacLeod

I am glad that you mentioned mapping, convener, and I hope that we will come back to that in other contexts later in the evidence session. As Petra Biberbach said, flexibility is key and the onus should not be on a particular organisations to focus on issues and push them forward. Of course there is a role for local authorities, but there is also a role for other organisations, as she said, to help shape their own aspirations for places. That has to be balanced out.

The Convener

Are there any other comments before I let members back in?

Dr Inch

It is also important to think about local place plans as one tool among many for local place shaping. The interesting question for communities that are interested in particular issues is which tools are the most appropriate for them to use at different points to achieve what they are interested in. It is not the case that a local place plan is needed everywhere, but it is important to think about presenting a local place plan in a way that makes the tools accessible, whether that is in relation to community empowerment, community planning or things that come through planning acts. At the moment, that picture does not come together for a lot of people, which is a challenge.

The Convener

I will bring in Petra Biberbach and Ian Cooke, and then I will let some members come back in with other supplementary questions on the matter.

Petra Biberbach

I fundamentally disagree with seeing a place plan as a tool for engagement. We have tools such as the place standard, for example, to drive a conversation. If a place plan is to be enacted properly and be part of the plan-led system, it is more than a tool for people to talk about their place and have an aspiration and vision for it.

Ian Cooke

It makes sense that local authorities be responsible for mapping where there are gaps, cold spots and so on. However, the question is about where and how those cold spots might respond. There has to be a bottom-up approach from communities that want to do something. The issue is about how communities are inspired to do that, how they are supported, how they are encouraged and how they are nurtured, rather than about trying to impose something from the top.

The Convener

I will allow Monica Lennon back in shortly, but I will first let in others who have supplementary questions on the same point, starting with Graham Simpson.

Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

I think that all the witnesses agree that the bill does not have enough teeth on local place plans. The bill states that councils only have to “have regard to” local place plans, which is meaningless. I think that the committee needs to hear what ideas there are to sort that out. I think that Petra Biberbach said that maybe it could all be done when the local development plan is produced. Should there be a requirement for councils, when they are producing local place plans, to reach out and engage with communities, and then to demonstrate in the evidence report that they have to produce that they have done that job, have asked for local place plans to be produced and have helped people to produce them at the time of producing the local development plan?

Petra Biberbach

We are talking about local development plans moving towards a 10-year cycle, and there are opportunities within that to produce local place plans on a regular basis, because communities themselves are dynamic as well.

The plans should come together right at the start. The best starting point in driving local development plans is for them to be informed by local place plans, so there should be a fusion. People will say, “I’ve identified these gap sites and seen these empty homes and I want to do something with them,” and they should be listened to. The intelligence and information that local communities carry can only benefit local development plans.

Dr Inch

A couple of things are clear. First, the local place plan should be part of the statutory development plan for an area, so when a local place plan is approved, it should become part of the local development plan.

Secondly, there is an issue at the end of the process, as I mentioned earlier. Communities will invest time and effort in producing local place plans, but there is no guarantee that decision makers on subsequent planning applications will pay any heed to those in their decision making. There has to be a strong case for those communities to have a right of appeal where decisions are contrary to what has been agreed in the local place plan. Having gone through the process, they become, in effect, the party that has produced the plan, so they should have a say in subsequent decisions. That will give them teeth and be an incentive to ensure that the local place plans are implemented.

The Convener

Are there any other comments on that, or is there general agreement? We will have to move on beyond local place plans in a moment.

Dr MacLeod

I have a brief comment to add. The key thing about the link between communities and local place plans and the broader local development plan is that the local place plans should be front loaded so that the community’s voice is listened to in the first place and formally connected to the local development plan. That link must be there. If we have that, we will not necessarily have to pursue a third-party right of appeal with regard to how that works in practice. Front loading the local place plans is critical in that context.

Petra Biberbach

It is also about the psychology of planning. At present, people know that they do not necessarily have to participate at that stage because they may have another bite later on. We want to see much more engaged communities, with engaged individuals creating local place plans at the earliest opportunity and knowing that there is an opportunity for them to be involved that is meaningful and not tokenistic.

The Convener

I see lots of hands going up, but members have follow-up questions on some of the comments that have been made. Mr Cooke, you have not spoken on the matter yet, so I will bring you in. I apologise that I will not bring other witnesses in at this point.

Ian Cooke

We see local place plans as being very much part of community empowerment. The idea that communities can proactively use them when it is right for them in order to forward their ambitions is crucial.

We have to be careful. It is important that, when local place plans are produced that meet the criteria, they are listened to and taken into account but, again, if it is just part of a fairly top-down, bureaucratic system, we might flatten the activity, energy and enterprise that are already bubbling away in communities.

The Convener

Andy Wightman and Kenneth Gibson want to come in and ask wee questions.

Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

As we have spent some time on the matter, I will hold my fire, convener.

The Convener

Okay.

Andy Wightman (Lothian) (Green)

One of our problems is that we have gone out and spoken to communities and, like the witnesses, folk have said that local place plans could be a great idea, but our challenge is to recommend to Parliament whether they are a good idea or not. As they appear in the bill, they are weaker than what is provided in the English system. I suppose that the question for us is, if they are to be strengthened, how that will be done. Andy Inch said that they should be part of the statutory local development plan. Do others agree?

Petra Biberbach

There needs to be a duty. We cannot have what we call a proper, front-loaded system—that is a jargonistic term, but I think that we all know what we mean by it—and proper community involvement and then say, “Well, we can leave it at any opportunity.” There has to be meaningful engagement, and that means that you have to give it teeth. People in the community need to know that, if they spend weeks and months assisting and doing the work, their views will be carried forward and taken into account. It follows that it has to be a plan-led system and that, as we look at the NPF, we see local place plans as being part of that—and there has to be a duty.

10:00  
The Convener

Is there a difference between having a duty to consider local place plans and making them automatically part of local development plans? They are two separate things, are they not? It is about how they rub together or complement each other.

I want to be clear what the witnesses are saying. We have not defined what a community is or what the threshold is. There have to be referendums for neighbourhood plans in England, but we have not defined any of the criteria. Are the witnesses saying that a local place plan that is approved by a local area should, no matter what, automatically form part of the development plan, or that there should be a duty for the development plan to take account of it materially and meaningfully?

I want to ensure that we are talking about the same thing when the committee makes recommendations on that. What are you saying when you talk about a duty, Petra?

Petra Biberbach

I mean that the people who prepare the local development plan must understand and be fully aware of what the local community wants. We have a definition of neighbourhood. We have a rough geographical definition for community planning partnerships. The local place plan must be strong and the local development plan absolutely must take account of it. It forms part of the plan-led system cascading up the way.

The Convener

That is definitely an answer—I was going to be rude and say, “I think that that is an answer”—but, as my deputy convener just pointed out to me, the important question is: should the local place plan have the same status in law as the development plan or should there be a dispute resolution system, for example, for when the development plan does not match the local place plan? It is one thing to have the duty, but automatically making the local place plan part of the development plan is another thing entirely.

I have my own views on that, but I am keen to know what the witnesses’ views are. Petra, I am trying to push you on this: should the local place plan automatically form part of the local development plan or should there be a stronger lever for that to influence the local development plan? Should it, for example, be a material consideration for planning applications if something goes against the local place plan? What do we mean by saying that we need something stronger than “have regard to”?

Petra Biberbach

It should be the latter. It is very important that it is meaningful. If you want to drive more democratisation of the plan-led system, the local place plan must be a material consideration in the development plan making.

Having said that, we should not forget that, as we move into a more collaborative system, we should not see the local authority—the plan-making authority—on one side and the local community on the other. We should work together so that everyone is aware of what is proposed and of what is happening so that it goes seamlessly into the local development plan. I want the strongest possible commitment to be given to local place plans.

The Convener

I promise that I will let Dr Inch and Clare Symonds back in in a minute. Their organisation said that the local place plan should just be part of the development plan, whereas PAS seems to say that it should be a step removed from that but should influence and feed into the development plan. I do not want to put words into your mouth, Petra; I want to be clear about what you are saying. If you are content with that, I will ask Mr Cooke or Dr MacLeod what they feel about it.

Petra Biberbach

No, I am saying that it should be stronger than that. It should be part of the local development plan. It has to be a material consideration of it.

The Convener

So it should be in the local development plan.

Petra Biberbach

If you prepare something at the local level, it follows that it has to be part of the development plan if you want it to be meaningful and have a proper statutory role.

The Convener

That is a yes. You agree with Planning Democracy, then.

Petra Biberbach

Yes.

Ian Cooke

As you suggested, convener, there definitely needs to be a stronger lever beyond what is in the bill. The statutory guidance needs to provide criteria that clarify the different levels of sophistication that local development plans could take and the different levels of legal status would attract, depending on the criteria that the local development plan uses.

We are looking for something organic. It is much more about a power. However, once the local place plan is produced, if it meets the criteria, it must be reflected within the local development plan.

The Convener

If it meets the criteria.

Ian Cooke

Yes.

Dr MacLeod

We are clear that the local place plan needs to have a formal and clear link into the local development plan and to be sure to tie into whatever criteria are in that, as Ian Cooke said. There should be a clear formal link between what the local place plan does and how that fits within the local development plan.

The Convener

Okay.

Dr Inch

It would be nice to move the discussion beyond local place plans, because there is a huge amount in the bill. It is very important to clarify some things. Everybody agrees that front loading and a plan-led system are good ideas. As I understand it, if something forms a part of the development plan as defined in statute, when it comes to looking at planning applications, that simply means that it is a material consideration that has somewhat more strength than others in the decision making. To paraphrase it, the law says something to the effect that the decision will be in accordance with the plan unless other material considerations indicate otherwise. We are still talking about a relatively weak mechanism.

One of the problems in Scotland when we talk about a plan-led system is that we do not have one, because decisions do not have to agree with what is in the plan when other material considerations indicate otherwise. I do not see anything in the bill that addresses that issue, which the committee might be interested to consider if people are really serious about a plan-led system. Until that issue is addressed in a more fundamental and meaningful way than has happened in any of the deliberations up until now—as far as I am aware—I do not think that you can talk very strongly about a plan-led system. There will always be that scope for the decisions made at the end of the process not to be in accordance with what is in the plan.

The Convener

A degree of patience is needed. We are trying to exhaust the issue of local place planning; I assure you that once we do that, we will move on to a myriad other things. We just have to be crystal clear about what witnesses have said when we come to form our opinions.

Dr Inch

It is important to clarify in strict legal terms the nature and weight of the development plan and what it means to include something in it.

The Convener

I appreciate your outlining that, Dr Inch, but we are still dealing with local place planning. We will come to that issue.

If there are no other comments about local place plans, I will invite Monica Lennon back in.

Monica Lennon

I just want to wrap this up, convener. I take the points about whether we are trying to develop a plan-led system or not. About 10 minutes ago, Petra Biberbach was talking about fusion, with local place plans being proposed alongside the delivery of a local development plan. As a former practising planner, that seems a bit odd to me. Trying to promote a plan-led system while there is a local place plan that has the status of a material consideration will just create tension.

The convener mentioned some of our external engagement. At an event in Motherwell that we had, John McNairney, the chief planner, addressed Lanarkshire community groups, referring to the shift to a cycle of at least 10 years for local development plans and suggesting that the proposal of local place plans could indicate that the local development plan was in need of an update and a refresh. Is a local place plan an indication that the local development plan is out of kilter with local need and what local people want? If the chief planner is saying that local place plans might be an indication that the local development plan needs to be refreshed, does that not sound alarm bells about moving to a 10-year cycle? It might not be the best move if we are trying to strike a balance between buy-in and involvement from the community and certainty in the plan.

Petra Biberbach

I would see it as something that gives democratic renewal. We want to move to a 10-year plan, because we in Scotland have been overwhelmed by constant plan preparation. We put down one plan and then have to start the next cycle, and that process can take away some of the vision, aspiration and delivery that we need.

I think that a local place plan has to be very much part of the local development plan process, as it starts with what the community wants. It is also very helpful, because one thing that we should not forget is that a lot of the local development plans are signed off by the locally elected members. As a result, there will be much better communication, with local place plans being produced by the local community on the basis of their aspirations and vision for the place and then forming part of the local development plan process.

It is true that, if new sites emerge, changes will have to be made during the 10-year period, but at the moment, we have changes within a year. If something needs to be addressed again, we have the opportunity to go back with the community, and that fosters a new kind of dialogue and engagement that we have not seen before now.

Monica Lennon

If the idea is that the local place plan is a really good way of informing the development of the local development plan, I should point out that South Lanarkshire, where I live, is a big local authority and that, at neighbourhood level, we would be talking about dozens upon dozens of local place plans if we tried to get things at the right scale. It could quickly become quite expensive if all these community councils and groups were to bid for funds for a local place plan.

As far as front loading is concerned, is there something missing in how we do local development planning, and do we need to direct resources to that instead? Perhaps the witness from Planning Democracy would like to address that point.

Dr Inch

We are talking about various changes to the local development planning process such as the move to a 10-year cycle, the loss of the main issues report and the watering down of the very positive suggestion of a gate-check process that came out of the review panel and which could have provided a very interesting deliberative opportunity to involve communities at the front end of the local development plan process. However, it does not look as though things are being taken forward in that way.

It looks as though the changes that are being introduced will make the local development plan less accessible to people. I am not sure that the rhetoric on empowering communities is being followed through in the mechanisms and the ways in which the local development planning process will change. For a start, where is the front end of that process for people to engage with and input into?

There were losses following the 2006 reforms. There is a lot less examination and, indeed, we have less of an opportunity to examine local development plans before they are approved. The local development plan, the capacity for people to engage with it and where those opportunities lie are all things that need to be looked at.

The Convener

I must ask you to keep your powder dry on that, because we are now moving on to development planning. First of all, though, I just want to check whether you think that the promotion of local place plans is a good thing. A nod of the head, a quick yes or no or even a shrug of the shoulders would be fine. I do not want it to get lost in all of this. Is it a good thing?

Petra Biberbach

It is vital if you want to change things.

The Convener

Do you think that the provision has to be strengthened?

Dr Inch

The devil is in the detail.

The Convener

But is there a devil in this? Let us be careful with words here. Are local place plans a good thing? Should they exist?

Dr Inch

In principle, yes, but a lot will depend on the ways in which they are—

The Convener

Hold on to your optimism for a second. I do not want to put words in your mouth—I just want to be clear. You think that local place plans should exist, but are we saying that they should be strengthened and made more meaningful for communities? I see everyone nodding.

So we have to go further than just having regard to local place plans in development planning. As far as I am concerned, the debate has moved on to the question whether you lift and shift and put it straight into the development plan or look at whether it might influence the development plan in a powerful and meaningful way. Is that a useful summary of where we are in relation to local place planning? Again, I see everyone nodding.

Petra Biberbach

We talked about community engagement 12 years ago, but we still do not really have it. If we do not want to repeat the mistakes of 2005 or 2006, the opportunity is now. We really need the committee to tease out the issues to ensure that the local place plan can work well.

The Convener

That was really helpful.

Alexander Stewart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

We have already touched on some of this, but I want to try to expand things a bit and consider the potential removal of the requirement to produce a main issues report. What impact would that have on community involvement?

The Convener

Who wants to talk about that? I see that Dr Inch had his hand up first—the others need to be quicker next time.

Dr Inch

As I understand it, the idea behind the main issues report, which was introduced in the Planning etc (Scotland) Act 2006, was very much in accordance with the principle of front loading and the desire to get people engaged early, before a draft plan was produced, to ensure that they were involved in shaping the issues that would influence that draft.

In practice, that has been difficult, and the main issues report has probably not realised those aspirations. It is difficult to get people involved in it. A very positive suggestion that came out of the review panel of which Petra Biberbach was a part was that of an evidence gate check. If we go back 50 years, the Skeffington report in 1969 was the first time that public participation in planning got mentioned. One of the things that that committee was interested in was front loading, but the fact that we are still having the same discussion 50 years on suggests that we have not cracked that.

Another suggestion was to get people involved as far as possible in producing and deliberating the evidence that would form the local plan. At the moment, the gate check looks as though it will be a rather technocratic tick-box exercise, looking at evidence handed down from on high, instead of a chance for people to really deliberate the kinds of evidence that should be taken into account in planning.

There is a need to get people involved at the initial stage before a draft plan is produced, and there is scope to discuss the expansion of the gate check and how it could be made into a more deliberative and engaged process. It would be really interesting to discuss that.

10:15  
Petra Biberbach

I welcome the move away from the main issues report, because, up and down the country, it has not worked. Most local authorities simply produce something that they send out to consultation, but that is not participation; it is an invitation to the people who already know the system to be informed and get involved. The local place plan is much better and stronger and replaces the early consultation on the main issues report, which we know has not worked because, 10 or 12 years on, the vast majority of people do not know that there is such a thing as the planning system.

Dr MacLeod

It is fundamentally important for communities to have the capacity and space to engage in the process by identifying the main issues and where they sit within the planning process. I am really interested in what Petra Biberbach has to say about what seems to be an appropriation of expertise on the part of professional organisations—professional planners and others—in shaping the identification of the main issues. It is important to ensure that we have a balance that helps enable communities to identify and push forward what they think are the clear issues in their places. That ties in to broader and very important issues about expertise and the appropriation of knowledge in landscape planning, wild land mapping and how we sit within the landscape, and how those main issues are communicated and mediated ties in with our submission.

Ian Cooke

As I am not a planning expert, I do not know the details, but the principles and issues that I would flag up are that it is, as Petra Biberbach has said, crucial to involve people as early as possible in the processes. It seems strange that a lot of evidence that could be fitted into the planning system is completely ignored at the moment. A lot of the plans that have been put together by communities are more than just spatial plans; they look at economic, social and environmental development, and that information could fit into plans. On the one hand, there is frustration that fewer people are involved in the planning process, but people in communities are doing things that could be brought across. That brings us back to local place plans; there is a lot of information that could be drawn into the development of the plan.

Dr Inch

I broadly agree, although I am not sure how local place plans could replace the evidence gathering for the local development plan, as Petra Biberbach has suggested. If the area has a very variable geography, you will not get take-up across it. The local development plans deal with different geographical areas, and you will need to think about two separate and distinct processes and not see local place plans as a replacement for the main issues report and that early engagement in the local development plan process.

The Convener

Could that replacement happen only where the two plans were aligned and dovetailed with each other?

Petra Biberbach

There would always be a transition period. Phasing out the main issues report will take some time. I alert the committee to a good Scottish Government handbook that was created by NHS Scotland and Architecture and Design Scotland on the place standard tool, which gathers a lot of information about local places, engages local communities in thinking more widely about wellbeing and how people feel about a place and captures data that local authorities can access to plan for the future. In this digital age, there are lots of ways of gathering information about local communities and neighbourhoods.

The Convener

We are still dealing with the main issues report and the question whether it should be removed. I want to stay focused and hear the panellists’ feelings on that. Petra Biberbach was fine with it, but I wonder what Dr Inch’s views are. Would you keep it, Dr Inch?

Dr Inch

No. I am very interested in how you would adapt, develop and augment the proposed gate check and turn it into a deliberative opportunity for people to engage.

The Convener

That is helpful. What you are saying is that it is fine for the main issues report to go, but we must really beef up the gate check and make it more than a bureaucratic tick-box exercise.

Dr MacLeod

That is absolutely critical. We should not have any technocratic exercises with the process being shaped from the top down; instead, the process needs to be deliberative and enable communities to have a voice and to shape the process. Ultimately, communities have a voice and an awareness of the main issues that affect them. They just need the capability, routes and mechanisms to enable them to shape the process.

Clare Symonds

With regard to alignment, which has been mentioned, local place plans might have to align with what is in the development plan. With the national planning framework becoming part of the development plan, that will create tension in planning, whether it be top down or bottom up, and that needs to be bottomed out. We have asked that you retain the national planning framework as a national level document, because there will be a difficult tension between them otherwise.

The Convener

I promise you that we will get to that issue, if I move things on a bit quicker.

As there no other comments about the main issues report, Alexander Stewart will finish off his line of questioning.

Alexander Stewart

I want to tease the gate check issue out a bit more. Dr Inch has identified that it has the potential to be used quite extensively and has pointed out that the community involvement in the process is vital. What evidence should the community take into account? What should we be looking at if the gate check is to be a quite well-advanced mechanism that can add benefit to what we are trying to achieve?

The Convener

I love it when witnesses look at one another and no one volunteers to answer. [Laughter.]

Dr MacLeod

I will volunteer, convener. Many issues could be taken into account with regard to evidence, but I would highlight affordable housing need, the scope to increase the population in urban and, in particular, rural contexts, services and various aspects with regard to types of development. Those kinds of things express community ambitions and objectives that have a clear relation to their sustainable development and cohesion. That is a pretty fundamental part of it, but there are others. It is all about enabling communities to have a voice and the capacity to express it.

The Convener

If witnesses want to answer a question and are trying to work out who is next to speak, I would say that the rule of thumb is that the first person to look at me gets to answer.

Dr Inch

There is also a question about what form the gate check might take. For example, we would be interested in the possibilities of having a citizens’ jury. Different models of deliberative innovation could be brought in to enable different forms of hearing and taking evidence. As has been pointed out, there are existing plans and strategies and huge amounts of evidence that could be brought into all this, and people could be taken through a process of sifting and identifying priorities that would feed into the plan. There are many different models and ways of organising this that would be a lot more interesting than just going through a checklist of existing statistical evidence, but you have to try to enable people to engage with that.

Alexander Stewart

People would probably engage much more and be much more alive to the whole process if they saw it as an opportunity to participate.

Dr Inch

I would hope so.

Petra Biberbach

The gate check was proposed in the first instance to allow greater community sign-off of local development plans. We also proposed a two-stage gate check because, if you are serious about front loading, you have to give it time and invest time in it. The beauty of the planning system is that there are many different values and vested interests, and they have to be balanced.

We also wanted to get away from the notion that a remote reporter should do the final sign-off, because this is really about driving democracy back into the local community. The gate check, with mediation as part of it to find out what the community wants, is absolutely vital. By the way, very few communities speak with one voice; there are usually lots of different communities and interests. There are also developers—be they on a small scale, as with development trusts, or on a larger scale—housing associations and Gypsy Travellers, who are never involved in the process.

We have to think very hard about how we resource all that properly. The idea behind the bill was to have a much more collaborative and inclusive approach to planning. We have to find ways of making that happen, and we have to invest time in it, too.

The Convener

If there are no more comments on gate checks we will move on to the next line of questioning.

Andy Wightman

We have had simplified planning zones—I think that there are two—but they are to be got rid of. Instead, the bill provides for simplified development zones, in which there will be a lot of up-front planning consents in relation to not just spatial dimensions but roads and infrastructure, such that the areas become, in essence, development ready and there is no requirement to apply for detailed planning consent for developments in them.

I will come on to the detail of the proposal, but first, does the panel support the principle of simplified development zones? Should they exist? Professor Cliff Hague, who will give evidence at a later date, says that the approach is the ultimate in up-front planning and that if we are doing up-front planning we should be doing it throughout Scotland. What are the panel’s views on the merits of such zones? Do they have the potential to deliver better outcomes for Scotland’s communities?

Dr MacLeod

Community Land Scotland thinks that there is merit in the approach, depending on what the zones are designed to achieve and for whom they are designed to achieve it.

Let us take the area that I represent. If a community landowner aspires to see particular types of development, whether that is affordable housing or business development, there is merit in being in a position to shape the process in ways that enable the community to fit its aspirations with the type of development that is going on. That takes us back to the point about identifying objectives. There is potentially considerable merit in a zone that is designed to contribute to development that is economically, socially and environmentally sustainable.

In that context—if I might extend the subject slightly—there is considerable merit in thinking about where, in a rural Scotland context, there is potential for development that is economically, socially and environmentally sustainable. As we suggested in our submission, that can include thinking about resettlement and repopulation of areas where there are no longer human communities.

There is the potential application of mechanisms such as we are talking about in that context, if we think about how they can help to pursue the renewal of rural Scotland at community level and balance competing interests, so that local people and communities have a clear and prominent position in shaping what happens in their community and local landscape.

Dr Inch

We talked earlier about the plan-led system. Zoning is the alternative to the discretionary planning that we typically have in Scotland, whereby the decision does not necessarily follow what is in the plan. In zoning-based systems, which exist throughout most of the rest of Europe, in the United States and elsewhere around the world, what is zoned in the plan legally constrains what can be built. In effect, that is what we are talking about; we are introducing zoning into the Scottish planning system. That is a potentially interesting development that is worth experimenting with.

10:30  

I have reservations about the description “simplified development zones”. Why are they not just being called better planning zones? Why is it not about getting it right up front to ensure that we get the highest quality of development, engagement and consideration of environmental constraints and factors, and that we lay out zones to produce really high-quality settlements? If you allied that to other mechanisms, for example, for compulsory purchase and land assembly by public authorities, you could begin to think about zones to innovate and produce the capacity to deliver development.

At the moment, we have a very reactive planning system in which we produce plans and then wait for the market to decide whether to make applications that will enable those plans to be implemented. The more positive and proactive zoning system could have mechanisms to ensure the implementation of those plans. However, as I say, if you are going to do that, it is important to get that up-front process right, because the plan becomes much more definitive, and if there is no proper engagement and consideration of all the factors and a real drive for quality, the plans will not work; they will sell the future short.

Petra Biberbach

I agree; I do not like the terminology “simplified development zones”. We want to call them “investment-ready areas” because we are talking about areas that have gone through all the discussions—there has been community buy-in, so the issue has been discussed with the community and there has been community engagement. The term “investment-ready areas” applies more widely than just to areas of land. It can also be applied to struggling town centres, for example.

We have only two such areas in Scotland, but there are hundreds in England. We need to think differently and engage up front with the whole dilemma of where and what we are building.

Area zoning would also allow us to be a bit more creative about the housing that we might want to build, so we could have more varied housing models and could perhaps invite smaller, more local developers to come forward. It is a great opportunity, and I think that we would want to see more of those zones happening.

Ian Cooke

If simplified development zones led to more proactive, public sector-led development, we would be supportive of them, but we do not have sufficient information about the approach to make an informed comment about it.

The Convener

Dr MacLeod, you do not have to speak if you do not feel the need to, but the opportunity is there.

Dr MacLeod

I do feel the need, if you do not mind. We have talked about the urban context, which is obviously important. However, when it comes to talking about the rural context, I note that the bill and some of the material contained in the policy memorandum are clearly urban focused. There is a lot of focus on town centres and the urban context. There is no getting away from the fact that that is important, but also important is how we conceptualise and think about the development of rural Scotland and where planning sits within that context.

If we are considering the issue from a sustainable development perspective, we need to think about how that issue sits in relation to the role that people and communities should play. We need to consider simplified development plans and our policy mechanisms and ideas in relation to rural renewal in Scotland. The planning process might play an important role in that regard, when it comes to ideas around where we want to have communities, how we want them to prosper and how that all sits together. Thinking about resettling, repopulating and where mechanisms such as simplified development might sit, among a host of other issues, is very important and worth not losing sight of not just in the broad policy context, but specifically in relation to the bill.

Petra Biberbach

The articulation of urban and rural is best defined through a community-owned local place plan, so that we can distinguish between the different communities and the different drivers.

Andy Wightman

I was intrigued by your answer, Dr MacLeod. The planning system is a spatial planning system, but you represent people who also own land and therefore can deliver. Are you saying that simplified development zones, together with local place plans and the fact that you own the land and can deliver, mean that that fusion could work for you, or are you making a broader point that, particularly in that context, simplified development zones could have a useful role to play in rural Scotland?

Dr MacLeod

From a community landowner perspective, the combination of owning the asset and the other things that you mentioned is an incredibly important and powerful tool in being able to develop the sustainability of a community. We have seen examples of that throughout Scotland, in the Highlands and elsewhere. I am from Harris. The West Harris Trust has brought about repopulation by delivering jobs, employment opportunities and other services. The combination of owning land and being able to manage it for the community is fundamentally important in unlocking opportunities for sustainable development. That is a critical element.

To address your second point, there is potential to think about how that mechanism can be used in a proactive, sustainable fashion elsewhere in Scotland. In the terrain that we have traversed in today’s discussion, we have talked about the need to front-load processes and give communities a voice, and the practicalities of how to do that.

Andy Wightman

My second line of questioning is about how the power is framed in the bill. Planning authorities can introduce a scheme and third parties can request a scheme. If the authority refuses to introduce a scheme, the third party can appeal to ministers. Ministers can alter a scheme or give directions as to how a scheme should be formulated. They can force a local authority to have a scheme.

Do you think that the balance of power is correct, given that such powerful ministerial powers are being provided to deliver what is, in essence, a local zone in the plan?

Dr Inch

Broadly speaking, that is one of a range of examples of measures in the bill that are quite centralising. The Scottish Government is taking a lot of new powers when we already have a very centralised planning system. The bill provides for considerably greater centralisation.

In thinking about sensible planning, we need to think about where those powers are vested. Local democratically elected authorities seem like a good place in which to vest them. There is not necessarily any need for the proposed level of central control and potential coercion to designate simplified development zones, which should be seen as a part of the local planning process.

The Convener

Graham Simpson has a supplementary to Andy Wightman’s question.

Graham Simpson

The flipside of that is that if national Government decides that we need more towns, for example, the use of this method might be one way of achieving that. Councils all over the country could say, “Not here.” We know that we need more building. Is it not right that Government should be able to say, “We need towns there, there and there”?

Dr MacLeod

The flipside of that—

Graham Simpson

Why not deal with my point about the flipside first?

The Convener

There can be lots of flipsides, but let us deal with one at a time.

Dr MacLeod

Forgive me.

If there is an aspiration to create new towns—there seems to be a policy need for that, and it fits in with the idea of having clear policy objectives with regard to sustainable development and economic growth—a case such as the one that Mr Simpson has identified could be made.

That is very important in relation to the rural context, too. If there was a clear public interest case to be made in relation to repopulation or resettlement for the sake of the cohesion and sustainability of rural Scotland in the north and the south of the country—the Highlands and the Lowlands—we have strongly advocated having the powers that would enable that to happen. If there was a public good interest in doing that, that should certainly happen.

There has been a lot of media attention around our submission with regard to repopulation and resettlement. To be absolutely clear, Community Land Scotland does not advocate pressing reset on the Highland clearances. We suggest thinking about imaginative and forward-thinking ways in which we can conceptualise the planning process and policy. We also suggest thinking about the sustainability of rural Scotland and where repopulation, resettlement and all the elements that go with them might sit in practice. I am very glad that that point has been raised—thank you.

Petra Biberbach

We have to think about imaginatively about simplified development zones. I mentioned that we have one town-centre zone in Scotland. Currently we have more than 30,000 empty homes, most of which are in town centres. We need to find a mechanism to unlock them and to repopulate our town centres, which, increasingly, are struggling. If we think imaginatively about how we apply that, perhaps we can find a way of unlocking the potential that is already in Scotland before we start thinking about new towns. The latest statistic is that there are 32,000 empty homes, which is a huge number.

The Convener

Does Graham Simpson want to follow up on that before we move on?

Graham Simpson

I have another question on simplified development zones.

The Convener

We will run with that just now.

Graham Simpson

At the moment, simplified planning zones cannot be built or set up in certain areas, such as green-belt, conservation or national scenic areas. The bill does not specify that in relation to simplified development zones. Does the panel think that it should?

The Convener

Panel members are all looking at one another again. Perhaps Dr Inch would like to start.

Dr Inch

What we have said is that all the inputs to any designation of a zone need to be there before we can have any confidence in the mechanism. One such key input would be existing constraints and designations. Drawing the power less broadly may help to limit the remit of simplified development zones, but the alternative would be to have the situation as it is but to ensure that the inputs that go into the designation of any zone were clear. We would take those into account anyway.

Dr MacLeod

Frankly, there are real issues as regards designations and where the zones should be. Particularly in rural Scotland, there are also issues around wild land mapping and where that ties in with development. There is a lot to be said about wild land issues, and it is very important that we do not airbrush people out of that process—as the current wild mapping process has done—because ideas of wild land are socially constructed, as there have been human populations and settlements in those areas. Changing that balance and getting it correct—or more appropriate—as regards the relationship with and place of people in landscapes, as well as helping to define landscapes, are very important parts of that process. That is partly what our map of no longer existing communities is designed to help move along, in policy terms.

The Convener

Andy Wightman’s question about the range of ministerial powers in relation to the designation of such zones was quite interesting. Does the panel hope that such a power would never be exercised, as far as dictating is concerned? Are there examples of things in the planning system not working, such as local place plans being unable to influence the local development plan, or planning authorities seeming to be out of step with the needs of communities? If so, there could be a need for the Government to exercise some of the powers about which Mr Wightman understandably has concerns. Would the panel like the Government to hold such power but never have to use it if everything else worked out, or would there have to be more safeguards about when it would be exercised?

10:45  
Dr MacLeod

In that context, it is effectively a sort of back-stop power. You get that in other areas of land reform, such as in relation to the powers to develop community ownership. The idea is that, if there is a policy aspiration within the public policy arena to achieve particular objectives, regardless of whether they involve population resettlement or whatever, and there is a community aspiration to achieve those objectives, the power that you mention would be a potentially important back-stop power. In our submission, we talk about some other up-front powers in terms of compulsory purchase and so on.

Dr Inch

I think that we already have a lot of those back-stop powers in relation to the ability to call in applications, recall appeals and have oversight with regard to local development plans. Generally speaking, some of that central control is okay. However, one of the other proposed mechanisms of centralisation is that the national planning framework, which will be combined with spatial planning policy, will become a part of the development plan, as we discussed earlier—the development plan will be the national planning framework alongside the local development plan. That considerably strengthens and changes the nature of the national planning framework in quite a worrying way, as it means that there will be a much more direct influence in planning decision making than currently exists.

There are questions around the back-stop powers. It seems to me that there is also a creep in the bill towards more directly interventionist powers, and that should be a matter of concern.

The Convener

We probably have another 45 minutes left of this evidence session—it has been quite a long session, but we want to cover every area of the bill.

Monica Lennon

Looking at the clock, I can see that we have been discussing the bill for about 90 minutes so far, but we have not really talked about what the purpose of the planning system is. That might be because the bill does not really say what the purpose is. I know from the written evidence that has been submitted to us that PAS and Planning Democracy are calling for the bill to be amended to include a statutory purpose for the planning system. Why do you think that it is important for the bill to be explicit about the statutory purpose of planning?

The Convener

The ever-reliable Dr Inch is the first to catch my attention.

Dr Inch

The planning system that we have is largely unchanged since 1947. When it was introduced, it was assumed that there was a common purpose in relation to what planning is, so that purpose was never included in the legislation. There have been similar debates in England around the lack of a stated purpose.

When we talk about the need for the planning system to deliver, which comes up a lot in the written evidence, there is much less discussion about what it is supposed to deliver. There is a missing element there: what do we want planning for? If we had a positive stated purpose for the planning system, that would enable all decision making to be tested against a clear idea of the kinds of positive place making and public interest purposes that planning should be serving. That could provide something really interesting to test plans against. I think that, under the 2006 act, plans currently have the purpose of contributing to sustainable development, but that applies only to plans, not to the system as a whole. I think that having a clear definition of those purposes would help to clarify how we understand planning and could create a strong public interest purpose for the system and its operation.

Monica Lennon

Do you agree that it seems odd that the bill does not articulate that? If we are trying to get more of the wider public involved in planning, do you agree that we must spell out the whole point of planning, what it is for and why it matters?

Petra Biberbach

Yes, I think that that is really important, and we have made a submission to that effect. We need to know whether planning is about sustainable economic growth, for example, or the place agenda, with everybody having a right to participate in it. The purpose absolutely has to be defined. That will help to drive people’s thinking away from seeing planning as a regulatory function towards seeing it as an envisioning process that they can be part of. We definitely need a strong statement about what the mission of planning is.

Monica Lennon

You were involved in the independent review, so you might have more insight into this matter than other members of the panel, but do you have any sense of why the Government has not included a statutory definition in the bill? It seems pretty fundamental to everything else that has been discussed today.

Petra Biberbach

To an extent, we did not make a recommendation because we were focusing on how to make the planning system better. We were interested in ensuring that there was more front-loading and that the planning system would be more constructive and more integrated with other policy areas. Since then, PAS has made a submission on how we would like the vision for the planning system to be articulated.

Dr MacLeod

On reading through the bill and the policy memorandum, it is noticeable that it is very process orientated. The bill does not include a vision or a clear articulation of what the purpose of the planning system is, and in our view that is an omission. Without that, when the legislation and everything that goes with it enters the broader environment, how we can expect people to have any purchase or traction in relation to how they relate to planning as a process and a policy area?

Community Land Scotland would argue that it is extremely important for the purpose of the planning process to be articulated. What is its purpose? Broadly, it is about making sure that rural Scotland and urban Scotland are sustainable socially, economically and environmentally. Communities need to be given a voice in how that process works. They need to be consulted and given an opportunity to shape their places. We would argue that we need to think innovatively and imaginatively about the balance of development and sustainable development in the rural context in particular.

In our submission, we argued that there should be a duty whereby ministers must have regard to the desirability of repopulation and resettlement in future policy. We think that it would be extremely useful to have such a provision in the bill, which could be tied in with the evolving national policy framework and other areas. Keeping front and centre what the process of planning is about and for will help us to articulate and shape a lot of what comes from that.

Monica Lennon

Andy Inch wants to come back in, but I have a follow-up question for Petra Biberbach. The bill tries to address performance and has things to say about how we can get better at measuring the performance of planning, but if we do not know what the value of planning is, what the vision for it is or what its purpose is, will the proposed measures on performance be meaningful? Will they take us anywhere? We are still measuring how long things take, but we are not really looking at outcomes. We have talked a lot about place making.

I know that Dr Inch wants to come in, but I wanted to explore that issue.

The Convener

Absolutely. A number of witnesses want to comment. We will hear from Dr Inch after we have heard from Petra Biberbach.

Petra Biberbach

Gosh. It is extremely important that we set out the purpose of planning. The Scottish alliance for people and places has made a submission to that effect. We want what the planning system is all about to be set out clearly so that people understand that right from the start.

I am sorry—could you remind me what the second part of your question was about?

Monica Lennon

It was about performance.

Petra Biberbach

The alliance for people and places feels that the measurement of performance should be extended to how community engagement takes place. It is vital that, as part of the measurement of performance, there is a move towards engagement with communities. That is extremely important if we want to enshrine the spirit of the bill.

Monica Lennon

I am a bit of a planning geek, as people might know. You said earlier that the majority of people still do not know that there is such a thing as a planning system. I looked back at the evidence that you gave on the bill that became the Planning etc (Scotland) Act 2006, when you said almost exactly the same thing.

Petra Biberbach

I know.

Monica Lennon

It is quite depressing that progress has not been made.

Is there a way in which we can better capture what the engagement strategy in a local area or a local authority is? Can we really quantify what people know or do not know about planning?

Petra Biberbach

We have a huge opportunity now, for the first time, to set it right. In 2005, when evidence was gathered and we were pushing for better engagement, we got the main issues report as part of early engagement. Of course, that is rooted in a language that the average person out there is just not conversant with, nor have we sold what planning is all about—it is about the vision of a place and it is also about addressing societal needs, whether that involves providing affordable homes, dealing with an ageing population, future proofing our housing stock or addressing climate change. All those issues must be captured by the planning system and by the place agenda. That is very important.

If we want to start talking in the language of the ordinary person out there, we need to talk about place, which everybody is passionate about. Everybody is passionate about how the children get to school and how we can age in a healthy environment. We need to rethink the language of planning so that we can translate what it means for everybody. It is about how we ensure that we have a well-functioning place. Twelve years on, I am really frustrated that we have still not got it right, but we have an opportunity to do so now.

Clare Symonds

I want to reiterate what other people have said, and I thank Calum MacLeod for mentioning that the bill is process oriented. It is really important to have a purpose for planning, because then we can use our planning performance measures to measure outcomes and it will not just be a case of measuring process. We can also start measuring things more qualitatively instead of focusing on performance figures on speed and efficiency. We would need to have far more performance measures, which might not be as easy to measure because they might not be as quantifiable. However, in the past there has been talk with Heads of Planning Scotland about introducing measures to assess performance in relation to how well the community is engaged with. That needs to be thought about—possibly not in relation to the bill, but for later on.

Ian Cooke

You will see that our submission did not comment on that, but I totally agree on the need for the articulation of purpose. That is an absolute prerequisite if we want to engage communities more effectively and measure performance.

Monica Lennon

It should not be an either/or situation.

As far as the purpose of planning is concerned, I know that the Royal Town Planning Institute Scotland is advocating that there should be a chief planning officer. I wonder whether part of the issue is that there might be a lack of leadership in local authorities, because it is not just a case of looking at individual planning applications; it is about looking at planning strategically and the resource behind that for infrastructure.

Between 2009 and 2016, there was a 23 per cent reduction, on average, in the planning workforce in Scotland. On average, the planning service budget has been cut by about a third. There is a lot of high-level talk about the importance of planning, but is that being backed up by resource and leadership at a corporate and political level, locally and nationally?

Petra Biberbach

I will refer to the alliance again—I am part of the alliance for people and places, which now has 18 member organisations, ranging from Play Scotland to the NHS. All we are saying is that we want to have a planning system that is really meaningful. In our submission, we said that we would like to see a chief planning officer in each local authority but, more than that, we would like to have a commissioner for planning and place so that we can align community planning and spatial planning.

If we look at the planning system as a form of preventative spend or as an investment tool, we realise that it is incredibly important. In relation to preventative spend, if we build the right houses in the right location, we will stave off loneliness. We are currently in discussion with NHS Scotland about that. If we look at planning from the point of view of an investment plan, that takes us back to the simplified planning zones that we mentioned earlier. It is a question of attracting investment of the right kind into Scotland. Planning is about much more than people realise when it comes to the entirety of what it can do, its aspiration and what it can do to help Scotland to meet its ambition as a nation.

The Convener

If anyone else wants to comment on that point, please do, after which we will move on to the next line of questioning, because of time constraints.

Clare Symonds

I have a short point about resources. Monica Lennon spoke about the impact of the reduction in the number of planning officers.

There is also the issue of how things are measured. For example, a local authority has to write a participation statement before it carries out its engagement activities. What the authority did is measured by the extent to which it complies with the participation statement rather than on the basis of whether what it did was useful and meaningful. A lot of the planning officers in a meeting that I went to said that they keep what they say they are going to do in the participation statement to a minimum, because they know that they would not achieve it if they said that they would do something more ambitious and creative. The performance measure is therefore stifling creativity.

11:00  
The Convener

Are there any other comments on that before we move on?

Petra Biberbach

I do not recognise that sort of negative approach. I recognise that there are serious resource constraints, but local authorities up and down the country have been incredibly innovative, particularly in recent times, in engaging with a much wider community, and they want to be seen to be doing that.

The Convener

We will move on. At the event in Stirling that I referred to some two hours ago, I found myself saying that I never thought that I would stand on a platform and say that what we need in this country is more planners, but I did say that and I have now put it on the public record. I might retract that at some point.

Graham Simpson

One of the issues in the planning system is that communities—however we want to define them—feel that planning is done to them and not with them and by them. That has led to immense frustrations—that is a fact, not an opinion—with the planning system, particularly with the system of appeals. The bill currently makes no mention of that, but we have had a lot of comment on it. This is your opportunity to tell us what you think about the current appeals system. If the bill is passed, the system would remain as it is. Do you think that it is right that, as things stand, only one side can appeal? Should we have something new?

The Convener

Okay. That is opening up the discussion. I am sure that there must be opinions on the issue of equal rights of appeal. I suspect that Clare Symonds has an opinion on the issue, as I saw her hand go up at lightning speed when it was mentioned.

Clare Symonds

Well, let us face it, that is what we are here for.

As I mentioned at the start, the idea of equal rights of appeal has been presented as a blunt instrument that slows things down, polarises people and creates a divisive system, so it was somewhat hastily dismissed. However, we could use ERA to design a system that encourages people to front load and get engaged at the beginning of the system. As Andy Inch said earlier, we have been trying to do front loading for 50 years, so we have to think about doing it differently.

To make a plan-led system a reality, we could use the ERA mechanism in our highly discretionary planning system. Andy Inch has talked about the gap between the plans that we produce and the decision making at the end of the process. We want to bring together those two things because we think that that will create public confidence in the planning system. Why would people get engaged at the front of the system if the decision making at the end of the system could go against what they had worked hard to get at the front of the system? We very much see equal rights of appeal as a means of improving the front loading of engagement and getting people involved, because it will incentivise better behaviour.

We also think that ERA might incentivise developers to work harder to get people involved in public engagement because there would be a stick at the end of the process. If there was such an appeals process at the end, developers might work harder to get people involved in the planning and the application right at the beginning. It might also encourage developers to work harder to ensure that they put in a good application at the beginning. The evidence from Ireland is that equal rights of appeal does improve the decision making.

We have all been discussing the purpose of planning and having a much more positive planning system that delivers good development. We think that a system whose main outcome is supposed to be delivering good decisions and development should not be afraid of having an appeals system. We want people to be able to ensure that the development that they are getting is the best that it possibly can be. Why should there be a negative reaction to such a mechanism?

The Convener

Does anyone else want to come in on that?

Ian Cooke

As Mr Simpson said, there is a perceived inequality in the planning process. There is a power dynamic that needs to be addressed by the bill.

We are all looking to ensure that there is greater community involvement in the planning process. To enable that to happen, the community needs to have confidence that getting involved in the process will make a difference, which will ultimately lead to better place making. I do not think that that confidence exists at the moment.

We have not got a strong view on the issue. We believe in the principle of equality, so we feel that there should be an equal right of appeal or that the current right of appeal for developers should be removed. We are looking for a level playing field that might address the power inequality that I mentioned.

Petra Biberbach

The review panel took a lot of time to listen to evidence from across different groups and organisations. We looked at a recent debate that had taken place in the Welsh Assembly and at examples of third-party rights of appeal across Europe and beyond. The reason why we decided not to suggest the adoption of a third-party right of appeal was simply because we wanted to create a new planning system that would truly empower individuals and groups and would truly foster a dialogue between all the groups and all the interests.

Let us face it: planning is often seen as a David v Goliath battle. However, that is not the case. We have developers who are small-scale house builders; developers who build individual housing units; developers who put up shops; and so on. They are all developers, and we want to create a kind of dialogue that enables us to imagine what we want for places and for the nation. Very often, there are issues that we must tease out, and that can best be done in a dialogue. That is better than someone saying that they do not want to engage in a local place plan because they know that they can exercise their right of appeal later on.

I agree that the right of appeal seems to be overdue for reform. It was supposed to be in place for a 10-year period in order to help to smooth the work around the new Town and Country Planning Act 1947. I have discussed with some members of the committee the fact there might be an opportunity to look at the right of appeal again.

I have three points to make. I would say that a third-party right of appeal exacerbates conflict, it undermines the goal of very early engagement, which is what we want to see between all parties, and it would undermine a plan-led system. We should bear in mind that we are adding another layer—the local place plan—into the plan-led system.

There is quite a challenge. The planning system in Ireland is different in terms of the politics around it and how it is constructed. I would not want to say that we can do in Scotland what has been done in Ireland because, in Ireland, local elected members have no role in the planning system. There is no like-for-like comparison.

The issue is about bringing in the people from whom we do not hear enough. Chris Oswald has written in his submission to the committee that allocating sites for Gypsy Travellers is proving to be extremely challenging because local communities always object to them as bad development. Equally, community housing associations and housing associations in general find it difficult to get the appropriate land in the right location, again because some groups in the community view those proposals as bad development. We need to try to square the circle and have a planning system that can facilitate a better debate. For that reason, I would say that a third-party right of appeal is not helpful in relation to the current version of the bill.

Dr MacLeod

Community Land Scotland echoes that position on a third-party right of appeal. We are not in favour of its reintroduction for precisely the reasons that Petra Biberbach has articulated. It is important to front load the process so that it works effectively to ensure that community voices are heard.

In the preface to his question, Mr Simpson mentioned that it was a given that communities’ voices would not be heard in the process. That is true, and it echoes research on the place of people in landscapes that Community Land Scotland commissioned from Inherit, a Glasgow-based consultancy company, about how wild land designations interact or intersect with people’s views about landscapes. One respondent told Inherit that people do things to them, rather than with them, and that out-of-kilter dynamic is critical in how we think about communities’ voices. Wild land is an important example of an area in which we need to change and shape the planning process to get the balance right and incorporate communities’ views. The bill should front load the process so that those tensions are ironed out and people’s voices are heard more loudly than they have been.

Dr Inch

I come at this from a position of being in favour of equal rights of appeal. It is right to get people engaged early in the process, and it is important to get that up-front engagement right. At the moment, the discretionary nature of the planning system in Scotland means that the up-front engagement might be right but a subsequent decision might well depart from what has been said in the engagement process. Decisions about the use and development of land entail conflict, so although it is positive to get people together to try to shape agreement about how places should develop in the future, ultimately, hard decisions will be made, as a result of which some people will be winners and some will be losers. It is not realistic to expect conflict to be dissolved by front-loading mechanisms, which is why it is also necessary to think about the end of the process.

For really effective front-loading engagement, people have to be offered incentives to get involved. If a community devotes hundreds of hours of evenings and weekends to preparing a local place plan and getting it agreed, but the local planning authority makes decisions six months or a year or two down the line that completely overturn all that work, that does nothing for public trust and it hugely undermines all the effort and the front loading. In such circumstances, the inequality would be glaring. That is problematic for the legitimacy of the planning system and for the future of front loading and positive engagement in planning.

An equal right of appeal could reinforce a plan-led system; it would restrict a developer’s right of appeal and introduce a limited right of appeal for communities. Appeal rights would apply only when decisions were made that were contrary to the development plan. Petra Biberbach’s point that people could sit back, wait and not get involved in the plan because they would have a second chance at the end of the process would not apply. If a community did not get what it wanted agreed in the local plan at the start, it would not have those appeal rights. That would provide a powerful incentive for developers and communities to get involved in the production of plans. It would not mean that people could just wait to have a fight at the end of the process. If we want to be serious about creating a plan-led system, an equal right of appeal is a powerful mechanism that is not being taken advantage of.

It is disappointing that such an approach has been hastily dismissed. The arguments have not been looked at or debated in full, but the number of submissions that mention the issue shows that people care about it and are concerned about it. That is partly because the inequality is glaring and obvious. An equal right of appeal would not be a panacea—it would not resolve the problems of planning overnight, but it is potentially a very positive mechanism. It does not have to be a blunt instrument, as Clare Symonds said.

The Convener

Are there any other comments from the witnesses?

11:15  
Petra Biberbach

I do not know where the phrase “hastily dismissed” came from. Third-party right of appeal was not hastily dismissed; we looked at it in a lot of detail, gathering evidence over months and months.

The spirit of the bill is to do with the desire for collaboration and engagement at the earliest opportunity, and we safeguard such an approach by having a duty to root the local place plan in the development plan. The important point is to find the right mechanism to protect the approach.

It is absolutely true that planning must always deal with competing demands, but we work with many different communities and we think that as long as things are explained and communities are enabled to understand, and as long as the decision-making process is transparent, even if people do not get what they want, giving people information and respect is much more powerful.

Let me give a recent example. We have been working with a community in Dumfries, which wanted to put forward certain developments, which did not happen. It helped to explain why that was not possible this time round. I do not agree that a third-party right of appeal will help the system.

Graham Simpson

I have questions for Planning Democracy and PAS, which have different perspectives on the issue.

One of the arguments against introducing any right of appeal for communities or people is that it could slow down development, which could frighten developers away. I have already heard developers say that they do not want to do business in Scotland because the planning landscape is worse here than it is elsewhere, and a right of appeal for communities would make it even worse. How does Planning Democracy respond to that? It is inevitable that the approach would slow down the system.

I have a question for PAS, too.

The Convener

I will let you back in to ask your second question after Dr Inch or Clare Symonds has responded.

Graham Simpson

Okay.

Dr Inch

The view that you have described is based on a blunt-instrument interpretation of how an equal right of appeal would work.

If we want a plan-led system, development that is designated in a plan should have a smooth process through the system. If a proposed development meets the agreed terms of a development plan, it will not be subject to appeal and the development will not be slowed down; it will be enabled and facilitated. That is proper and correct.

If a proposed development is not in accordance with the development plan, it is right to say that we might want to have the capacity to take a second look at it. The decision is going to be controversial, because the development is outwith the parameters of what has been agreed and expected, and in that situation it is right and proper to give the matter a bit of extra scrutiny.

Yes, such an approach might lead to a slower process for such developments. However, it creates an incentive to ensure that proposed developments are in accordance with and strengthen the plan. The developments that are slowed down are the ones that are outwith the plan and at which it seems fair enough to have a second look. We are not saying that such a development should be dismissed out of hand and refused; it might well be that the situation has changed and the development should be approved. However, it is not unreasonable to say that there are good grounds for taking a second look.

Clare Symonds

I suggest that marginal or potentially controversial decisions would also be subject to a right of challenge or appeal. That might produce some delay in the process, but it is important for democracy and for people’s confidence in the system that if, for example, a decision is to be made by the council about development on its own land, the proposal will be looked at.

Such an approach can only provide confidence. It might delays things for a few weeks, but we ask members to consider not just the process but the wider benefits.

Graham Simpson

PAS said in its submission:

“provisions in the Bill will promote stronger public involvement”.

I do not see that in the bill at all. I think that we could end up with less public involvement. PAS might want more public involvement, but I do not think that the bill provides for that.

You said that the system of appeal is ripe for reform, but you did not suggest reforms. Perhaps you will do that now.

Petra Biberbach

First, the review panel was more ambitious. However, I think that giving the local place plan proper teeth can address the democratic deficit and produce a more engaged public. Currently, the public are not engaged. The same groups, who know how the planning system works, get engaged again and again, but the vast majority of people out there are not involved, and we want them to be involved.

On rights of appeal, I have been looking at what happens in most of continental Europe, where there is no right of appeal on both sides. The bill gives us an opportunity to consider what we can do in simplified development zones, where planning is front loaded and the developer and everyone else sit round the table. There might be opportunities there. Further work is required on that.

Graham Simpson

Are you suggesting that we remove appeal rights in simplified development zones?

Petra Biberbach

I am just saying that there might be opportunities to look at something fresh.

The Convener

There are a lot of supplementary questions from members.

Kenneth Gibson

Clare Symonds talked about the approach in Ireland, where infrastructure projects and specific developments are excluded from third-party right of appeal. There is clearly a need to protect some developments from delays that would impact on Ireland’s competitiveness. If a third-party right of appeal is introduced in Scotland, what exemptions from the process should there be, if any?

The Convener

Let us hear from advocates of a third-party right of appeal.

Dr Inch

We said in our submission that there should be a limited right of appeal, which would apply—both for developers and for communities—when decisions were to be made that were a departure from the plan, when a local authority had an interest in the land, and when a decision was being made against an officer’s recommendation, because that would indicate that there was some controversy or something that it might be worth having a second look at.

There are planning systems, for example in Australian states, in which third-party rights are suspended on certain priority projects. National developments might be treated in that way.

There is a much broader question about how we enable engagement in big infrastructure projects. That is a big issue, which is separate from the right of appeal issue to some extent. In Scotland we already have a complex consents regime: energy consents and other things go through different regimes and are not fed through the planning acts. There is a whole set of questions about how the different regimes would be aligned and how different types of infrastructure development, including national developments in the NPF, could be subject to proper public scrutiny, engagement and input. That opens up a much broader range of issues.

For the past 20 to 30 years, the idea that planning is a source of delay has been repeated around the world and has been a powerful argument for reform of planning systems. However, if we consider the life cycle of big infrastructure projects, the evidence is that the length of time that is spent on the planning process and making decisions is not great.

I am thinking of a paper that was published last year by colleagues at Oxford Brookes University and Cardiff University, who looked at big infrastructure planning in England and showed that the planning process has not really changed over time and that delays are as likely to be caused by developer commitment wavering or political commitment wavering as they are to be caused by planning.

When the environmental, economic and social impact of big infrastructure developments are considered, it is right that we have a democratic process of scrutiny and you need to think about how to include and enable that process. Big infrastructure projects are a separate issue that is worth debating. The principle that scrutiny is important also applies, but it is even more important on such developments.

Kenneth Gibson

We heard from Mr Cooke that

“the community needs to have confidence”

in the process, and throughout this morning’s session we have heard from all the witnesses about the need for community engagement.

Mr Inch talked about officers’ views being overturned, but those will be overturned by elected representatives who have a direct link to communities.

The Planning Democracy submission states:

“right of appeals for communities would create a powerful incentive for individuals, community groups and developers to get involved in the production of plans”.

Who are those communities? How would a community be involved?

I was first elected in 1992. My experience has been that community engagement often extends to seven or eight people turning up at a meeting and claiming to represent the community, but those people do not liaise with other people in the community—they do not even do newsletters and they might not have a website or even a collective email address. However, elected representatives stand or fall by their decisions. How do we ensure that this group—this community—that everyone seems to talk about is representative of the people in an area?

If we are designing local plans, how do we exclude the issue of nimbyism? We have heard it said that if a plan is put together, and as long as that plan is adhered to, there will not be an issue with third-party right of appeal. However, I have communities in my constituency—I know that everyone else does, too—who point-blank do not want any development. They do not want housing, they do not want wind turbines and they do not want economic development. Often, the people in those communities are retired and they have reasonable pensions, so the issues of economic growth and sustainability are matters for someone else. How do we counter those issues and ensure that we move forward?

On Monday, Alexander Stewart and I had two sessions with 19 organisations that represented a host of groups that are involved in development. None of them supported third-party right of appeal because they all considered that it would put Scotland at a competitive economic disadvantage.

The Convener

You squeezed a lot in there, Mr Gibson.

Kenneth Gibson

Indeed, because I knew that I probably would not get another shot at doing so.

The Convener

That is probably true, unfortunately, because of the time limitations. Who wants to respond?

Petra Biberbach

The generational imbalance is an important debate. Talking about the current system is a challenge, because we are also looking to have a new system. Fundamentally, we need to bring in many more young people. Scotland has signed up to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is about ensuring that children are involved in decisions that affect them. Place affects young people, whatever their age. Indeed, it affects everyone, but young people are disproportionately not involved. If we are talking about who needs the housing of the future and what infrastructure we need, we must involve all people in the debate. It is not about being punitive; it is about being proactive, engaging and listening to everybody's views.

We recently completed another charrette not far away from here. We went out and brought in young people, those who do not usually have the time to get involved and people who are in care homes and who wanted to have a discussion with young people. Such debate is very important. If we are talking about having a new planning system that is inclusive and collaborative, and which facilitates development of whatever size and kind, we need to involve everyone. That is not a naive view; I see that happening on the continent, where it works well and speeds up the process.

The Convener

I promise to bring in Planning Democracy in a second—I am sure that you will have a substantive response—but first I bring in Dr MacLeod.

Dr MacLeod

I will make a quick reflection on Mr Gibson’s question about who the community is; that is probably a three-day conference in itself. [Laughter.] I will fly the flag for community landowners. They represent their communities, because they are elected to bodies that have constitutions and are accountable through the members of that community; they are voted on to a trust or a board and they have to represent their community in that context.

That mechanism of accountability, transparency and democracy does not exist in some other types of land ownership in Scotland—that is certainly the case for private land ownership and in other instances, too. That is a critical point for community land ownership per se.

11:30  

As for Mr Gibson’s point about challenges to development, which I think that Mr Simpson mentioned when he referred to drags on development, the critical thing as far as Community Land Scotland is concerned is that when we talk about development, we mean sustainable development. That is about getting the balance right between the economic, social and environmental aspects. Forgive me for going back to this, but I think that it is important: one of the best and most effective examples showing where these tensions exist and why communities find it challenging to strike the right balance is the concept of wild land and wild land mapping. Often a designation or label is given to a part of the landscape, but it is just an artificial construct; human engagement gets moved out of the process, with significant implications for how people and communities engage with the landscape in that context.

Development opportunities have to be sustainable and reflect economic growth, environmental sustainability and social cohesion, but the balance needs to be right. Community Land Scotland would argue that realignment should be part of the process and that—just to continue with the wild land example—we should think about how that sort of thing can be rebalanced. In our submission, we call for the bill to contain a provision in which ministers have regard to a map of human communities that no longer exist, because—as we, at least, would argue—that would sit very nicely or appropriately as part of these debates, conflicts and challenges around sustainable development. We would certainly advocate that being in the bill as well as being part of policy.

The Convener

You were right to come back to the issue of wild land, because you might not get another opportunity to do so in what is a quickly shrinking evidence session.

Dr Inch

From a Planning Democracy perspective, communities are often portrayed as nimbys. It is a very useful label, as it dismisses them as having a fixed and unchangeable set of interests and as being opposed to everything. That reflects a planning system that is adversarial, and it is adversarial because of the discretion that exists at the end of the process, which, by and large, means that speculative development applications are put forward and people react to them.

In our experience, however, people are far from having hugely fixed nimby interests; they care about and want a stake in the future of the places where they live. In that regard, the nimby label is not useful. It is a way of dismissing people and the responsibility of the planning process to allow those people to explore how various development needs can be met in future. That is the positive and proactive concept of planning that has been talked about a lot today, and people need to think seriously about how the process can achieve those things. There is a real problem in that respect, and it reflects a planning system with very entrenched positions.

That entrenched side of planning comes up a lot in Planning Democracy’s work with regard to repeat applications. A developer’s application for a site might get refused, but a couple of years later, they will come back with the same application. The community goes through the whole process of mobilising around something that is often outwith an agreed development plan, the application is refused and then it comes back again and again. If they are well resourced, developers can win that sort of war of attrition, and it is therefore no wonder that people step back and become very opposed to developments that they feel are being done to them instead of with them. That example shows why such positions get taken in the planning system, and we need to do something about that.

I would also highlight the issue of competitive disadvantage, which has been bandied about a lot with regard to appeal rights. I would say that it is a blunt instrument version of the ERA argument. If you really think that Scotland’s competitiveness will be disadvantaged because of an ability to take a second look at applications that sit outwith the terms of an agreed development plan, that competitiveness has a very thin base. I do not really believe that that argument stacks up strongly when it is applied in that restrictive way.

Clare Symonds

Mr Gibson mentioned councillors, too. I have discussed the matter with them, and the Edinburgh councillors agreed. They asked for a right of appeal because they found that the imbalance of one party having the right of appeal and not the other meant that their decision making was being biased towards the person who had the right of appeal—they did not want to make those sorts of decisions, in case the developer made an appeal. The councillors wanted the right of appeal so that they could make stronger decisions and be empowered to make a decision that went contrary to what an applicant wanted without the threat of an appeal and its cost.

The Convener

There are a couple more questions on this issue.

Andy Wightman

The Edinburgh example that Clare Symonds just mentioned is, of course, the council seeking to restrict the applicant’s right of appeal, because it wants to have the final say in what applications take place, in a sense. West Lothian Council’s written submission said that it had earlier

“called for the right of appeal to be removed where a development proposal was significantly contrary to an up to date development plan”

and it was restating that position.

We know of a number of instances—and I think that members have all had correspondence about those in recent weeks—in which there is land that is zoned for use A in a local development plan, and an application comes forward for it to be used for use B. That is rejected because it is not in accordance with the plan, the applicant appeals and goes to the planning and environmental appeals division of the Scottish Government, the DPEA upholds the appeal and then ministers come in and overturn it.

Petra Biberbach talked about undermining plan-led systems. Is the ambition of having a plan-led system and up-front engagement being undermined by the ability of applicants—not third parties, but applicants—to appeal decisions that have been well made and well formed and which form the basis of a local development plan? Could some of the tension and cynicism in the system be removed if we substantially removed the applicant’s right of appeal, which, as Petra said initially, was only meant to last 10 years?

The Convener

I would love all of the panel to answer briefly.

Petra Biberbach

We are on a journey and it has often been said that the current system does not work as well as it should and could do. We are in a new era: a new bill is being considered with very different mechanisms and we want to strengthen them. I think that we can. This is an opportunity to make the local place plan even stronger and to look at the current appeal system in its entirety. That is important. I am sure that the alliance will be making further comments on that.

The Convener

Are there any other comments? Alternatively, witnesses can ask a question, rather than make a comment on someone else’s question.

Petra Biberbach

Going back to what was said by West Lothian and Edinburgh councils, I think that we are seeing a journey in which local authorities are exerting a little bit more power.

The Convener

Okay. If a question has chimed with any of you, you might want to put that on the record before the deputy convener explores some other matters.

Ian Cooke

Going back to the point that I made earlier about trying to address perceived inequality in the system, for us it is about the principle of equality and making that obvious and transparent. How that is done is probably less important than actually addressing inequality.

The Convener

Dr Inch and Clare Symonds, I do not want to put words in your mouth, but I think that I am not making a great leap of faith to say that you probably agree with the comments that Andy Wightman made. Do you want to put anything else on the record before move on?

Dr Inch

We agree. Our suggestion would be both to restrict the existing right of appeal and to expand the right of appeal for the community. Planning Democracy feels that there is a purpose to an appeal system in terms of testing, scrutinising and, potentially, improving decisions. It would not be a good thing to lose that entirely.

Monica Lennon

We have covered an awful lot there, and we started to touch on a rights-based approach. Petra Biberbach was talking about young people, and we might take evidence from Cliff Hague at a future session that will go into that issue, but we are still, even today, talking about the community as a third party. I wonder whether that is a bit of a barrier.

I want to return to the review. Petra, you talked about the alliance and PAS. You were on the review panel and you are on the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority—you are wearing lots of hats. When you were on the review panel and it was doing a scan of European practice, which hat were you wearing? Was it a PAS one?

Petra Biberbach

Yes.

Monica Lennon

With regard to the 800 live cases that you have—which I guess is an annual average, if you have 1,000 inquiries—what are the views of the people who pick up the phone and call PAS for advice and support? What consultation have you carried out with them? Who are your stakeholders?

Petra Biberbach

They are not necessarily stakeholders but people who have come to know about the planning system, often very late in the day. They may have come across a planning application from their neighbour or a development that they do not want to see. They often have a very reactive approach, such as, “I don’t want to have this happen. Can you talk me through it?” Sometimes the adviser will assist them in understanding how the system works or the fact that it is perhaps too late, because the development was in the local development plan. We work in lots of different arenas.

I should say that many cases are simply about people understanding, for the first time, that there is a planning system. I find it very disheartening that there are so few people who know about it and that we are still having to field such calls because people are not involved early enough. Redressing the balance to bring people into the debate is crucial, so that we have a true place plan that works for everybody.

Monica Lennon

Earlier, you said that the review panel did not make a recommendation on putting the purpose of planning into statute. Perhaps that was an omission, because PAS’s submission says that there should be a statutory definition of planning. You now say that we need to have a debate and look at appeals but, rather than doing that, do we not need to get this right in the bill?

You had set down three tests about equalising appeal rights: doing that could exacerbate conflict, undermine early engagement and undermine the plan-led system. Other witnesses have talked about the journey of a planning process, whether it is in a development plan or in an actual application. For those of us who have spoken about getting to a point at which the integrity of the development plan is taken seriously, what does allowing applicants to come in at the end of that process and, if they do not get a decision that they like, lodge an appeal do to strengthen the plan-led system? Surely if we were not in favour of introducing equal rights of appeal for people who live in an area and have to live for many years with the consequences of a decision, we would look at curtailing the appeal rights of applicants.

Petra Biberbach

I firmly believe that we should open up the process so that everyone comes into the discussion about where we put our 50,000 affordable homes. Bringing in elected members, the various community groups and the developers to have a discussion that is adult and democratic is what we need right from the start.

On the panels’ recommendations, the then cabinet secretary gave the panel the specific remit of reviewing the planning system and looking at innovation in housing. On community engagement, so many different communities out there have very different views, so bringing them all together is important. That is where we are right now, and that is why members have the opportunity to create a planning system that is fit for the next 20 or 30 years or however long it takes.

Monica Lennon

I turn to Planning Democracy on that point. What you have proposed in your submission is not just an open-ended right of appeal but an attempt to be proportionate in setting out criteria. I think that Petra Biberbach has said that when the former cabinet secretary commissioned the review, the remit was to look not at the whole scope of planning but very much at delivery and housing. Was that a missed opportunity or do we still have time to get it right?

11:45  
Dr Inch

I would like to think that there is still time to get it right. We have a bill that needs to be worked up, and there are a lot of concerns about its content.

We have said that we do not think that the debate has been well handled, particularly around the equal right of appeal. The Government was quick to launch its 10 commitments in response to the panel’s report, one of which was a negative commitment—a commitment not to take certain action—and that was effectively an attempt to close down debate. We feel that that has been driven largely by the concerns of the development industry and others that are based on a blunt-instrument interpretation of what an equal right of appeal is. Petra Biberbach’s aspirations to get people involved early and get agreement sound fantastic, and all of that front-loading stuff really matters, but where are the mechanisms that will make that happen? People have been saying that since the 1969 Skeffington report. That is 50 years of good intentions that have not yet materialised.

What is there in the bill that can substantially change and challenge that, and that recognises the nature of the planning system that we have—the nature of the discretion, the gap between the plan and the decision, and what that means for the ways in which decision making operates? I do not see that sort of analysis anywhere in the discussion, and that is a serious flaw in the understanding that underpins the bill.

Monica Lennon

My understanding is that Planning Democracy is completely volunteer led and that you do not get any public funding. It struck me from looking at some of the submissions that community engagement is not always a bottom-up, grass-roots thing. There are a lot of people who work in public relations or in other organisations who come in and do community engagement. I picked out one submission from the Birnam to Ballinluig A9 community group. On PAS, which was brought in to act for Transport Scotland, it states:

“PAS have outsourced the design, printing, distribution of communications for the community and even social media for the Co-Creative process from the local area to an Edinburgh agency.”

There seem to be an awful lot of people who may have a stake in the status quo, which involves doing community engagement to communities. That may pick up on Graham Simpson’s point about people feeling that planning is done to them. Is there a view that those processes, particularly when PAS holds an event on a Saturday morning and says, “Here’s a chance to come in and inform the process,” are a bit of a tick-box exercise?

The Convener

Monica Lennon’s question is about a specific consultation response and the role of PAS in particular, so it is appropriate to give Petra Biberbach the opportunity to respond to that. There are a couple of questions that we need to ask for completeness on the bill, and members are probably itching to close the session for a comfort break, so once Petra has responded I want a couple of brief mop-up questions and then we will have to close.

Petra Biberbach

I would like to respond in writing to the committee on those particular allegations, because they are serious and misleading and have no facts. If the convener allows me to, I will write to the committee and share with members the letter that we have written to the community.

Monica Lennon

I was not making any allegations. I was reading out from the written submission.

Petra Biberbach

I am not saying that you are making allegations, but the submission is factually incorrect.

The Convener

Please write to us on that point. It will be entered on our public record that that has been said in an individual submission. That does not make it true; it just means that someone has said it, and it would be helpful if you could correspond with us on that.

Petra Biberbach

The other point that you mentioned was about how we can strengthen the system. We have an opportunity to ensure that the local place plan is a democratic expression that has real teeth and is given the right kind of endorsement in the local development plan.

The Convener

The PAS submission states that there could be a benefit in creating

“a statutory duty to involve young people in the planning system”,

and that that could achieve a lot. How could local authorities prove that they have met requirements to take forward that duty? Is that something that PAS is particularly passionate about? You have put it in your submission, and you have an opportunity to make some brief remarks about that.

I will come to Dr MacLeod in a second to address one of his suggestions.

Petra Biberbach

There is a deficit between the people who are currently involved in our planning system and the many young people who are not engaged. We see an opportunity to change that, especially through ageing community councils, which need that sort of renewal. We are currently working in a school in the Borders over a four-year period to bring young people into the planning system, to help them understand the place agenda, and to work with community councils and development trusts.

Bridging the gap, as it is called, is a new way to do things. It is vital that the voices of young people are heard. They will live longer with the decisions that adults make, and we have neglected to look at the longer-term plan that young people will need. The duty is there because Scotland has signed up to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. If you can find some mechanism through which to engage young people, it will change the debate, because they have great capacity to think out of the box.

The Convener

Thank you for putting that on the record. The debate has squeezed out the comments that I think Dr MacLeod hoped to make about Community Land Scotland’s proposals to encourage resettlement of parts of rural Scotland. You have impressively managed to squeeze some of those views into the two plus hours, but before we suspend the session, this is an opportunity to put on the record why that would be a desirable objective for the planning system.

Dr MacLeod

Thank you for the opportunity, convener. It is worth reiterating that Community Land Scotland thinks that there is a pressing and compelling case for considering resettlement and repopulation of parts of rural Scotland alongside the issues that are already in the bill. That case is driven by the social cohesion of rural Scotland and sustainable development in that context. We need to get a balance between addressing challenges in existing communities and considering how to restructure where communities might aspire to exist and how that might benefit their quality of life, the ways in which they relate to the environment and their economic development opportunities. We are calling for a duty for Scottish ministers to take account of that desirable, relatively modest but important development in how we think about the planning process and how rural Scotland should ultimately thrive. We advocate having such a duty and we would like that to be considered in the committee’s report, if you see fit to do that. We would also like to see that duty in the bill and in the wider policy framework.

We have called for a particular stand alongside powers in relation to how to do that—if I can put it in that terribly ineloquent way. The Scottish Government and other authorities could be required to have regard for resettlement and repopulation, which might entail the need for powers such as for compulsory purchase.

From our members’ perspective, it is important for Scottish ministers to produce a map of communities that no longer exist, which is important with regard to the relationship between people and landscape and how wild land and ideas of sustainability sit within it. The map would be an important complementary mechanism to help to shape decisions on planning and sustainability in a rural context.

The Convener

I ask Clare Symonds to hold on to that thought. The session is about to get even longer—it has now lasted for two hours and 45 minutes—but we are trying to maximise the opportunity to put things on the record.

Mr Wightman has a question that will give the last opportunity for an answer. Brevity will be anticipated and expected in the question and the answers—important as they are.

Andy Wightman

Thank you, convener. I will ask about the national planning framework and the strategic development plans. What are your views on the big proposals to change the status of the national planning framework so that it becomes a statutory part of the development plan? It was introduced as a light-touch spatial expression of ministers’ policies and does not have much scrutiny in this place.

Secondly, there is a proposal to abolish the strategic development plans. However, in 2014, the Scottish Government’s review said that the system was “not ‘broken’” but that its potential was not yet fully optimised, and we have had evidence from Clydeplan, for example, which has been working on this issue for 40 or 50 years, which very much supports the idea of strategic development plans.

Does anyone have any thoughts on those issues? If you do not have any thoughts, do not feel obliged to speak—as the convener says, we are tight for time.

The Convener

Also, if you have many thoughts, you can give us a flavour of them now and then write to us later with more details.

Clare Symonds

We have already said that we think that the national planning framework should be a national-level document and should not be incorporated into the local development plan. That is all that we would want to say about that.

We feel that the strategic plans have not had time to bed in and that it might be a bit premature to lose them at this stage.

On the issue of the inequality of arms, I would just say that developers can put in repeat applications because they have the luxuries of time, management and resources and have an understanding of the planning system that communities do not have, and they have a right of appeal. When I started campaigning for an equal right of appeal, I was quite surprised by the kind of reaction that I was getting against it. Over time, I have come to realise that it is because there is another group of people aside from nimbys: the diimvis. That stands for “development is in my vested interest”. We have to be aware of that group.

The Convener

I am sure that, when we talk to developers, they will defend themselves and tell us what they believe the impact of the equal right of appeal would be. Thank you for that comment—you were given the opportunity to put your view on the record and you took it.

Dr MacLeod

From the perspective of Community Land Scotland, the key issue is to ensure that the national planning framework and the levels of policy and governance around it fit together and work in the interests of communities and the sustainable development of Scotland. Without rehashing what we have said, I will say that we are calling for the broadening out of the vision thing in relation to planning, and how all the levels fit together. We hope that the proposals in our submission, which you have read, will propel that forward.

Ian Cooke

I have nothing further to add.

The Convener

You are my absolute favourite witness right now.

Petra Biberbach

We recommended the removal of strategic development plans in order to allow greater focus on local plan making and to allow authorities—especially in the context of city regions—to work together much more nimbly. We felt that, in the past, the lack of the ability to work together cohesively resulted in a lot of delays.

In line with the new bill, there should be less focus on yet another big document and more focus on spatial strategies and delivery. Delivery is one of the things that got lost in the morass of plan making in Scotland. There have been so many plans.

The national planning framework is absolutely vital. We have argued that it should be discussed at a parliamentary level, because it is an expression of interest in what society in Scotland needs and wants. A greater alignment with housing is important, and infrastructure should be discussed at that level, hopefully on a regular basis.

Cascading that down, the local development plan should be a local expression of those needs that brings in the local place plan. It is important to have a system in which everything fits neatly, up and down, and which enables everyone to know what is expected of the different parts.

The Convener

I think that, in this morning’s session—it has been nearly three hours, now—everyone has had a fair crack at putting their views on record.

I thank the witnesses who will join us for our next panel, who have been waiting incredibly patiently. We will suspend in a moment, and resume at 12:05. The next evidence session will run until 12:45.

I thank everyone for giving evidence this morning.

11:58 Meeting suspended.  12:05 On resuming—  
The Convener

We move to our second panel of the session. First of all, I make apologies on behalf of Fiona Ellis, who is a business support manager at DF Concerts & Events; Mike Grieve, who is the owner of the Sub Club and board member of the Night Time Industries Association; and Mick Cooke, who is a composer. They have fallen foul of the red weather warning that is in place across east and central Scotland and towards Glasgow. However, we are delighted to have with us today Beverley Whitrick, who is the strategic director of the Music Venue Trust; and Tom Kiehl, who is the director of government and public affairs at UK Music. I understand that he came from further afield to attend—the planes were flying if other things were not running.

I thank the panellists for their patience. Our initial session was substantial and lengthy, but it had to be given the range of issues that had to discuss. This evidence-taking session will be much more focused. However, it is only reasonable to allow both of you to make opening remarks.

Tom Kiehl (UK Music)

Thank you very much for allowing us the privilege of talking to you today about an important issue for the music industry. UK Music is the umbrella body for the commercial music industry across the United Kingdom. We are globally unique, because we bring together the live music and recorded industries, the creators, the music publishers and the collecting societies. I do not think that there are many other organisations in the world that are able to bring together such disparate bodies under one footing.

We carry out a lot of work on data and research into the music industry. We value the music industry’s contribution to the economy at about £4.4 billion. It generates £2.5 billion-worth of exports and employs 140,000 people. Those are UK-wide figures, but we also report on Scotland-specific figures.

Scotland makes an immense contribution to the music industry. Last year, we reported that music tourists coming to Scotland spent about £334 million, comprising £212 million on concerts and £123 million on festivals. The number of people who came to Scotland to attend live music concerts and events was 1.2 million, and music tourism sustains 4,000 jobs.

As an industry body, we are always looking at areas where the industry can be strengthened. Over the past 10 years, we have focused on concerns about venue closures, particularly at the small end and the grass-roots level. In working with partners such as the Music Venue Trust, we estimate that about 35 per cent of venues have closed in the UK during that 10-year period. In effect, we are a third down, which is a matter of great concern.

There are many reasons why a venue might close, including licensing, business rates and changes to business. However, over the years, we have noticed a trend of planning issues becoming a concern. Whether through the rise of gentrification in certain areas or new developments taking place, planning disputes and the associated costs can threaten a venue’s existence.

In recent years, we have campaigned for the agent of change principle, which derives from Australian law. In Australia, they originally had success in achieving that principle. In effect, the principle puts an onus on those coming into an area, including new businesses, to take responsibility for their impact. It also puts an onus on what is sometimes termed, I think, the right to first occupancy.

We hope to get to a strong and robust position. We have made substantial progress in England and Wales and we were delighted by the Scottish Government’s announcement about 10 days ago of its commitment to change the Scottish planning framework and policy documents in this regard. That said, there are areas in which it could perhaps go further with the agent of change principle and planning law could be strengthened by going into even greater detail. Perhaps we can come on to that. I hope that my initial remarks are helpful to the committee.

Beverley Whitrick (Music Venue Trust)

In contrast to UK Music, Music Venue Trust is a small and extremely focused organisation. We are a charity whose specific aim is to work with what we term grass-roots music venues. By that, we mean venues whose core purpose is to put on live music with the intention of developing new artists and connecting them with audiences. We are not talking about places that have music as an add-on to other business models such as selling alcohol or food; we are talking about those venues whose reason for being is that they believe in music, and want to share music and develop new artists.

We see grass-roots music venues as the research and development department of the UK music industry and therefore believe that their sustained operation is incredibly important to the whole music industry and its social, cultural and economic value. We are delighted that that has already been registered in the letter from the planning minister and that the Scottish Government recognises it.

A lot of the work that we do is in partnership with organisations such as UK Music and the Musicians Union. One of the main things that I would like to do is to draw attention to the UK live music census, which has just been published. It is a UK-wide report led by the University of Edinburgh that has collected statistical evidence to support the anecdotal evidence that the Music Venue Trust has worked with in the past. There are two key statistics, which are that one third of venue respondents to the online survey identified that planning and property development had a negative impact on them in the past 12 months, and that nearly one third of them—29 per cent—said that noise-related complaints had a negative impact in the past 12 months. Together with the extent of the closures that Tom Kiehl mentioned, those statistics emphasise how serious the threats are to the sector and the need for action now to sustain its important role.

Graham Simpson

I must be honest and say that, before we had a deluge of correspondence on the issue, I was not really aware that it was an issue, which it clearly is. Will you briefly explain what the problem is for you? Then we can go on to discuss the bill, which is what we are here to do.

Beverley Whitrick

One of the biggest challenges for grass-roots music venues is that, historically, they operated in isolation. We were formed in 2014 and started to build a collective voice for the venues but, prior to that, venues operated in their local community with little reference to one another, to larger venues or to other parts of the music industry.

The other factor that has helped to create the stack of challenges is that, in many instances, grass-roots music venues are not formally recognised as cultural venues. Many local authorities perceive them to be businesses and a lot focus on the fact that they are licensed premises rather than on their cultural contribution. Therefore, they are often approached and worked with as if they were bars or nightclubs, rather than cultural venues. That has meant that they face harsher licensing regimes, higher business rates and perhaps more scrutiny from the local police than other cultural venues. One of the core pieces of the Music Venue Trust’s mission is to gain recognition for grass-roots music venues so that they have cultural parity with theatres, arts centres, galleries and other spaces that are recognised as contributing to the cultural life of the UK.

12:15  
Tom Kiehl

As an example of the specific problem that the agent of change approach is trying to address, a venue might have been co-existing with other businesses in the area for 15 years, but a new-build development, say, or a change of use might create problems for it. We all want people to have places to live in but, as soon as residential accommodation is developed, venues become vulnerable to noise complaints and licences can come under threat. In many ways, that is the crux of the issue and the reason why we are calling for an agent of change approach; it puts a responsibility on the developers or whoever is making the change to help with soundproofing, the installation of noise meters and so on. This has become more of a problem and a trend because there have been so many such developments in recent years.

Graham Simpson

That was certainly my understanding. Beverley Whitrick raised an interesting point about the issue being more licensing based. We are looking at planning today, and you will have seen the letter from the planning minister, saying that he will tackle the issue through the national planning framework. I presume that you are happy with that approach, but should there be any such provision in the bill over and above what might go into the framework?

Tom Kiehl

The letter and the recent commitments from the Scottish Government are very welcome, but you have to read them alongside the intention behind the bill to bring Scottish planning policy into the national planning framework. That will strengthen the framework considerably, and if a new version of the document were to make a specific commitment to the agent of change principle, it would be very important.

You are right to ask about other areas where planning policy could go and how that might improve the situation for music venues. For example, developers could be required to complete a noise impact assessment, which is something that we have looked at and which would sit quite nicely alongside the agent of change commitments that have already been introduced. Another suggestion has been developed in Wales as part of the Womanby Street development in Cardiff. When a commitment to the agent of change principle was made there, there was also a commitment to looking at enterprise zones or local development plans with the aim of protecting areas of cultural significance, particularly those of long standing, and creating a framework in which they could be protected. Those are two areas where the bill can be strengthened.

There could also be a duty on planning authorities to prevent unreasonable consequences. That would be a form of the agent of change principle; it would take things slightly further, but it might give the principle even more of a statutory basis than would be created as a result of the recent commitments.

Beverley Whitrick

This, indeed, takes us into the areas of culture and licensing, but I would note that the Theatres Trust has a statutory right to comment on any planning application in any part of the UK that impacts on an existing theatre building. At the moment, however, we have no right to comment on any planning application that might impact on a grass-roots music venue. If the Scottish Government were minded to consider that as a step forward, it would be a trailblazing measure. It does not happen anywhere else in the UK, but it is a very definite planning measure that would have a real and positive effect on the protection of grass-roots music venues.

Graham Simpson

How do you define the term “grass-roots music venue”?

Beverley Whitrick

We have quite a robust and internationally accepted definition that refers not only to the intent of the business but to its physical infrastructure. As I have said, it is a place that exists to promote artists and which has the correct infrastructure in that respect, instead of being, say, a pub that puts on music to attract people. There is a checklist and a definition that can be applied to assess whether a place that is being affected is a grass-roots music venue. For example, King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow has been subject to three planning applications in the past five months that have an impact on it. King Tut’s is a world-renowned music venue that develops up-and-coming artists and enables audience to connect with them.

Graham Simpson

I know King Tut’s—I have been there. It was a long time ago, of course.

The Convener

I think that we would want evidence of that.

Graham Simpson

It was to go to a gig, convener—

Kenneth Gibson

He went to see George Formby. [Laughter.]

Graham Simpson

Clearly, King Tut’s is a music venue first, which also has a licence. I understand that.

The Convener

I will bring in other members in a second. I know that you cannot speak about live planning applications but can you just give us an idea of their impact? You say that King Tut’s has been subject to three planning applications. What does that mean for that venue? I am unclear about that.

Beverley Whitrick

Within our network, we have tried to promote a model where, if venues become aware of planning around them, they immediately try to find out more information about it and notify our emergency response service so that we can assess whether, if those developments go ahead, they are likely to lead to noise complaints in the future.

In the instance of King Tut’s, it is similar to what happened in the case of Womanby Street in Cardiff; the developments are largely residential—I believe that there was a hotel as well. The concern when there are proposals to develop residential accommodation or accommodation where people will be living or staying overnight is that, in an area where previously the other activity was in the daytime and the venue was one of the only places where things were happening at night, is finding the balance between differing needs in a night-time economy.

Across the whole of the UK, we have seen many instances of music venues that thrived in a particular area of town because it was mostly offices and people left at 5.30 pm. As residential accommodation is created in those areas, the nature of the area changes and you get a conflict because people like the vibrancy of the area but want it to be quiet in their home. Obviously, we all understand that because people have a right to good-quality housing, but if you move to an area that has a night-time economy—which goes back to the zoning issue that Tom Kiehl mentioned—we believe that some sort of balance needs to be sought between enabling the continuation of a night-time economy and cultural activity and good, well-built housing.

The Convener

Thank you—that is helpful. A number of members want to come in. Perhaps they will all confirm or otherwise whether they have been to King Tut’s. I can confirm that I remember going in on several occasions but I do not always remember leaving.

Jenny Gilruth

I, too, have visited King Tut’s—

Alexander Stewart

Do you remember leaving?

Jenny Gilruth

I do remember leaving, yes. I think that I was asked for ID at the time, so that is how long ago it was.

I would like to drill down a wee bit on Graham Simpson’s point, because he spoke about the cultural significance argument that Beverley Whitrick has made concerning grass-roots music venues. Beverley talked about that designation in practice and, in response to Graham’s question, linked it to the Theatres Trust, which has a statutory right to comment on planning applications because theatres are designated as areas of cultural significance. Are there any other benefits that might stem from applying the same rule to grass-roots music venues? Is there any other action that the Government needs to take to protect and promote grass-roots music venues?

Beverley Whitrick

That is a huge question. At the heart of our work is the recognition that we seek of the cultural, social and economic status of the grass-roots music venues rather than seeing them as profit-making businesses. We think that it could bring many benefits over time. Obviously this moves into areas beyond planning, but it is to do with the whole way in which they are perceived and therefore protected.

There are very few instances of people moving near a theatre and complaining about the noise. There is one instance—somebody has just moved in behind a west end theatre and is apparently shocked that there is a get-out in the evening and there is noise behind the theatre. However, that is the only example that I know of, whereas across the country, there are so many complaints from people who move near a music venue and then say, “People leave late at night,” or, “I can sometimes hear music.” For some reason, music venues are perceived as being okay to complain about, in a way that does not often happen for more recognised cultural venues, such as concert halls, opera houses or theatres. We seek a repositioning in terms of practical things, such as which bit of planning legislation applies, but also the more general cultural issue across the UK.

Andy Wightman

We have the letter from the chief planner to planning authorities and the planning minister’s statement of intent about incorporating the agent of change principle into the national planning framework in future. That framework belongs to ministers and we get very limited scrutiny of it. Scottish planning policy also belongs to ministers and they can change it or break a promise—for example, we might have a different Government that does not implement it when the next national planning framework comes along.

We are keen to hear whether that is sufficient and deals with the question of introducing the agent of change principle, bearing in mind that every application is dealt with on its own merits and on the circumstances and facts of the case. Therefore, nothing is guaranteed. If it is not sufficient, what could we put in the bill? Primary legislation does not normally deal with such questions, because it deals with process. Ultimately, the decision maker makes the decision.

Beverley Whitrick mentioned use classes. I am looking at the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Scotland) Order 1997, and there is nothing in it on music venues. Is that an issue that needs to be addressed?

Beverley Whitrick

I know that Tom Kiehl has something to say. We have had many discussions with Governments in the various bits of the UK on that question. When policy is created for cultural venues, people say that they knew that it was intended that grass-roots music venues would be covered, but the space between what is intended by the person who wrote the policy and how it might be interpreted at local authority level is proving a real issue for our venues. It might have been intended that music venues would be seen as cultural venues, but if someone in the local authority does not perceive a particular venue as that, they can say that a cultural venue is a theatre, not a grass-roots music venue. It was great that the minister’s letter specifically mentioned music venues and spoke about protecting them and recognising their cultural importance. We would like to see more of such specification, because it is explicit and does not leave room for interpretation.

I will give an example of the interpretation issue in England. A local authority strongly supported a music venue—the Fleece, in Bristol—that was subject to redevelopment. The council told the developer, which was converting an office block next to it, to have non-openable windows on the side of the building that overlooked the venue. That was agreed, but the developer then went to the Planning Inspectorate—I know that Scotland does not have a planning inspectorate, but the mechanism is similar—and said that it did not have to do that, by point of law, as it was a council recommendation rather than a legislative requirement. The Planning Inspectorate agreed with the developer’s lawyer, overturned the council’s decree and had it pay the expenses. Bristol City Council is now wary of supporting venues, and six venues in Bristol are currently endangered by development. A board member who is a barrister says that the issue is to do with the grey area between policy and legislation, where it is known what is intended but there is wiggle room. A developer that has determination and money can often find that space and say that it does not really have to do what was intended.

12:30  
Andy Wightman

Some of the parallels there might well apply in the Scottish case, but I cannot be sure. You now have an opportunity, given that we have a couple of months before we produce our stage 1 report. As a committee, we need to be very clear about what we can do to buttress the argument that you are making if we think that it merits our doing so. We are not the Government; we are part of a Parliament that is making a law.

In that respect, it would be helpful if you were to come forward with broad amendments—not the black-and-white letter of them, but wording that says “place a duty to” or whatever—because it is hard for us to get to grips with the detail. It would be very unfortunate if we were to find ourselves in a position in which we took the view that the guidance was deemed to be good enough and then, a year down the line, a music venue in Aberdeen or Glasgow was subject to a legal challenge such as the one that you described in Bristol and everyone else said, “We thought that Parliament had dealt with that,” and it had not. I say that as an encouragement—or perhaps more than that; it is entirely up to you, obviously.

Beverley Whitrick

It is gratefully received—thank you.

Tom Kiehl

In some respects, this might be an opportunity for the committee to tease out the legally binding nature of the changes in the bill and to what extent they strengthen the statutory provisions.

The announcement that was made in England in January was very clear. In its statement, the Government said that the proposals would be legally binding. As I have said, there is a real opportunity for the committee to draw out that point. There is the potential to have an amendment that would place a duty on planning authorities to prevent unreasonable consequences for existing businesses. That could double up and support the recent policy announcements, which would be very helpful in that regard.

Beyond that, as I have said, there could also be a requirement for developers—particularly when they propose something that makes noise, such as a speedway track or a music venue, which will impact on an area—to set out exactly how they plan to address those issues and to provide information that future residents could access. Those are example of concrete areas in which amendments to the bill could be lodged. We will happily go away and look at how the issue could be addressed further.

Andy Wightman

You have come to give evidence and we have received written evidence, and that is it. However, there is a counterargument that a grass-roots venue might be on its knees and might not be performing very well, while there might be a very large redevelopment plan that is strongly in the public interest. Not all music venues fail, but it does happen. We would be concerned about the idea that a small failing business could hold to ransom development that is in the public interest. Therefore, do you agree that it is vital that we get the duty or obligation right and give appropriate discretion to planning authorities?

Tom Kiehl

Yes.

Beverley Whitrick

Yes.

The Convener

I wonder whether we could look at a couple of other points. I was very intrigued to see that the Music Venue Trust said that development plans could have designated areas of cultural significance. What would be the advantage of that? I am struck by the fact that we have spoken for two hours about local place plans and the idea of trying to work out who the community might be in a particular place in the first instance. In certain parts of Glasgow, we might think of the community as being a creative community as well as a newly residential community that has arrived there or a new hotel that has opened. What would be the benefit of having areas of cultural significance, and how would they work?

Beverley Whitrick

It is a question of defining an area not only for people who might choose to move there, understanding the nature of that area, but of having key parts of towns and cities that are seen as a focus for creative activity. For example, in Montreal, there was a large redevelopment of an area in which an outdoor performance space and creative studio space were created. The accommodation that was built there was aimed specifically at people who work in the creative industries, as they would understand how that area operated and would be comfortable—in a way in which members of the wider community might not—with the fact that it would sometimes be noisy, chaotic or creative.

In the UK, that issue has come up specifically in the Womanby Street area of Cardiff, following a consultation with the Welsh Government planning department, because a number of proposed developments on that street did not take into account the fact that it is a main focus of the live music community in Cardiff. It is not that most of those people live there, but that it is where people automatically go if they want to see live music. There is now a piece of work going on that is about protecting that zone for the cultural contribution that it brings to the city and scrutinising any planning applications to see whether they enhance or endanger that.

The Convener

That makes absolute sense, but could that approach have unintended consequences? Not everyone stays in a large urban area with creative or cultural places where they can go for nights out and a range of venues from which they can pick and choose. Some places might have just one venue, which might not have started off as a venue for performance, but in smaller towns and rural areas it might be the only place where people can go for that kind of thing. In an area that is not of cultural significance, could the unintended consequence be that it would weaken the music venue?

Beverley Whitrick

It is a real concern to make sure that, if zoning or culturally significant areas are referenced, that is done on the understanding that it is appropriate for large towns and cities but not for the whole of the country. I absolutely agree that in many towns there will be only one or two cultural venues; of course, there is no zone—they just are where they are. The vast majority of our venues are not purpose built—they are almost all conversions from something else into a music venue, so zoning is really an issue for major towns and cities rather than one for everywhere.

The Convener

Okay. Before I bring in other members, the key question is whether you think that the Scottish Government’s proposal will impact on the decisions of local authorities that are currently considering noise complaints against existing venues. My understanding of the Scottish Government’s position is that there are existing provisions, which will be beefed up in a few months’ time, and it has reminded local authorities of the powers that they already have. Do you have any sense that local authorities will be watching any of the current developments? Might they temper some of the decisions that they make?

Tom Kiehl

The communication that goes from the Scottish Government to local authorities is key. This is obviously a pivotal moment, as a piece of proposed legislation is going through the Scottish Parliament that will make some changes. The recent changes were well communicated last week, but if there are existing provisions that have not previously been enforced, that suggests that there has been a failure to communicate them adequately. Maybe the industry, Government and local authorities could work more collaboratively on how to communicate such changes.

The Convener

That is a question for us to ask the minister when he comes to the committee. I have one further question and then Alexander Stewart has indicated that he wants to raise an issue.

We are talking about music venues—in other words, places where live music is the core purpose and not the kind of add-on it is in a place that serves food but gets in someone with a guitar just to drum up some business. Those are good venues, too, but you have made the distinction very clear. In that case, then, should the agent of change principle be extended to cinemas, theatres and so on? Once the principle is established, we need to decide to which industries it applies. How widely would you apply it?

Beverley Whitrick

When the Music Venue Trust first started talking about the agent of change principle in 2015, we were approached by a glorious array of different businesses and people who, first, could not believe that it was not already the law of the land, given how logical it seems, and, secondly, said, “This is brilliant, because it would stop the silly thing that happened to me from happening.”

I can give you a couple of examples of the sorts of things that have come up. A housing development was built very near to a speedway track in England, with a street called Speedway Close. People bought the houses and moved in, and they immediately started complaining to the local council that they were being disturbed by the noise from the speedway track.

The Convener

Maybe they had no idea that there was a speedway track there. [Laughter.]

Beverley Whitrick

We also heard about a couple who moved to a countryside village and immediately put in a complaint to the local council that the church bells were disturbing their peace. We are absolutely delighted that the minister has specifically referenced music venues in the agent of change principle, but any policy or legislation in that respect could have ramifications with regard to other applications and might help people who have something that already exists and are being questioned by somebody who has just moved in and has said, “I don’t like that.”

Tom Kiehl

To build on what Beverley Whitrick has said, I think it important to recognise that, although the bill concerns planning, there is a crossover with the licensing system. We cannot forget about that, because the planning and licensing processes should be more joined up. In some ways, decisions are made at a planning level and there is a need to pre-empt the licensing challenges that might come up further down the line.

In fact, a recommendation that emerged from the House of Lords’s long-standing inquiry into licensing in general in the previous Parliament was for more planning and licensing committees to be brought forward and for those decision-making processes to take place much more in tandem. If that comes within the bill’s scope, it might be a positive move to look at how that sort of thing can be developed to help with some of the issues that we are concerned about. I understand that the bill is purely about planning, but there might be issues around that that you might want to consider.

The Convener

It is good to get that on the record.

Alexander Stewart

My point is similar to the one that Tom Kiehl has just made, and it is about the practicalities of ensuring that planning and licensing are more aligned. You have identified the possibility of bringing committees together. What other practical processes should be identified to try to alleviate some of the difficulties that have come up in other locations?

Tom Kiehl

We have been talking more generally about how the music industry can work more collaboratively with local authorities and with planners, and I would note the success that we have had in London, with a music board being set up to bring a lot of these issues together. There is a question about the extent to which you can deal with some of these problems offline. How can you create structures that enable the music industry to have frank discussions with planners and licensing people, whom they do not necessarily talk to, and how can that be developed further? It would be positive if that was developed in Scotland too, particularly in some of the large urban areas such as Glasgow and Edinburgh, which have well-developed music industries, in order to create the forums that would enable some of those discussions to take place. You would not have to get into legal or legislative problems, because you could head things off earlier.

Beverley Whitrick

A few years ago, I did a piece of work for the City of Edinburgh Council on the inaudibility clause that involved quite a lot of discussions about how a complaint to the council was handled. One of the things that struck me particularly forcibly was that the complainant was always considered to be the council’s client and the noise maker was therefore the defendant. I stated in that piece of work that it was almost as if the council had already decided who the guilty party was, just by the way in which it handled the complaint. I believe that there is a lot of room for reinforcing recommendations made through planning with regard to the way in which councils deal with any noise complaints that might come up afterwards. It is not very helpful if you do not view it objectively, or if you say, “Well, that person complained, so they must be right.”

Monica Lennon

Most of the key points have been covered, but there are a couple of things that I would like to ask about. Tom Kiehl mentioned Australia in his opening remarks. The approach there is to enshrine the agent of change principle into law, and it would be good to get more information on how that has been going. As far as the practical nuts and bolts are concerned, I know that we cannot talk about individual planning applications here today, but I wonder what the experience has been of venues that have had to make representations, buy in expert advice or undertake their own noise impact assessments. What is the practical side of that, and what are the costs involved?

We have touched on the synergy between licensing and planning. In Scotland, councillors who sit on licensing boards have to undergo training and sit a test, and the bill proposes that a similar test should be taken by people who sit on planning committees. Do you have a view on that?

Earlier this morning, we spent a lot of time talking about rights of appeal. The venues that you represent have been extremely involved in the planning process. Do you think that they would have a view on whether they should have a right to appeal when a decision does not go their way?

12:45  
Beverley Whitrick

I will do my best to comment from the point of view of music venues. Obviously, it is disappointing that our venue representatives were not able to join us today, but I will tell you what I know from the Music Venue Trust’s side of things.

The main thing to say is that letters from a local council are extremely scary to most people who own a music venue. If they receive one, whether it is a noise complaint or a notification of planning nearby, the first thing that they are likely to do is panic, because they already have a full-time job running the venue and doing other things and, when asked to confront an extra challenge, they often feel very unprepared for that and that they do not have the time to cope with it. The Music Venue Trust offers an emergency response service. Any music venue within our music venues alliance network across the country can ask us for expert advice. We have a number of what we call gurus—our planning, licensing and legal experts—who support people with advice. Obviously, however, that can go only so far, so there is a cost implication if it takes a long time to handle the case against a planning application.

The other thing to say is that there are issues around multiple developments. In the case of King Tut’s, for example, there have been three developments in a five-month period. That represents a huge extra time burden as well as a potential financial burden for a business that is quite poorly resourced anyway. A lot of our venues are run by extremely small teams, so the person who has to get their head around the planning policy, figure out what they have to do to respond, talk to the lawyers and so on is probably also the person who is cleaning the toilets, rolling in the beer barrels and welcoming the band. It is a huge challenge for a small business to deal with an extra factor on top of what they already do. Although we try to offer support, we are also a small organisation and we are stretched with regard to the resources that we can offer.

The situation is better than it was a few years ago but it is still extremely challenging for the sector to try to cope with those external factors, which can have a big impact on their day-to-day existence.

Monica Lennon

With regard to the situation in Australia, have venues there reported that some of the uncertainty and burden that Beverley Whitrick described has lessened?

Tom Kiehl

I understand that the Australian situation has worked quite well, although the people there are having slight issues with the fact that a geographical limit is applied to their version of the agent of change principle—I am not sure what the radius is, but the rules can apply only within a certain distance. That causes some problems because, when you are dealing with noise, it is often hard to determine exactly how far sound might travel and what impact that noise might have on other areas. I know that attempts are being made to improve that so that the approach is more about the vicinity rather than about putting in place a jurisdiction within which the principle would apply.

On the point about training, it would be important for that to take place. The more that can be done to ensure that those who are working within planning institutions understand the various aspects fully, the better.

Monica Lennon

It is useful to get an overview of what is happening throughout the UK. It would be good if the bill could result in Scotland’s approach leading the UK. Is there another opportunity, perhaps through building regulations or building standards, to make progress in that regard? For example, if a developer knew that there were certain minimum requirements in terms of retrofitting buildings or constructing new buildings, would that give us an opportunity to tackle some of the issues? If such requirements are codified in the building regulations, would that negate the requirement to deal with issues in planning legislation?

Tom Kiehl

I would have to look into that in more detail before giving a specific commitment. However, the more tools that are available to Government to achieve the aims, the better.

Beverley Whitrick

I would just add that Scotland is already leading the way as a result of the letter that the minister issued to local authorities. Having such a strongly worded message directed at local authorities has not happened anywhere else in the UK. Scotland is already at the forefront.

Monica Lennon

Excellent; that is what we like to hear.

The Convener

That is a lovely way to end this evidence session—please capture that, everyone.

I thank you both for giving evidence. Obviously, the weather defeated our attempts to hear from other witnesses, but we are grateful to them for their willingness to make themselves available. We are also grateful to both of you for your willingness to wait for a significant period of time before giving us your evidence. Thanks again—please continue to follow the committee’s work on this matter.

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Second meeting transcript

The Convener (Bob Doris)

Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the eighth meeting in 2018 of the Local Government and Communities Committee. I remind everyone present to turn off mobile phones. As meeting papers are provided in digital format, members may use tablets during the meeting. We have an apology from Jenny Gilruth MSP, who is a committee member. Unfortunately, she cannot be with us.

Under agenda item 1, we will take evidence from two panels on the Planning (Scotland) Bill at stage 1. It gives me pleasure to introduce our first panel. Tammy Swift-Adams is director of planning at Homes for Scotland; Jenny Hogan is deputy chief executive at Scottish Renewables; Gordon Nelson is director of the Federation of Master Builders Scotland; Sarah Boyack is head of public affairs at the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations; and Jonathan Fair is regional managing director, Scotland, at McCarthy and Stone. I thank everyone for coming to the meeting.

I understand that there will be opening statements before we go to questions. I ask Jenny Hogan to start.

Jenny Hogan (Scottish Renewables)

Thank you very much for the opportunity to provide evidence to the committee today.

Scottish Renewables is the voice of Scotland’s renewable energy industry. It represents more than 270 organisations, including developers and installers, as well as community organisations and companies right through the supply chain. Many of our members are developing projects across a range of scales, from district heating schemes to wind farms, and from hydro power projects to solar panels. Those businesses and communities are helping to deliver the Scottish Government’s target, which all the major parties support, to meet half of all our heat, power and transport needs from renewables by 2030. Those ambitions are extremely challenging and require a joined-up approach across all levels of government and its agencies.

Although we welcome many of the bill’s provisions, we believe that some of the proposals would have unintended consequences for our sector and, as a result, many of the Scottish Government’s national outcomes.

More specifically, I will summarise a few of our recommendations. We recommend that the bill be designed to enable the national outcomes to be achieved within the necessary timescales while minimising costs; that sustainable development should be an explicit purpose of the bill to make it clear that the delivery of the climate change plan, the future climate change act and the energy strategy will be facilitated; that the process for reviewing plans and policies must be able to reflect rapid changes in technology and policy—that is particularly pertinent for energy and carbon reduction; and that the planning system should not be viewed simply as a service for developers but also as a service for the public good that must balance a range of interests, and that it should therefore be resourced by both the public and private sectors.

We also recommend that consideration be given to introducing a new consultee tasked with advising on the socioeconomic impact of applications, to provide balance to those who assess other impacts—for example, the economic development department of the local authority; and that complex applications that require an environmental impact assessment be treated as major projects and not determined under delegated powers, or, at least, given that option. We support the independent planning review recommendations and those of a number of stakeholders who have argued that front loading community involvement is the most effective way to empower people in the process, as opposed to reforms to appeals.

We agree with Community Land Scotland, the Scottish Crofting Federation and others that areas of Scotland that are currently mapped and identified as wild land areas should be balanced with socioeconomic opportunities for Scotland’s rural land, whether that be for crofting, woodlands, renewable energy generation or other opportunities for income.

Tammy Swift-Adams (Homes for Scotland)

Homes for Scotland is the voice of the home-building industry. We have more than 200 members, including home builders that are responsible for around 95 per cent of the new homes that are built in Scotland each year.

As director of planning, I hear from my members on a wide range of issues. Planning is not their only challenge, but it is one of the biggest ones.

The need to deliver more homes sparked the planning review in September 2015. Two and a half years later, we are no further forward in housing delivery. We need to build more homes. Homes for Scotland has scrutinised the proposals in the bill and the wider planning review through that lens. However, we are not blind to the other ambitions behind the bill, and we are aware of the many balancing acts that the system faces.

The bill provides a rare and crucial opportunity to help the planning system to fulfil its potential in delivering new homes and other development that Scotland needs. If we can get planning reform right, good performance should be the norm, and communities and home builders alike should have better trust in the process that shapes our country’s development.

We strongly support the focus of the planning review on making planning more collaborative rather than introducing more opportunities for conflict. We think that the bill should acknowledge that collaboration more than it currently does.

More broadly, the bill could be strengthened through changes to what is proposed on development planning, the infrastructure levy, performance and fees. It is important to maintain the strong relationship between the different components of the development plan, for example.

Finally, we are concerned that the bill and its accompanying financial memorandum overlook the fact that, to properly resource planning services and infrastructure delivery, it will be necessary to look beyond the development community and the planning system. The changes that we suggested in our written evidence are intended to ensure that the bill achieves its intended objectives without leaving important details to chance.

Gordon Nelson (Federation of Master Builders Scotland)

Thank you for the invitation to give evidence.

The Federation of Master Builders, which has more than 8,000 members, is the largest trade association in the United Kingdom construction industry, and we are recognised as the voice of small and medium-sized construction firms. Our house-building members build on small sites, typically of fewer than 30 units. Our consultation response is based on their experiences and views as small house-building firms across Scotland.

Sarah Boyack (Scottish Federation of Housing Associations)

The SFHA represents housing associations and co-operatives across Scotland.

An effective planning system is critical for our members to take forward their proposals to provide affordable warm homes, meet people’s needs and deliver socially inclusive communities. Recent research that we produced with Shelter shows that our members are making a key contribution to achieving the Scottish Government’s target of 50,000 affordable homes and that they are tackling inequalities and delivering socially inclusive communities at the same time. However, there must be an approach that ensures that housing meets people’s needs now and in the future.

Our research highlighted the need to ensure that housing is accessible, is affordable and is where people need it throughout the country. Therefore, our ambitions for the Planning (Scotland) Bill are that there be a stronger link between the range of housing needs that need to be met and the planning process; that affordable land be made available where it is needed to meet those housing needs; and that infrastructure be planned and provided to enable high-quality housing developments in communities.

The bill provides an opportunity to address issues around land supply and cost. That is critical, because one of the motivators behind the bill is that not enough housing is being delivered in Scotland. The bill makes provision for an infrastructure levy, but we want land to be transferred at existing use value so that the uplift in value that is gained through planning permission for housing can be used to fund the infrastructure that is needed to service those sites.

It is also important that the planning system be resourced to implement the ambitions that are in the bill so that housing associations and co-operatives can ensure collaborative developments with front-loaded consultation; deliver the place making that people want in their communities to provide high-quality places in which to live with active travel and green spaces; and meet the Scottish Government’s wider range of objectives.

Jonathan Fair (McCarthy and Stone)

Good morning and thank you for the opportunity to speak to the committee.

This is a particularly opportune time for the evidence session to take place. Over the past 10 years, there has been a great deal of discussion about meeting the needs of the most disadvantaged in society and also about first-time buyers, or generation rent. Unfortunately, there has not been the same level of discussion about meeting the needs of generation stuck—the last-time buyers who want to get on the final rung of the housing ladder.

Last Tuesday, Angela Constance, the Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities, said when addressing the Chartered Institute of Housing Scotland conference that innovative approaches were needed to meet the housing challenges of Scotland’s ageing population. She said that there was a need to take action to address the needs of our ageing population to ensure that more suitable housing and services were put in place to help individuals to continue to live independently and at home.

Changes to Scottish planning policy in 2014 were certainly a step in the right direction but, unfortunately, there is little evidence so far that those changes have delivered on the original aims. It is clear that, if Scotland is to make any real progress in the provision of appropriate retirement housing, much more needs to be done. Although the independent planning review highlighted the need to address the housing needs of the ageing population, there is, unfortunately, no mention in the bill of housing for the elderly as a policy priority or target.

In our discussions, I hope to make a number of suggestions on how the Planning (Scotland) Bill can make a step change to ease the way for a significant increase in retirement housing that will help to achieve the objectives that the communities secretary set out last week and the objectives for savings to the health and social care budgets that the Scottish Government in general has set out. Most importantly, I hope to suggest how it can provide an appropriate range of housing options for older people in Scotland.

The Convener

I thank all our witnesses for those opening statements.

Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

I thank the witnesses for attending. Apart from Ms Hogan, they represent the house-building sector. A couple of them mentioned that an ambition behind the bill was to deliver more housing. I must admit that I do not see that in the bill. Do the witnesses see it and, if they do not, what should change? In other words, will the bill deliver more housing?

Tammy Swift-Adams

We said in our written submission that there is nothing significant in the bill that specifically refers to housing or is specifically designed to increase the delivery of new housing. However, if we look at the policy memorandum, which outlines the Government’s vision of how planning will be done in future—which will be delivered partly through the bill and partly through other means—it is clear that, for planning to be successful, it needs to deliver more homes.

09:15  

In our written submission, we have made a number of suggestions—which we can work up into amendments—about how the bill could do more to make planning a better enabler of new homes. They include strengthening the relationship between local development plans and the national planning framework to make sure that local development plans bring forward the homes that are needed in local areas. We also suggest filling in the gaps in the bill at the moment, including in relation to the clear need for better collaboration with the development industry, and with communities at large, at the early stage of plan preparation. In the policy memorandum, there is a clear reliance on that collaboration in order for planning to work, in terms of both delivery and community trust. At the moment, the bill does not acknowledge that collaboration or ensure that it happens.

Sarah Boyack

We have suggested that we look at housing need across the country and then ensure that that housing need is met in every part of the country. We need national targets, which need to feed through to regional work. That then needs to feed through into local development plans. If the suggestion is 10-year development plans, with an emphasis on implementation, delivery and collaboration, and with a properly resourced planning system, developers will be able to work through that system, whether they are delivering social rented properties or a range of housing choices across the country.

One of the key things that we found in our strategic housing investment plans research was that there is not that link between where housing need is and where housing is being built. That is partly because of the cost of infrastructure, but a critical issue is the cost of land. We suggested that that is one of the issues that need to be looked at in the bill. The Scottish Land Commission has done work and is looking at a range of options. We think that that debate needs to filter into the bill. The issue needs to be reflected in headline statements in the bill, or to follow in the regulations and secondary legislation that come afterwards.

The comment that Tammy Swift-Adams made about collaborative work is really important. Developments such as those relating to Glasgow’s Commonwealth games involved incredibly complex sites. There were issues about remediation—improving the quality of the land before anything was built. There were a mixed range of developments, including low-carbon developments. Those developments were able to happen because the local authority was able to work collaboratively with a series of developers, including registered social landlords.

At every stage, it is crucial that we ensure that there are targets, that there is affordable land and that there is collaborative delivery on the ground.

Gordon Nelson

I echo some of those comments. The bill, in itself, will not bring about the delivery of new homes, but there is an aspiration in the policy memorandum, which was referred to earlier, to close the gap between planning consent and the delivery of new homes. The secondary legislation and guidance that come with the bill could help speed up the delivery of new homes in the right areas. The front-loading approach should enable better engagement between small local house builders and communities, so that there is the right development in the right area at the right time.

The aspirations of the bill are certainly there. However, there are significant barriers beyond the nature of the legislation. The price and the availability of land have been mentioned. For many of our house-builder members, a major barrier to entry is a lack of access to affordable development finance, which prevents many aspiring small home builders from entering the house-building market. Scotland desperately needs more diversity of housing supply and more entrants into the house-building industry.

Jonathan Fair

I echo much of what has already been said, but I would particularly like to highlight a couple of things. For the bill to be effective in driving improved housing delivery, it needs to include measures and ways to improve the speed of the process. As a result, the bill should ensure that the people who invest in housing delivery in Scotland have confidence that their investment will come to legitimate fruition. Whatever measures are included in the bill should focus on those issues.

Graham Simpson

I think that we all agree that there is nothing in the bill that would deliver more of anything. It does not seem to have any ambitions on anything, but certainly not on housing. Could you be a bit more specific? We are looking at potential amendments to the bill. Are there any that you would suggest?

A couple of you mentioned having national house-building targets. In her written evidence, Tammy Swift-Adams suggested a more robust methodology, and Sarah Boyack mentioned that as well. Should we say something in the bill about a methodology for setting out what targets would be so that they would flow down to local levels?

Jonathan Fair

We need to set clear national targets for house building across the sector, and for housing for older people in particular. It would be particularly important to have that differentiation between different appropriate uses. Monitoring that delivery through yearly statements and by including appropriate policies in support of that aim in the bill—for example, in national planning framework 2—would be the right way to go to ensure that more housing is provided and that the delivery of that is monitored over time.

Tammy Swift-Adams

There is definitely a need for a clear methodology for developing a housing supply target and monitoring how likely it is to be delivered or how successfully it is being delivered. I would not necessarily argue for having the full detail of the methodology in the bill but there needs to be something more in the bill for that to hang from.

If the bill was going to say anything specific on home building, it would be a recognition that it is an important development in the national interest and that the NPF must include clear targets on house building if it is to be successful. Some of the other specific amendments that we suggest to support that would be to ensure that local development plans comply with the NPF where it sets house-building targets and to ensure that there is early collaboration with home builders among others when those plans are put together to ensure that they are more deliverable than the plans and sets of site allocations that are in plans at the moment.

I should have mentioned earlier that there is no mention of a local development plan review being triggered in the event of a shortfall in the housing supply arising. It is easy to envisage that happening because it happens now. You would think that it would be a logical trigger for a plan review but, at the moment, there is nothing in the bill that requires local authorities to review their plans if there is a shortfall.

Gordon Nelson

There should be more in the bill to enable local authorities to give more strategic consideration to small sites within local development plans.

One thing that encourages colleagues of mine in England about the Westminster housing white paper is its stronger focus on small sites and speed of delivery. It proposes that 10 per cent of housing allocations be small sites—half a hectare or less. It seems that there are more specific details on smaller sites for local authorities’ plans in the white paper, which is encouraging.

It is to be debated whether more detail should be specified in the Planning (Scotland) Bill or be put in guidance and secondary legislation, but an emphasis on specifying smaller sites in local authorities’ plans should encourage more small house builders.

Sarah Boyack

I am thinking particularly about making the connection between identifying housing needs and feeding that through into the planning system. Local authorities work on their SHIPs and undertake work on housing needs demand analysis, but that needs to be fed proactively into the planning system, and we need to ask where the sites are that will deliver that range of needs. We need to join the dots between the various levels of planning—between the national and regional levels and delivery in the local plans.

According to recent statistics, there are something like 10,000 people with disabilities on council waiting lists, 35,000 people with homelessness applications and more than 162,000 people on local authority waiting lists. We have people saying that they want access to land. There are also the issues that have been mentioned about “generation rent”—people who want to buy their first home. How do we meet those needs? We know where they are, so we need to feed that through into the planning system. That is why land is crucial: we need affordable land to provide a range of different house types for different needs.

Older people have been mentioned; for them the issue is accessible house design, as well as the number of house types that we design. There should be a range of choices for older people and people who need accessible homes throughout their lives.

There must be a focus on the quality as well as the numbers and we must dig down into communities to find out what the range of need is.

Graham Simpson

Three witnesses have mentioned the need for more variety of homes and for smaller sites. Sarah Boyack mentioned the land value uplift model, which could provide one way to deliver smaller sites. What are your views on that? We will ask later about the infrastructure levy, so you do not need to talk about that. How could we provide more variety and allow smaller house builders to get a foot in the door?

Sarah Boyack

There are more examples from the huge set of Commonwealth games sites, which involved a range of developers. One issue is the role of local authorities in bringing land forward. When local authorities and registered social landlords work in partnership, that can be successful in delivering land—local authorities provide access to land and RSLs build high-quality developments after consultation. A more collaborative approach to providing land is one way to achieve that. It does not necessarily have to involve one or two small sites; different builders can be involved in the process for parts of sites.

I return to the point that having 10-year development plans provides the opportunity to focus on implementing those plans. Producing longer-term plans is not a money-saving exercise, because the focus must be on delivery. That is one of the bill’s big aspirations that we want to be delivered.

Jonathan Fair

Local development plans are critical to housing that meets older people’s needs. Developments to meet those needs are typically in central brownfield locations; smaller sites prevail and they tend to be close to shops, services and transport links. Local development plans containing clear guidance and an intention to identify and protect suitable sites of that kind, and there being a presumption in favour of giving consent to specialist retirement housing that is tenure blind—it might include sheltered housing or extra-care accommodation—would be a means to encourage, protect and secure such precious small sites for future development.

The Convener

To get through all the questions on the bill, we will have to move on in a wee second, but I will bring in Gordon Nelson.

Gordon Nelson

As has been mentioned, more small sites could be brought forward through local plans, but there should also be more opportunities for small and medium-sized house builders on larger sites—that might involve portioning larger sites and allocating them to the custom and self-build model, which is a more viable housing delivery model for small and medium-sized house builders.

There are other ways of looking at the planning system in order to remove some of the barriers to entry for small house builders. A lot of our members have fed back to me that huge up-front investment of resources is required from small house builders, with limited certainty of outcome. The evidence to us is that the planning system has become more and more of a lottery over the years, given the cost of achieving consent. Many small and medium-sized enterprises have to commission consultants—to do transport surveys, for example—because they typically do not have the internal resources to navigate their way through the planning system. Commissioning of consultants and payment of fees add to the cost and the risk, and reduce the certainty of getting a return on investment. We could look at many other areas in the bill, and beyond it, in terms of making it easier for more small house builders to build more houses.

Tammy Swift-Adams

I reiterate that we need to deliver more homes of all types. It is not the case that just one type of housing is in short supply or that just one type of housing deliverer or provider is disadvantaged; the problems in the planning system and beyond it affect all house building, so we need to take an all-tenure approach that enables everybody, whoever they are looking to provide homes for, to deliver more homes.

The Convener

The thrust of the initial question was about whether there is anything in the bill that will in itself increase housing supply, house building and housing completions, and the answer seems to be that there is not, although the bill might be part of the picture.

Gordon Nelson made an interesting suggestion in relation to how the national planning framework, housing need assessments and strategic housing investment plans feed into the development of local place plans and local development plans, which we will come to later. I am trying to tease out from the panel whether there needs to be something additional in the bill or in statutory guidance to help to deliver an increase in house building, if the framework must take account of all the things that the panellists have talked about in relation to where to build, what to build and in what numbers, in order to meet the national ambitions for delivery and—we hope—design at local level. Is there a framework that can—no pun intended—be built on, whether by including a provision in the bill or by putting something in statutory guidance or secondary legislation?

09:30  
Tammy Swift-Adams

There is. Proposed new section 3AA(2) of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 deals with the type of information that should be taken into account when the national planning framework is prepared, and there are equivalent provisions on local development plans. That provides an opportunity to set out specific work that needs to be done or specific information that needs to be taken into account. We have suggested that that information should include information on housing needs and education capacity in an area, because that is one of the big infrastructure blockers.

The Convener

Is it the case that we have got the framework right, but it does not spell out explicitly enough what should be taken into account when meat is put on the bone with regard to what should be built, where, and in what numbers? Do the panellists have any additional comments on that before we move on? If the framework is not right, we need to know that. We have local place plans and local development plans, housing need assessments and SHIPs, but the issue is how the national planning framework feeds into and influences those things at local level. I am trying to ascertain whether the framework, as it is proposed in the bill, is right at local level, if we can feed those things in.

Sarah Boyack

There are a couple of things that could usefully be clarified in relation to infrastructure. We need to know what level of infrastructure is planned so that sites can be delivered, and a joined-up approach is needed. The new climate change plan, which came out this week, has very high targets for low-carbon housing, but there is no read-across between that and the bill.

The Convener

Do the witnesses have any other comments on the framework in the bill as it is designed, given that there is a lack of clarity, because a lot will be left to guidance? Is the framework right or wrong? Should it be added to?

Gordon Nelson

We expect to see a bit more in the guidance and the secondary legislation. The ingredients are there, but they need to be tied together, and there is not quite enough detail on that in the bill. The aspirations are more or less there, particularly if we look at the policy memorandum, but a lot more work needs to be done to tie everything together and to link with the overall outcomes that we want to achieve, whether on housing delivery or on the other aspects of infrastructure that the country needs.

Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

I want to pick up on Sarah Boyack’s point about strategic housing investment plans and housing need and demand assessments. It sounds as though a lot of work is done at local authority level to map out local housing needs. That is done separately from the local development plan process. We are now looking at the national planning framework as being the answer when it comes to providing a national picture of what our housing need is, and there will no longer be strategic development plans.

Do we have the right tools and the right data? Is the problem the fact that the approach is not joined up enough? If so, could the bill address that? Is something else missing?

Sarah Boyack

You are right that the lack of a joined-up approach is part of the problem. If we look at our statistics on housing for older people, we are not automatically taken to one type of provision, but we need that issue to be addressed in all our rural communities. There are different ways in which that can be done.

It is about whether it will be explicit that different housing needs will be met in communities, because merely identifying numbers at national level does not achieve local delivery. That is why feeding through into local plans is crucial, as is making the process absolutely explicit, as Monica Lennon suggested, so that housing need and demand are identified at community level and fed through into the local development plan process and, crucially, so that sites are identified.

However, that will not solve everything. For example, there might be social security or welfare issues that need to be addressed in residential housing for older people with regard to care that needs to be provided. However, the physical infrastructure—or, at least, having that ambition throughout our communities—is not explicit in the system at the moment.

Monica Lennon

Leaving aside delivery and identifying sites, because we will come on to that, are we doing a good enough job to identify need? Do we have the right data and numbers, or is the picture still unclear?

Tammy Swift-Adams

A lot of people have questions about the methodology for housing need and demand assessments. There is no current consultation on that, but I hope that the Government will be open to amending that situation in order to support the work of the bill. I was advised recently that one of the shortcomings in the housing need and demand assessment is that it does not take into account hidden households that might want or need a home. Currently, for example, young couples who live with parents do not show up in statistics. There are definitely shortcomings in assessment.

The Convener

Just for the record, I will tell you that the committee does an annual trawl through the SHIPs that are returned to the Scottish Government. I am just checking with the clerking team that we still have that ahead of us. The SHIPs appear around Christmas time, the Government analyses them and we follow up on that. The committee is certainly alert to them.

Andy Wightman (Lothian) (Green)

I will move on to strategic development plans and the national planning framework.

There are significant proposals in the bill to get rid of strategic development plans and to put in place what appears to be a voluntary approach and new measures by amending the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 with proposed new section 3AA, which would give powers to ministers to direct that information be provided for the national planning framework. What are your views on the abolition of strategic development plans? We will hear evidence in the next panel from Clydeplan, which in its written evidence cited the Scottish Government’s research in 2014 that said that strategic development plans have yet to bed in and still have a role to play. We will have to take a view on the question of strategic development plans; that seems to be quite important.

My second question is on the national planning framework, because it is very much linked to strategic development plans. Is it right that ministers should be able to draw up the national planning framework and include things such as housing, which has traditionally been an issue for local councils to resolve?

Jenny Hogan

We broadly support the proposals on strategic development plans. On regional partnerships, which are linked to that, we feel that having more information on how they might be resourced would be useful. It would be desirable for secondary legislation to provide for regional planners a clear steer on the Scottish Government’s national priorities.

We agree that there should be a role for ministers and central Government in order to ensure that things that are strategically and nationally important are in the national planning framework.

Perhaps linked to some of what has been said about housing are district heating networks and low-carbon heating systems, which exist in some places and are extremely important for meeting our climate change plan and energy strategy. There needs to be a clear link between national policy and what ends up in local development plans.

Tammy Swift-Adams

Homes for Scotland has also supported getting rid of strategic development plans, because they have not done the job that they were intended to do with regard to delivering more homes by getting local authorities to work together effectively and to look beyond their boundaries. That said, regional planning is an important activity, and we understand that it is intended that the Scottish Government will work closely with local authorities, and groupings of local authorities, to include regional strategies and targets.

I can understand the desire not merely to replace one process-heavy part of the system with another set of regulations. However, we need a better balance between the desire for flexibility and a bespoke approach to regional planning that suits different groups of local authorities, and the need to ensure that that definitely happens and is recognised in the system. At the moment, the bill does not recognise regional planning or regional partnership working at all, which we think is a shortcoming. It could be written into the arrangements on NPFs fairly easily.

Sarah Boyack

That is critical, as regards infrastructure provision. There needs to be a requirement for wider regional planning and it has to be delivered at some point. If it is not there explicitly, it will not be prioritised.

Andy Wightman

Just to be clear, Tammy Swift-Adams, you said that there needs to be regional planning, which is a normal thing across Europe. Is it your view that the process that underpins strategic development plans is too process heavy but that we still need regional planning?

Tammy Swift-Adams

Yes. We still need local authorities to work together on the needs of a sub-region, for example, or cross-boundary issues. Everybody expects that that would continue, but if it is not recognised in the bill and is not resourced, it will not be effective. Local authorities that want to work together and continue to do so need to be supported in those efforts.

Andy Wightman

That is the key point. There is an expectation that co-operation will continue, but is the expectation that it will do so voluntarily? Should the bill be strengthened in order to place a duty on local authorities to co-operate?

Tammy Swift-Adams

It is essential that it happens. To some extent, we can leave it to trust that local authorities will work together, but the bill needs to make sure that, where that does not happen voluntarily on the ground, the national Government can do something to corral local authorities and make them work together to build a stronger NPF.

Andy Wightman

But we are talking about regional planning here. Do you not think that there should be a duty to co-operate?

Tammy Swift-Adams

We would have to look at how effective that would be. A duty to co-operate has replaced strategic plans in England.

Andy Wightman

The idea is that that would give a more flexible framework but it would still impose a statutory duty to co-operate. It would allow—I am thinking out loud here—Clydeplan, for example, whose representatives are coming in later this morning, to continue with its quite robust process but enable other authorities to take a lighter touch. However, everyone would be required to do a degree of regional planning.

Tammy Swift-Adams

An alternative to having a duty to do something would be having a check and balance in place to make sure that local authorities can be made to work together if they are not doing so voluntarily. Having a duty to co-operate could be interpreted as implying that local authorities will not co-operate, which is possibly a challenge or a negative perception. It has to happen, but there are different ways to support it.

The Convener

Shall we see if any of our other witnesses have thoughts on that? I am not trying to take your question from you, Mr Wightman. I am just trying to ascertain the position for the purposes of our stage 1 report. We have had two witnesses who have said, “Let’s get rid of the strategic development plan but we would assume that local authorities and others will continue to work together,” and others who have said otherwise. I think that Sarah Boyack said that we should keep it. Is that correct? Sarah, would you be relaxed if the strategic development plan went and something were to be put in its place to make sure that local authorities and other key stakeholders continued to work together strategically?

Sarah Boyack

It is a good thing. It is up to local authorities to identify what the key priorities are in their areas. However, unless people come together in the first place, they cannot make that judgment.

Andy Wightman

Rather like my question for Tammy Swift-Adams, I ask Sarah Boyack whether she thinks that regional planning should remain a statutory duty. The danger is that, when regional planning is desirable—as I think it is in most places, to a certain degree—but not a statutory duty, local authorities drop everything that is not a statutory duty in the face of financial pressures and just do not do things that they are not required to do.

Sarah Boyack

That was my point. It needs to happen and then, once local authorities get together, it is up to them to identify what the priorities for action are.

Andy Wightman

So should the bill contain a statutory duty?

Sarah Boyack

Yes—I think that I said that at the start.

The Convener

There is a good dynamic here, so let us get more information on the public record.

09:45  
Tammy Swift-Adams

To some extent, there is a duty in the bill because there is a stipulation that the Scottish Government can require not just individual local authorities but groups of two or more authorities to work together in contributing to the work on the national planning framework. That is where the regional planning work comes in. The bill does not specify that the Government will work with regional partnerships—maybe it should. However, there is currently a duty that the national Government can use to make groups of two or more authorities work together with the Government on national and regional planning.

Andy Wightman

That is a duty that will help the Government to prepare its plan, which is not the same as regional planning.

My final question is on the national planning framework. The national planning framework will now become part of the development plan, yet it is drawn up by the Executive. The Scottish Parliament gets to look at the plan; for example, last time, the Local Government and Communities Committee produced a report on it and we had a debate in Parliament. However, the debate was merely on a motion to note the reports produced by the Local Government and Communities Committee and other committees. There is no democratic oversight of the national planning framework. If, for example, the Conservatives were to win the next election and formed a minority Government—

Graham Simpson

We can but hope.

Andy Wightman

If so, the Conservatives could, for example, allow fracking in the national planning framework, against the will of Parliament. Do you think that there needs to be stronger democratic oversight of the national planning framework?

The Convener

Everyone has taken a deep breath following Mr Wightman’s comment, which might be called, at best, blue-sky thinking.

Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

I would call it a nightmare scenario.

The Convener

Let us try and stay focused. Are there any comments on that?

Monica Lennon

We are too shocked.

The Convener

We will have a couple of supplementary questions on strategic planning, because we have a lot of other stuff to get through.

Monica Lennon

I remind the committee that I am a member of the Royal Town Planning Institute.

Andy Wightman was exploring an interesting line of questioning on whether regional planning will happen if we accept that regional planning is a good thing but there is no duty to do it. I am thinking about evidence that Craig McLaren from RTPI Scotland gave last week to the Finance and Constitution Committee on the financial memorandum. He said:

“we are heading towards a crisis in resourcing the planning system.”——[Official Report, Finance and Constitution Committee, 28 February 2018; c 3.]

We have heard a lot about how difficult it is for local authorities to fulfil their statutory duties. If there is no statutory duty on regional planning or spatial planning at that level, how likely is it that local authorities will come together and voluntarily or enthusiastically put some resource into regional planning? I would like to hear from Tammy Swift-Adams first and then I am happy to hear from others.

Tammy Swift-Adams

If you do not put resources into something, it makes it more difficult to do. There are clear and detailed statutory duties on local authorities in certain areas to form an authority and produce a strategic development plan. That is where resource has been put into regional planning, but it has not produced positive results for those regions, including in the delivery of housing.

I understand the desire not to simply replace one process-heavy set of duties with another set, but rather to look at how local authorities can achieve more if they are able to design their own approaches to regional planning, but Ms Lennon is right that, based on the traditional approach to the financial memorandum and in resource-stretched times, there is a risk that local authorities will not direct a significant amount of resource to that. There could be an option for the Scottish Government to put specific funding into new aspects of planning reform—that needs to happen for regional and collaborative planning, local place plans and all sorts of things that the Government is relying on people doing in order to make the planning system work.

Based on how financial memorandums work at the moment, if there is no duty to do something, it will not get costed and it will not get resourced. However, I do not think that imposing a duty that, as with SDPs, will not work is the right way of resolving that issue.

Monica Lennon

In its written evidence, Scottish Renewables talked about regional partnerships but questioned the resources for them. Tammy Swift-Adams suggested that the Scottish Government fund them. How realistic is that suggestion? Could something be done through the bill to ensure that people work together at regional level?

Jenny Hogan

To keep it brief, I will just agree with Tammy Swift-Adams. We do not want to put too much in the bill, only to create, in effect, the same issues that we have had with strategic development plans. We have suggested that secondary legislation is the place to provide a clearer steer. I do not have anything else to add to what has been said.

The Convener

That is helpful.

If there is a duty to co-operate on strategic planning, local authorities and stakeholders could just say, “We fulfilled our duty by meeting other local authorities, so although we could not find common ground, we met our obligation.” Will the inclusion of a duty drive regional co-operation and make it happen? There is currently an obligation in that regard, but it does not seem to have worked. Will the duty drive the change that people are looking for? We will put the same question to Clydeplan and other witnesses on the next panel.

Please do not feel obliged to answer. We can let the tumbleweed move on.

Tammy Swift-Adams

In England, a duty to co-operate has replaced the regional plans. It does not require people to agree with one another. Local authorities might have a meeting to talk about a subject and, by doing that, they have fulfilled their duty; the existence of the duty does not achieve anything more than that in practice.

Jonathan Fair

Behind that is the issue of resourcing, which was mentioned. We can have a duty, but if the resources to implement the duty fully are not there or if the will to do so is not there, all those principles will fail.

We have similar concerns in the context of local place plans. Local place plans are an excellent concept, but if communities do not have the resources or the ability to engage fully with the process, they will likely just slow down the LPP process.

The Convener

That was a perfect segue into the next line of questioning—it is as if you knew what was coming. I note that Monica Lennon, our deputy convener, pursued the issue of resources quite effectively; the issue will not be missed by the committee.

Alexander Stewart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

It would be good to get the panel’s views on the extent to which the introduction of local place plans into the Scottish planning system will enable communities to influence local development planning.

The Convener

No one seems desperate to answer. Will someone make eye contact with me?

Sarah Boyack

We need resourcing and we need to work out where the priorities are. Our members do a lot of work with communities to add value, not just by building houses but by thinking about wider community engagement and community development. The language around the bill—up-front planning, collaboration and so on—is good, but all that has to be paid for.

Our members say that getting through the planning process is taking longer and longer. Local place plans are a good thing, but there have to be resources, particularly for communities that have traditionally been excluded and whose voices have not been heard. If we want to deliver social inclusion, that has to be planned in from the start.

Jonathan Fair

Any business would legitimately want a local community to have a say in activity in its area. However, I am concerned that the time spent in developing a local place plan might delay the LDP or that the sequence in which the two plans were produced might mean that they were not aligned. That is the danger in the detail behind the principles.

The communities that might best benefit from local place plans might not have the skill sets, the resources or the people to enable them to engage with the process. It might be argued that the communities that have all those resources are not the ones that most need local place plans. That is another interesting dynamic.

Alexander Stewart

Is there an opportunity for plans to run together at the same time?

Jonathan Fair

That is a possibility while the LDP is in draft form but, once it is settled and agreed, it needs to take primacy.

Gordon Nelson

To echo points that were made earlier, there have to be resources for LPPs. There is a potential for the LPPs to exacerbate the already long delays that our members cite in the plan-making process for house building. That could be a detrimental effect.

The LPPs need to be credible and deliverable. The community representatives need to be sufficiently trained and knowledgeable to make a positive impact in developing LPPs and engaging with developers and the wider community. From our experience, there is potential for conflict between the community and community councils. There is an issue about the definition of a community, who is the voice of the community and how they interact with other wider official community representatives.

Certain things could be a boon to many of our members, who are building in their communities in local authorities in Scotland, but we should be careful about the lack of resourcing and the impact of delays.

Tammy Swift-Adams

The original question was whether the local place plans will help communities to influence planning and, from our perspective, they will. If you are looking for a way of resolving community frustration with planning, the local place plans, as they are set out in the bill, seem quite a good way of doing that. In part, that comes from the fact that they are very flexible. The bill brings local place plans into the planning system in a way that they are not included at the moment. Places such as Linlithgow, which has been mentioned, have produced local place plans, but those do not have a recognised place in the planning system. However, they will have that in the future. As part of the planning system, the plans are likely to relate to the development and use of land, so they will be material to decisions. They give communities a positive opportunity to influence planning without doing what neighbourhood plans have done, which is to introduce lots of regulatory steps that have to be gone through to get a plan in place and regulated. That flexibility is a positive aspect of the local place plans—certainly, it will be as they initially come in.

Jenny Hogan

I agree with everything that has been said. In our written submission, we said that we welcome further clarity on the role of the local place plans and the scrutiny that will be applied to them. We referred to the experience in England and Wales, for example, where there has been a mixed response to the way in which the plans there have panned out. In some cases, they have even been described as anti-development. However, that is not to say that we are against local place plans. We very much encourage that model and the front loading of the process.

Alexander Stewart

There is no doubt that there is enthusiasm in communities to be part of the process. You have identified issues to do with resourcing, knowledge and the length of time that things take to progress. There is also an issue about whether the representatives of a community are actually representing the community or are just a section of the community who have an issue and want to deal with it in the plan. Will the plans enhance opportunity, or will they cause issues?

Jenny Hogan

To go back to what has been said already, that depends on the resourcing, how the process is managed and, ultimately, how it is scrutinised. However, I agree that broadly it is a good proposal.

Alexander Stewart

We have talked about the relationship between the local place plans and local development plans as those are developed. Should the local place plans be a formal part of the local development plan? Should they be a material consideration in that process or should authorities simply have to have regard to their content?

Tammy Swift-Adams

Certainly, when the local place plans are first brought in through the bill, having regard to them is the right relationship. If you make local place plans part of the development plan or put a much stronger obligation on local authorities and the national Government to ensure that development plans reflect local place plans, you will have to put in a lot more checks and balances relating to how the plans are prepared and ultimately what can go in them, which would mean that communities would lose flexibility.

Alexander Stewart

You have identified the aspiration in this respect, but the question is how we ensure that we achieve it. The same aspiration is in the bill, but it will have to be resourced and implemented on the ground, and the timescales for the process will need to be part of all that, too.

10:00  
The Convener

I see that this issue of the link between local place plans and development plans has inspired a lot of supplementaries. Indeed, I think that it brings us to the meat of the bill. Should there be a requirement for development plans to demonstrate how this has been taken into account and how they have been amended to include, where possible, genuine process-driven activities in support of local place plans? If local place plans are to be a material consideration in the planning process, should development plans do more than “have regard” to them? Should there be a process by which development plans must, in theory, at least be reviewed on the basis of a local place plan? That would certainly give it a bit more meat.

Does anyone have any thoughts on that? I see a lot of scribbling going on.

Jonathan Fair

If communities are to feel that their voice is being listened to, that is certainly one way of demonstrating that. It seems sensible to have a review process that is based on the content of an LPP before the LDP is finalised and signed off.

Sarah Boyack

It would provide an opportunity to bring communities into the process of planning their future and visioning what they want in that respect. The issue, then, is joining the dots to make sure that that happens. In any case, it has to be resourced to ensure that we hear the voices of those who probably have not been heard. With a front-loaded planning system, it will be important to get that sort of thing right, because that is where you want to encourage people to get involved.

The Convener

We should never assume anything when scrutinising legislation, but would it be beneficial—though not a requirement—for local place plans to be developed ahead of the local development plan? After all, if the bill is passed, a local development plan will be in place for 10 years, although there will be processes for amending it during that 10-year period. As a result, it could take account of a local place plan that was developed, say, a couple of years after it had been put in place. What, in an ideal world, would be the sequence of events? Would local place plans feed into a development plan before it was drafted? Is there any best practice that could be put in place if the bill were to be passed?

Tammy Swift-Adams

To some extent, it all depends on what the communities want to use local place plans for. If they want them to influence the local development plan, they might look at putting one in place at the right time in the process. Equally, though, they might want to use a local place plan to fill in some detail that has been missed or to pick up on a change in events that might have happened since the development plan was put in place. There is not necessarily any perfect sequencing dynamic.

The Convener

I know that there is a lot of interest from MSPs on this matter, but I want to ask one more question.

When we talked about ensuring that we met housing targets, whether that be in the social rented sector or through giving a boost to the private sector, we touched on strategic housing investment programmes, housing needs assessments and the need for development plans to take account of those things in their delivery. Should local place plans have to do the same thing? After all, there is no point in front loading a planning system if the community is going to say, “We quite like the balance of social rented housing and private housing, our green space and so on here,” and to put in place a local place plan that sets that in stone but which does not directly challenge, for example, any significant housing need that might exist. Should there be some guidance on local place plans to make it clear that they should take account of and dovetail with the national planning framework, strategic housing targets and the local development plan itself? Surely there has to be some kind of dovetailing with those national targets.

Jenny Hogan

It would be helpful to have some guidance early on, because I can see a scenario in which, if that is not in place, a community might produce a local place plan and then see, further down the line, the NPF, the LDP and so on being developed with national outcomes in mind. I think that, if those things are not taken account of for that very reason, it will create some disquiet and understandable frustration in communities. If, earlier in the process, a community gets some kind of guidance on the principles that the local development plan will have to adhere to or take cognisance of, it will create more of a positive mindset in that community earlier on.

The Convener

We have place standard tools and the charrette process to consult with communities on what they want from where they live, with place setting and standards for that approach. Should there be further guidance for local place plans to say that they should meet, and take account of, local, regional and national priorities? Alternatively, should communities just be consulted, and what comes out is what comes out—even if it has a totally different direction from every other part of public policy?

Jonathan Fair

If local development plans and housing need and demand assessments proactively began to describe how to address the housing needs of a wide range of people, including older people, in a local area, it would be important for LPPs to have the same structure and guidance. Otherwise, LPPs and LDPs would begin to conflict and you would go back to the fundamental question of which would have primacy. In some circumstances, moves to smooth and streamline the process could get stuck in a loop of legal challenge and discord between communities and local authorities, which would be extremely unhelpful. Consistency in guidance and parameters is inherently important for the work of local authorities and communities and the tiers of supplementary information.

The Convener

I have had my money’s worth asking questions about that issue.

Kenneth Gibson

I want to move on to another area, but first, on this issue, is it realistic to expect the majority of communities—rather than a tiny minority—to develop place plans, given the issues of community capacity across Scotland? My experience is that the people who get involved in such issues tend to be very small groups within larger communities. Some communities do not even have functioning community councils. Is there a concern that Scotland could end up with a planning landscape like a patchwork quilt?

The Convener

I will take your substantive question later, as there are still a number of supplementary questions about local place plans.

Sarah Boyack

This is an innovative proposal from communities that want their voices to be heard. It is work in progress and you can support the process with good guidance and resources. However, there is not a requirement for communities to do local place plans. When communities want to do that, you should make sure that they have the capacity and that they are listened to. I am not sure how overprescriptive you should be at the start, given that the process is meant to be bottom up.

Communities are not instructed to do plans, but they are encouraged and given a voice. I hope that developers in the area would work with communities; that is part of the ethos of registered social landlords. This part of the bill is new and innovative, so the aspirations should be clear and there should be a process to evaluate and learn from what has happened. If potential problems can be identified in advance, you should do that and follow best practice. However, in the end it will be up to communities and it is about supporting them to get on with it.

Kenneth Gibson

The answer depends on how we define communities. Should local place plans be developed only when communities have been seen to consult within their own communities? In my experience as a councillor and an MSP, community organisations often represent only themselves; they do not engage more widely within communities. I am sure that others have discovered that in their working lives. If a local place plan has been developed, how widely should a community group have engaged effectively with the local community?

Jenny Hogan

I agree that there is an issue about how to define the community. In the renewables industry, we experience a lot of instances in which small and vocal minorities have very strong views on proposals but they do not necessarily speak for the community. If engagement is not required, it would need to be seen in the later parts of the process. The issue is how much credence is needed to make sure that the balance is right. The best way of dealing with that is to resource that broad engagement at an early stage so that we encourage the widest community to come forward, including young people and people of all economic backgrounds and ages. If we can get that right and maximise early engagement, that should reduce the risk of hearing from just a few vocal minorities.

The Convener

Are there any other thoughts on defining a community? If there are no takers, we will move on.

Andy Wightman

We are getting to the nub of what is in the bill on local place plans. Sarah Boyack said that the proposal is a good aspiration, which is novel and innovative. However, the challenge for us is whether it is worth it. Will it lead communities up the garden path? At the moment, the two bodies that can produce such plans are community councils or a community body under the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015. However, the local authority duty with regard to local place plans is merely to have regard to them—they do not form part of the statutory development plan.

The Scottish alliance for people and places, of which the SFHA is a member, says:

“Local Place Plans should be considered as part of the Local Development Plans process, notably considering their content during the first stage of the gatecheck. The Bill should make this link more explicit.”

There is a balance to be struck between giving communities the freedom to draw up plans and ensuring that their effort is rewarded by some measurable impact on the planning system. That is the balance that we are struggling to get right. Do you have any views on how the process might be made a little bit more effective in order to persuade people that it is worth doing in the first place?

Sarah Boyack

You said something about resources and local plans being taken account of when the local development plan is being prepared. Those are the two critical issues.

Andy Wightman

A bill cannot make provision for resources. At the moment, the bill provides that local authorities shall “have regard to” any local place plan. That is all. Is that enough?

Tammy Swift-Adams

As I said before, I think that it is sufficient. The question gets debated, but there are relatively few things that primary legislation tells local authorities that they have to have regard to in their planning work and local place plans are now one of those things. There is status in that. Local place plans have been made to be part of the planning system and are a consideration in other parts of the planning system. We should not underestimate the fact that “have regard to” means something; it is a duty on local authorities that is not applied to many other things.

Jenny Hogan

I agree. If you go further than that, you risk hearing only from small groups, which in some cases have vested interests, and then you have to ask questions about how to avoid that impact. It comes back to wide early engagement being encouraged in a positive proactive way, rather than simply as a requirement.

Graham Simpson

The problem is the way in which the bill is drafted and the phrase “have regard to”, which has been mentioned. Let us be realistic about how the world works. If we say to a council that it has only to have regard to something, the danger is that it will take one look at a document that has been produced by a group of people—such as the group in Linlithgow that some of us met—and then say, “That’s all very well, we’ve had regard to it” and stick the document on the shelf. That is what will happen, because that is how the world is and that is how councils work.

Communities, however they are defined, will produce the plans at great expense and length and they will be ignored, which will put people off. Better-off communities will be better placed to produce such plans, while worse-off and more disadvantaged parts of Scotland will not produce them. That could result in what Kenny Gibson described as a patchwork landscape.

The committee’s challenge is to beef up the provision—it needs to be beefed up because it is not strong enough. The phrase “have regard to” is not good enough; if we are going to involve people, we need to involve them properly. We have asked this question repeatedly this morning: should it be part of the process of producing a local development plan that, at the same time, an authority should have to show that it has engaged with communities to produce local place plans? It should be done at that point so that it actually means something, because it does not mean anything at the moment.

10:15  
The Convener

You have had a good chew over that point, Mr Simpson. The committee has not yet taken any decisions. We may come down precisely where Mr Simpson is, but we have not yet formed our view on that. For some members, it is clear that the phrase “have regard to” does not go far enough, whereas Jenny Hogan said that it strikes the balance about right. Is there anything else that you—and, indeed, the rest of the witnesses—would like to see in place? If the duty were not to be statutory—which perhaps it should be—what else could we put in place to go further than “have regard to”?

Jenny Hogan

I return to the principle. For us, the ideal scenario is that a local development plan truly represents the full local community and that communities should feel that the local development plans are theirs. We should focus on that and on communities’ elected representatives in their areas truly representing their views. Fundamentally, that still comes down to the consultation requirements on local authorities to ensure that they are basically doing their jobs and fully representing their communities. The good thing about local place plans is that they provide a proactive approach by which at least certain elements of communities can put forward their ideas and views. Ultimately, it is surely up to local authorities to represent their communities at large.

The Convener

We will have the opportunity shortly to talk about how we can improve local development plans as opposed to local place plans. Do the witnesses have any other comments about going further than “have regard to” and what process we might put in place, or about making it a statutory duty?

Sarah Boyack

One of the suggestions from the Scottish alliance for people and places was just that it should be made more explicit that a local place plan has been produced when a local authority is doing its gate check on the local development plan. The local authority should not just say, “And, by the way, we have had regard to it” but not say anything more about it. Rather, it should be expected to say where views have been taken on board and included, and where and why they have not been. I suggest that the authority needsf to be much more explicit about that, by showing due process to the community; it should not just say, “Thanks, we’ve seen this and we are moving on” but should actually engage in what has been recommended.

The Convener

It would be helpful to have a process in which best practice would be that local authorities would consider local place plans in a meaningful way rather than just saying that they have had regard to them.

Tammy Swift-Adams

I want to make a very similar point. The evidence report is a good place in which to say that a local authority has looked at the local place plans that have been produced in an area and how the local development plan could help to advance the aspirations in those plans. Beyond the fact that there will be an evidence report, the bill is very quiet on how the collaboration and the early gate check will work. We want home builders to be involved in early collaboration, and communities would want to be involved in it, too—particularly those that have produced local place plans. If we addressed that wider gap early, we could pick that up.

The Convener

Thank you. Monica Lennon has a supplementary question on that and she has been very patient. We will move on to development plans in more detail, so you might want to take your question on to those, too—it is up to you.

Monica Lennon

Sure. Sticking with the subject of the local place plans, we took evidence last week, we have been out engaging in communities and some of us have looked back at the evidence sessions on the Planning etc (Scotland) Act 2006. Some of the aspirations of the previous Planning (Scotland) Bill are still embedded in the current bill, partly because communities do not feel that they have an equal place in the planning decision-making process. For those witnesses who do not support equalising rights of appeal, I can understand that a local place plan might be a remedy. However, Tammy Swift-Adams described a situation in which her members would prefer to see regard being had to local place plans rather than those being embedded in the development plan.

Could there be tension and conflict on the status of local place plans not only in the LDP process but when it comes to development management? When planning consultants come along to represent clients and start to look at all the things that have to be taken on board, are your members likely to talk down the local place plan and say, “Well, it is a material consideration” or “You must have regard to it” but then go on to say, “But, actually, the development plan says this, and it is king in this process”? In 10 years’ time, will people be saying, “Front loading didn’t work in 2006 and local place plans didn’t work in 2018, so what should we do next?”

Tammy Swift-Adams

The honest answer is that it will depend on what local communities try to do with local place plans. The Scottish Government has made it clear that it sees the plans as an opportunity for communities to come together and do something positive, but that it does not want them to undermine what the wider system is trying to do in delivering what individual communities and Scotland as a whole need.

A benefit of the flexibility of local place plans is that it gives communities a chance to come together in that way if they are properly resourced. It is right to continue with the existing flexibility and to allow people to make of it what they can, subject to the resources that are made available to them. If LPPs become a positive part of the planning landscape, there are mechanisms in place for local authorities to bring them into the local development framework. If local authorities do not work positively with communities on local planning work, they will be accountable to those communities on that basis.

I think that that is why the Scottish Government has left a lot of what is in the bill fairly loose at the moment compared with the Planning etc (Scotland) Act 2006 and the planning system traditionally. Things do not work because we have put lots of regulations and processes in place, and that has not freed up people to work together more collaboratively and collegiately. I think that there would be a bigger risk of us saying in a few years’ time that local place plans are a problem if they were very heavily regulated.

Monica Lennon

The changes in the 2006 act included a provision that there should be early engagement with communities, particularly on major planning applications. Jenny Hogan might be able to relate to that. How has industry approached that? Jonathan Fair might be able to comment on that, too. Communities now have an opportunity to engage with developers and other stakeholders before the submission of a planning application that could have a big impact on them. I understand that you have to submit a report before the application goes to the council.

Are there any aspects of industry’s approach that could be improved on in that regard? The early engagement provision was seen as the big opportunity to override the need for appeal rights to be equalised.

Jonathan Fair

I think that early community engagement and the provision of clear opportunities for communities to influence the outcome of major applications are critically important in ensuring that people feel that their voice has been heard, listened to and responded to rather than heard and ignored.

As a business, we think very highly of and have good experience of early community engagement. In every case in which we propose a project, that process of dialogue and discussion always results in changes to our proposals and in us having a much more rounded view of the local community’s views on our development. Doing that at an early stage before we submit a planning application gives us an opportunity to demonstrate in the course of the process what has changed on the back of that engagement, and that has been a good experience for us.

The only comment that I would make is that such best practice is not common practice—I do not think that everyone in the house-building sector necessarily performs to those standards.

Monica Lennon

That was an extremely helpful answer, because people who have been involved in planning know that, if community engagement is approached properly, it is a good thing for business and it cuts out many of the problems. However, we have taken evidence from people in communities who feel that it is often a tick-box exercise that companies have to do—it is just another step in the process before the planning stage. They have told us that they have no evidence that their views were taken on board, because nothing changed in the master plan. Do you recognise that?

Jenny Hogan

I agree with Jonathan Fair’s comments. Early engagement is very important for us, too. Across the development community, some developers are better at that than others. As an industry body, we very strongly encourage our members to engage early and in a good way, so that communities feel that they have been heard and listened to.

Generally speaking, I do not think that anybody likes planning by appeal. Our industry has a lot of experience in that area, too. It is costly and it does not always end up with a good or happy outcome for certain parties. Therefore, to encourage that, we strongly support front loading and approaches such as the local place plan.

Monica Lennon

A community may get involved in and put a lot of passion, time, energy and resource into developing a local place plan. However, it will reach a point at which its views are low down the pecking order, because developers and others will come along and say that the local development plan has more weight. They might thank the community for doing its local place plan, but tell it that its plan might not make that much difference. The bill has good intentions, but is there a danger that people will engage in local place planning but walk away feeling underwhelmed by it?

Jenny Hogan

You mentioned the situation almost in terms of it being the LPP versus the LDP. As we discussed in response to the previous question, it is key that the LDP is ultimately the place where the local community’s views are clearly represented. If we can make sure that the LDP is right, we can get the balance right.

The Convener

That exchange was helpful, because Monica Lennon was talking about the front loading of the system. We must see how local development plans feed into that, too. For example, the bill proposes an evidence report, and reference has been made to the gate-check process. How are those aspects of the bill beneficial to the front loading of community engagement, and where must they go further if we want front loading to be as meaningful as possible? It would be helpful to have your response on that before we move on.

The panel has been stunned into silence. Front loading is a key part of the bill, so your comments would be helpful in allowing us to cover the issue when we do our stage 1 report.

Tammy Swift-Adams

The only aspect of the bill that reflects that early engagement and gate-check collaboration is the reference to the evidence report, but the bill is completely silent on the need for that to be a product of collaboration. We referred to that major omission in our written evidence. I do not think that that is deliberate, so I hope that it will be corrected.

The Convener

That is helpful. Is there anything else that does not go far enough on engagement and which you would like to draw to our attention, even if it is not in your written evidence?

Sarah Boyack

The only issue is the need to be absolutely clear about the continued relevance of the local development plan and ensuring that a gate check is not just carried out at the start of the process, but kept up to date throughout it.

The bill needs to be explicit about the consultation processes. In looking to involve communities, we need to ensure that young people and people who are traditionally excluded are part of the development plan process, so that the emphasis is on ensuring that people’s voices are heard and listened to at the start of the process.

The Convener

That is helpful. As there are no further comments, we will move on.

Monica Lennon

Earlier on, we talked about making sure that we know what we are planning for, and housing needs was given as an example of that. We are squeezed for time, so I will try to quickly run through the infrastructure levy proposal.

We know that infrastructure is a constraint to making sure that development happens. Will the proposed infrastructure levy unlock additional development? Can we learn anything from the experience of the community infrastructure levy in England?

Tammy Swift-Adams

As time has gone on, there has been less confidence that the infrastructure levy could do that. Right from the beginning, when Homes for Scotland submitted written evidence to the independent panel, we said that we supported the principle of a levy as a replacement for section 75 of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997, because that would give more clarity to developers on how much they would need to pay and when, which would be better than the situation that we have at the moment. However, the Scottish Government’s research on a levy has shown that it has a fairly limited ability to increase the funds that come through developer contributions.

A review of CIL in England has shown that CIL has not been an effective tool. That is partly because it has not amassed enough money to pay for the infrastructure that local authorities want to deliver. In addition, the responsibility for delivering a lot of the infrastructure has been taken from developers that are able to provide it and given to local authorities that are not geared up to be infrastructure providers.

10:30  

A wider issue that has become clear is that, whether a levy or section 75—or a combination of them—is used to try to maximise the contribution that is made by developers, we will not get anywhere near as far as we need to get to fully fund infrastructure. There has not been any look at how to fill that gap beyond developers and the planning system. I am not sure that quite a big change—a big bit of legislation and a change in policy direction—will deliver the infrastructure that is needed. Looking at the levy is a distraction from the wider work that is needed on how to fund infrastructure beyond what can be done through development.

Sarah Boyack

I noted the comment in Craig McLaren’s evidence to the Finance and Constitution Committee that there have been occasions in England when the infrastructure levy has been counterproductive because it has ruled out affordable housing. Developers have said that it is too expensive to have affordable housing on site when they pay the infrastructure levy. That is a cautionary note.

We want to see a different approach to generating money by using the uplift of land value when permission is granted to a site. It is critical to make sure that investment that is raised in an area goes to that site, so that local authorities are able to generate resource and invest it to deliver the quality that is aspired to at the site.

Jenny Hogan

As we said in our submission, the main issue is that we are not clear whether energy projects would come under a levy. Greater clarity on the intentions for the levy would be helpful to avoid confusion.

My other point is similar to that which Sarah Boyack raised. The energy industry, particularly the renewables sector, is under extreme pressure to cut costs, largely because of revenue support being reduced or removed altogether. The energy strategy is very clear that the Scottish Government’s policy is to support cutting costs as far as possible in renewable energy. Creating new fees and levies runs counter to that approach, so we raise caution on that point.

Jonathan Fair

Our business operates across the whole of the UK, and some of my colleagues have experience of CIL in England. Tammy Swift-Adams’s comments about some of its weaknesses are important. The principle of the infrastructure levy is broadly supported in the sector, but it needs to be recognised that the mechanism takes time to build up funds that can be used to pay for the infrastructure that is required. It is critically important that the funds that are raised are spent on the infrastructure that is linked to the development that has occurred or was required in the first place. The jaundiced view of CIL’s impact comes from the disconnect in timing and the investment intentions from funds that it has raised in England and Wales.

Gordon Nelson

Our view is that any such infrastructure levy should not apply to the smallest sites for houses to be built on, or the viability of building them will diminish even further and they will not come to fruition. Feedback from our house builder members in England and Wales suggests that the greater transparency and certainty that CIL was meant to deliver has not happened and that most developers see no greater certainty in CIL than they do in section 106 agreements. That is a note of caution on the experience of CIL from our house builder members in England and Wales.

Tammy Swift-Adams

We have concerns about how the policy memorandum and the financial memorandum suggest that the levy might be brought in. Initially, I think that we had all assumed that local authorities would cost the infrastructure that they needed to provide and then look at how to recoup some of that cost through development. However, it has been suggested that things could be done on a land tax basis.

More broadly, the roles of local and national Government are unclear. It has been suggested that the powers should be framed so that a local authority could choose whether to bring in a levy, how to do that, and its level. However, provisions say that the national Government could take some or all of that money and redistribute it around the country. That is quite far removed from a simple infrastructure levy to fund infrastructure development in an area. Such an approach would be more like a selective tax on some types of development in some areas to cross-subsidise things that happen elsewhere in the country. The idea of redistribution—of the national Government passing money around the country—suggests the misunderstanding that I mentioned earlier. Infrastructure cannot be fully funded from development. Edinburgh, for example, would not be able to cross-subsidise infrastructure elsewhere, because it has challenges in meeting its own needs. How the Government has elaborated on how it might use the levy raises more concerns and problems than it resolves.

Monica Lennon

I am interested to know whether there are any alternative ideas. The bill does not have the purpose of planning built into it, but we are trying to make sure that we get fantastic places, and we are all committed to place making. A panellist mentioned the role of the private sector, but this is about the public good, as well. Are we getting the balance right for investment in development? We have talked about a lack of resources in the planning system. Are we trying to do place making on the cheap?

Jonathan Fair

The problem for infrastructure investment is a combination of a lack of resources and a lack of joined-up thinking. Conflicts arise when disparate organisations do not think carefully about the implications of an LDP and what it means for their investment programme, whether that be for public utilities, road infrastructure or schooling. The development industry is happy to make legitimate contributions towards detriments that occur on the back of its activities, but there is a wider question about public investment in infrastructure for public good beyond individual developments.

Sarah Boyack

That has sparked a thought. It is about the delivery phase, as well. It is not just about what goes into a plan; it is also about what happens afterwards. Our members’ experience is that collaborative work with local authorities can help to get developments moving. When different infrastructure providers are brought together, people talk in the same room rather than have endless conversations. That is about resourcing not just to produce a plan, but to implement it with stakeholders and place makers to get the high quality of place making that we aspire to.

Gordon Nelson

If the proposed infrastructure levy came through and was payable, we would argue that payment should come on the completion rather than the commencement of housing properties. That would make little financial difference to the local authorities that would collect it, but it would make a huge difference to SME developers. We argue for a build now, pay later model, otherwise the levy would act as another barrier to entry and disincentivise many home builders from upping their output.

The Convener

Graham Simpson has a brief supplementary question. We are pushed for time.

Graham Simpson

My impression is that builders—on this panel, anyway—do not want to pay for infrastructure, as is currently proposed. Sarah Boyack suggested another model that is based on land value uplift. How might that work in practice? Are you talking about compulsory purchase of land? That would probably horrify Tammy Swift-Adams.

Sarah Boyack

There is a range of mechanisms. You have mentioned compulsory purchase orders but, if we want affordable housing developments across tenures, there is a range of options that can be taken forward to have the capacity to have land that is affordable for development.

In our rural communities, work has been done through the legislation on both community empowerment and land reform to give communities access to land that was not being used. It has been suggested that, in urban areas such as town centre sites, compulsory sale orders could be one way to bring land into use. We are looking at land value capture. The cost of the land is a major issue in deciding what can be put on that land in terms of quality and numbers. The state gives the benefit to the person who owns the land, and those who come to develop the land thereafter have to pay that. Whether people pay for rent or sale, they pay that premium. We are looking for a more equitable and efficient way of ensuring that we can make use of land. That would be a progressive step for a range of developers.

The Convener

I know that there will be a divergence of views among the witnesses.

Sarah Boyack

We know that the Scottish Land Commission is doing work on that, so there is a timing issue in terms of where the committee is in taking evidence, but work was published before Christmas that looked at the issue in quite some detail and considered a range of options, including compulsory sale orders, CPOs and different types of land taxes. That is material to the bill, and it is worth pausing to look at the different options.

The Convener

That is helpful. I was going to put that on the record, but you have saved me from doing that. There may be a variety of views from witnesses. If you feel compelled to say something in response to what we have heard, please drop us a line, because we are constrained for time today. I apologise for that, but we now have to move on to another important section of the bill.

Andy Wightman

I want to look at the proposed simplified development zones. We have had a couple of simplified planning zones and we are not going to have any more of them; the proposal is that we have simplified development zones. I want to ask two questions. First, would such zones serve any useful purpose? Secondly, if you think that they are a good idea, by what process should they be decided upon? The bill proposes, for example, that third parties can ask for them, but it does not specify who those third parties are—my sister in Switzerland could ask for one—and it provides for there to be appeals to ministers if local authorities refuse. Indeed, the Scottish ministers can make simplified development zones themselves. I note that the Scottish alliance for people and places suggested in recommendation 13 in its written submission that

“Simplified Development Zones should be included in the Local Development Plan”.

Those are my two questions—one is on the purpose and one is on the process.

The Convener

And there was a mention for Mr Wightman’s sister, which was nice.

Jenny Hogan

We do not have a great deal of views on SDZs, but we think that they could be an opportunity to align with some of the national outcomes, particularly in the climate change plan and the energy strategy—for example, on heat networks. The Scottish Government recently consulted on local heat and energy efficiency strategies and district heating regulations, and it has ambitious plans for low-carbon heat projects in Scotland. The SDZs could provide a clear steer towards heat and could help to catalyse the district heating networks and innovative solutions for other forms of energy at local level, so there might be opportunities that those zones could be used for.

Sarah Boyack

The SFHA’s only comment is one that you would expect us to make. We would still want to ensure that there are affordable social rented options, so that there is not a monotenure, and that there is an opportunity for local communities to see what is being proposed, where possible, to ensure that it is part of the local development plan process and whether it could potentially amend the development plan. That is one of the recommendations made by the Scottish alliance for people and places. For us, it is about making sure that options for affordable housing are part of the process where there is going to be a housing development.

Gordon Nelson

We agree that zoning land through simplified development zones could allot more areas for new housing, but the focus must be on supporting the development of smaller sites that provide better design, scale and quality. I sound a cautious note that that could, in principle, support more small sites coming through but equally that must not be at the expense of master planning large, strategic sites. That is a note of caution on simplified development zones.

10:45  
Jonathan Fair

We are supportive of SDZs. As we have already said, there are important questions about how the resources to prepare and set them up and to monitor their effectiveness can be provided within local authorities. However, in principle, anything that speeds up and simplifies the planning process should be welcomed.

Andy Wightman

That was useful. In written evidence, some people suggested that we should call them not simplified development zones but better place zones. It might not be simple, but it might be better planning.

No one addressed my question on the process. Should my sister in Switzerland be able to ask for a simplified development zone, get refused and take that to ministers for them to create one? How much freedom does that allow anyone anywhere in the world to suddenly place demands on land in Scotland through the planning system? If you do not have a view, please just say so, because we are short of time.

The Convener

No one is grasping the nettle. Your sister is probably in Switzerland right now, shouting, “Answer the question!”

Graham Simpson

Where does she want to build?

The Convener

We are short of time, so we should move on. There are still some aspects of the bill that we have yet to explore. We should hear your views on an equal right of appeal; I am sure that several MSPs would like to ask questions in relation to that. We asked a number of questions on the matter last week and heard a variety of views. I want to leave the discussion as open as possible, so I will not pitch my initial thoughts but ask the witnesses to tell us what they consider to be the opportunities or dangers in an equal right of appeal and to give us their views on it.

We have heard about front loading of the system, and the counterblast is the equal right of appeal. The issue has been alluded to this morning, but it was not mentioned in particular. Let us get something for the Official Report, so that the committee can take a balanced view when we look at the evidence that we have received over the past few weeks.

Jenny Hogan

We agree with the recommendations on third-party right of appeal or equal right of appeal that came out of the independent planning review, which considered the issue extensively. There are a number of risks that were outlined by the report, so I will not go into them in detail, but delays and rising costs are significant risks. We strongly support front loading, as that is the best way to engage communities’ views proactively, rather than planning by appeal, which nobody wants.

Tammy Swift-Adams

Homes for Scotland is opposed to a third-party right of appeal in principle because it would significantly disadvantage housing delivery and investment in Scotland and it would create new conflict in the planning system. We do not think that there is any way to frame a limited third-party right of appeal that would address those negative consequences.

The existing applicant right of appeal recognises the limiting effect that the planning system has on what individuals can do with their land. That right of appeal is not abused in the way that some people think that it is; only about a third of planning applications that are refused are appealed. However, it delivers quite a high proportion of Scotland’s new homes.

When the minister introduced the bill, he alluded to the fact that more than 5,500 homes have been given consent through the appeal process in the past few years. We must not underestimate the contribution that the appeals process makes to the planning system in delivering new homes. I moved from Edinburgh to Dunbar last year, and the house that I live in came through the appeals process. It is just a small site of 20 homes, and there were questions at local level about whether housing was the right use for that site. There had been some long-term ambitions to do something else with the site that were no longer relevant, but which were still in politicians’ minds. Those homes eventually got permission through the appeals process. That development is almost entirely occupied by people who have moved from elsewhere in Dunbar. I live in one of two households that I know of that are made up of people who have come from outside of Dunbar.

The development has provided homes to people who run the local music school, people who work in the local brewery and people who work in the power station, so it is not the case that homes that come through the appeal route are automatically a negative thing in communities or a negative part of planning. If there had been a third-party right of appeal, it is possible that those homes would not have been built and that those people would not have had the homes that they think suit them. In addition, there would have been a delay to the process and a single individual’s view might have taken primacy over the potential for that development to give a home to 20 families, most of whom are from the same community, as it has now done.

The Convener

Do other witnesses have views? Everyone has put their hand up. We will hear from Jonathan Fair first.

Jonathan Fair

Rather than repeat comments that have already been made, all of which I agree with, I want to focus on the purpose of the planning system, which is to encourage appropriate sustainable economic development in our communities.

Sustainable economic development takes place only if the businesses that are responsible for it have the certainty of knowing that, in committing substantial sums of money to bringing projects through the planning system, they have some chance of success, and that they will be able to bring their projects through to a timeline that is in some way predictable. Without such a guarantee, regardless of which function we are talking about—whether it is housing, the renewables sector or any other line of business—if the investment framework becomes so uncertain that it is not known when the answer will come or how many times the decision will be appealed at the last minute, people will choose to invest elsewhere. That is the biggest danger here.

Sarah Boyack

We strongly support the primacy of local development plans and the involvement of communities in consultation on those plans. Earlier, we had a lengthy discussion about up-front consultation. We feel that the bill strikes the right balance in that regard. We recognise the importance of local development plans, and we think that, to as great an extent as possible, people who propose housing developments should come through that route, and that those plans should be kept up to date. We think that that is a better alternative.

Gordon Nelson

I support the comments that have been made. The emphasis of the bill is on front loading. I think that a third-party right of appeal would discourage investment, ramp up the uncertainty and slow down housing delivery. In addition, it would act as another barrier to entry for those members of ours, of whom there are many, who currently work on repairs, maintenance and improvements but who aspire to become house builders. It would represent another risk to the investment that is required to become a house builder. Therefore, it would block a more diverse range of house builders from entering the industry, and for some existing house builders, it might represent an existential threat to their house-building model, with the result that they might rework their business model and return to working on repairs, maintenance, improvements and extensions. The introduction of a third-party right of appeal would present a huge risk to developers.

The Convener

Before we hear from Jenny Hogan, I point out that many committee members have an interest in the issue. Members are free to ask a question, but because of time constraints, those questions will have to be brief.

Jenny Hogan

I want to add a couple of figures into the mix. Our members have told us that the current appeals process can typically add between six months and three years to a project timeline, and the cost can range from £50,000 to £300,000. We need to consider not only the time delays, but the costs that would be involved and who would bear them if any changes were made to the appeals process.

Andy Wightman

Jenny Hogan, in response to a line of questioning from Monica Lennon, said that no one likes planning by appeal. However, you seem to be suggesting that you want to keep the applicant’s right of appeal but do not want anyone else to have a right of appeal. The proposal that has been put to us is that rights of appeal would be equalised on the basis of compliance with the local development plan, such that in circumstances in which an application violated the local development plan but was approved, communities would have a right of appeal, and where the local development plan permitted a development but the application was turned down, the applicant would have a right of appeal. What do you mean when you say that no one likes planning by appeal?

Jenny Hogan

I am suggesting that we could risk a lot more appeals being made, which would slow down the process. There is already quite a lot of that in the process.

Andy Wightman

There is a lot of that but, if we got rid of an applicant’s right of appeal, there would be a lot less.

Jenny Hogan

I agree with the comments that were made earlier. We cannot get rid of appeals entirely, but I go back to the point that I made about local communities feeling that the local development plan is theirs. That chimes with the point that Sarah Boyack made about the need for a plan-led system. The best way to deal with the issue is to get the front loading and the planning process right, so that communities feel that the plan is truly theirs, rather than to use the appeals process, which is a bit of a sticking-plaster approach to trying to fix problems. We should deal with as much as possible in the plan but, fundamentally, the planning system still needs some route to appeal.

Tammy Swift-Adams

If we got rid of an applicant’s right of appeal, we would exacerbate the existing housing problem. Each year, we are building only about 60 per cent of the houses that we think that we need to build, or that we were building pre-recession. If we take out the houses that come through appeal on the scale that Kevin Stewart outlined when he introduced the bill, that figure would be reduced to 40 per cent. Therefore, a significant amount of supply would be taken out.

Framing a limited right of appeal, or equal right of appeal, around departures would be very difficult. A departure from the plan is hard to define. A lot of communities would probably assume that, if a site was not specifically allocated in a plan, it is a departure, but it is not if it meets the broader aspirations and policies of the plan, including the housing targets. Often, the crux of what is debated in appeals is whether there has been a departure from the plan. There would need to be that full argument before it could be decided whether someone had access to the appeal system, so the measure would not be black and white.

The Convener

I hate to stop you in full flow. Anyone is welcome to give us more information on the matter outwith this evidence session. Monica Lennon will take us away from the issue of equal right of appeal and on to another matter that we want to cover before we close the session.

Monica Lennon

I think that there is consensus among the panel that we want a plan-led system and we want that system to be front loaded, because early engagement is best for communities. However, if developers and applicants do not get the decision that they would have liked, they still want to have the right of appeal. I have not worked as a planner for a while, but that sounds like a bit of a contradiction. Applicants want a plan-led system and they want front loading, but they still want to have the right of appeal. Will that not undermine everything that the bill is trying to achieve?

Jenny Hogan

I come back to the point that the planning system is there for an applicant to put in a proposal, and for the local authority to represent the local area—

Monica Lennon

Can I stop you there?

The Convener

Let her finish the point.

Monica Lennon

I thought that we were rushed for time, but I will let Jenny Hogan continue. Hopefully, we will get a few more minutes.

Jenny Hogan

I was not going to say much more, because I am probably repeating things that I have already said. Ultimately, the system should be one in which the local authority and the local development plan truly represent the views of local people.

Monica Lennon

Maybe that highlights one of the problems. Jonathan Fair talked about the purpose of planning, and I am not aware that the bill tells us what the purpose of planning is, so we are relying on interpretation and assertions. That is an issue that we will need to address in our further scrutiny.

Are there any circumstances in which the panel would find it reasonable that the community—not as a third party, but as an equal partner—would or should have a right to appeal any planning decision, or, as a matter of principle, is the right of appeal a no-go area?

Tammy Swift-Adams

I think that I said at the outset that we oppose such a change in principle, because of the impacts on investment in Scotland, which would put us at a disadvantage, and because of the increase in conflict. In principle, we certainty do not think that it would be a positive change.

Monica Lennon

Are all the witnesses against equal right of appeal in principle?

Sarah Boyack

There is another issue about where people’s voices are heard. One of the suggestions in the proposals by the Scottish alliance for people and places is about mediation and hearing what people have to say. Ensuring that people have been involved throughout the process, and do not find out things at the end, is a critical area in which the planning system needs to be better.

11:00  
Monica Lennon

We could have a whole session looking at the fairness of appeals. If Tammy Swift-Adams’s figures are correct, and the route to appeal takes between six months and three years and costs between £50,000 and £300,000, it seems as though it is open to only the wealthy few who can afford very expensive consultants and solicitors.

Perhaps we could finish on the point about the purpose of planning. Should the bill state what that purpose is? In her evidence, Jenny Hogan talked about defining sustainable development. Does the bill tell us why we need to plan and what the legislation is for? Are those things fundamental to making this work?

Jenny Hogan

I reiterate that we would like sustainable development to clearly be front and centre in the bill. However, the bill is there to enable Scotland’s national priorities right across strategies, from the climate change plan to energy and housing. All the priorities for Scotland as a whole should be facilitated through the bill.

The Convener

Are there any other comments on the purpose of planning and whether it should be in the bill?

Tammy Swift-Adams

There is definitely a need to better explain to everybody how planning works. That is not necessarily quite the same thing as stating the purpose of planning, and the bill might not be the right place for it. A lot of conflict and misunderstanding comes from the fact that although we have a plan-led planning system, it is also very flexible—for good reasons—and delivery focused. Trying to frame a purpose that describes all that without alienating people who perhaps do not want that to be the purpose of planning could be quite an endeavour.

The Convener

We are now over our time. I am looking around to see whether any member has any absolutely burning issues that they feel the need to ask about at this point, before I move towards closing the session.

Kenneth Gibson

I do. First, I have not asked a substantive question and, secondly, the issue of older people’s housing has not been touched on. It is important, and we have a submission from McCarthy and Stone that is specifically on that.

We are all aware of the fact that, in the 1960s and 1970s, the private and public sectors built council houses and private houses that had no regard for older people, in that, for example, they were on hills or had big steps internally or externally. People have realised that that needs to change. McCarthy and Stone’s submission says:

“The 2016 review noted that ‘future proofing is needed to ensure the needs of Scotland’s ageing population are met’”,

but that

“the existing Bill and accompanying policy documents make no mention of older people’s housing as a policy priority”.

I want to explore, very briefly, one or two points that came out from that submission, to see what others have to say about them. One is that there should be a requirement for

“local authorities to prioritise specialist retirement housing”,

which should be regarded as

“as important as the need for, or equivalent to, affordable housing”.

Would that include dementia-friendly housing that is also suitable for people with disabilities, Mr Fair?

Jonathan Fair

Yes, it would. That is an important element of our views on the bill. As I said, we need to ensure that we provide appropriate guidance on how to meet the housing needs of older people in our communities. In locations that are appropriate for such developments, we also need to consider the need for connectivity and how that impacts on the size and location of sites. As I also said earlier, we then have to ensure that, having set clear national targets for such delivery, they are followed through at local level, which might be done through policy or through reporting and monitoring exercises.

We must also recognise that housing for older people across a range of tenures is appropriate. To ensure that we meet the needs of the growing demographic that exists in Scotland and given the population changes that are due to come in the decades ahead, it is critical that we do not look at just one type in that mix.

Kenneth Gibson

The figures that are presented in Mr Fair’s submission suggest that the number of people aged over 75 will increase from 440,000 to 800,000 by 2039. What should the national target for new-build housing for older people be, as a percentage of new builds, and how will that be delivered?

In your submission, Mr Fair, you mentioned brownfield sites on a number of occasions. You said:

“central brownfield sites between 0.25 to 0.5 hectares in size, close to shops, services, and transport links should be protected and a presumption given in favour of consent for specialist retirement housing, including sheltered housing and Extra Care accommodation”.

From my point of view, that is a step too far. There could be other competing priorities, but my experience is that older people do not necessarily like to live in such sites. In my constituency, 34 per cent of the population of Arran is retired, compared with 22 per cent of the mainland population. Those people often like to live in rural settings and have views of the Clyde and all the rest of it. How did you come to that conclusion? Furthermore, what should the affordable housing mix be within such developments? What targets should be set? Will you comment on brownfield sites, an issue that you mentioned frequently in your submission?

In view of the time constraints, I have asked all my questions together.

The Convener

Before the witnesses respond, I make it clear that I will close this evidence-taking session shortly. If any member has a burning issue that they want to raise or the panellists have something that they simply must say, this will be your last opportunity to do so.

I will take Mr Fair first, then allow others to make their final comments.

Jonathan Fair

I do not have a view on the proportion of housing that needs to be provided for older people, but they are a substantial part of the demographic. Only small numbers of appropriate and relevant housing is provided for them, so there is plenty to shoot at.

We have rightly focused on well-connected and centrally located brownfield sites. The drive behind that is older people’s tremendous pragmatism not just about what their needs are at the present time, but about what they might be in the future. Therefore, the need to be close to, for example, support services and networks, friends and families and community healthcare facilities tends to be a fairly important part of their thought process when they choose where to live. Equally, many people enjoy rural settings and excellent outlooks from their property.

In common with other parts of the population, different people have different needs, but from the feedback that we have—we monitor the situation closely with our client group—those are the features of retirement housing that they consider to be most appropriate for them.

Kenneth Gibson

What about my question about affordable housing?

Jonathan Fair

There are challenges in the planning system about how affordable housing contributions are applied to retirement housing developments. By their very nature, retirement developments provide an appropriate level of affordable housing for that area and release homes that are perhaps more appropriate for families or people who are starting out in life.

The Convener

To bring things back to what is in the bill, there is another discussion to be had about how that would fit into local development plans and 10-year plans.

Sarah Boyack

Although we have statistics about the future position, housing is an issue now. A key finding of our work with Shelter Scotland on SHIPs is that people’s needs across the country are not being met. A key gap is older people’s needs. There are a range of models to utilise, but the key issue is having choice for older people. Homes need to affordable, accessible and in places where older people want to live. Sometimes, that will be in bespoke retirement places; sometimes, people will want to be in the wider community, which might be in town centres and rural communities. We want there to be a range of options, including innovative co-housing, traditional affordable housing and housing for older people across the tenures.

Part of the solution is about making the connection at the local development plan level, so that the issue is not missed. That is about joining up the research on SHIPs and the work on housing needs and demand analysis, so that we have a much better grasp of what should come next.

On the issue of innovative design of new developments, accessibility and digital inclusion need to be planned in from the start. In addition to the building, the support services that come with it are a key part of the package, but affordability becomes more of a challenge when considering the care and support that we need at different times in our lives. However, having accessible buildings is vital from the start. I very much agree that affordable housing needs to be part of the proper process at the local level.

The Convener

Thank you for making reference to the local development plan and all that—it is helpful for our scrutiny.

We have three other witnesses who have not yet had an opportunity to make a final comment. They should not feel that they need to make one, but this is their opportunity to do so, if they so wish.

Gordon Nelson

Notwithstanding earlier comments that I and other panel members made about resources for planning authorities, an aspect of the bill that our members welcome is the proposals about monitoring the performance of planning authorities and improving it.

Feedback from our members tells us that a major factor in the delays that they experience as house builders is planning authorities’ inconsistent and poor performance and management and leadership issues. The measures in the bill take note of those things and would seem to address them, but we would welcome further discussion and guidance on how the proposals would drive up the performance of planning authorities.

Again, I repeat the point that many of our members understand that resources are a major constraint in planning departments around the country. We noted that that was evidenced in the RTPI’s submission from earlier this week.

The Convener

Although that was a lengthy evidence session, we have not covered everything in the bill—it was simply impossible to do so. I thank all the witnesses for their time here this morning.

We will move to our second witness panel shortly, but first I will suspend the meeting for about 10 minutes. The meeting will not reconvene until at least 11:20. Unfortunately, I must ask people in the public gallery to leave at this point, although they are welcome to come back after the suspension.

11:10 Meeting suspended.  11:25 On resuming—  
The Convener

We continue with our first agenda item, which is the Planning (Scotland) Bill. I have the pleasure of welcoming our second panel of witnesses: Kate Houghton is the policy and practice officer at RTPI Scotland; Malcolm Fraser is a consultant architect; Professor Cliff Hague is emeritus professor of planning and spatial development at Heriot-Watt University; and Stuart Tait is manager and Dorothy McDonald is assistant manager at Clydeplan. I thank you all for taking the time to come and give evidence this morning.

I understand that each organisation seeks to make a brief opening statement. We will go from my left to my right, beginning with Malcolm Fraser.

Malcolm Fraser

Planning should be a wonderful, joyful thing. It unlocks enormous societal potential and resources. It also unlocks enormous financial resources. It is damning that, in the context of these discussions, it is always seen as a problem to be fiddled with, rather than an opportunity to take radical measures to adjust the harvesting of money and potential. That potential may come from communities, but also from land value. At the moment, we accept a system in which all the benefits and potential of planning accrue to landowners. We need to use bigger levers from outwith immediate planning discussions to unlock that. I am concerned with taking more radical measures.

Kate Houghton (Royal Town Planning Institute Scotland)

The Royal Town Planning Institute is a membership organisation. It is a chartered institute responsible for maintaining professional standards in planning. We are also a charity with the charitable purpose of advancing the art and science of town, country and spatial planning. We have 25,000 members worldwide, 2,000 of whom are here in Scotland. Our views on the bill and the wider planning review are very much informed by conversations with our members over the last couple of years.

We view the bill and the wider review as opportunities to move away from a reactive planning system to a more proactive one. We believe that, with the right tools and resources, planners can make and deliver plans that result in better outcomes for Scotland.

Professor Cliff Hague (Heriot-Watt University)

As well as being here in my academic capacity, I am chair of the Cockburn Association, which has also submitted comments to the committee and there is a degree of congruence between my views and those of the association. Reviewing the planning system is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. The Parliament has two choices. One is to assume that things will carry on pretty much as they are and to look backwards to what has happened in England and how well that has worked over the past 15 years or so. The other choice is to look forwards by considering the international obligations that the Scottish Government has signed up to, take account of the likely impact of disruptive technologies on our places and think about how we deliver inclusive growth in a society in which it appears that household incomes have stalled and there are widening inequalities. The choice of looking back at the English experience would be a good one if it had worked. However, recently, the Prime Minister herself stated that there is a housing crisis in England. I propose that we shift the gaze and begin to engage with a different agenda.

11:30  
Stuart Tait (Clydeplan)

I thank the committee for inviting Clydeplan to give evidence. For those of you who are not aware of Clydeplan, we are the strategic planning authority for the Glasgow city region. Clydeplan encompasses eight local authorities and covers a third of Scotland’s population as well as a third of its economic output.

We have a small team that supports a structure of governance, including a joint committee of members and a senior management team. We are at the end of a process with our second strategic development plan, as part of the current system, but we recognise that regional planning is a long-term aspiration for the west of Scotland and has been since 1947, when the Clyde valley plan was published.

The statutory role of strategic planning has been integral to the planning system in Scotland for many years, and we are now at a crossroads as to where that will position itself as we move forward, given the terms of the Planning (Scotland) Bill. However, as our economic, land use and transportation patterns have evolved, it has become increasingly important to think about delivering economic growth across city regions. Even the independent panel acknowledged the value of planning at the city region scale, and the Scottish Government recognises that strategic planning is an essential element of the overall planning system.

Taking that in context, the question is how that is delivered. Obviously, the bill seeks to remove the statutory duty to prepare a strategic development plan. Clydeplan does not wish that to happen. We think that there is still a role for the statutory nature of the plan, although processes around it could be changed to expand and enhance it. However, if things are going to change and the preparation of an SDP is to be removed from the system, we firmly believe that a regional spatial strategy is critical to economic delivery and that any role in that regard as part of a regional partnership should be a statutory duty.

The Convener

I suspect that we will look at that matter in some detail, Mr Tait.

Monica Lennon

I remind everyone again that I am a member of the Royal Town Planning Institute.

A logical place to start, perhaps, is the purpose of planning. I note that RTPI Scotland, Malcolm Fraser and Professor Hague have all argued in their written submissions that the bill should establish a clear purpose for the planning system. Should a statutory purpose for the planning system be set out in the bill? If so, what should that purpose be?

Malcolm Fraser

That is stated under the United Nations sustainable development goals, which the First Minister has committed Scotland to achieving. Goal 11 states:

“Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”.

We could argue that that is a bromide if it is not delivered further down the line but, as a strapline to have at the top of everything that we do, it cannot be bettered. It clearly ties in with statements that have been made on behalf of Scotland that have already been accepted, so I do not see why that should not start off all our considerations and why everything should not follow from that and refer back to it.

Kate Houghton

There is absolutely a place for stating the purpose of planning in the bill. The review has been going on for about two years now and there has been a lot of detailed conversation, and we have ended up with this proposed primary legislation, which makes some fairly procedural changes to the system. It is therefore important at this stage to step back and remember what we want the planning system to achieve for Scotland. The committee’s questions as part of the invitation to give written evidence were very telling, because you asked whether the bill provides a balance on issues X, Y and Z. That was an interesting question, because we need to ask whether that really is what we want the planning system to achieve. It is important for all stakeholders involved in the system that we are all absolutely clear what our end goal is.

Professor Hague

What is the alternative to having a purpose? There are presumably two possibilities. One is that there is no purpose, in which case why are we doing it? The other is that there is a purpose but we are not prepared to say what it is, and that is not a great piece of administration. Logically, there has to be a purpose, and it can be helpful to look at what is done elsewhere. I agree with Malcolm Fraser that we should start with sustainable development goal 11. Target 11.4, for example, is about conservation of the natural and cultural environment. Those things need to be picked up and recognised.

In South Africa, the Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act 2013 talks about providing for

“inclusive, developmental, equitable and efficient spatial planning”,

and among its objects are the promotion of “social and economic inclusion”. Zambia has an explicit set purpose in its planning act’s preamble, which uses that kind of language. It can be done, so I do not see why Scotland cannot do it.

Stuart Tait

I agree with my colleagues. The fundamental issue is the use of land in support of a purpose, and the system has to be created in support of the use of that land for the greater purpose, which can go beyond planning, such as a Government, regional or local purpose. The purpose of planning manifests itself in the use of land.

Dorothy McDonald (Clydeplan)

In our written submission, we comment on the potential alignment of the bill with the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, which references the Scottish Government’s national outcomes. There is a case for regarding planning activity as an integral part of our public activities—I was taken with Malcolm Fraser’s eloquent introduction in that regard. The national planning framework could become the spatial expression of the Scottish Government’s programme for government, and other levels of the planning system could be seen more fully as the spatial expression of corporate planning and community planning activities. That alignment under the 2015 act and Scotland’s performance framework would bring greater alignment of planning with community planning, which is an integral purpose of the planning review.

Monica Lennon

Last week, the committee heard evidence from Petra Biberbach from Planning Aid for Scotland. I pointed out to her that, in her evidence on what became the Planning etc (Scotland) Act 2006, she said that a lot of people do not know what planning is or what the planning system is for. Would a clear statement of purpose in the bill help to educate the wider public better about why we have a planning system and why it matters to them?

Malcolm Fraser

Absolutely, yes.

Monica Lennon

Great. I am happy to move on, convener.

The Convener

Would you like to take up the next line of questioning?

Monica Lennon

Yes, if you want to skip ahead. I will pick up on strategic development plans. Under the bill, not only would Clydeplan’s jobs disappear but strategic planning as we know it faces the chop. In the previous evidence session, Homes for Scotland said that strategic development planning has not worked. I do not know whether witnesses heard any of that evidence, but do you understand where that criticism, which is about not just Clydeplan but other strategic development planning authorities, is coming from?

Stuart Tait

First and foremost, we are at the start of a new system. SDPs are in only their second iteration, and building relationships and trust is part of the process to deliver those documents. The critical element is the process of joint working. From the perspective of the west of Scotland and Clydeplan, we were fortunate in that we had a long legacy of joint working, so the transition to the new system was relatively straightforward for us. Other areas of the country for which the transition was a different and newer experience will take time to develop the relationships and trust to deliver their plans.

Another thing to recall is that the strategic development planning authorities are there to perform one function only: to deliver the strategic development plan. Processes were set up to do that, and the Glasgow model was rolled out across the SDPAs in the city regions, so we probably had a better starting point. Our documents have been produced on time and on budget and have set a clear spatial strategy. They have involved a fair degree of consultation and examination. We have involved local authorities because, first and foremost, the documents are theirs to submit to ministers. That process takes time and trust needs to be established so that people will come on board and get an understanding of the processes that are involved.

Criticism is to be expected with a new system, but the principles behind the purpose of the documents remain valid.

Monica Lennon

Let us put aside all the process points. Regional planning is not new. As far as outcomes are concerned, what has regional planning achieved?

Stuart Tait

Sorry?

Monica Lennon

By “outcomes”, I mean better places, better communities and better infrastructure. What does regional planning achieve?

Stuart Tait

First and foremost, it is about setting out a vision—a spatial strategy—across a metropolitan city region, which involves eight authorities coming together and reaching an understanding of what they want to achieve, particularly with regard to economic development and housing. The scale of the demand for housing needs to be examined, and that needs to be disaggregated across the geography of the region. That sets the context for local development plans and the delivery of green networks. The way in which the transport system operates needs to be looked at, too, as well as what is required to make it work more efficiently in support of the broader strategy.

Monica Lennon

If we strengthen the national planning framework and provide a clearer focus on delivery in local development plans so that local authority planners are not in a constant cycle of producing five-year plans, will that not free up people to be more focused? Could we lose the layer in the middle that you currently occupy?

Stuart Tait

In my view, it would be unwise to lose that layer. From my experience, it would be better to keep it as part of the statutory development plan process, which allows the local authorities to come together to consider with other stakeholders and partners what is the best way to plan for their city region. We do not live and work within one small local authority area; we work on a cross-boundary basis. Housing, infrastructure and green networks all transcend local authority boundaries and have to be considered in the appropriate geography. As we have seen over many years, the appropriate geography is the regional scale.

The disconnect between plan and delivery is symptomatic of the system that we have set up, because the strategic development planning authorities have been set up solely to deliver the SDPs to the Scottish ministers on behalf of the authorities. Any new system could still have the SDP as a statutory document, but it could be enhanced with regard to delivery through the provision of resources and continuity around delivery plans. We could move to a 10-year cycle. An aspect of the SDP that I have always found frustrating is that, once it has been approved, four years later another document has to be submitted. As SDPs are statutory documents, that is a long-term process. That cycle of replacement does not allow for the holding of discussions of the kind that you referred to. However, the space is there for local authorities to come together and think about how they plan for their area.

Kate Houghton

With regard to the value of regional strategic planning, as Stuart Tait has pointed out, people and the natural environment do not strictly obey political boundaries, if they obey them at all. It is important to acknowledge that what happens with investment and development on one side of a border will affect what happens on the other side of that border.

It is instructive to note that, in England, where regional planning was dismantled in 2010, the UK Government is making available to local authorities funding to produce joint core strategies through multi-authority arrangements. In effect, that is an acknowledgement that some statutory regional planning is a good thing.

Professor Hague

Somebody once said that the regional scale is the scale at which you try to solve the problem above the scale at which you last managed to solve it. There is an ambiguity about what a region is, but there is undoubtedly an increasing emphasis internationally on the importance of functional city regions and the geography of that. That is why UN-Habitat now talks about urban and territorial planning, which was originally a French term, although we can use “regional” and get away with it. It is basically an issue of subsidiarity. Problems are best addressed at the lowest feasible level, and there is a strong case for saying that, in Scotland, the region is such a scale, and that a plan, rather than just a partnership, gives a mechanism to do that.

11:45  
Monica Lennon

I want to throw in the topic of city region deals. Before I was a member of this committee, the committee held an inquiry into city region deals. We are seeing more of those being introduced in Scotland. We are trying to achieve inclusive growth at the level of the city region, so is it an odd time to abolish strategic development planning authorities? Do you have an alternative view?

Dorothy McDonald

I want to respond partly to your previous question about outcomes. We have provided a very clear context for the local development plans, additional context for development management decisions and a platform for collaboration. That does not sound like much, but I can expand on that briefly. I am thinking of partnership working at the level of the functional housing market area. That is important because cities cannot plan for their housing needs and demands within the confines of their own boundaries. Finally, as another outcome, we provided a context and a platform for the city region programme of infrastructure projects. That was the basis for the city region funding that came to the table on which key infrastructure projects have been based. Many authorities used that as their first point of call in developing the projects that are part of the infrastructure bids.

Malcolm Fraser

It is not sustainable. Scottish local authorities are cut off from their hinterlands—Edinburgh from the Lothians, Dundee from Angus, Aberdeen from the shire, and so on. Local authorities need to be bigger to be able to plan better—they need to be the same size as health boards or at least the city regions. However they are already too distant from their citizens. It begs the question of the need for community councils or parish councils to be reintroduced, empowered and given responsibility. Subsidiarity should allow communities within Edinburgh to take more responsibility for their own affairs—as they are doing under the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015—and should allow local democracy to be reintroduced. I am all for larger local authorities that can plan better as city regions and for re-empowered local community councils all around our towns, villages and settlements within cities.

Professor Hague

The city region deals strengthen the case for regional-scale planning. The risk of city deals is that they take a project-driven approach to development. There can be a series of pet projects, which may be valuable, but the question is how they are integrated. That is part of the role of the plan.

Stuart Tait

That is the point that I was going to make. It is important that the projects do not sit in isolation and that there is a delivery mechanism for core components of a strategy for the city region—projects must sit in the context of maximising the investment and the economic value of what comes out of them.

Graham Simpson

Do you think that we should have a model that is based on the city deal? Should the authorities involved in city deals or growth deals become planning authorities in their own right?

Malcolm Fraser

That is the case, although I take Professor Hague’s point that city deals are too focused on projects such as bypasses, relief roads and things like that. They would need to be re-linked to proper regional planning. Part of the reason that regional planning does not work is that it is undermined by land speculation markets, so we end up with land to the north of Edinburgh not being built on and speculation around getting the green belt of Edinburgh built on instead.

Kate Houghton

It almost needs to work the other way round. We want to encourage local authorities to work together to agree the outcomes, which could be done through something like a regional spatial strategy. We would like local authorities to choose their geographies using that strategy so that, when something like a city deal opportunity arose, there would already be an agreed set of outcomes that would feed into a wider corporate strategy. It is not just about special development; it is about economic growth, health outcomes, education and so on. When that funding became available, local authorities would be able to target it at pre-decided priorities.

The Convener

Would Stuart Tait like to add to that?

Stuart Tait

It is perhaps a semantic point, but local authorities are the local planning authorities for SDP purposes and they are still such authorities when they work with their regional partnership city deal hats on. The problem occurs when those things come together, because two separate governance processes are emerging.

The Planning (Scotland) Bill seeks to remove the strategic development plan joint committee, which would take out one level of governance, which could be replaced by the city region partnership process if that would align governance more effectively. However, within that governance structure, such a partnership would have to be charged with doing things to support proper planning in the area. That is why we talk about placing a statutory duty on such partnerships to continue regional planning and to develop spatial strategies that can shape future city deal investment—or future investment generally—and also feed into the national planning framework.

We could have the same conversation here, but we are starting to look at two separate statutory processes of governance, and it is a question of whether the Parliament wants to align them in order to co-ordinate planning and delivery in a way that is perhaps missing under the current arrangements.

Graham Simpson

We certainly could align them. In your case, I think that that would involve the same local authorities.

Stuart Tait

Whether the process would be the same across the whole of Scotland is a different matter.

Graham Simpson

Yes, but it would pick up a number of local authorities that are not in strategic development plans at the moment. We would mop up quite a lot more of the country by doing it in that way.

I have another question, which is about the flipside of the argument. As a local councillor for 10 years, I found that, when we set up the city deal, which I support, there was a bit of a democratic deficit in that local councillors were not really involved in any of the decision making. I can speak only about the Glasgow deal, in which my council was involved. If we are going to have regional partnerships, it seems to me that we need to involve councillors more rather than involve just one body of officials and the council leader. What are the panel’s views on that?

The Convener

I see some nodding heads.

Malcolm Fraser

Yes.

Graham Simpson

Good—there is agreement.

The Convener

I have dug out some of the recommendations from our city region deal report. We drew attention to the fact that there was an enterprise and skills review, and we name-checked a few examples of regional co-operation and strategies that have emerged. Those are separate from what the legislation seeks to remove. It would be reasonable to contend that regional strategic planning will continue, because it does so in a number of forms irrespective of the strategic plans that will be removed by the bill. I wonder whether Mr Tait or Ms McDonald thinks that the local authorities that make up the Glasgow region would stop talking and co-operating if the bill were to be passed. That is the contention.

Stuart Tait

I cannot speak on behalf of all eight local authorities. They have come together in a number of forms, such as on the basis of the city deal funding and the strategic development planning authority as well as under the auspices of the Strathclyde partnership for transport and the green network partnership.

For me, the critical question is about what guides the form of development that they are all trying to achieve. They are all doing different things, and they all want to deliver certain aspects of growth in the city region. At the moment, what binds them together, from a planning perspective, is the strategic development plan, so its removal could undermine broader consideration of planning issues. They could still work together on various elements, but, as far as planning is concerned, having a statutory duty to produce a plan and to think about growth aspirations and the environmental impacts of that plan across the city is critical to ensuring that the other pieces of work on which they come together are joined up in a meaningful way. They should not think about transport, green networks or economic development in silos but should go to where those issues actually arise.

The Convener

I appreciate why you say that, but, as this our final evidence-taking panel today, we are trying to tease out whether there is a need for a statutory duty to do that or whether we would expect them to do that anyway.

Stuart Tait

That depends on whether you want it to happen, whether you wish to make it happen or whether you hope that it happens. A statutory duty would ensure that something happened.

The Convener

That is helpful. I think that Ms McDonald was about to say something similar, so I will bring in Professor Hague before we move on.

Dorothy McDonald

You are absolutely spot on, convener.

Professor Hague

We all recognise the need for more integration, so it seems perverse to propose a measure that would make integration powers weaker. The key aim is to take the strategic level of planning closer to the budgets and closer to the investment priorities of the different stakeholders who will deliver the development on the ground.

I see the regional plan as the basis of negotiation for that approach, which would then be followed up by the partnerships, the city deals and so forth. I see that as being a dynamic process between them. However, I do not see how removing the strategic development plan—especially as there is little evidence that it is seriously broken; we need think only of the work that Kevin Murray Associates did a couple of years ago in that regard—would help us to deliver more developments on the ground in the places where we want them.

The Convener

That is helpful. It is best that we move on, because there is a lot in the bill.

Kenneth Gibson

I welcome everything that Malcolm Fraser has said about strategic development plans, because I have been arguing those points for years.

Let us move on to simplified development zones. Professor Hague’s submission says:

“Simplifying the planning system could make it more equitable and expeditious, and less reliant on the time consuming appeals system. However, the SDZ proposal does not deliver such change and again misses the point that the role of the planning system is more multifaceted than just regulating development.”

He says that we should

“use the planning system to promote innovation that contributes to the SDGs”—

sustainable development goals—

“whereas what is proposed seems just a way of making it easier to deliver mediocre development.”

Will you expand on that, and will others on the panel give us their views?

Professor Hague

If the aim of SDZs is to deliver what we want, why do we not have them everywhere rather than just in certain areas? The problem is that we do not want just more housing planning permissions; we want a wider array of things. That means that, at some stages, we want to conserve areas or landscapes rather than simply develop them.

The difficulty is that a fix has been suggested, in the bill and in the review, on the basis that the real issue is that planning is blocking the delivery of housing planning permissions, which equates to housing on the ground and housing of the type that we want. There are question marks over all those points. Is planning the sole blocking factor? It clearly is not. Are we getting the housing that we want? As was mentioned in the previous session, we want affordable housing, mid-market rent housing and housing for an ageing population. We also want quality of place in design terms. We risk going down a track that misses the main point, which is that quality development—which may have a strong element of conservation to it—is often a more sustainable option than new development. Therefore, how the SDZ proposal is couched risks sending us on the wrong track.

It is logical for a plan to identify areas where special action would be taken. Indeed, there is long history of that approach in planning. That—dare I say it?—takes us back the old days of comprehensive development areas. Yes, you can use the plan to identify areas where you want to do special things, such as encourage innovation in design, products, energy or whatever, but to see it simply as a way of speeding up development really misses the point.

Kate Houghton

I very much agree with Professor Hague’s comments that SDZs have the potential to focus proactive planning. For example, a site would be allocated in the plan and the SDZ could have a valuable role in saying that the challenges with the site—whether access, utilities, contamination or financial viability—give a focus in getting the site delivered.

Without the proper resourcing, however, that aim will not be achievable. SDZs require a lot of up-front work from local authorities in terms of master planning and work with stakeholders, but, because an SDZ does not involve a planning application, there is no planning application fee. To ensure that SDZs deliver the right development, it will be important that the resources are available to frame them properly.

12:00  
Kenneth Gibson

Some of the witnesses on the previous panel gave interesting submissions. For example, Homes for Scotland stated:

“Fundamentally, Simplified Development Zones will not be an alternative to a properly functioning planning system and will only be a supplement to the functions of a pro-active planning authority.”

Given what you have just said, how do you feel about that statement?

Kate Houghton

It almost agrees with what I just said. I am saying that SDZs could be a way to concentrate efforts on delivery of certain sites, and what the bill as a whole is supposed to achieve is delivery—full stop—of all sites that are allocated in a development plan and that have been through the proper scrutiny. What SDZs offer on top of that, with particularly challenging sites, is an incentive in the clarion call that it is a site that we want to see developed.

Kenneth Gibson

On balance, do the panel members believe that the introduction of strategic development zones enhances the bill?

Malcolm Fraser

If the system can be simplified, it needs to be simplified everywhere. Simplifying it in certain places would just create a whole level of argument over where those places should be, and it may prevent something sensible from being done elsewhere. If there are good measures that can be taken, they should be taken across the board. We should not be drawing lines round something and saying, “You can make a mess of this but not of that.” If we’re going make a mess, we need to make a mess everywhere—that is equal opportunity.

The Convener

I am not sure that that is the official terminology in the bill.

Kate Houghton

It depends on the policy purpose of the SDZs. If they are about giving planning permission in principle on sites that are easy to develop, I am not sure that they add much. If they are about rallying people round and getting tricky sites delivered with the correct resources, they could help.

Kenneth Gibson

Basically, you are looking for more detail from ministers about what SDZs will deliver.

The Convener

Graham Simpson will explore that a little more. The matter was discussed in detail at the communities conference that we had in Stirling, and the contention was that it sounded good and that changing the name to simplified development zones made it sound like good master planning that involved lots of up-front work in speaking to people in a community about what they wanted to see on land that was not being used However, Kate Houghton and Malcolm Fraser are asking why that would not be done everywhere.

Going back to the policy intent, all MSPs know about bits of land in their constituencies that we are desperate to see developed because it would be the final piece of the jigsaw for place setting, but we cannot get the market to bite. We can think of lots of reasons why simplified development zones could really work with massive community support. I am saying what my vision is, but, without a clear policy statement or clarity about the purpose of the bill, I am getting a lukewarm response from the witnesses. Would that change if there was greater clarity as to the bill’s purpose?

Professor Hague

The purpose must be more diverse than it is presented as being. That comes back to one of the big issues hanging over the whole thing, which we have not yet touched on—trust. There needs to be a sense of trust between communities, the system and the development industry. The difficulty is that the bill is presented in such a way that it will primarily be about speeding up development for housing without its having to go through as many hoops as normal in a planning system and without necessarily having the great vision that Mr Doris has, which is one of the factors that reduces public confidence in the process.

Graham Simpson

I look forward to hearing Mr Doris’s vision later.

I have a simple question on simplified development zones. Simplified planning zones, as they currently stand, cannot be set up in certain areas, such as conservation areas, the green belt and national scenic areas. That provision does not exist in the bill for simplified development zones. That may be an oversight, but do you think that those restrictions should apply?

The Convener

Feel free to refer to my vision at any point during your answer, Professor Hague.

Professor Hague

That is the point that I just made. It is the kind of thing that makes people feel suspicious and that less value and priority will be attached to things such as conservation areas, which are much loved in Scotland—if any systematic research was done, people would see how valued they are. People also feel that a hands-off approach to approving development will be prioritised. If we see the bill as being about not just speeding up development—which we are all in favour of—but addressing the issue of public trust, that is a bit of an own goal.

Kate Houghton

On the potential role of SDZs in what we call market making—making a site more attractive to development—it is important, from the point of view of heritage and nature conservation, to think about how we can develop in a way that is sympathetic to those objectives. Again, it goes back to the policy purpose of SDZs. If they are resourced to enable good planning that, for example, allows a listed building to come back into use and to be refurbished as part of a sympathetic scheme, that is obviously a good thing, but it is important that they are not used as a way to get around the proper scrutiny that is needed for other consents.

Dorothy McDonald

I have a generic point to make about the purpose of development planning. In a very real sense, development plans deliver just one thing—the ability to grant planning permission to land. SDZs might fall into similar territory.

My more substantive point is that, if we—by which I mean the big “we”—want to front fund infrastructure and achieve development delivery, we should fund it and resource it.

Monica Lennon

The bill will give third parties the right to request a simplified development zone, but it will also give ministers the power to make an SDZ, and there would be no restriction on that. How appropriate is that in a plan-led system?

We have talked a lot about the provision of certainty in the plan, front loading and the public having confidence that their views will be taken into account. If we do all that, sign off our LDP or local place plan and ministers then come along with a simplified development zone, how does that fit well with the package of the bill? Is that a good thing? Is it a symptom of the fact that planning is broken and ministers know better? How would that fit with the views of communities? Do we expect that power to be widely used?

Kate Houghton

The RTPI’s position is that SDZs should be linked to allocated sites and development plans, whether the local development plan or the NPF. An amendment to the bill to that effect could significantly strengthen the role of SDZs and improve accountability.

The Convener

Do other members of the panel have thoughts on that? I see nodding heads. Malcolm Fraser agrees. Stuart Tait wants to make a comment.

Stuart Tait

The context is about facilitating development. Delivery programmes are a key element of the new system, as they will set out how local authorities will work with others to deliver the sites in the local development plan, the strategic development plan or the national planning framework. Therefore, there is a mechanism for having a discussion about how things will be taken forward. Community engagement could take place through the delivery programme discussions.

Monica Lennon

We heard from the previous panel about planning being a barrier. We were told that a third of applications that are refused are taken to appeal. I think that the Homes for Scotland representative talked about “planning by appeal”. If we get to a point at which the Scottish Government—whoever is in power—gets fed up that it is getting it in the neck because it is not delivering the homes that we need, would it be tempting for ministers to come along and designate simplified development zones to make sure that development happened?

Malcolm Fraser

We have to set up a system that delivers development and allows it to happen in the right places. We cannot set up a system and then countermand it further down the line because we do not like the outcome. We talk a lot about getting things right upstream, and then we add more processes and upend things further downstream. We need to take away the later chances to upend the process in order to focus and get things right upstream.

As an architect, I have been told many times by planners that they are going to turn something down but I will win on appeal. That is simply unacceptable. It extends the process, allows developments to become worse, allows lawyers and consultants to make money out of the tail end of the process, and holds back development.

We say that we need to get things right upstream, but we need to apply that and not undermine it. We need to tell ministers that they need to get their simplified processes in early. We need to get the right land ready for development and then not let that go further down the line.

Kate Houghton

I was going to say something similar. I am sorry, but would Monica Lennon repeat her question, please?

Monica Lennon

I was exploring the risk of ministers using the simplified development zone power if it looks like planning is not delivering and we are not getting the homes that we need. Is designating a simplified development zone an easy fix? Is that appropriate? Is that where we want to be?

Kate Houghton

As Malcolm Fraser said, it is about getting things right upstream. We are trying to design a system that prevents our ever being in that situation. It is also important to remember that the Government is democratically accountable, so its choice of whether to use those powers is in that context.

Monica Lennon

Does the RTPI agree that ministers should have that power? Should that be in the bill?

Kate Houghton

As I said, we think that SDZs should be linked to the plan-led system so that any SDZ that a minister introduces is linked to a site that is allocated either in an LDP or in the NPF.

Professor Hague

The discussion highlights the extent to which there is systematic distortion in the logic of the bill. On the one hand, it is all about front loading community involvement and rebuilding trust; on the other hand, when the chips are down, people can still lose out at the last stage through an SDZ or the appeals system.

I totally support Malcolm Fraser’s view and agree that the example that he gave should not happen. However, in the end, 95 per cent of planning applications are approved.

Dorothy McDonald

More than that.

Professor Hague

Okay—more than that. I am corrected.

The real problem is in the appeal system. Basically, most of the system ticks over okay. It could be better, but we would not have such a planning bill if there were many more problems there. The real issues are in the appeal system—the inequalities in it, and the extent to which, after all the front loading, the real decision can come at the final stage and not be locally accountable.

The Convener

We will consider the appeal system in more detail later on. We are not ignoring it; we are just going through a flow of evidence.

Graham Simpson

We will come on to appeals but, to stick to what we are discussing, it could be decided that we need X houses across Scotland and Y houses in certain areas, that a bit of land should be green belt, that an area should be a conservation area, and that that is what is in the local development plan. It could then be said that land has been allocated for housing, so a simplified development zone can be set up there, but not in another place because it is green belt. Is that the sort of system that you would see working?

Kate Houghton

Yes—exactly. If SDZs were linked to the plan-led system and to allocations in the plan, logically that is how the system would work. There would be an SDZ, whether for commercial or residential development, based on the allocation in the plan.

Graham Simpson

That would then mean that the minister could not override that, because the land would already have been allocated for housing and local communities would already know that there was a potential for housing in the area.

Kate Houghton

Yes.

12:15  
Professor Hague

There are some similarities with the zoning systems that are in place in most other countries, particularly in continental Europe. In essence, there is a zoning allocation and, if a development conforms with that, it can go ahead. The difference is that those systems tend to be much more prescriptive than just a basic zoning system. We would not just want to say that any housing on a particular site is okay—that comes back to questions about place making, quality and mix and so on. If the process involved master planning the site in that way, that would be different. As we have said, the approach could work well, but it requires resourcing and probably a mechanism for land assembly. There would also have to be a way to ensure that the development will actually go ahead and will not just be a set of planning permissions sitting in a house builder’s account.

Graham Simpson

As I said in the earlier session, we have to think about how we can improve certain parts of the bill if we want to, and your answers are useful in that regard.

Dorothy McDonald

To follow on from my earlier point, development plan allocations, including SDZs, can be a very blunt tool. They can achieve that delivery and focus if the actors work collaboratively and if the process is resourced.

On development delivery, I would perhaps challenge the inference behind the question and proposition about SDZs. Social sector house-building programmes are currently at their most buoyant level in the past 10 years or so, because we are funding that, whereas private sector house-building programmes are at their lowest levels historically, certainly in our part of the world. That is not because we did not allocate sites in development plans and did not have SDZs; it is for many complex and different reasons, on which I am sure the committee has taken evidence from other panels.

The Convener

That is helpful. We turn to a new line of questioning.

Alexander Stewart

A number of the witnesses gave us views in their written submissions on the infrastructure levy, but I would like to tease out that issue a bit more. To what extent can the infrastructure levy raise funds to unlock the potential for development?

Kate Houghton

As the RTPI said in our written submission, the research that the Scottish Government commissioned showed that, in the best-case scenario, the figure would be about £75 million annually, which would be helpful but is not on the scale that we need to overcome the infrastructure challenge. Dorothy McDonald alluded to some of the complexities that prevent development and which have nothing to do with planning allocations or permissions; indeed, the issue is about getting infrastructure that can service development. That needs a lot more than the quantum of money that we are talking about with the infrastructure levy.

Professor Hague

The evidence shows that the answer to your question is that it will be to a limited extent, although it will be more in some places than in others. In places where the market is strong, the levy is likely to generate more and in places where the market is weak, it will probably not generate much. Therefore, with the best will in the world, it is overoptimistic to rely on that and see it as a game changer that will fundamentally alter and remove the blockages in the system. In the end, we need an approach that ties the plan more closely to budgets and investment—that means public sector budgets, including those of bodies such as the health service and other significant public sector landowners, as well as the investment priorities of the range of infrastructure providers.

In the end, we will have to accept that the cost of providing infrastructure for the public good should come primarily out of the public purse. However, the value that is then created by that infrastructure should also be recouped by the public purse. That seems to me to be a fairly equitable and potentially more efficient way of doing it. I repeat the point that that is what is being talked about in, for example, the South African system.

Malcolm Fraser

The infrastructure levy is fiddling where radical change is needed. I go back to my opening statement—massive public good could be unlocked in new development, but there are also massive financial benefits to be unlocked.

It is calculated that, in Edinburgh in the next 20 years, more than £8.6 billion will be released. Even if there is public investment in places that need regeneration in the north-east of Glasgow, for example, the land value goes up around that public investment and all the gains are harvested by the landowners and consultants. We need to use a different system, in which we make a positive decision that the riches that are unlocked in the built environment accrue to the people of Scotland who need houses and new communities, and not to the landowners who own the land. That is how the new town in Edinburgh was built and how the post-war new towns were built in Scotland. It is how the most active Asian economies work.

If land is designated for housing within a strategic development or a local development plan, the value of that land leaps up from £15,000 an acre to £2 million an acre. A massive amount of value is released and that value needs to be harvested by the local authority for the benefit of the people. The local authority can then borrow against that rise in value to invest in public infrastructure such as schools, health facilities, and roads, so that house builders can get on with doing their bit, and we can also designate land for different types of housing such as co-housing, and different ways of managing housing for intergenerational care, collective self-build, and that sort of thing. Harvesting that value would truly deliver a plan-led system that is not just plan led in name but has the financial resources to deliver.

House builders would like it because it would let them get on without having to wait for the drip of section 75 money or the infrastructure levy, which will just be a micro-managed fight all the way down the line. It would be an absolute game changer. It is a matter of regret that discussions around planning do not recognise that these bigger discussions are going on about land reform in other places. We are sitting in a wee silo and not understanding that, behind planning, the issue of land and who benefits from land is of enormous import.

Alexander Stewart

You have identified many of the issues for unlocking potential and making it happen. It has happened elsewhere, in other nations and countries. What could we do through the bill that would make such an impact and achieve that goal?

Malcolm Fraser

I do not know whether that is possible through the bill that you have in front of you. However, the discussion needs to at least recognise that, outwith the immediate planning discussion and planning silos, there are bigger undercurrents and issues in Scotland with the land reform commission, and there are alternatives to the infrastructure levy and section 75 agreements.

In an ideal world, the bill could introduce such a system, but perhaps it needs to acknowledge that there are other methods and talk about the potential value of doing it. For example, if Edinburgh invests in putting the tram down to Newhaven, which it should do, the value of all that land around Newhaven will leap up and again, we will be unable to build on it and there will be cries for public subsidy or for land from the green belt because we cannot deliver houses around the tram stops.

The market is a wonderful machine for extracting value out of all public subsidy that goes into it. As Churchill established and said very eloquently, we need to use the market but find a way to adjust it so that it delivers for people in the communities and not just for landowners and market speculators.

Professor Hague

I agree with what Malcolm Fraser has said. We need to recognise that the issue goes to the heart of the idea of inclusive growth or exclusive growth. A situation in which somebody can make a staggering fortune by the standards of teachers, nurses, firemen and police officers is a major driver of exclusive growth. We now know that one of the challenges that we face is how to make the pattern of growth fairer and more inclusive. If we disregard the issue, we are not being neutral but are reinforcing the pattern that drives inequality.

There are some substantive things that we can do if we go back to the original purpose. We need to have a sideways reference to land reform and the aims of the land reform programme; the planning bill must state that it aims to support, facilitate and integrate with the land reform programme. We also have to look at the Land Compensation (Scotland) Act 1963, which gives the landowner the hope value in any transition to public ownership. Those are the kind of changes that could be made.

The Convener

I want to check something. The Planning (Scotland) Bill includes the power to introduce an infrastructure levy, but the Government has said that it does not intend to do that yet. The Scottish Land Commission is looking at innovative ways of using land, including land value capture. Would it be helpful if the bill included the option of taking the power over some of those things in the section that deals with the infrastructure levy, given that we do not know what will be the end point of the Scottish Land Commission’s review? Would it be appropriate to ensure that the contents of the bill and the commission’s conclusions dovetail, in case those conclusions are similar to suggestions that have been made by witnesses today? Would that be a reasonable approach to take to the bill?

Malcolm Fraser

That would be the definition of joined-up thinking.

Professor Hague

Integrate, integrate, integrate!

The Convener

I thought I heard you say, “In’t it great?” [Laughter.]

Andy Wightman

I have a brief follow-up question on land value. The bill follows a 70-year-old tradition of town and country planning. Section 48 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1947 contains a provision for public authorities to acquire land at its current-use value. That provision was included in order to enable Britain to rebuild after the war. A similar provision was also built into the “Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany”, for the same purpose. However in the United Kingdom, the provision was repealed in 1959. If we were to amend the bill in order to reintroduce that provision, that would go to the heart of planning legislation. Would that help? One of the problems is that it would devalue the land on the balance sheets of landowners and developers across the country, so there might be an argument for restricting it to simplified development zones, for example. Cliff Hague talked about public land assembly at a fair price, master planning and passing on development to those who want to procure housing.

Professor Hague

That could be a way of trialling it. We could see what happens with simplified or special action zones, for example. There is no doubt that the proposal that we have been floating would be controversial and would have the impact that Andy Wightman suggested on the values of assets of various house builders and the investors behind them. However, in the end we are talking about a system that is designed to deliver quality places for the Scottish people. We are not talking about a system that exists to protect and enhance the asset values of companies.

There is, however, not quite such a divide as that suggests, because we depend on those companies investing to provide a significant part of the built environment. I accept that. That is why we could look for a transitional arrangement.

To go back to the convener’s question, we should still hold out the option in the legislation that things could be done differently. I will go back to where I started. Basically, we have a rerun of what has happened in England over the past 10 or 20 years, which has not worked and has not delivered the types of places and houses and access to housing to which people aspire. Why repeat that model if we know that it does not work?

Kate Houghton

It is important to make the link to the Scottish Land Commission to ensure joined-up thinking. The commission’s approach recognises the importance of land for development in the strategic plan. As we consider the issue and seek a long-term solution to the problem, it is important that we work with the Scottish Land Commission to model and carry out more research on the impact on Scotland more broadly, and therefore on how the policy could be implemented successfully.

12:30  
Malcolm Fraser

That research is on-going. To answer Andy Wightman’s question directly, I suspect that repealing that particular part of the 1947 act would not be a complete game changer, but it would at least demonstrate to the Scottish Land Commission and others that, if other laws were changed, planning would have already taken place to recognise that fact and planning would be aligned with that potential. Therefore, I think that that would be a very worthwhile thing to do.

The Convener

We need to move on.

Andy Wightman

I will move on to the national planning framework. I think that most people welcome the fact that there is a national planning framework. We are on NPF3 and NPF4 will start soon. The framework was introduced as a light-touch spatial expression of ministers’ economic strategy. The proposal in the bill is quite radical in the sense that it makes that framework part of the development plan. It also raises questions—in my mind, anyway—about process. In March 2014, Parliament signed off NPF3 by a motion that merely noted, I think, three committee reports as being the response of Parliament to ministers’ national planning framework, so it remains the property of the Government.

In the earlier session, I raised a speculation to which no one had a response. The Conservatives could win the next election, form a minority Administration in the Scottish Parliament and use the national planning framework to reintroduce fracking. Parliament might disapprove, but fracking could, nevertheless, be in the national planning framework—which belongs to Government, not Parliament—and so become part of the development plan, and we could then have fracking all over Scotland.

I have two questions. Do you approve of the national planning framework being part of the development plan? If it should be part of the plan, or if it should have a strengthened role, how should we sign that off, because it is not signed off in the way that the local development plan is signed off, which involves a lot of participation and, ultimately, democratic sanction by elected members of a local planning authority?

The Convener

I point out that Mr Wightman has raised the spectre of a Conservative Government in Parliament twice today.

Andy Wightman

I do so merely to illustrate the fact that planning legislation lasts a long time.

The Convener

It is worth noting that a Conservative Government is something that even the Conservatives are not speculating on, at the moment.

Kate Houghton

The simple answer to Mr Wightman’s question is yes—we welcome the enhanced status of the NPF, but on the understanding that scrutiny will be improved. I know that the bill states that scrutiny will be extended from 60 to 90 parliamentary days. We think that scrutiny should go further than that. In particular, we are exploring the possibility that the NPF could be subject to parliamentary approval. An alternative, or additional, form of scrutiny would be to require the minister to report on the NPF and its implementation perhaps annually or biennially.

Stuart Tait

I concur with what Kate Houghton said about a requirement for a different process of ownership by members of Parliament such as yourselves. The national planning framework being part of the national development plan makes it a different document all together. The ability of that document to raise the value of land is critical, which I am sure the committee will want to consider.

The question for us is how that document relates to the regional dimension: what the NPF asks of the regional partnerships, if they are created, and what the relationship is, and rules of engagement are, between the strategic development plan and the national planning framework at national and regional levels. At the moment, those rules of engagement are unclear. Would the national planning framework set out housing numbers, for example? How would that be disaggregated to the relevant geographies? What would be the role in that of the strategic development plan, or of regional partnerships if strategic development plans are removed? The document is going to be radically different, so the committee should have a strong think about the processes around its scrutiny and approval, and about who has ownership of it.

The other element that I want to mention in relation to the NPF becoming a statutory document is that it is the wish of the Government that it should deliver for Scotland. We must ask how that document influences budgetary spend and how we align elements of Government spend to support what is in the national development plan, because its status has changed.

I will go back to the example of the strategic development plan. When it is approved by the Scottish ministers, we get a letter that says that no part of the plan is guaranteed grant funding or expenditure, so we have to work on different ways of implementing it. There is nothing that commits the minister to funding the strategic development plan, even though it has been signed off by the Scottish ministers. There is a similar debate on the role and function of the NPF. Does it drive ministerial spend in support of delivery, or is it something that is nice to have but that we will worry about later? There are a couple of points there for committee members to get their heads round because of the enhanced status that the NPF will have in the development plan hierarchy.

The Convener

Are there comments from other witnesses on that?

Professor Hague

I am watching the time—I know that there are other points that we need to get on to.

The Convener

I suspect that we are drifting towards ending at 1 o’clock. I did say that 12.45 was ambitious. I promise that we will get on to other points.

Professor Hague

I will say that that the NPF has worked pretty well. I have not, to be honest, thought much about the suggestion in Andy Wightman’s question, which seems to me to be quite a parliamentary question.

However, one concern that I have is whether, if we tie the NPF into the development plan system, that will restrict the capacity of the NPF to range widely and address matters that might fall outwith the scope of the statutory system at the moment—especially if we do not have a declared purpose of planning that takes on the points that we were talking about earlier this morning.

The Convener

We might move on now, if that is okay with Andy Wightman.

We also certainly want to look at local place plans. In earlier evidence, we have heard concerns about their having to be resourced properly and about ensuring equivalence of capacity throughout the country and across communities. I will start by asking our witnesses the following question. Having said that—witnesses may make reference to it in answering, if they wish—are there opportunities in relation to local place plans in terms of front loading community engagement with the planning process right at the start? How might those link—or not—to local development plans, which I am sure we will come on to look at as well?

Professor Hague

There is an issue, which was touched on in the previous session, about local plans’ timing in relation to the 10-year review. Should they come before the review, as inputs, or run concurrently with it? Alternatively, should they come after the review—should there be another 10-year wait before they are adopted or should there then be another review because there is a place plan? The resourcing and timing issues are connected—

The Convener

I apologise for interrupting—I have chastised other members for cutting off witnesses—but my understanding as regards timing is that local place plans can be delivered whenever communities are ready. Do you have a preference on timing, or do you think that it is right that plans should be delivered when communities are ready? Even if development plans are then set with nine years, 11 months and 30 days still to run, should they still take cognisance of local place plans?

Professor Hague

I am slightly making this up as I go along, because I have not fully thought the matter through, but what might work, and what I will float as an idea is that after the announcement that there will be an LDP or an LDP review, there should be an opportunity for communities to bid for having an LPP in their area. The LDP process should review those and consider its own priorities and where it thinks particular action would be appropriate. It should then identify areas that will have LPPs in the subsequent part of the process. That might get over some of the problems in resourcing, prioritising and integrating the process. However, I am happy to be shot down for that idea because, as I said, I have not fully thought it through.

The Convener

That is a helpful suggestion. The committee is wrestling with what local place plans will look like and what the dynamic with development plans will be.

Kate Houghton

Local place plans certainly could be helpful, provided that they are resourced. Resources will be needed for capacity building in communities, for relevant technical expertise and to make sure that LPPs are tied into other local authority corporate strategies. As Professor Hague said, we need to make sure that the timing is right as far as the LDP—which will remain the strategic plan for the local authority area—is concerned.

Another condition that is extremely important is to make sure that local place plans are properly tied in with other measures that are coming through—for example, on community empowerment. We know that, as part of community planning, local authorities are consulting on locality plans as part of locality boards, and that conversations are taking place with communities. We need to make sure that local place plans strengthen the ability to take outcomes from those consultations and turn them into statutory spatial planning, rather than adding another layer, which might be quite confusing.

We need to be clear about what outcome we seek when we talk to people about their places and ask them for their say. They might talk about a host of issues, some of which might not be to do with statutory spatial planning. Local place plans offer the ability to take the things that are relevant and to pull them into the planning system, but it is not yet clear how that process will be aligned with community planning.

Malcolm Fraser

As someone who has led several towns’ charrettes, which are a form of local planning, I know that there is great frustration at the sharp end of communities about the fact that the outcomes are almost universally set aside when it comes to planning applications. The applications that come in are at variance with outputs from the charrettes, and there seems to be no appetite in planning departments to apply the outcomes of charrettes to incoming applications. How that should be strengthened is perhaps a question for Kate Houghton.

I understand that, at the moment, local planners have to “have regard to” local place planning and charrettes. Are they told that that regard has to be material? Is there a form of words that would make planners listen? At the moment, they are not listening. They are taking sustainable development as an imperative, whereby they will say yes to any application that comes in, but without applying processes that have been paid for with public money and into which local people have put time and effort. Those processes just seem to be set aside.

The Convener

It would be helpful if Kate Houghton could answer that. The bill asks planning authorities to “have regard to” local place plans, but it does not say what that should mean. Should there be a clear process by which local authorities must consider local place plans that would give them an evidence base for explaining to what extent the plans had been incorporated into their development plan, or should the two just dovetail? What is the best way of resolving that?

Kate Houghton

That highlights the point about alignment and timing. For me, the proposed evidence report that forms part of the LDP process will be even more important than local place plans when it comes to front loading community involvement in planning decisions. A lot of what happens will rest on making sure that the evidence report is transparent and truly participatory, and that community inputs are heard at that point. There are already community action plans and urban regeneration forums. The outcomes from those processes should feed in at the evidence report stage.

I am in the same position as Professor Hague in that I have been trying to synthesise my thinking. A way of doing it might be to use the evidence report to highlight the big strategic issues for all stakeholders, including communities. Those issues could feed into the development of the LDP, which covers a bigger area and is a more strategic document, while the local place plans could look at some of the finer-grained detail at neighbourhood level.

The Convener

It would be helpful to hear any views that the witnesses may have on what that evidence report should look like if it is to be meaningful. We have not asked whether front loading the system is the right approach.

12:45  
Professor Hague

We all recognise that evidence-informed policy making is important. It worries me that the motif running through the bill, particularly in its supporting technical paper, is that it is all about saving costs. Evidence costs money, and we need to respect that. We need a solid evidence base—that used to be the approach in the old days of regional structure plans and the regional council research and intelligence teams.

Qualitative evidence is needed. The debate should not be about just the modelling of housing numbers; we need to take in community views about identity, qualities of place and so on. I like the idea of an evidence report, but it needs to be done in an inclusive way. The message in the technical paper is that there is a lot of distrust—that communities will be unrepresentative individuals who will demand unrealistic things and who need to be held back. That worries me. In relation to the whole bill, the only place where “inclusive” has been used is in the technical paper, which puts a duty on the community that has prepared the LPP to demonstrate that it has been inclusive. The balance has to be right, which means going towards a crowd-sourcing approach to tap into and respect local knowledge.

The Convener

I will take Malcolm Fraser next, but if he has reflections on the relationship between the local place plans and the development plans—including the evidence report and the gate check, which is supposed to be another safeguard in the system—I ask him to include them in his answer. That would be helpful, because we might not have time to cover those issues otherwise. He does not have to answer that point, but I leave it out there.

Malcolm Fraser

What I was going to say, convener, is that the words “have regard” in the bill are not strong enough. Something like “must regard local place plans or charrettes as significant material considerations” would strengthen the bill so that communities do not feel duped by processes that are not listened to.

The Convener

Do other witnesses have sympathy with that point?

Kate Houghton

Partially, certainly. If local place plans are prepared, they should be taken seriously. I again highlight the point that local authorities will need to be a stakeholder in their production. They should be community led, because that will be an important way to improve community trust in the system, but the local authority will also be preparing the LDP, which will be the statutory development plan. I therefore think that it is important that, throughout an LDP’s preparation, there is a conversation about constraints and context with the local authority, so that what the community puts down in the LPP is deliverable.

The Convener

We will move on in a second, and I will give a heads-up on the next line of questioning.

On alignment, we would all like to see local place plans having a substantial role in the process. We have looked at resource and capacity issues and we are now talking about whether they will dovetail with the local development plan.

The previous evidence session had a strong focus on housing. I know that planning is not just about housing, but we talked about building the right number of homes in the right places and of the right tenure types for the right demographic—and getting all of that right. Local authority housing needs assessments and the SHIPs inform that process.

I do not want to constrain local place plans, but what is the balance between flexibility for local place plans and saying to communities—whoever they are—that there are other things that they must take into consideration? They may need to consider wider strategic interests or the need for housing in an area if their local place plan is to be a material consideration in the planning process.

How much flexibility will there be in areas where perhaps the local place plan goes off in one direction but the area’s strategic needs go off in another? That was not a very succinct example, but I hope that you understand my point. If they are going to be a material consideration in the planning process, how much flexibility should local place plans have?

Malcolm Fraser

The processes need to be seen as complementary. Obviously, you can imagine a situation where a community says in its local place plan, “Not in my back yard,” despite there being a clear strategic requirement to strengthen and fortify that community. You just have to rely on planners and the planning process to be able to balance both as material considerations. I am not suggesting that Mrs McGlumphy saying, “Not in my back yard,” should trump regional and national requirements; I am saying that the planning profession needs to be able to weigh both.

The Convener

Of course, Mrs McGlumphy is allowed to say that, as long as there is a mechanism by which it can be dealt with in the planning process.

Malcolm Fraser

Absolutely, yes.

Professor Hague

You have put the dilemma very well, convener. The more I think about it, the more I realise that the system is quite robust in that respect, as I said about five minutes ago. If the propositions for the local place plan could be tendered or pitched—“This is what we want to do”—there could then be a process of negotiation and the local place plan could be prepared in negotiation with the local planning authority. That should avoid the situation that Malcolm Fraser is hypothesising, which I do not think that any of us wants to see. We want an inclusive system.

Thereafter, the closer the process is tied into the development plan, the more crucial it is that it is respected as it goes through the latter stages of the system. We absolutely must not get into situations in which a community organisation, with the support of the council, has committed a lot of time and effort to preparing the local place plan, and then two years down the line permission for a development is granted at appeal that contradicts the plan and in which the community has had no say. In such situations, people will be scunnered, and we must not get into them. The more the local place plan is integrated, the more robust it must be and the more strength it must have as it goes through the system.

The Convener

This will be the witnesses’ last opportunity to talk about local place plans, and then we will move on.

Kate Houghton

I have mentioned this briefly, but it is worth repeating. The statistics show that, since 2009, local authorities have lost 23 per cent of their planners. For local place plans to succeed and to be influential, and for people to be properly involved in preparing them, they will have to be resourced. It is impossible to overstate the importance of that.

Stuart Tait

There is another point about the relationship between the national planning framework and the development plan hierarchy. Will the communities that are involved in the production of local place plans understand something that is set up through the national planning framework that might have a direct influence on their local place plan? Will they engage in that national planning framework process sufficiently to understand the implications as it flows down through the regional and local levels to their specific area? I am thinking particularly about housing numbers. There could be a real disconnect between the two.

The Convener

That is helpful. We will now move on to the next line of questioning.

Graham Simpson

I want to look at the system of appeals—I would appreciate a whistle-stop tour. I think that the witnesses all have different views on the issue, so this should be interesting. Should we have a system of appeals? If so, what should it be?

Malcolm Fraser

The system is clearly iniquitous. On the other hand, long attritional processes are a public disaster. I have never seen a development get better during appeal. The only winners I have seen are lawyers and planning consultants. The development is usually built, but with much of the value taken out of it and it is worse than when it started off.

The simple solution is to allow nobody to appeal. That would have the very radical consequence of making sure that we got things right upstream, and it would take away the planners who tell me that they are turning down an application, but that I will win on appeal. It would make sure that the right decisions were made upstream so that development happened more quickly. It would reduce the processes and administration in the system and focus on what we say and think about getting planning right. It would also make sure that local communities were involved earlier on, and it would strengthen the democratic process by requiring planning committee members to consider the economic impact and the impact on communities at the same time. To me, that would be a win-win situation.

Kate Houghton

We have talked about a lot of things today that are really significant in scope. We have talked about the purpose of the planning system, local place plans—which for the first time offer the public the chance to write their own plan—and public infrastructure. What we have on the table here is the opportunity to make some transformative changes to the planning system that will make it proactive and deliver for everybody, as I have said. It is more important to focus on that than to tinker around the edges with appeals. We want to make sure that we have a positive system up front that is working properly.

Professor Hague

I heard the discussion at the end of the previous evidence session. One thing that struck me was the assumption by Scottish Renewables, Homes for Scotland and other industry representatives that something like an equal right of appeal would mean that fewer permissions would be granted on appeal. It seems that if someone has faith in the rightness of their development application, the fact that it is subjected to an appeal by objectors or third parties should not reduce the possibility of that application being upheld.

I think that the appeals part is the Achilles’ heel in the system. It is the point at which there is maximum distrust and delay, and at which the system is most inequitable in terms of the costs that people can incur and the investment that they put in. In many international systems, the appeal either goes back to the authority that took the original decision or it goes to a tribunal that takes a decision but then goes back to the executive of the authority.

Everybody agrees that, by increasing the certainty, we can probably speed up decisions and increase the amount of development that we can deliver. The system needs to be simplified as a matter of both efficiency and equity. There is a strong case for looking at some of the models that Mr Wightman’s earlier questioning opened up.

Dorothy McDonald

My experience is that, when collaborative working is operating well in planning authorities and local authorities, development proposals usually have a very happy and smooth journey. That is very evident in the case of applications for housing developments from registered social landlords, which tend to work very collaboratively with local authorities. However, that is sometimes not the case with private sector development, and there is something to be said for developers and others with development proposals working more collaboratively with planning authorities upstream.

Graham Simpson

Malcolm Fraser suggests that there should be no right of appeal—clearly, that would treat people equally—but organisations such as Homes For Scotland would argue that if the right of appeal were removed, developers, for example, would be scared away from Scotland. How would you answer that point?

13:00  
Malcolm Fraser

The answer would have to be that this is about focusing on the process upstream and getting better results from that. It should not mean that applications that would win on appeal are turned down. The point would have to be that those who win an appeal should have won originally. I admit that that would require a bit more professionalism from planning committees, but it would also require a bit more realism about the importance of development. I hope that that could be advertised to those who were investing in Scotland as a measure that Scotland was taking to make sure that its planning process was more robust, clear and open, and that it would produce good results for good development more quickly.

If you tell people that the right development—that is, a development that is in line with development plans and in the right place, and which delivers what people want—will get planning permission more quickly, more simply and without the agony of appeals, that should be regarded as an attractive thing and not as something that would hold back investment.

Graham Simpson

I have a question to put to all the witnesses. In the current system of appeals, the decision ultimately goes all the way up to a Government minister. Should we remove the right of a Government minister to have any say in local planning applications? Should the matter be dealt with locally?

Kate Houghton

As we have talked about, geography is complex, and even a local planning application might involve matters of national significance. Recourse to the minister is a long-standing feature of the system, and the minister is democratically accountable.

Graham Simpson

Who is he democratically accountable to?

Kate Houghton

The minister is elected, as part of the Government.

Graham Simpson

A local councillor is definitely democratically accountable for local decisions, but a minister is not. If a minister who is, for example, a member for Inverness, takes a decision on a planning application in Glasgow, he is not accountable to the people in Glasgow.

Kate Houghton

The minister would be likely to use such power only when there are issues of national significance involved.

Graham Simpson

That is just not true. The minister is using the powers left, right and centre, and not just on major applications.

The Convener

You are absolutely allowed to disagree with each other. Getting people’s views is the point of having evidence-taking sessions.

Do you have any further follow-up questions, Mr Simpson?

Graham Simpson

No, because I know that others want to come in.

Monica Lennon

I am having a member’s business debate—I hope that it will take place next week, but it might be moved, given the changes to parliamentary business—on the issue of incinerators, planning and public health. To illustrate my question, I will use the example of energy-from-waste plants in Lanarkshire, where I am based. Back in 2013, there was a lot of front loading and up-front engagement before a planning application was made. The communities, in the widest sense, were heavily involved across different council ward boundaries and so on, because the environmental impact of such applications does not respect local boundaries.

The local planning committee, on a cross-party basis, refused the application. The developer used the right of appeal and, irrespective of Scottish planning policy—the development was not acceptable under SPP guidelines—the application was approved on appeal anyway. The approval came 12 months after the appeal was lodged, so a lot of uncertainty and tension were created in that time. The developer was entitled to have that appeal, but the application violated the local development plan and was not consistent with Scottish planning policy. However, the developer has gone back in and now wants a bigger and bolder facility.

That has been a route for developers to get more out of the system, and communities feel really let down when that happens, when they have acted in good faith and engaged with the process. When we talk about equalising the system, I keep thinking about the situation that I have described, because that is an example in which a community got involved and gave up their Saturdays and evenings but, at the end of the day, the people who could afford the planning consultants and lawyers were able to appeal and win. What does that say for democracy? Is that the kind of planning system that we want?

Kate Houghton

That is why we are here. We are trying to make the system work better.

Monica Lennon

But are we not defending the status quo if we say that we should leave appeals as they are because we hope that the bill will be transformative, even though we have no evidence that any resources will be put into planning to make sure that that is the case? There seems to be a feeling that we should leave appeals to one side. Last week, Petra Biberbach said that we could have a conversation about appeals, but not necessarily in the context of the bill. Why should we put the issue aside to deal with later?

Kate Houghton

The example that you are talking about, which illustrates the general situation, took place in the existing system. We are talking about trying to bring in a new system that has a new focus, that involves things such as local place plans and which is, crucially, more collaborative. That collaboration involves not only local authority planning and communities but all of the stakeholders. The fact that decision making will be upstreamed from the outset should lead to more certainty that proposals in a development plan will be those that will move forward. That is a radically different approach.

As I said, achieving that approach and committing to it is a lot more radical than tinkering with appeal rights.

Monica Lennon

In a situation in which, for example, a development plan zones a piece of land for incineration, and there is certainty in the plan—in the context of Scottish planning policy and the criteria about the proximity of incinerators to people’s homes—are we saying that the route by which the community can have its voice heard involves coming up with a local place plan that tries to argue that something other than incineration should happen in that area? We are not changing the plan-led system. We will still have a plan-led system and national guidance. Therefore, what in the bill will give our constituents a different experience from that which they have under the present system?

The Convener

If other panel members would like to come in on that question, they can do so. I know that Mr Wightman has a question, and I want to make sure that he has time to ask it.

Kate Houghton

Local place plans are important but, for me, even more important is getting the engagement right in the local development plan and ensuring that a priority in the early stages of the local development plan is getting collaboration from all stakeholders, including communities of place and of interest.

Monica Lennon

We are still settling for a situation in which an appeal could overturn all of that at the end.

Kate Houghton

In an ideal world, there would be no need to appeal, because there would have been collaborative decision making up front. We want to focus on getting that part of the system right.

The Convener

I think that there is simply a divergence of views here, which is absolutely allowed. Does anybody want to add any reflections on the issue before Mr Wightman asks the final question?

Professor Hague

I will diverge from Kate Houghton. I would like to believe that the system could work in the way that she describes but, in the real world, I do not think that it will.

Looking at the bill and what is in the technical paper, we can say that the offer on the up-front bit is the local place plans. However, as we have seen, none of us is quite sure what they will be or how they will work. Without being disparaging, relying on them is a bit like going on a wing and a prayer. They might be great, but we do not have rock-solid information on what they are yet.

With regard to the pre-application consultations, the idea is that there might be a move from one public meeting to two. That is how the scales go on that side. On the other side, we know from the example that Monica Lennon gave that the scales are heavily weighted. I do not see how that amounts to balance.

In the end, a lot of this comes down to subsidiarity. As Mr Simpson said, the extent to which ministers make decisions on the basis that something is a matter of national significance stretches the definition of what really is nationally significant. At the moment, it is too easy for local views to be overridden.

The Convener

I will let Mr Fraser speak in a second, but because we have to close this evidence session imminently, I will cheat a bit by asking Mr Wightman to ask his question at this point, so that we can roll it together with Monica Lennon’s question and enable the witnesses to give us any final considerations that they might have.

Andy Wightman

I have a specific question for Clydeplan and a brief point on appeals.

As Petra Biberbach said last week, when the 1947 act was passed, it nationalised development control. Prior to that, landowners could build a house on their land without the consent of anybody else—that is not strictly true, of course, because there was some planning control before that. Naturally, in 1947, many landowners were concerned about decisions being made by people who had not made those decisions before. It was therefore conceded that they would have a right of appeal on the merits of decisions. However, that was to be a temporary arrangement—Petra Biberbach suggested that the idea was that it would be in place for 10 years—while the system bedded down. I simply observe that, although the right of appeal is part of the system, it need not be, and it is not a part of the system that was ever intended to be permanent. What was intended to be permanent was good plan-led development, so that people knew what was appropriate and what was not appropriate, and then the application would follow.

The Convener

Do you have a question, Mr Wightman?

Andy Wightman

I have a technical question for Clydeplan. In paragraph 8.2 of its submission, Clydeplan says:

“The level of human resources available to the four SDPA’s has significantly reduced since the commencement of the Planning Review, from 15 professional planners to a resource today of 7.”

Can you clarify that? Are you saying that just seven people are responsible for the production of all strategic development plans in Scotland?

Stuart Tait

That is the core resource in terms of those who are employed in the strategic development planning authorities, but those authorities rely on joint working with local authorities to supplement that resource to deliver the plans, working with the wider stakeholders. Because of joint working, we can reach into local authorities to pull in expertise as we require it.

The Convener

Given the time, we must end this session. I say to all our witnesses that they should continue their relationship with the committee and write to us if they have additional observations. There is much to discuss about the bill. We could have discussed equal rights of appeal or place planning for the entire two hours. Unfortunately, however, this is just how it works. Thank you for your patience and your time on what is now this afternoon, not this morning.

We now move into private session for agenda item 2.

13:12 Meeting continued in private until 13:14.  
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Third meeting transcript

The Convener (Bob Doris)

Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the ninth meeting in 2018 of the Local Government and Communities Committee. I remind everyone present to turn off mobile phones. As meeting papers are provided in digital format, tablets may be used by some members during the meeting.

We have received no apologies—we have a full house of MSPs today, I am delighted to say. Agenda item 1 is on the Planning (Scotland) Bill. The committee will take evidence on the bill at stage 1 from two panels.

I welcome our initial panel this morning—Graeme Purves, chair of the Built Environment Forum Scotland; Diarmid Hearns, head of policy, National Trust for Scotland; Aileen MacKenzie, planning manager, Scottish Water; and Aedán Smith, convener of the planning group at Scottish Environment LINK. I thank all of you for coming along to aid us in our scrutiny of the bill at stage 1. Andy Wightman will start the questioning.

Andy Wightman (Lothian) (Green)

I have some questions on the national planning framework and strategic development plans. The bill makes quite important changes to the status of those. It makes the NPF part of the development plan and there are amendments to the scrutiny of that. The bill also abolishes strategic development plans, which are to be replaced by a more flexible duty to co-operate. What are panel members’ views on those changes and whether they will help to deliver better places?

Graeme Purves (Built Environment Forum Scotland)

I am happy to kick off on that. I will just give some background—I was a professional planner in local government and central Government for some 29 years. Latterly, I was an assistant chief planner with the Scottish Government and I led the teams that prepared the first and second national planning frameworks.

I am concerned that the proposals relating to the NPF could result in an overcentralised system and that, rather than enhancing the status of the NPF, we risk overburdening it and loading too much on to it. The bill seems to envisage loading Scottish planning policy, which is non-spatial policy, in with the NPF.

There also seems to be an intention to place a regional dimension of strategic planning in the national planning framework. There is a risk that that will make the document overloaded and unwieldy. There is a further risk that the process will be overcentralised, that we will lose the strength of regional agency that we have had in Scotland for a long time and that the national planning framework will lose its cutting edge and become a general repository for planning policy rather than a document that is clearly focused on setting out a long-term spatial strategy for Scotland.

Aedán Smith (Scottish Environment LINK)

Scottish Environment LINK is supportive of having a national planning framework. We think that it is important to have a national spatial strategy to help to decide where the big things are going to go across Scotland and to have a long-term vision about how to make Scotland a more sustainable place. However, some of the changes are a little concerning. Although it is good to have a national planning framework that takes a long-term view of where Scotland wants to go, shifting to a 10-year cycle is a bit of a worry, as things can change a lot in 10 years. What was happening 10 years ago in the planning world? Donald Trump was getting planning consent for his golf course in Aberdeenshire. It is hard to imagine that happening now—things have moved on quite a lot. I am not sure that shifting to a 10-year cycle is necessarily a good thing, although I believe that a long-term vision should be set out in the national planning framework.

We think that including Scottish planning policy in the national planning framework risks overloading it. At the moment, Scottish planning policy sets out different sorts of specific criteria-based policies, whereas the national planning framework is much more spatial, as Graeme Purves described. There is a risk of making the document quite heavy and burdensome.

The other disadvantage of including Scottish planning policy in the national planning framework is that it would mean that it is likely that there would be only one consultation on SPP and the NPF together, whereas, at the moment, they are consulted on separately, which gives communities and others an opportunity to get involved in thinking about what the criteria policies mean, separate from what the spatial strategy means. There is also, at the moment, an opportunity for an environmental assessment of those.

Likewise, we are a bit worried about the implications of including strategic planning in the national planning framework. We are pretty neutral on where strategic planning sits, but we think that there is an essential role for strategic planning at a regional level—that is, a sub-national but greater than local level. As they stand at the moment, the proposals are a bit unclear about how that would be safeguarded.

Although we are neutral on the question of whether regional planning and strategic development plans sit within the national planning framework or sit with local authorities, as they do at the moment, they definitely need to be dealt with somehow.

There are other issues where we think that there might be opportunities in relation to the national planning framework. There should be clear links across to other sectors of spatial planning in Scotland, particularly marine planning and agriculture, forestry and other areas of land use, through the land use strategy. Taken together, the land use strategy, the national marine plan and the national planning framework create a holistic mission for Scotland, so they need to be thought about in a consistent way.

Even more important, the national planning framework sets out a long-term vision for how we might want to make Scotland a better place in future, yet it sits quite separate from the budgeting process at the moment. The last two national planning frameworks have both been introduced with a phrase that ministers have included, which states that the national planning framework is a spatial expression of the Government’s economic strategy. It makes sense to have a link between the Government’s economic strategy and the spatial vision for the sort of place that we want Scotland to be. However, to have the long-term vision being the spatial expression of a shorter-term budget-setting strategy seems to be the wrong way round. We think that it would be much more sensible if the budgeting process were to follow the long-term vision for a future Scotland that is set out in the national planning framework. Therefore, we are keen to see that link between shorter-term budget setting and the longer-term vision for how we are making Scotland a sustainable place, which can be set out in the national planning framework.

Aileen MacKenzie (Scottish Water)

With regard to regional planning, we have concerns that some of the experience that we have built up in recent years and the relationships that we have with some of the strategic development planning authorities might be lost. We have worked quite closely with them, as we have done with other key agencies, to ensure that they have been informed and have had direction.

We need to ensure that those relationships are maintained and that we do not lose them as we go forward. We use some of those outputs to give us a guide to where we will invest in the longer term. Although they do not give us the numbers that the local development plans give, they give us an idea of where areas might expand in the future, so they can help us with our longer-term investment planning.

We also want delivery plans linked more closely with the city deals. At the moment, there are city deals in similar regions, but they are not necessarily joined up. There are some places where the developments link in, but linking city deals with delivery plans would be a useful way of progressing.

We support having some Scottish planning policies decided at a higher level. There are different policies, for example on flooding and drainage, in every local development plan. Some elements of those policies could be taken at a higher level, to allow local development plans to focus on more specific issues within an area. We want surface water management to be considered much earlier in the process. Again, it could help if that was part of the national planning framework and Scottish planning policy.

Diarmid Hearns (National Trust for Scotland)

I echo what has been said, but I have some concerns about transparency. At the moment, there is an opportunity to consult in the regional plan. If we moved to a more laissez-faire arrangement, there is no indication that the public would definitely have an opportunity to have a view. Similarly, public awareness of the NPF is very low. We measured that 11 per cent of the public had heard of it. National developments all happen in local places, so it is a concern if people are not aware that the developments will impact on them.

It is important that Parliament scrutinises a higher number of developments. In that regard, it might be worth looking at the Welsh experience. From the beginning, its national plan had developments baked into it. Under the statutory requirements, the Welsh Government has to consider, and give a response to, each of the recommendations of the National Assembly for Wales. When it first started life, our NPF was more visionary, and it has now evolved into something more deliberate. Scrutiny needs to go alongside that.

Aedán Smith

Diarmid Hearns has reminded me of one extra point. The proposals would make the NPF more powerful than it is at the moment. The proposals in the bill to extend parliamentary scrutiny from 60 days to 90 days are welcome, but we think that Parliament needs to be involved much more than just through those extra days of scrutiny. In fact, there should be an approval process in Parliament so that the national planning framework is owned and approved by Parliament, rather than it just being a vehicle of Government. It should be a document for all of Scotland, rather than just for the Government.

Graeme Purves

I would like to come back briefly on the important point that Aedán Smith made about the link between the national planning framework and national budgeting. There is a narrative around the need to enhance the status of the national planning framework. My feeling is that the national planning framework has not lacked status in the planning system; it is generally accepted as being an important policy document in planning decision making, certainly at local government level. However, the national planning framework has perhaps lacked status in the Government and in national budgeting. If we want to enhance the status of the document, we should focus on that area.

Andy Wightman

The policy memorandum to the bill says:

“national developments are accorded the same status as the development plan in planning decisions.”

However, my understanding is that planning authorities have to take account of the national planning framework only in drafting their development plan. I do not want to have a seminar on what the national planning framework is but, clearly, the Government views this as a technical change. It sees the national planning framework as having the same status, if the bill is passed as drafted, as it does at the moment. Aedán Smith talked about enhanced parliamentary scrutiny, but my understanding is that the Planning etc (Scotland) Act 2006 says that Parliament can merely look at the national planning framework, scrutinise it, debate it and pass a motion on Parliament’s response to it—but that is not a law. Is there a danger, in making the national planning framework part of the development plan, that it would sit uncomfortably with local development plans, which have much more democratic input? Am I overworrying?

09:15  
Aedán Smith

I am happy to provide a quick comment on that. Making the NPF part of the development plan would certainly give it an enhanced status over what it has at the moment, albeit that it already has quite a strong status in planning decision making. Making it part of the development plan would make it the first port of call, if you like, when planning decisions are being made, because planning decisions are made in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise. At the moment, the NPF is perhaps a second-tier thing to be looked at in planning decisions, although development plans are still required to have quite a lot of regard for it.

That change is just one of the areas where the proposals make the national planning framework quite a bit more powerful and possibly shift a little bit of the balance of decision making towards the Scottish Government and away from local levels. That is why we think that it is critical that the national planning framework gets the sign-off and approval of Parliament. That would not give the national planning framework in itself the same status as a law, but it would put in law a requirement for it to be approved by Parliament before it could progress. It would at least give Parliament that democratic oversight of the framework as a whole. At the moment, the Government has to lay it before Parliament and have regard to Parliament’s views, but it does not necessarily have to have regard to all of them—to a certain extent, it can pick and choose which of the Parliament’s comments to take up.

Graeme Purves

I watched the committee’s evidence session last week and I saw Mr Wightman refer to this matter then. On the process of parliamentary scrutiny, there is an important provision in the existing legislation that ministers are required to report back to Parliament on how they have taken account of the national planning framework, and that is not a perfunctory process. I know that because I drafted the report to Parliament on behalf of ministers. Significant changes were made to the second national planning framework in the light of the Parliament’s views. Two new national developments were added and a couple of others were adjusted.

In that context, the process of scrutiny is carried out diligently, and the evidence is that ministers have listened carefully to what Parliament has said and taken significant elements of that on board. That might be instructive when we discuss how the bill might give some local force to local place plans. Perhaps we will come to that later.

The Convener

I assure you that we will definitely come to that later.

I have a question to mop up before we move to the next line of questioning. Is there a general consensus among the witnesses that there should be greater parliamentary scrutiny of the national planning framework? The ultimate option would be that it had to be approved by Parliament, but Mr Purves seemed to suggest that there could be a variance to that, or a more meaningful role for Parliament without the NPF going to it for approval. I want to understand whether there are any other options. Is the choice between the current system and approval by Parliament, or is there something in between that could be done? If so, will you put that on the record so that we know what it would be?

Graeme Purves

I did not intend to suggest that there was something in between. I think that Mr Wightman is entirely correct. At the moment, ministers have the final say on the national planning framework, but there are provisions on scrutiny and a requirement on ministers to report back to Parliament on how they have taken account of the plan. I am relaxed about whether the national planning framework should be approved by Parliament, but ministers may be less relaxed about that.

The Convener

It is for them to give their opinions when they come to the committee. I just wondered whether there was a third option, if you like.

Is your question specifically on this point, Mr Simpson?

Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

Yes. A third option could be for the national planning framework to come to, say, this committee. We could do line-by-line scrutiny of it and then report on it to ministers and to Parliament. I wonder what you think of that.

The Convener

I suspect that the session—

Graham Simpson

I wonder whether the witnesses might express a view.

Graeme Purves

In the past, the scrutiny process has involved up to three committees. Committee scrutiny has been part of the process up to now.

The Convener

I was just thinking that the Finance and Constitution Committee’s deliberations last night and this morning might look like nothing compared with line-by-line scrutiny of the NPF, but there could certainly be more committee involvement.

Aedán Smith

I will comment quickly to support what Graeme Purves has said. The last two times the NPF has come through Parliament, there has been quite a bit of scrutiny but, each time, it has been notable that we have been stretched for time to look at it, so the extension to 90 days is welcome. However, we would question whether 90 days is adequate for something like this, particularly if we are planning to move to a 10-year cycle for the NPF. If we stick with the current model, additional time would be useful, especially to allow committees to scrutinise the detail. Our view is that there should be sign-off from Parliament as a whole. Given the importance of the NPF and given what happens with the budget process at the moment, that seems to be the way to go.

The Convener

Before we move to Alexander Stewart’s question, I want to check one final point. There was talk of alignment between the NPF and the budgets in this place, but I was unclear on whether the suggestion was that one should direct the other. What should the connectivity be between the NPF and budgets in Parliament? My understanding is that the NPF has a whole range of projects that are essential or desirable, and short term, medium term or long term, and that there will not necessarily be cash for all of them. Is it wishful thinking that one will dictate the other, because there might never be enough money for that to happen? I ask our witnesses for brief comments on what the relationship should be between budgets in the Parliament and the NPF. What everyone was saying sounded good, but I am not sure how it would work in practice.

Diarmid Hearns

An example that I would give is the commitment to the national ecological network, which we, as a community, are very keen on. The idea that we map the areas with the highest biodiversity rates in Scotland and make sure that they are protected and connected up has never been progressed. That is primarily about resource, which relates to the land use strategy—which is also a spatial strategy for Scotland—and to which planning makes reference in passing but with which it does not quite integrate. Therefore it may be that money is the missing element of those two things that brings them all together. If there were a commitment in the NPF that there is budget to go with it and deliver it, that would make sense and might scale down the NPF, limiting it to things that could come forward.

The Convener

I will bring in the other witnesses in a moment, but are you suggesting that only things for which there is a budget should appear in the NPF?

Diarmid Hearns

If they are Government ambitions, it would make sense for them to go into the budgetary cycle. The national ecological network is an example of something that has not gone forward because there is no resource for it. Therefore it just sits there as a political commitment, if we might call it that.

The Convener

If it is desirable and strategically important, surely it should still be in the NPF whether there is money for it or not.

Graeme Purves

I would argue that. My perspective is that the NPF is a long-term spatial perspective. It should play a bigger part in informing budgetary decisions than it has done until now. Yet if, having considered the matter in the budgetary process, Parliament or the Government concludes that there just is not the money to do something that is in the NPF, it will have to make decisions on that basis and conclude either that something may have to be dropped in the long term or that its delivery may have to be postponed.

The Convener

That is much more nuanced.

Aedán Smith

The NPF sets out a long-term vision of where we want to get to in future, at a point perhaps 20 to 30 years hence, whereas a budgetary process is much more short term and immediate than that. We envisage that, when the budget is being introduced and approved, there would be a statement of alignment with that long-term vision, so that the shorter-term economic levers head us broadly in the right direction. That does not necessarily mean that every single thing that is set out in the NPF to be delivered over a period of 20 to 30 years needs to be covered in that year’s budget. However, generally speaking, we should be heading in the right direction—otherwise, we might ask what the point is.

The Convener

That is very helpful and has helped me to understand the issue.

Alexander Stewart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I want to expand the discussion and get the panel’s thoughts in examining the relationship between the local place plan and the statutory development plan and how that should be managed. There has been talk about formalising the process, whether material consideration should be given to it or whether regard should be had to it. It would be good to have your views on what relationship should take place.

Aileen MacKenzie

From our perspective, we would like to see the engagement of communities with planning earlier rather than in a separate plan. A concern for us, and probably for the other agencies, is about where we provide information that informs the local plan and where we provide information that informs local place plans. There is a danger when there are two plans that we end up having to provide information more than once. Also, how that information is interpreted could change over time if those plans are not together.

Our perspective is that communities should be involved much earlier in the planning process through the development of the local development plan. That would mean that everybody is working with the same information and understanding as we go through the process. There should also be clear delivery plans for the local development plans, which would help communities understand what is going to be done to address any concerns that might have come up, such as those to do with infrastructure—that way there will be clarity. Those delivery plans should be updated regularly as we progress with what we have to do or when developers have to do something, so that communities can see that any concerns are being addressed as we progress through those plans.

The Convener

Are there other thoughts on that question?

Diarmid Hearns

The idea of a local place plan is definitely a positive. The issues with it are to do with resources, as other witnesses have identified, and its status in relation to the local development plan. For it to have value, it would have to be comprehensive—all communities would have to have it—and it should come within the local development plan.

I think that the local place plan has potential for expansion. A lot of the issues around quality of place are about how places are managed—about neglect and dereliction. A local place plan could be a way of capturing what the community wants to see in terms of management as well as physical assets. It could also be a boost to community councils. A lot of people are sceptical about community councils, but it is a chicken-and-egg situation. If community councils do not have any powers, people do not take an interest. Perhaps the local place plan could be a way of devolving power to community councils so that they have a stronger local voice. Our research is finding that people feel very disconnected from the local planning system; the local place plan could be a way back into it for them.

Graeme Purves

In relation to local place plans, BEFS shares what is quite a widespread concern about resourcing. Local place plans could have a valuable role in ensuring that community aspirations are given due weight in the local development plan process, but in the current climate we are concerned that they simply might not be adequately resourced to allow them to function successfully.

On whether a requirement to “have regard to” the local place plan is sufficient, our view is that it is not. It comes back to my point about the requirement on the Scottish ministers to report back on the national planning framework, to Parliament in that case. As the convener and, I think, Sarah Boyack said last week, it might be appropriate to place a requirement on the local authority to report back, perhaps at the examination stage, on how it has had regard to the local place plan. Even that would not be a fail-safe mechanism though; a sufficiently brazen authority could say that it had had regard to it, was not impressed by it and did not intend to take anything on board. What happens in that situation?

Aedán Smith

The idea behind local place plans has some merit, but the way in which they are formulated in the bill does not make it clear how they would be resourced, from either a community perspective or a local authority perspective. The fact that they are not part of the local development plan means that they are likely to be given pretty limited weight, and we think that there is a risk that, as formulated, they could end up being quite a distraction from engagement in the local development plan. We are not keen on them as they are currently being progressed. We would much rather see a concentration on getting better engagement in the local development plan process.

Alexander Stewart

You have identified community engagement in the community bodies that are out there. You have touched on community councils, but they are not always representative of a community, although they may be a snapshot of a community. The issue is trying to ensure that a community feels that it is engaging. What support should community bodies have to ensure that they feel they are part of that process?

Diarmid Hearns

It would be primarily financial support to buy in contracts to do the plans or to develop the skills to do it themselves. The financial memorandum does a good job of identifying the minimum costs, and we agree that that would be the bare minimum needed. To do it on a comprehensive basis would be quite expensive up front.

Aileen MacKenzie

Part of it is also about awareness. Quite often communities are not really aware of the earlier stages of local development plans. It is often not until they see the planning application coming through that they become interested. I am not sure what the answer is, but it might be trying to get them engaged earlier, perhaps by working with schools and things like that to help get the message out there. We need to get different parts of the community engaged by raising awareness of the local plan and getting their input on it then, rather than just when they see the planning application come out, further down the process.

09:30  
Graeme Purves

An important part of resourcing would be building the capacity of community councils or the community more generally to engage in the process. In previous evidence sessions, people have made the point that some communities are probably better resourced than others and have easier access to the sort of professional resources that they might need to undertake the task. Capacity building is an important issue. If local place plans are to be effective, they will have to be supported by the sort of resources that would allow that capacity building.

Aedán Smith

To reiterate what Graeme Purves has said, financial resourcing is required, but so is expertise, and some communities have more ready access to that than others.

Alexander Stewart

Some councils have brought in community capacity workers in specific areas to try to resource that. They carry out case studies in the community and bring individuals and organisations together so that they can start to see exactly what is happening. Aileen MacKenzie talked about trying to do that earlier in the process so that the engagement is not just when something happens. That is resource intensive, but it might get the result. Is that a way forward?

The Convener

Are there any takers on that? No one is making eye contact.

Graeme Purves

I think that I said earlier that local place plans have the potential to articulate community aspirations if they are sufficiently resourced, but our members are anxious as to whether that will happen in practice.

Diarmid Hearns

As a caveat to that, anecdotally, we have evidence from charrettes, which are intensive planning sessions, that, when a community is asked what its vision is for the future and that vision is not taken forward, that is almost worse than if the community is not asked in the first place. That builds expectations and disappoints communities, which is an even greater negative outcome.

Jenny Gilruth (Mid Fife and Glenrothes) (SNP)

I want to revisit some of the issues that Alexander Stewart highlighted, particularly the notion of having regard to the content of local place plans. The bill is not very robust in that respect. Graeme Purves alluded to that in response to my colleague, but what are the other panel members’ views on the wording that authorities would need to “have regard to” the local place plans? I presume that the authority or whoever makes the decisions could decide that they have had regard to the local place plan but then completely ignore it. Do the other panel members have that concern? If so, do we need to revisit that wording?

The Convener

I see nodding heads. Who would like to come in and put something on the record?

Aedán Smith

I agree that the wording is not strong enough as it stands. As Diarmid Hearns suggested, there is a risk that communities could have their expectations raised and then not delivered, which will result in greater frustration with the planning system than we have already, which would not be helpful. When we take that with some of the other changes that are being proposed to other bits of the development planning system, that is a bit of a worry. For instance—we may get on to this later—we are losing a key consultation stage in the development plan preparation process through the loss of the main issues report stage, which is a key stage in that it allows communities to get involved and find out what the development plan does. In effect, there is also the loss of supplementary planning guidance, which is a key specialist area of planning for local areas. To an extent, the local place plans are a bit of a distraction from sorting out the development plans.

Graeme Purves

I broadly agree with that. I do not know whether I am allowed to refer to the supporting document that the Government issued along with the bill and the memorandum that is headed “Future Process”, which outlines how the local development plan process might work. It is probably among the documents.

The Convener

If it is in the public domain, there is nothing to preclude you from mentioning it.

Graeme Purves

The concerning thing about that is that it presents the local place plans as coming in after the assessment of evidence. From the diagram, the assessment of evidence seems to be a fairly technocratic exercise that would be concerned primarily with things such as housing numbers and their delivery. If the local community agenda is brought in after that, the community will be starting at a disadvantage. There would be a risk, particularly if the local authority has to do nothing more than “have regard to” the local place plan, that it could be brought in after the evidence assessment and then ejected at examination stage, which would leave communities feeling fairly disgruntled.

Jenny Gilruth

On Aileen MacKenzie’s point about the city deals, the committee has previously looked at the city deals and the Government’s aspiration to drive inclusive growth. Do you think that there is something missing from the bill on tackling inequalities and on how poorer areas could be supported to engage in the local place planning process? Alexander Stewart alluded to community councils and the issue of who engages at a local level. There is a concern that certain communities will have capacity but others will not. Is there a danger that, if we do not make a direct connection between inclusive growth and what we think the planning process should be about, we could be missing a trick?

Aileen MacKenzie

It is a question of making sure that these things are joined up so that they flow through and people have sight of what is happening. The issue with city deals might be more about the funding, the infrastructure and so on. Everybody needs to be included in the process so that they are aware of the bigger picture.

Aedán Smith

I have an additional point on city deals, which we have found a bit frustrating, partly because they have been delivered almost outwith the planning process, when the planning process would have been the logical place to identify priorities for some of that spending. The fact that that has not happened is extremely unfortunate.

The Convener

I am glad that you put that on the record.

Graham Simpson

The National Trust for Scotland did some research that found that 60 per cent of Scots felt that they had no influence over planning decisions affecting their local area. You say that the proposals in the bill do not address that dissatisfaction; in fact, several proposals appear to increase the role of central Government and the distance between decision makers and those who are affected. All the panellists have touched on that area, and we discussed local place plans.

How do you think that the bill could close the gap between communities and the system? How could communities become more involved so that, at the end of the process, we do not get a demand for rights of appeal? We will discuss rights of appeal later on. If we get the system right at the start, those demands might be diminished.

The Convener

As we will come on to that later, it is up to the witnesses what they want to put on the record at this point. Given that we are trying to scrutinise local place plans and local development plans, comments in that context would be helpful.

Graeme Purves

I reiterate what Aileen MacKenzie said about that. If we are concerned about the effectiveness of introducing local place plans, it might be better to focus on ensuring that the local community input is right at the front of the local development plan process and plays a central part in that. Effort should be focused on ensuring that the local community has input at the heart of the planning process right at the start.

The Convener

I see nodding heads.

Diarmid Hearns

We have touched on the role of local place plans in encouraging better local engagement. A deep philosophical point has been raised, in the sense that, as a country—along with England, Ireland and Wales—we are fairly unique in having a discretionary planning system in which the plan is quite indicative. In other countries, the plan has a more regulatory role—in other words, the plan says what will happen. If we went in that direction, that would give greater certainty to developers and communities on what might or might not happen.

That might be one of the answers to Graham Simpson’s question. If people are consulted up front and we specify what will happen, people will have greater confidence in the process, but if we have limited engagement and the system still does not bind what comes forward, we will have the same, or even greater, levels of dissatisfaction. Some elements will be left to secondary legislation, but in some parts of the bill an opportunity is being lost for people to have a voice.

Aedán Smith

I reiterate what other panel members have said. Our big worry is that local place plans, as they are currently formulated, could exacerbate the existing problems rather than help to address them. We need to get some of the good elements of enabling communities to get involved in planning their local places built properly into the development plan in a meaningful way, instead of suggesting that communities can have an influence, only for that to be blocked at the last moment after they have made a lot of effort, which is what might happen.

We will probably get on to some of the underlying issues such as appeal rights and so on.

The Convener

We will move on to those issues later. I am trying to lead the discussion in a structured fashion. Mr Wightman has a supplementary question on local place plans and development plans.

Andy Wightman

It is fair to say that we have not encountered a great deal of enthusiasm for local place plans as they are framed in the bill. We have spoken to communities in Linlithgow and Skye, and we have been sent a local place plan from Harris that shows that there is the capacity, enthusiasm and willingness for local people to engage in planning their own places—indeed, I think that area plans were part of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997.

We need to recommend to Parliament what to do about local place plans, so I ask the witnesses to be quite frank. You seem to be pretty sceptical about the plans as they are. Should we recommend to Parliament that we drop them? Should we recommend to Parliament that we significantly enhance them? The Scottish alliance for people and places says that they should be part of the local development plans. Should we do something else? We need to know what recommendation we should make to Parliament.

Aileen MacKenzie

Trying to get the local place plans more into local development plans seems the most logical thing to do. We need the best route for the resources. Everybody who puts in should put in to one place. Having everything in one plan rather than in two types of plan would probably reduce the potential for conflicting messages.

Diarmid Hearns

I agree that local place plans should be built into local development plans. A lot of the preamble to the bill has been very much about housing, but our research found that green space, public facilities and transport are all very important to people. The plan process will provide the chance to include those other things that are perhaps not thought about by private developers. The process will provide the chance for the public to say what public assets they want.

Graeme Purves

I agree with the other witnesses about the need to improve the development plan. Mr Simpson alluded to the research that the National Trust for Scotland undertook on how people felt about the planning system. The Scottish Government commissioned research on engagement in the planning system, which Nick Wright and John Lord undertook last year. BEFS hosted an event about that research, and it was clear that there is widespread dissatisfaction with the level of engagement in the planning system. We need to focus on how we can improve that in local development plans. There are well-tried mechanisms, such as charrettes, for engagement that could be deployed much more effectively to ensure that community aspirations and perspectives are fully integrated in the process.

Aedán Smith

Some of the changes that are proposed in the bill are quite complicated and far reaching, so thinking on the matter is still evolving to a large extent. Our view on local place plans, as they are currently proposed, is that they could frustrate, and increase disillusionment with, the system if they are not able to deliver. They definitely need to be part of the development plan.

I was quite interested in Graeme Purves’s comments about perhaps there being a role for local place plans earlier in the process, when we are looking at the diagram that ministers have set out. That warrants additional thought. Perhaps we could come back to the committee on that issue once members have considered it. As they are currently constituted in the bill, we are worried about local place plans progressing and raising false expectations. They need to be more formally part of the development plan.

Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

I want to follow on from Aedán Smith’s point and think about the lifespan of the development plan. We will shift to a 10-year plan. In Motherwell, at one of the committee’s engagement events, John McNairney, the chief planner, said that if a number of local place plans were coming forward perhaps at a mid-point in the life of the development plan, that could indicate that the development plan needed a refresh. That might be healthy but, if local place plans survive in the bill, should there be limits on when they can be initiated? Likewise, if local place plans were brought forward towards the very end of a local development plan’s shelf life, could they collide with the next phase of development planning and quickly become superseded? Should any limits be placed on the time in the process when local place plans can be brought forward?

09:45  
Diarmid Hearns

It depends on what for. The local place plan might be a good vehicle to bring in the community on a lot of different issues. Perhaps it could be a living document that the community adds to and adapts as it goes along and as issues arise. Those might not just be planning issues; they might be about neglect, dereliction or things that the community wants to be progressed.

Many of the local authority issues just now concern budgeting—what is being upgraded and what is being taken away—so perhaps it is a good thing to have a repository for views about local place. The elements that relate to planning can be brought to the local development plan. However, there is a chicken-and-egg problem in that community councils are a natural level for that but are not very representative. People are not interested in them because they do not have many powers. Perhaps that is a way of breaking the log jam.

Monica Lennon

Is there a danger that what you have described could simply become an expensive wish list?

Diarmid Hearns

It could do, but we are moving towards more participatory budgeting, which involves communities identifying what resources they have. There have been complaints about nimbyism—communities blocking development—but if people can better relate to the benefit that development brings to the community, perhaps they would be more pro developments. Unless we ask, we will not find out.

The Convener

You have stimulated interest among all the witnesses now.

Aedán Smith

That illustrates the question of whether moving to a 10-year cycle is even appropriate for local plans. In some ways, 10 years is not a long time in planning, which takes a long-term view, but, in other ways, it can be quite a long time. If we have stuck with a five-year cycle, we should certainly incorporate local place plans into that.

Shifting to a 10-year cycle is an interesting proposal because, when we talked about the Planning etc (Scotland) Bill 12 or so years ago, there was a feeling that 10 years was too long for a plan cycle and that we needed them to be a bit shorter, so it was decided that we would go with five years. I am not sure that things have changed so much over the past 10 or 12 years that it is now definitely okay to go for 10 years. Therefore, there are questions about whether shifting to the 10-year cycle is appropriate. If communities feel the need to produce a place plan to update the development plan, perhaps we should focus on changing the development plan sooner.

Aileen MacKenzie

There is a question about how we get from the plan to the development on site. We have spent the past few years focusing a lot on engaging and consulting on plans but perhaps not so much on the delivery of the sites. There is a bit of work to do with the community on that.

Some sites take 10 years to build out, so how do we keep the conversation going? It is not just about how we keep it going when the plan is out for consultation but about how we keep the communities engaged all the way through the process and ensure that everything is updated. We need the plans to give communities certainty. As an infrastructure provider, we also need them to give us certainty about where development will happen. However, things change, so there is a need to continue to engage and keep the plans up to date as we go through development rather than just focusing on making the plan.

Graeme Purves

Aedán Smith’s point about the time periods—whether we go for a five-year or 10-year cycle—is interesting. There might have been an argument for sticking with a five-year cycle in local development plans and, rather than doing away with the strategic development plans, moving them on to a 10-year cycle. One of the reasons that strategic development plans fell out of favour was that, on their second or third iteration, the strategic development plan teams, which had previously been structure plan teams, had got those regional strategies more or less right and not a lot of tinkering needed to be done. However, the statutory provisions forced them back on to the review treadmill when they would have been better focusing on delivery.

I have not given a lot of thought to whether the bill should be prescriptive about when a local place plan can be introduced, but I would be cautious about it being too directive on that. It might be better to leave it to the judgment of local actors as to when it would be best to introduce such a plan. In doing that, I am sure that they would have an eye to the development plan cycle.

The Convener

The direction of travel that seems to be emerging is that however a local place plan is formulated, it should dovetail with the local development plan, be that over five years or 10 years. If it has to dovetail, should there be robust criteria about how to create a local place plan, such as a place standard tool or a checklist? If both documents have to talk to each other, they must align with each other in order for that to be meaningful. At the same time as having flexibility, do we need to consider the structure of local place plans? If communities do their own thing—I would encourage that—it could be meaningless if it does not articulate with the development plan. Do we need more guidance or detail on that?

Diarmid Hearns

I think so. Resource is always going to be limited, but it will need more resources than is indicated. The question is whether to go deep and narrow or comprehensive and shallow. We have to lean towards being more comprehensive and accepting that the local place plans might not be quite as deep, because if we can cover the main issues for every community, that would be better than just having a few communities doing it in depth.

Graeme Purves

I suspect that Aileen MacKenzie has already touched on this, but my observation would be that if we are creating two plans, we have to have a convincing mechanism for reconciling or resolving any tensions that emerge between them. If we do not have that, it will create a difficult situation.

The Convener

That is very helpful and saves me from asking my next question.

Aedán Smith

I agree. We need to have a bit more guidance on how the two would link together. When it comes to development plans, it is notable that local place plans are mentioned but are fairly vaguely expressed and there is a lot of uncertainty about how they might work in practice. However, the bill makes a clear decision to get rid of main issues reports. We know how those work, although there has been some variety in how they have been produced. On the one hand, the bill gets rid of something that we know how it works; on the other hand, it proposes something else that would need a lot more work in order for us to have a better understanding of how it would link to the development plan.

The Convener

Your comments suggest that the requirement for development plans to have regard to local place plans is not strong enough. Should local place plans have regard to development plans? If development plans move to a 10-year cycle, when communities start on their local place plans, should they be informed and take cognisance of development plans before they start, or should they start with a blank sheet of paper?

I want to pin down that two-way process. If local place plans are refreshed every five years and the development plan is refreshed every 10 years, the two documents could talk to and help inform each other. Should local place plans have regard to the development plan at the start of the process or does that not give communities the flexibility that they need?

Graeme Purves

I will take a stab at that, although I am not sure how far I will get. Smart local place planning would have regard to the local development plan. If a community set out to develop a plan that took no heed whatsoever of what was in place, it would face a rockier road than if it had regard to what was already in the development plan and what was likely to emerge from it. That does not mean that the community could not develop its own strong perspective, but it would be wise for it to have regard to the development plan.

The Convener

My clerking team, who always know more about the bill than I do, have just shown me that the bill already says that the local place plan must do that.

Let us save time and move on. I want to explore the infrastructure levy. The bill provides an enabling power, rather than introducing the levy, but to what extent will the proposed levy help to fund the infrastructure that will be necessary to unlock additional development sites? That is what the infrastructure levy would be there to do.

Aileen MacKenzie

There is a lack of clarity about how that would work and whether it would address some of the infrastructure issues. For example, we have our own infrastructure charge and we provide a reasonable costs contribution to any infrastructure that has to be provided. A lot of the challenges tend to be around education and other areas but, from the discussions that I have been involved in, I am not sure that the issues that are there at the moment are being unlocked. Issues around new funding are not really part of that.

We need to understand more about the issues, but I do not see the challenges being addressed at the moment.

The Convener

How would Scottish Water prioritise infrastructure investment, and what role could an infrastructure levy play in that? Currently, you have to source funding and finance to deliver infrastructure. What are the challenges around that? How are you getting on with that? What impact would the proposal for the levy have on Scottish Water?

Aileen MacKenzie

Our infrastructure is split into a number of parts. Scottish Water is funded to provide additional capacity at water treatment works and waste-water treatment works, which we class as part 4. If the development is in the local development plan, there are various other criteria. There are challenges associated with that around timing and so on. We are working on those at the moment.

Part 2 and part 3 concern local network infrastructure and strategic network infrastructure. We have a duty to expand our network at a reasonable cost. The duty is on the developers to put in that infrastructure, but we will refund them after construction, up to a reasonable cost. That reflects the income that we will get from the customers who will be in those developments. In most cases, the money that the developers receive will cover all the infrastructure, although there can be times when it does not.

We also have an infrastructure charge. Every house that is connected to the network pays about £340 for water and waste water. That goes into a fund that can be used to provide infrastructure in areas where networks have to be upgraded and we know that there will be future development, although a developer has not yet been identified. For example, if a developer had to upsize a water main for a development and we knew that there was going to be additional development in that area, we could use that funding to provide additional capacity in that area for that future development.

Challenges could arise when the funding of infrastructure goes beyond a reasonable cost. In such situations, we must work with developers and others to enable the infrastructure to be provided.

The Convener

Is that connection charge of £340 per unit a flat rate across the country, or is the figure relevant only to a specific site?

Aileen MacKenzie

It is a flat rate. Whether the development is a single house or a large site, everybody pays that for infrastructure relating to water and waste water; they pay a connection fee, too. Part 1 of the four parts of infrastructure that I mentioned concerns the connection to the house, and the developer fully funds that.

The Convener

How does Scottish Water use that £340?

Aileen MacKenzie

It is used to fund infrastructure that is needed but which goes beyond what is required for that site. For example, as I said, if a developer has identified that a water main or a sewer must be upgraded for its site but we know that there will be additional development in that area, or if there are issues around more strategic infrastructure such as a service reservoir, we use that money to put in place the necessary extra infrastructure. It is future-proofing work, basically, so that we do not have to upgrade the same part of the network multiple times for future developments.

The Convener

That seems like a form of infrastructure levy in itself, so what we are talking about today is a sort of nationally consistent roll-out, whether it involves Scottish Water or not. Do you recognise what you describe as being an infrastructure levy?

Aileen MacKenzie

Yes. That is certainly what it is with regard to our infrastructure.

The Convener

Does anyone else have any thoughts on infrastructure levies?

Aedán Smith

What is proposed in the bill looks useful to an extent, although it is not completely revolutionary. From our point of view, it is critically important that it extends to cover green infrastructure—places for wildlife, green spaces for recreation and other infrastructure that contributes to high-quality places. The bill does not seem to do that just now, which was a bit surprising to us, because we know that the consultants’ report that was commissioned by the Scottish Government to inform thinking around the matter said that green infrastructure should be covered.

Graeme Purves

I have a similar perspective. BEFS’s members see the infrastructure levy as being potentially helpful, but there is quite widespread scepticism about whether the levy will be enough in itself and quite a strong feeling that we should look for a mechanism to capture the uplift in land values to fund the infrastructure that we require to support new development.

10:00  
The Convener

Mr Purves, it is almost as though you guessed what my next question was, and I suspect that Mr Wightman wanted to ask a question along similar lines. Whether or not the infrastructure levy goes ahead, what other mechanisms out there would help to raise finance? Mr Purves was starting to explore that, but would anyone else like to comment?

Diarmid Hearns

The experience has been quite interesting in England, which has a community infrastructure levy. The levy has collected a lot less money than was expected, is seen as being quite partial and inconsistent and perhaps disadvantages smaller developers. There are quite a few useful lessons to draw from that levy.

The point has been made about how local place plans connect to development plans. Local place plans can help to flesh out the impacts of developments. Obviously, there is the hard infrastructure relating to water, gas and so on, but there is also the impact on public services, cultural facilities and green spaces. Local place plans might help local people to articulate better their understanding of the impact of developments and the support that a levy could offer.

There is also a big question about whether the levy would help to direct development to areas that were infrastructure ready or whether it would be a way of compensating in areas that were not to be funded for development. That should be thought through.

The Convener

Mr Wightman has a question about other mechanisms for raising funds for infrastructure—for example, land value capture.

Andy Wightman

It has been drawn to my attention by a few witnesses, including City of Edinburgh Council, which will be here later, that the levy would generate £75 million. I think that that figure is from the Scottish Government’s study. City of Edinburgh Council says that the infrastructure bill for delivering the development that is provided for in the Edinburgh local development plan alone is £450 million, and I think that it has been calculated that the infrastructure levy would raise a maximum of 1 per cent of the required infrastructure costs throughout Scotland.

Is it even worth bothering with the levy? We have had evidence from England that the levy is a bit complex and that there are issues about how it would interact with section 75 of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997. There is a paper out this morning from the Scottish Land Commission—“The Delivery of Public Interest Led Development in Scotland”—that is much more focused on having a development model in which the public lead, which would capture the value that could then fund the infrastructure, than on having a potentially complex levy on the private sector that would not raise much money. Is it worth considering rejecting the whole notion, given how little it would raise?

Graeme Purves

That is a legitimate point, although it is not a position that BEFS has taken formally. I would say that meeting housing need and creating places of quality are public objectives and that the public sector really needs to lead on those issues. We talk rather glibly about having a plan-led system in Scotland but, in many ways, it is a developer-led system in which we try to extract public benefit and public good from private developers, which is not entirely fair on them. We should look for a mechanism with which to capture the uplift in land value to fund the public goods that we are looking for out of the planning system.

Aedán Smith

On whether the levy is more hassle than it is worth, we would be worried that, if we were to lose the levy, there would be nothing else there, so it is probably worth trying to progress it and get something out of it. However, a wider discussion is needed about how we get some of our critical infrastructure funded and how we cover the costs.

Graham Simpson

Green infrastructure has been mentioned, but I note that the bill contains no references to green spaces, the environment or heritage. Given that a number of you have highlighted the issue in your submissions, I wonder whether you can address that general point about the lack of reference to the environment and heritage, after which we will talk about simplified development zones.

Diarmid Hearns

It comes back to what the purpose of planning is. As other witnesses and committee members have identified, what we are trying to achieve in the round has not been set out. For our research, we asked people what issues they would like the planning system to address, and the answers that we got were quite varied. It was not just housing, which is what the preamble to the bill has been very much about—it is important to remember that most of the houses that we have are already built, and the number of additional housing units is about 16,000 a year, which is less than 1 per cent of the current housing stock. Having really good-quality places is about a lot more than housing, so it would be good if there were recognition of green spaces, cultural facilities and so on.

That also brings us back to the issue of planning protections. Our research looked at people’s satisfaction with the way in which green spaces and places of local historical character are being protected, and we found that fewer than half of them were satisfied in that respect. There is more work to be done on the protections for what we have, and we are concerned that they might get watered down by some elements of the bill.

Aedán Smith

We, too, have picked up on that issue. We would like to see some overarching purpose that would set the context for the planning system, particularly if it was along the lines of its seeking to achieve sustainable development.

On the specific issue of green networks, Scottish Environment LINK would be keen to see some form of mitigation hierarchy embedded in the planning system to ensure that any impacts on the natural environment were, in effect, offset elsewhere. There is a requirement to avoid such impacts in the first instance, but, where they can be justified, there should be some mechanism in place to offset them and, if there are any negatives, to add some positives back on to what you might call the green balance sheet. In short, we would like to see in the bill some mechanism for putting back anything that might be taken away from the natural environment.

Graeme Purves

I am not sure whether the bill needs to refer specifically to green infrastructure, but I agree with other panel members about the need for a clear purpose for planning. As a number of organisations that have given evidence have suggested, such a purpose might be based on the United Nations sustainable development goals.

However, it is clear that people in Scotland generally—and specifically this Parliament—regard green infrastructure as an important issue. I have already mentioned the changes that were made to the second national planning framework following parliamentary scrutiny, one of which was the elevation of the central Scotland green network to the status of a national development as a result of strong cross-party support in the Parliament with regard to the importance of green infrastructure and the need for that kind of commitment.

Graham Simpson

That final point is interesting, because I have previously suggested that the central Scotland green network should be a statutory consultee, which it is not at the moment. It should probably also get more money, but that is a more controversial view.

As drafted, the bill allows simplified development zones to be set up pretty much anywhere. At the moment, simplified planning zones cannot be set up in certain areas such as the green belt, conservation areas and national scenic areas, but those protections do not exist in the bill at the moment. The obvious question is whether those protections should be in there.

The Convener

The witnesses are nodding their heads.

Aedán Smith

We are a bit worried about those protections being removed. We think that they should be retained, and we were a bit surprised by what is in the bill. In the run-up to the bill, some work on simplified development zones was carried out by consultants that were commissioned by the Scottish Government, and their assumption was that protected areas—particularly wildlife sites—would be excluded from this provision. That those protections seem to have been removed in the bill is a bit of a surprise and a worry, and we would like them to be reinstated.

On a more strategic level, we think that it would be much better to bring forward the simplified development zones specifically through the development plan. To a certain extent, the development plan process could be undermined because of the flexibility that is given to creating simplified development zones at the moment if they do not have the wider context that could be provided by the development plan.

Graeme Purves

BEFS members share the concern about simplified development zones including protected or designated areas. We are not in favour of that. One of my concerns is the clinging on to the word “simplified”, which takes us all the way back to the 1980s and the original simplified planning zones in the year of Nicholas Ridley, which was a long time ago now. In fact, they might not be terribly simple but it may be worth taking them forward.

There is rhetoric in the policy memorandum about planning being about place making and about place making being important, but there is relatively little follow-through in terms of the provisions of the bill directly relating to place making. If we are repurposing simplified planning zones or simplified development zones, it might be better—if we are clear about what our purpose is—to call them place development plans and to focus on place making, whether that is place making on a greenfield site or renewing an existing place. That might be worth considering.

Aileen MacKenzie

We need a bit more clarity about what would need to be done in setting up the simplified development zones. A number of studies would need to be undertaken to enable us and other infrastructure providers to understand the impact of development in an area. Sometimes, those studies can be done at the right time but, if there is a big time lag between those studies and other development coming forward or something changing in an area, what needs to be done with that area can change.

We need a bit more clarity around some of that and around what the zones would be allowing, so that we can make sure that we can support them. However, we cannot, for example, reserve capacity for development or for anybody. We need to be able to understand the process a little bit more as it develops.

Aedán Smith

I will follow up Graeme Purves’s well-made point that simplified development zones might not be all that simple. Simplified development zones would, in effect, grant planning permission for areas in quite general terms, and detailed environmental assessment work would need to be done when they were created. The burden of that might fall on local planning authorities. At the moment, the burden falls to developers, but it might well fall on local planning authorities, and the amount of work that might be required could be significant. There could be pressure to reduce the scrutiny that is given to those areas, which would be a real concern for us. There are question marks about whether the zones would be any simpler; in fact, there is a risk that they might complicate matters.

Diarmid Hearns

I echo those comments. It is about front loading rather than simplifying, and we are concerned about the loss, on the face of it, of the existing protections. The policy memorandum talks about having procedures that closely mirror existing procedures, which sounds like a downgrade. I want the same application procedures to be in place, whether or not the process is simplified.

There will also be a challenge in applying the process to urban areas, which I think is part of the intention. It is basically about trying to guess what the future use might be. In Renfrew, for example, what we have had is quite limited; it is basically in three streets and involves shop frontages and change of use in two or three categories. I am not sure that the process has the capacity to work on a complex urban site. That is probably more about masterplanning than it is about an SDZ.

Graeme Purves

Can I return to the question of the relationship between simplified development zones and the development plan? That is where I lost my thread earlier. The relationship is important. A number of organisations that have submitted evidence have said that it is important that the zones are embedded in the development plan process or come out of the local plan, and that is correct, to an extent. However, I see them coming out of the development process or strategic development planning at the regional level, so that they would often be instruments of regional rather than local planning. I have concerns about the idea that they could just emerge from anywhere—and potentially from left field. They should come out of the strategic planning process.

10:15  
The Convener

Do you want to follow up any of that, Mr Simpson?

Graham Simpson

I have a question on the point about zones emerging from anywhere. They could emerge from the Government, because, as it stands, the bill would confer that power. Is that right? Should the Government be able to set up such zones wherever it feels like it?

Diarmid Hearns

I would have thought that it should be the local authority.

Graham Simpson

Should it come from a council or a region?

Graeme Purves

Local authorities or partnerships of local authorities would be sufficient. I am not keen on the idea of the Government being able to advance SDZs.

The Convener

I see some nodding heads.

I have a brief follow-up question on that. If it is thought that development or planning zones—or whatever they would be called—would sit best in local development plans, would it be useful if, as part of its process for delivering local development plans, each planning authority were to think about places in its area that could be appropriate for simplified development zones? Would that be a first step?

The evidence that we have been hearing is that what is proposed sounds just like enhanced masterplanning. However, if local authorities were to identify where such simplified development zones might be and that was subject to enhanced masterplanning with community buy-in at the earliest stage, we could perhaps have permitted development rights. Nevertheless, simplified development zones should not exist at the expense of high-quality masterplanning and place making in the first place. Should local development plans try to identify where such zones could be, and should that then lead to an enhanced masterplanning process?

Graeme Purves

I see that as being pretty much how the process should work. I have often indicated that such a zone should come out of a strategic regional planning partnership process and then go into the local development plan in that way. I see it as being a mechanism for delivering quality masterplanning, perhaps supported by land value capture.

Aedán Smith

I agree that that is how the process should work. The scale of a simplified development zone might determine the level of plan that it could go in. For instance, there may be a role for introducing some simplified development zones through the NPF. To an extent, that happens already with national developments and then regionally significant areas being brought through strategic development plans and more local areas through the local development plans. However, they should certainly be brought through the strategic planning process rather than in an ad hoc way and in isolation from the development plan and the national spatial framework.

The Convener

I suppose that my question was not very focused. I am trying to get at whether, if the Parliament agrees to introduce simplified development zones—or whatever they might be called by the time that we get to the end of stage 3—and there are criteria around them, should there be a duty on local authorities to identify potential sites for such zones or should that be done at a regional level? That would be a fix. Rather than have the national Government identify areas, should a duty be placed on local authorities to consider where, in their areas, there could be such zones?

Aedán Smith

I suggest that it should be the other way round—that simplified development zones should be created only if they had been identified in the relevant plan. Local planning authorities should not necessarily be required to consider whether they wanted them; however, if they did want them, they would have to come forward with the hook of having been in the plan in the first place.

The Convener

Can I push you on that a little bit more? This is a national Parliament. If we decide that there should, for national strategic reasons, be a national policy to have development at local level driven forward, could we not at least put on planning authorities a requirement to give consideration to identifying areas that might be appropriate for designation as simplified development zones? They may then say that they had explored everywhere but nowhere was suitable, and so they would not do it.

Aedán Smith

I cannot see any problems with that but, from Scottish Environment LINK’s perspective, it would be more important that when zones are designated, the wider context of what is happening elsewhere is taken into account, rather than designation being done in isolation. That is the advantage of zones being tied to the development plan process.

The Convener

So, it would be okay for that to be a national planning priority and for a duty to be placed on planning authorities to give serious consideration to which areas could become simplified development zones. That would not mean that planning authorities must identify appropriate areas; it would be a reasonable duty to place on them.

Aedán Smith

There are some parallels with national developments, which are decided at national level and then have, to an extent, to be delivered locally by planning authorities. National developments that are brought through the national planning framework—which tend to be point-specific things, for example power stations, and often cover big geographic areas—have to be developed in more detail at the local level, either through planning applications or similar applications for consent being made or incorporated in the local development plan.

The Convener

I do not want to push the issue much further, but you have not said whether there should be a duty on planning authorities. Would you be relaxed with there being a national strategy that says that every planning authority should give cognisance to simplified development zones and should audit their areas to see which parts might be appropriate for such a zone? At the end of that process, a planning authority might decide that nothing in its area is appropriate. Should there be a duty on planning authorities to carry out that process?

Aedán Smith

To be honest, Scottish Environment LINK would be neutral on that question, which is probably not very helpful.

The Convener

That is fine.

Graeme Purves

I would be against that requirement. It would represent too much direction, and I am not persuaded that it is necessary. I see the mechanism of a simplified development zone as being a discretionary tool in the toolbox: authorities may use it if they think that it is appropriate. Authorities, or partnerships of authorities, will have a fairly good idea of whether an SDZ is appropriate in their situations without having to go away and consider the matter. It would be rather top-down for Government to insist that authorities look at the issue if they do not think that they need such a zone.

The Convener

Right. How will they know that they do not need it if they do not consider that?

Graeme Purves

Authorities will generally be concerned about long-term development in their areas and will be aware that the mechanism is available under the legislation. It will be up to them to consider whether a simplified development zone is appropriate to their circumstances and would help to deliver the agenda that they are pursuing.

The Convener

So, would authorities look at the matter?

Graeme Purves

Yes—but my point is that I am confident that authorities will consider the matter whether or not the Government requires them to do so through statutory provision.

The Convener

Okay. That was helpful.

Diarmid Hearns

We can split the difference. If there is a call for sites, as happens in a main issues report at the moment, owners might come forward. For example, Hillington Park is a big industrial estate with a single owner. The owner can probably predict fairly well what kind of development it wants over the next 10 years. Universities might come forward with campus proposals and town centre businesses might have proposals. Groups might come forward with clear ideas of what they would like to do, and they can front load the planning effort. That would be the grass-roots bottom-up response.

Monica Lennon

This is an interesting line of inquiry. The SDZs have a focus on projects and showing that an area is open for development and for business. Over many years of planning, there have been plans in which sites have been allocated and have consent, then nothing happens. We talked earlier about a focus on delivery. Is there anything in the bill that would incentivise or encourage a focus on delivery on sites where there is a need for it and there may already be consent, but because of constraints to do with economic viability or local infrastructure, nothing is happening? Is there a danger that, if we shift the focus to SDZs, we will take our gaze away from the sites where something needs to happen but things are not being pushed in that direction?

I hear tumbleweed.

The Convener

I will let that silence linger, because someone will want to bite. I see that the ever-reliable Mr Smith wants to come in.

Aedán Smith

I am always happy to comment on planning matters. I do not think that there is anything in the bill that would address that. The issue may be beyond the scope of what planning can deliver, and be tied more to land-value issues. It would wrongly raise expectations to suggest that the bill could address such problems, because it will not be able to do that.

The Convener

Before we move on to the next line of questioning, on which our deputy convener will lead, I want to take you back to resourcing. I do not know how I feel about simplified development zones, but I am trying to test the evidence and see where the balance sits.

Earlier, I suggested that SDZs seem to be about enhanced master planning and getting the community on board at an early stage. I can think of sites in my constituency where that would be possible. However, enhanced masterplanning costs money. Where should the financial burden sit if we take a really in-depth, detailed and granular approach to place setting in the context of a simplified development zone, or whatever they are called? Should that tab be picked up by national Government, local government or developers, or should it be shared among them? Is there recognition that if good-quality enhanced master planning were to drive simplified development zones in a way that might be acceptable to communities, it will need to be resourced? Do you have any thoughts on that?

Diarmid Hearns

It is quite hard to extrapolate from the cases that are before us. The Hillington Park example does not include residents, so that element of planning—how it affects people—is missing. The Renfrew simplified development zone cost £15,000, but it was very minimalist—it was just shop fronts and changes of use. We do not have an evidence base to say what it might cost to deliver.

The idea is almost that the public sector should lead the market and try to plan on the basis of guesses as to potential future uses. That might be a stretch, at this point in time.

The Convener

It might be that I am asking questions about things for which there is not enough information, so you cannot answer them.

Aileen MacKenzie

Scottish Water’s perspective is that we need a bit more information about simplified development zones, to inform us.

Graeme Purves

It might be possible to link simplified planning zones with some mechanism for capturing the uplift in land value. Various mechanisms are available. That is something that the Scottish Land Commission is exploring at the moment.

Aedán Smith

If the burden of doing some of the up-front assessment work falls to the public sector—local planning authorities or central Government—and it has already done environmental assessments, for example, and identified the most appropriate sites for development, that might incentivise development in more appropriate places and, in effect, de-risk sites because problems would be less likely to crop up. However, it would depend on the circumstances and the type of development.

Monica Lennon

I want to explore whether a clear statutory purpose and vision for planning should be included in the bill. Graham Simpson touched on that briefly, and we heard views from Graeme Purves and Aedán Smith.

BEFS’s written evidence says:

“The decision to amend the already amended Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 is a missed opportunity to create new planning legislation that has vision and clarity of purpose.”

The National Trust for Scotland submission says:

“The current bill primarily amends existing legislation, rather than delivers a new approach to planning.”

There has been a lot of talk about the potential for the bill to be transformative in that we could promote and elevate place making and take a different approach. Based on the comments that I have picked out from submissions, how confident are you that the bill will be transformative?

Graeme Purves

I have not abandoned hope that the bill could be transformative, but it still needs quite a bit of work. As I have said, BEFS’s members feel that there should be a clear statutory purpose for planning, which could be based on the UN’s sustainable development goals.

Diarmid Hearns

I agree. The policy memorandum has some excellent words, but the text in the explanatory notes to the bill is quite slim and the biggest chunk of it is on simplified development zones. The elements that are missing are a vision and a purpose for planning. They could probably be built in with sustainable development goals.

In our submission, we raise the point that sustainable development goals come with targets, one of which is coming up in 2020. There is a commitment to embed ecosystem services and biodiversity values in local and national planning. Denmark has done that. It has a green map for the whole country, to which the local plans can make reference. The Scottish Government has committed to the sustainable development goals, and the bill is probably the best—and perhaps the only—chance to meet the 2020 target.

10:30  
Aedán Smith

I agree with and support that. Scottish Environment LINK thinks that there should be an overarching purpose of achieving sustainable development, so having that overarching purpose tied to the sustainable development goals appears to be the obvious next step forward from the Planning etc (Scotland) Act 2006.

Monica Lennon

In its submission, Scottish Environment LINK says that

“the bill is ... light on measures to deal with climate change”.

Could the bill be changed to support the Government’s emissions reduction targets better? If so, how should it be changed?

Aedán Smith

The bill is light on such measures, which is a missed opportunity because there is a big spatial element to climate change. How we plan our future places can have big implications for climate change. At the development plan and national planning framework levels, there could be a requirement to think actively about how the development strategies could reduce emissions. A requirement to seek to reduce emissions in the plans’ setting out of what our future places will look like would be the most obvious way of doing that.

Monica Lennon

I go back to the point that I made at the beginning about the approach of amending the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997. Is that approach being taken partly because of the scope of the independent review? Are we tinkering with legislation rather than taking a comprehensive look at the whole planning system? Is there anything that we have not included in the bill that should be included?

Diarmid Hearns

I agree that the bill will amend rather than transform the system. However, quite a number of things are in play already. The national ecological network has been mentioned. The land use strategy, which came out of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, was meant to inform spatial development, but it has stalled because of lack of resources; there have been two good pilots, but it has not been rolled out across the country.

There is also the marine plan and quite a number of other spatial plans that have visions for Scotland and which relate to wider uses, but they have not been brought within the scope of the bill, so it feels as though we are missing a chance to bring things together and integrate them a bit better.

Aedán Smith

Scottish Environment LINK is probably neutral on the pros and cons of having an amending bill rather than a brand-new complete bill, although it is a bit of a nuisance having to tack back to previous legislation to work out the implications. That perhaps indicates that the bill is a bit of a tinkering exercise rather than a comprehensive review of planning.

There is an issue as regards the purpose of planning. We think that introducing a statutory overarching purpose that would set out what planning is for would help to embed the idea of planning being about sustainable development and making places better for as many people as possible, while reconciling competing interests. Basically, it is about making the future Scotland a better place. The fact that the bill has been presented as a set of amendments to historical acts suggests that it is a case of tinkering around the edges rather than the comprehensive review that is required.

The Convener

I have noted that Mr Simpson and Mr Wightman want to ask supplementaries, but the deputy convener is exploring a line of questioning. I ask members to be patient—I will bring them in.

Mr Purves—do you have comments to add?

Graeme Purves

I do not know how much rein the deputy convener would be prepared to give me in answering the second part of her question, which was about whether there are things that we should be considering that we have not looked at.

Monica Lennon

I am very generous, Mr Purves.

Graeme Purves

That is very good of you.

The Convener

We will be generous, as long as your answer does not extend beyond two minutes.

Graeme Purves

I will try to keep to two minutes.

A concern that has not been prominent in the evidence so far concerns the relationship that the bill envisages between land use planning and community planning. It has been suggested that the local development plan might take its lead from community planning or local community improvement plans. My concern is that the version of community planning that we have in Scotland is very corporate and very top down. Too often, it is something that is done to communities rather than with or by them. If we accept that one-way relationship between community and land use planning, there is a danger that we could entrench the sort of practice that does not succeed in empowering communities, so that needs to be carefully looked at.

Monica Lennon

I was going to come on to equal right of appeal—I do not know whether Andy Wightman’s or Graham Simpson’s questions are on those points.

The Convener

That is helpful. If members’ points are on equal right of appeal, please wait until our deputy convener explores that issue, then come in.

Graham Simpson

I have a really quick question, which is directed at BEFS. In your written submission, you say that

“legislation without a clearly defined purpose”

could be open “to judicial review”. Why did you say that?

Graeme Purves

To be honest, I am not sure why we said that. [Laughter.] I suppose that if you are not clear about your purpose, you leave yourself more open to such challenges. However, I was not the author of that specific sentence.

Graham Simpson

I see. We will leave it there.

Monica Lennon

Collective responsibility!

Andy Wightman

I want to follow up on Monica Lennon’s question about what is not in the bill. Members of the panel have talked about greater alignment with other bits of Government policy, such as the land use strategy. Is there merit in considering bringing agriculture, hunting and forestry—land uses that have never been in the town and country planning system—into the system in order, for example, to create direct protection forests for vulnerable transport routes or to guide the extent to which whole farms can be converted to forests and other purposes?

Diarmid Hearns

I would definitely say yes. In a way, we have done that to a degree already with green belts, which are partly about containing urban sprawl, partly about providing amenity and partly about conserving high-grade farm land. There was recognition back in 1947 that the green belt is a national resource and is about sustainable development. We have moved away from that: green belt is now seen as being a bit of a constraint on development. We are losing sight of the irreplaceable nature of some natural assets.

There is definitely an argument for the land use strategy to be brought forward and done comprehensively, and for it to be part of the planning system. That will be the foundation of all thinking, whether for communities or developers.

Aedán Smith

To a certain extent, built development being dealt with through the planning system, and agriculture, forestry and marine issues being dealt with separately, is an artificial distinction, because they are all interrelated, so the lack of overlap has been a missed opportunity. In particular, we would be keen, at the higher levels, for the national planning framework and development plans to link more closely with their equivalents. The national planning framework should link with the national marine plan and land use strategy, and there should be greater compatibility than there is.

At the more local level, Diarmid Hearns mentioned green belts which, it is true, overlap with wider land management issues, but there are other areas in which agriculture and forestry stray into planning. For instance, Scottish Environment LINK has been doing a lot of work on hill tracks, which have been a contentious issue because hill tracks can contribute to significant land use change. Planning has a bit of an in there. When we start getting down to such a detailed level, perhaps it is more of a matter for secondary legislation but, in principle, it is important that there is a relationship between planning, agriculture and forestry so that there is influence across the different sectors.

Monica Lennon

You have had a bit of time to think about what I was going to ask about. As you know, equal right of appeal is not in the bill, which would mean that the status quo would prevail. Developers will be able to appeal to the Scottish Government and challenge a decision when a planning application is refused, but communities or third parties—as some refer to them—will not have that right. I know that there is a range of views across the panel on that point.

One of the reasons why an equal right of appeal was not brought in by the 2006 act was the hope that front loading the process—which involves getting things right through early engagement, getting communities around the table early on and communities having a stake in the process—would negate the need to have an appeal at the end of it. However, here we are 12 years on trying to tinker with or transform planning. Has front loading worked for communities, and is it only fair that we now consider equalising appeal rights?

The Convener

Who would like to go first?

Diarmid Hearns

I do not mind doing so, convener.

We are neutral with regard to any solutions, but as part of our research, we asked the straightforward question whether local communities should have the same rights of appeal as developers, and 90 per cent of respondents thought that they should. That is a clear steer from communities that they think that the current system of checks and balances is not working for them. Having equal rights of appeal is kind of an end-of-pipe solution, and if front loading worked, you might not need it.

Anecdotally, I was reading Argyll and Bute Council’s main issues report, in which it pointed out that the majority of housing that had been built in one planning period had been built in areas that had not been zoned for housing in the previous planning period. Front loading does not really seem to be steering development where it is expected to appear, and it is being left to quite a late stage for these things to come forward and, potentially, to be fought.

With regard to issues that have been raised about delays in the planning system, research in England that has focused on housing developments has highlighted three causes of delay, the second-biggest of which was appeals by developers who wanted to get their development through. If the system was more binding on everyone, there might be less of a need for the end-of-pipe solution, but certainly the view at the moment is that there are imbalances in the system.

Aedán Smith

In some ways, this takes us to the root of the purpose of planning and the question of what—and who—the planning system is for. The current system of appeals is heavily weighted in favour of applicants for planning permission. For the avoidance of doubt, no one really wants to get involved with appeals if they can help it. Appeals are really an indicator that something failed earlier in the process.

I welcome the efforts that have gone into increasing front loading. However, although that is all very well, the whole system is actually underpinned by the appeals end of the process. The research that Diarmid Hearns has alluded to has been very interesting in showing the level of disillusionment with the current system, and a lot of that stems from the issue of appeal rights.

As I have said, the current system is weighted in favour of applicants for planning permission. There is effectively a presumption in favour of development; when a developer puts an application into the system, there is already a heavy assumption that the development is going to go ahead. In fact, more than 90 per cent of applications are approved. Even if an application is refused, the applicant can appeal to another organisation—or another part of the council, if it is a local application—and get another shot. Indeed, it is a really easy second shot, because there is no fee associated with it. In short, not only is their first shot heavily weighted in their favour, but they get another shot in which their application is looked at afresh and is again heavily weighted in their favour.

On the other hand, other bodies do not have any equivalent right of challenge, and Scottish Environment LINK feels that a limited but fair and equal right of appeal should be available in certain circumstances, particularly with developments that are contrary to the development plan or are of such significance that they require an environmental impact assessment.

What has been disappointing not only in the bill process but in the planning reform process is the way in which the Scottish Government has been a bit dismissive of what is clearly a problem. We are not saying that there does not need to be any thinking about what might be the most acceptable solution, but we find it really frustrating that the issue has not been explored at all in detail. Introducing this new mechanism—an equal right of appeal—might have additional resource implications, but it is quite telling that those who argue strongly against a right of appeal for communities and others, highlighting the increased bureaucracy and centralisation of decision making that it might result in and the potential to undermine the plan-led system, are actually making quite a good argument against the existing appeals system for applicants for planning permission.

Scottish Environment LINK is not suggesting that we get rid of the current appeals system for applicants. Instead, we would much rather see the introduction of an equal right of appeal for other parties in limited circumstances. However, not to explore or address the issue at all will undermine the reforms and ensure, unfortunately, that people continue to be disillusioned with the system.

It is something that absolutely has to be addressed as part of this bill. If it is ignored we will have a continuation of what, for a lot of community groups and communities of interest, has effectively been a running sore for a few decades now. It is going to keep recurring until we deal with it and improve the current situation.

10:45  
Aileen MacKenzie

Our position is that we would rather see more engagement early on in the planning process, whether that is on the local development plan or with planning applications. When we are delivering capital projects we try to engage communities as early as we can, and take on board their views as much as we can. We see focusing on that as the way forward, rather than the equal right of appeal. Earlier, I mentioned things such as the delivery plans and how those can be used to give communities the confidence that some of the concerns that they raise are being addressed as developments progress.

Monica Lennon

Aileen, with your Scottish Water developer’s hat on, can you give any examples of community projects in which there has, in your opinion, been effective community engagement? Did that influence the proposal? What sort of changes were made as a result of the community’s involvement?

Aileen MacKenzie

I do not personally have any examples. I am more involved as a consultee, but I will speak to my colleagues who are involved in that aspect and provide some examples to you in writing.

Monica Lennon

Are you of the opinion that, since 2006, front loading has been working? If it is not working well enough, what do you think the barriers are?

Aileen MacKenzie

There has been more of an attempt to engage with communities earlier on. As I said previously, when it comes to engagement with the local development plans I think it is a matter of people being unaware of how they can engage in that process. We need to try to get them involved early in that process.

Monica Lennon

What about communities that engage early on and remain engaged throughout the process, but find that, at the end, a decision is taken that is contrary to the development plan? That should be the end of it for them, but the developer comes along with an appeal and the decision is overturned. What should happen in relation to people who have engaged in good faith and have fully participated, but did not get what they wanted? Could the appeal at the end be undermining a plan-led system?

Aileen MacKenzie

Not having been involved in those aspects, I am not sure about that.

Monica Lennon

Is it okay to have an appeal that could contravene the development plan, as long as people have been invited along to public meetings and so on?

Aileen MacKenzie

It depends on what the issue is and whether people’s views have been taken on board as part of that, and on whether they are things that can be addressed.

The Convener

Mr Purves, do you want to comment on this?

Graeme Purves

I have not volunteered to. You may have noticed that BEFS did not submit specific evidence on appeals.

The Convener

Do not feel any pressure to comment.

Graeme Purves

I am very happy to explain why that was. The forum is a broad church. Our members’ views on the matter are quite varied, so we have not submitted evidence on it. Some members are strongly in favour of a change to rights of appeal, some are strongly against it and some, such as the National Trust for Scotland, are fairly neutral. However, I think that the deputy convener’s point about front loading was well made.

The Convener

Monica, do you want to follow up on any of that before I let Mr Smith back in?

Monica Lennon

Yes. Earlier in the session, Graeme Purves said that we have a developer-led system rather than a plan-led system. Perhaps that characterisation is due to the fact that most applications are approved—it is more than 96 per cent, I think.

Last week, we had a panel from industry, and the witness from Scottish Renewables talked about the cost of appeals for big projects ranging from tens of thousands of pounds to hundreds of thousands of pounds, and referred to that as planning by appeal. It is almost as though developers at the high end are factoring in appeals—it is another risk that they are prepared to take. With that in mind, is there a level playing field? Do communities stand a chance against organisations and developers who have that kind of resource and professional expertise at their backs?

Diarmid Hearns

It is not just communities but local authorities. Yesterday, we had the final decision on a housing development on the battlefield at Culloden, which was opposed not only by the local community but the council, and which went against local planning. The development has gone through on appeal, so it is not just communities that can find themselves powerless; it can also be our elected representatives.

Aedán Smith

There are a few points there. We think that renewables, particularly big onshore wind farms, should be put forward through a spatially planned approach. If they are in the development plan, there can be a proper debate about where they should go, because of their scale.

Regardless of whether it is renewables or other big developments, there is certainly an inequality of arms. Developers are often much better resourced than not only local communities but local authorities. In the current system, when a local authority is dealing with an application, there is always the concern that, if it is refused, it will be taken out of the local authority’s hands and sent to someone else—often the inquiry reporters unit—to be dealt with. I recall that from my local authority days. If that happens, the local authority has no further scope significantly to influence the application, whereas if it decides to approve it, it at least has a chance to put some conditions on it. There is a weight of pressure on the decision maker at a local planning authority level, because they know that there could be an appeal but that it will only be from the applicant’s side. The pressure comes only from one side. The decision maker knows that there is no possibility of an appeal from a local community group. There is the vague possibility that a community group might take them to court, but because there is a huge cost associated with that, it is highly unlikely, whereas the applicant for planning permission can, for free, have a shot at having second go—that applies to any scale of development—and then the decision will be taken away from the local authority.

Front loading is really useful and can be helpful in resolving a lot of issues. When it works, it is great and developments can be non-contentious; when it does not work, the developer gets a second shot anyway and can apply through appeal to have another go at getting their application through. Furthermore, if it does not work, other parties or bodies—whether they are local communities or communities of interest, which may have a significant interest in the outcome of the decision—have got no further opportunity for significant engagement in challenging the decision.

The Convener

I have a bit of housekeeping. We are coming to the end of our evidence session. The deputy convener wants to follow up on something in relation to this line of questioning and there are bids for supplementary questions. I know that this is an important issue, but brevity would be welcome in order to allow other members to ask their questions.

Monica Lennon

If you want to hear more from us on planning and appeals, I will lead a members’ business debate on the subject at 5 o’clock, in which a few colleagues will be speaking. We will look at what happens when local authorities’ decisions are overturned.

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and Heads of Planning Scotland are coming in for the next evidence session. Appeals are quite resource intensive for local authorities, and there is always the threat hanging over them that costs could be awarded against them. We have heard about scenarios in which repeat applications are made. An application might be withdrawn and come back in a slightly diluted format, and the local authority will have to do a calculation about a non-determination appeal. A non-determination appeal, which can be made when it is taking too long to get a decision, is another route by which a council can be bypassed, and an application can go to ministers.

If there are no measures in the bill to give communities more rights or to curtail developers’ rights to appeal, are there other measures that we could look at to deal with the issue of repeat applications? What about non-determination, where the clock is ticking, which might reduce a council’s ability to impose conditions and so on?

Aedán Smith

There is a range of options. Repeat applications are a bit of a symptom of the weighting that the current system gives to applicants for planning permission. Other than the fee for a new application, an applicant does not have much to lose by appealing or putting in a repeat application, whereas communities have limited opportunities to get their voices heard and so can feel that they are under real pressure.

The primary way of changing the system would be to introduce an equal right of appeal. There is talk about removing a developer’s right of appeal, which would certainly equalise things. At the moment, there is no right of appeal for parties other than developers. There might be scope to restrict developers’ rights of appeal, whereby developers might be able to appeal only in certain circumstances, such as when a decision is made that is contrary to the development plan.

The fact that, at the moment, there is no fee associated with an appeal is quite an anomaly. There is a fee associated with a planning application, so why is no fee associated with an appeal? If there were such a fee, that might reduce some of the work in that area.

There is a range of options. Scottish Environment LINK’s view is that the process should be equalised through the introduction of an equal right of appeal for other parties, but a range of other measures could be used to improve the balance in the current system, including in relation to repeat applications, which are a particular problem in some areas.

The Convener

Does anyone else want to add anything? I am keen to get what you have to say on the record, but I ask you to be brief.

Diarmid Hearns

The proposal is a potential remedy, but the starting point is a recognition that there is an issue. The fact that there is an issue came through in the independent review, although it did not really delve into that. You should either make things tighter up front, loosen things at the end by giving people more rights of appeal or tighten the existing rights of appeal, but something must be done about it.

Alexander Stewart

You have expanded on the idea of what the right of appeal could be. Obviously, there are major concerns among certain members of the community—we have seen evidence of that. We talk about the right being limited and applying only to certain categories. One category that we have talked about involves cases in which a decision goes against a plan or is a departure from it. Should there be other categories involved in that process?

Aedán Smith

Scottish Environment LINK’s view is that there are two main categories in relation to which there should be scope for other parties to have an opportunity to appeal. One is where a decision is contrary to the development plan; and the other is where an environmental impact assessment is required because there are potentially significant environmental effects. That sort of judgment could be made by professional planning staff—they make such judgments multiple times every day, so I do not think that asking them to perform a quick sense check to establish whether something qualifies under one of those categories would be overly onerous.

The Convener

I have a couple of mopping-up questions. We have heard contradictory and contrasting evidence on an equal right of appeal. Some witnesses have been fundamentally against it, believing that it will slow down development, put house-building targets and the like at risk and damage the economy; and we have heard passionately expressed directly opposing views from people who say that it is important to equalise the right of appeal and give communities more of a say. The committee will have to take a balanced view on the issue before the vote takes place in Parliament, and, at that point, what happens will happen.

Given that the position of the Scottish Government is that the bill front loads the process to a much greater extent than is the case at the moment—Monica Lennon made the point that the 2006 act did not include an equal right of appeal, for very similar reasons—what would successful front loading look like? If an equal right of appeal is not included in the bill and there are no changes in that regard, what kinds of things should our successor committee be looking at in five years’ time to determine whether the front-loading measures have gone well?

Diarmid Hearns

You could approach the issue by working backwards. A study that was done in England in, I think, 2010 on causes of delay in housing development found that the leading cause of delay was lack of capacity within—I stress that that is within, not between—local authorities. Similar developments had different processing times simply because there were not enough staff. The second-biggest cause of delay was found to be appeals by developers—they themselves were causing delays in the system by appealing decisions. The third-biggest cause of delay was the size of developments, because big developments take longer to process.

In five years’ time, your successor committee could ask whether local authorities have enough capacity and skills to do the processing, whether developers have moved away from the use of appeals to get developments through and whether we have a wider mix of developments that includes smaller developments as well as big developments.

The Convener

I have perhaps not been very focused when I have asked my questions this morning. I was trying to ask whether you could say what success would look like in relation to the bill as it stands. How will we be able to tell whether front loading has been successful? If the bill is not changed along the lines that Monica Lennon suggested, should there be a monitoring framework that a future committee of the Parliament could look at to see whether the approach had been successful? What Mr Hearns has said was helpful in that regard. Does anyone have any other thoughts?

11:00  
Graeme Purves

Only last year, the Scottish Government commissioned consultants to consider levels of satisfaction with public engagement with the planning system, and the findings were quite stark. We have a baseline, but it is quite a troubling one. You could revisit the sort of questions that were asked in that exercise and see whether there had been any improvement.

The Convener

That is helpful, because it gives us somewhere to go.

Aedán Smith

There is a lot of narrative about the bill aiming to front load the process, but the discussion that we have had today has questioned whether its provisions would amount to front loading in practice.

The issue of what the committee might want to examine in five years’ time concerns outcomes. Five years is a short length of time in terms of building stuff, so those outcomes will only really concern satisfaction, as Graeme Purves suggests—issues such as what the public think about engagement in the process, whether they are content and whether they feel that they are influencing what their places are going to be like in the future.

The Convener

I picked five years because it was a handy number; it could be 10 years, which is the timeframe for the national planning framework or the proposed local development plans.

That leads me nicely to our final question. The national planning framework has a 10-year lifespan. There will be consultation on it and, as we have mentioned today, perhaps parliamentary approval of it. National planning frameworks are not quite set in stone, nor are local development plans. They can change, even though there would be 10-year cycles. If they change within those 10 years, what should be the level of consultation at that point? Do you have any thoughts about parliamentary scrutiny or approval in that regard?

Aedán Smith

We would say that the national planning framework has to be approved by Parliament, and that any changes to it should also be approved by Parliament. Those proposals should go through the same procedures in relation to strategic environmental assessment that they would have to the moment. There should be an environmental assessment of the likely significant environmental effects of those changes, and there should be public consultation on the changes.

Diarmid Hearns

I echo that. Public awareness of the national planning framework is low at the moment, so it would be good for that to be raised and for people to be given a voice. In Wales, there is a 12-week period for public comment on developments.

Graeme Purves

I agree with Aedán Smith and Diarmid Hearns.

The Convener

That is my favourite answer of the session.

I thank our witnesses for their time this morning and for helping us to scrutinise the bill, and I invite them to follow the committee’s further work in that regard.

11:02 Meeting suspended.  11:09 On resuming—  
The Convener

Welcome back, everyone. We are still on agenda item 1, under which we are looking at the Planning (Scotland) Bill as presented by the Scottish Government to the Parliament.

I welcome our second panel of witnesses. Councillor Steven Heddle is environment and economy spokesperson for COSLA; Robert Gray is chair of Heads of Planning Scotland; Gavin Miles is head of planning and communities for the Cairngorms National Park Authority; David Leslie is chief planning officer for the City of Edinburgh Council; Kate Hopper is senior planning officer for the City of Edinburgh Council; and Ailsa Anderson is a member of the Scottish young planners network steering group.

Obviously, the panel is quite sizeable. We have sought to be as accommodating as possible. If there is largely agreement on an issue, it would help us to get through the issues if people were brief in reinforcing comments that they have heard. Please do not feel as if you need to speak about everything. There is a management issue with such a large panel, and the witnesses’ co-operation would be very welcome.

Graham Simpson

That is good advice for all of us, convener.

I will follow a line of questioning that is different from the one that I pursued with the first panel because the witnesses largely represent the local government sector, and bits of the bill directly affect councils.

Let us consider the idea of a national planning performance co-ordinator and the requirement on councils to issue performance reports that can be scrutinised by the Government. If the Government decided that a council was not performing well enough, it could send in the planning performance co-ordinator. What do you think about that aspect of the bill? Is it right that councils should be judged by the Government? How do you define “performance”? It is not defined in the bill. There is a whole load of questions in there.

Councillor Steven Heddle (Convention of Scottish Local Authorities)

The issue of performance assessment has caused COSLA some disquiet, because we hoped that it could have been discussed and advanced more through the high-level group, so that we could develop a greater understanding of how it might be implemented. There is vagueness about that, so we have concerns.

Our understanding from discussions with the high-level group was that the co-ordinator’s roles and responsibilities could include overseeing performance monitoring, supporting the stakeholder feedback process, identifying skills gaps, and assisting with solutions with regard to training, shared services and good practice. Generally, there would be a positive and supportive role in the co-ordinator’s relationship with local government.

On the assessment proposals, we have concerns about annual reporting, the undefined role of the national planning co-ordinator and how the planning authority’s performance would be assessed, because we think that the proposals are being advanced against a backdrop of high performance and improving performance in planning. The suggestion that, essentially, an audit of the planning authority would be carried out seems disproportionate. We also think that the suggestion that planning officers could end up in court as a result of non-compliance within three days of requests from the assessment body is disproportionate and would be detrimental to encouraging people to enter the profession.

The Convener

I suspect that Mr Gray might have comments on that.

Robert Gray (Heads of Planning Scotland)

Yes. Heads of Planning Scotland has not opposed the principle. Currently, if we do not improve year on year—we submit information on that to the Scottish Government through the planning performance framework—we risk being fined. We saw the proposals as meaning that there would be steps towards being fined, so people could see something coming and have an opportunity to change. Therefore, we thought that the principle was reasonable, but we had great concerns about the approach being proportionate. That was the main downside.

We acknowledge the need for improved performance levels across all stakeholder groups, and we would like to see the planning system—not necessarily just the councils—measured. Key stakeholders and many others input into the planning system, and we would really like to have their performance measured and everyone to improve so that the whole system improves.

The Convener

Are there other comments on that? I am not necessarily going along the panel from left to right, and you should not all feel obliged to answer, but if you want to add to what has been said, feel free to do so.

11:15  
Ailsa Anderson (Scottish Young Planners Network)

I agree with Robert Gray that we should not just focus on the performance of local authorities. There are lots of stakeholders in the system.

Gavin Miles (Cairngorms National Park Authority)

I add that there are two planning authorities that are not local authorities but national park authorities. I suppose that we have a particularly strange set-up in that we call in planning applications, so we deal with only a very small number of the applications that are made in the national parks. We do not think that it is a fair reflection of the entire quality of the planning system for performance to be assessed only by speed.

The Convener

Okay. Does the City of Edinburgh Council have a view, Mr Leslie?

David Leslie (City of Edinburgh Council)

Yes. We recognise that there is a difference between measuring the performance of the system as a whole and measuring the performance of the individual authority. We have tried to use the planning performance framework creatively to look at the quality of outcomes at a local level.

From the council’s perspective, ensuring that we continue to focus performance on the quality of outcomes is really important in terms of local accountability. If measures are brought in at the national level to co-ordinate or to scrutinise, we will look for that to be a co-operative or collaborative approach that involves working with individual authorities to learn from the experience of others and improve performance locally.

The Convener

Thank you. Mr Simpson, do you want to follow up on that?

Graham Simpson

On the principle, is it right that the national Government should be able to assess a local council’s performance and then direct it to do certain things? Is that right from the point of view of local accountability?

Councillor Heddle

It is difficult to say that that should not happen, because we are subject to the rigour of the Accounts Commission and Audit Scotland. The entire planning process is defined in law, and the local authorities are clearly not above that.

We are keen to pursue a collaborative and co-operative approach wherever possible. We already face a big stick in the form of the penalty clause, and we do not welcome the idea of having to face another.

The Convener

I have a brief supplementary question. I was slightly worried when I heard Councillor Heddle’s initial answer as it could have sounded a little bit defensive. I know that it was not, because he has now nuanced it, but I think that Mr Gray gave a bit more light and shade on the subject.

The Care Inspectorate goes into local authority care homes to look at their performance and, if there are systemic issues, it will deal with the local authority in relation to those issues. Education Scotland does the same in relation to schools. When those bodies go in at the local authority level, they seek to be supportive and constructive, and they seek to capacity build and to help develop the local authority.

Do you agree that, in principle, it is more about tone and proportionality? I want to be clear about what you think. In principle, is the proposal the right thing to do? It is about making sure that we take a proportionate approach that is positive, constructive and collegiate. Do you have any thoughts on that? Councillor Heddle, I namechecked you, so I should give you an opportunity to come back in.

Councillor Heddle

It is certainly about tone. I am not in a position to endorse the proposal because I was specifically asked by COSLA leaders to write saying that we do not support it, so I am not going to sit in this committee meeting and say that it is something that we support.

In the interests of being productive, we are certainly keen to discuss what the annual assessment should be, how it might work, whether it should be an evolution of the excellent process that was devised by HOPS and what the role of the co-ordinator post should be. I hope that we are approaching the matter in an entirely constructive fashion.

The Convener

You say that you are approaching it in a constructive fashion, but you are against it in principle.

Councillor Heddle

We do not know the fine detail, so it is difficult to sign up to it.

The Convener

But COSLA is open to persuasion.

Councillor Heddle

I think that we are always open to persuasion.

The Convener

That is excellent.

Mr Gray, do you think that my reflection that this is, in principle, a reasonable thing, as long as the tone and proportionality are captured adequately, was itself reasonable?

Robert Gray

Yes. We have always had some form of scrutiny, but the issue is one of proportionality and tone. Over the six years of planning performance frameworks, there has been a really dramatic improvement in planning in Scotland, but we have not flagged it up very well. It is based on a red, amber and green system; six years ago, the number of reds was probably in three figures, and it is now down to single figures. The scrutiny and the fact that everyone has worked together in that context have worked and proved to be successful, and we do not want or need something that is disproportionate. I think that the differences between us are quite subtle, but we agree on the need for a proportionate response.

I very much agree with David Leslie. What tends to be measured is speed and how quickly you can turn something round, but the fact is that if we create places that are inadequate in some way or other, we have failed. We would rather be measured on a balance of outcomes and speed. We understand the need for streamlining and speed, but it is not the entire story—the outcome is actually far more important.

The Convener

It was really helpful to get that on the record.

Alexander Stewart

The expressions of disquiet and concern about this are understandable, because it is not the case that one size fits all local authorities. There will be not only different workloads and different types of performance, but resource implications as a result of these processes, and how you manage all that in order to ensure continuous improvement must be part of the equation. Do you have any views on that?

Robert Gray

I am happy to start off, but, of course, I do not want to dominate the discussion.

For a number of years now, Heads of Planning Scotland has been pushing for full cost recovery, at least with regard to development management, to ensure that the fee covers the cost of an application. That said, councils everywhere are doing what they can to drive down the costs of processing applications, with some success. It is a two-sided thing: we are trying to drive down costs, but we also want to be able to recover those costs. In that respect, we are not reliant on already hard-pressed council budgets. Because the developer benefits from the development, it is quite reasonable to expect the developer to pay the costs in question.

The situation might not be the same with regard to the local development plan. I do not want to stray into the area of local place plans, simplified development zones and other issues that might have resource implications and which might actually be more to do with the community, but those sorts of issues might well be covered by central public budgeting. In any case, we would like to see full cost recovery in everything that we do, but there are stages towards that aim that we could look at.

The Convener

We will look at the issue of resources in more detail later. Does anyone else have any comments?

David Leslie

We in Edinburgh have consistently supported the relationship between resources and performance. That brings me back to my point about how we report on performance. If we as an individual authority decide to devote resources to one particular part of the planning process in the city, we should be reporting on how we have used those resources effectively in our annual report on performance and justifying our position in that respect.

I very much support the view that one size does not fit all here. What is appropriate for Edinburgh might not be appropriate for other planning authorities, and we should have the flexibility to adjust resources locally to reflect local planning situations. For instance, in one particular year, we might be dealing with an exceptional amount of new growth, and we might therefore want to devote more resources to pre-application advice. We can report on how effective we have been in doing that.

Councillor Heddle

We generally support the comments that have been made, but perhaps I can provide a bit of context. All local authorities are keen for more resources to go into the planning system, because it is important that we have a good, functioning system. Over the past year, every local authority in Scotland has been sitting down to write its strategic plan for the forthcoming term; they have all been talking about economic development and housing, and a successful planning system and planning authority are essential for those things to happen. We are incentivised in our own right to have a planning system that performs well, and we are keen for it to be resourced.

The Convener

Given that that was your line of questioning, Mr Simpson, is there anything else that you want to explore before I let in other members?

Graham Simpson

I want to go off in a slightly different direction, although it is still related to councils and councillors in particular. It is proposed that councillors undergo mandatory training on planning and must pass an exam before being allowed to sit on committees and take decisions on planning matters. Is that the right approach? Is it also right that the minister would not have to undergo that training? When I put that question to him at another committee, he did not consider that he should have to do that.

The Convener

I confirm that, with the possible exception of the deputy convener, none of us has sat an exam on planning. Who wants to answer those questions?

Councillor Heddle

It is fair to say that there is a spectrum of opinion across COSLA about the proposal that councillors must sit an exam before they are able to sit on a planning committee. Some authorities would say that that approach already happens with licensing and that they do not see why the approach to planning should be any different, so there is an expectation that it should happen. Clearly, training is essential before someone sits on a planning committee, and simply making sure that that happens would be a good thing. Other authorities consider that there should be parity of esteem. However, although councillors would be required to do the training, ministers who consider appeals or call-ins might not be.

At the high-level group meeting, I posed that same question to the minister, who said that he would not be upset if ministers had to receive training, too, which was generous of him.

Graham Simpson

He has changed his tune.

Councillor Heddle

Our fear is about the suggestion that the planning function should be taken from a local authority if it does not have enough members to form a planning committee. Again, that would be a disproportionate move. At present, we do not have mandatory training, but the planning function works well, it is well regulated and there are rights of appeal. The proposed mandatory training would be a step too far; it would be welcome if we could find something that fell short of that.

The Convener

Are there any other views on training and assessment?

David Leslie

It may be useful to share Edinburgh’s experience with the committee. My emphasis would not be on training members, but on training and supporting members continuously. Under our programme, which we have used for more than three administrations, planning committee members agree in advance the training and support programme for the year ahead that they will pursue. The programme is extended to other members of the council. For example, a range of workshops on particular planning issues is open to ward councillors. In addition, we have a committee structure that engages other committees in the planning process, so we are looking to have more joint workshops between committees.

My point is that what has been of benefit to us is not a one-off training exercise, but a continuous process.

Robert Gray

Planning inevitably deals with conflict—someone wants to do something and someone else wants to stop them. Elected members are the decision makers in the system, and training helps to protect them and to give them confidence, so we are supportive of the proposal.

Graham Simpson

I would be interested to know how many councils offer training like that provided by Edinburgh. Would you be able to come back to us with that information, Councillor Heddle?

The Convener

That is a helpful suggestion from Mr Simpson.

Councillor Heddle

I think that we could do that.

Monica Lennon

I return to the issues that we have been exploring on performance. Robert Gray and Ailsa Anderson talked about other stakeholders beyond planning authorities and planning officers who have an influence on how quickly the process happens. Will the witnesses reflect on the role of processing agreements, their uptake, what value they add to the process and whether there is evidence that they are driving up performance?

11:30  
Robert Gray

Yes, they drive up performance. When something is put on a processing agreement, it comes off the statistics. I can give numerous examples of a developer not wanting to develop straight away. He wants to be in the system but does not want us to deal with his application quickly because, on the day he gets planning permission, he will probably have to spend money to buy land and make investments and he might not have that money lined up. With a processing agreement, we can work with those applicants. We give them dates; they give us dates. We work together with two project plans. Everyone knows what is happening. There is no sense of failure because it is a slower process. People actually get what they want out of the system, and it is right that they disappear from the statistics.

It is helpful to know that an applicant has not provided enough information. When a planning application is validated, that is done on the basis of certain specified information, but that might not actually be enough information to allow a decision to be issued. For example, a bat survey might be needed, which takes several months to obtain because it has to be done during certain periods in the year. If that is put into a processing agreement, everyone knows what is happening and when everything is expected. A committee date is set way in advance, and everyone sticks to it.

Speaking for my own council, I do not think that we have ever changed a processing agreement unless the applicant has asked for it to be changed. We take it as an absolute commitment as a project plan.

Monica Lennon

Okay. I remember from—

The Convener

I apologise, Monica, but Ailsa Anderson wants to come in.

Monica Lennon

I will probably forget what I was going to say, which was directly relevant to Mr Gray’s point, but carry on.

Ailsa Anderson

Processing agreements are a valuable tool that is available to officers in the process, particularly for holding people accountable when, for example, a deadline has not been reached for any reason and by any of the stakeholders involved in progressing a decision. In terms of accountability and transparency, they are a valuable tool.

Monica Lennon

Does the data that is collected show a pattern in the circumstances where the clock is stopped? Is it lack of information? Is it bat surveys being needed and it not being the right season? Is it just the cycle of committees? Are planning authorities learning anything from the processing agreement process?

I might be wrong, but I thought that the uptake of processing agreements was quite low. Do others have a view or information on uptake?

David Leslie

The City of Edinburgh Council was one of the pioneers in using processing agreements. I think that we did so before they were on the statute book and as part of a methodology of project managing planning applications. When speaking to applicants, I keep going back to the point that we firmly believe that it is in the interest of all stakeholders, including the community, to have a clearly set out processing agreement, so that everybody knows which part of the process they are engaging in and has clear expectations of timescale.

I agree with your point about declining use. I do not have specific figures, but overall the number of processing agreements that are signed by developers for applications in Edinburgh is lower than it has been in recent years. We are trying to understand the reasons for that. I believe that some of it rests on the preparation of supporting information and uncertainty on the part of applicants about information that they have to provide or on which they are dependent, such as information that comes from external agencies.

Going back to the principle of why we have processing agreements, it is about having a form of collective agreement for everyone who is involved in the process. There is no doubt that it is a good thing. It is also a good tool for measuring performance. If all parties meet the outcome that they set out to achieve within the timescale that they set out, that is a measure of performance.

Monica Lennon

I want to return to Robert Gray for a Heads of Planning perspective. From my memory of discussions on the previous planning bill, which led to the 2006 act, we were told that the way to improve outcomes and drive performance was to work collaboratively, which required a change in culture, and processing agreements were just one small part of that. Are you seeing that change in culture? Whether it is from Transport Scotland, Scottish Water or another of the players round the table, has any evidence been gathered in the past 12 years to show that there is greater collaboration?

Robert Gray

The culture change, which is a big issue in the 2006 act, has been slow and patchy. That is just a truism.

I can think of some successful processing agreements, although I do not know whether they are in the majority. The ones that I am thinking of involve onshore works for major offshore installations in the North Sea. We became part of the engineer’s project plan and the works were approved within the four months for a major development, but we still used a processing agreement because that was our agreement with the applicant and everyone stuck to it. It was like our project plan with the applicant and we all worked to the same outcome.

Processing agreements can work in that way, but I think that the issue that you are alluding to in some of your questioning is whether they are just used to mask figures that would otherwise be bad. That is definitely a risk. Heads of Planning has discussed that at great length and we have tried to get consistency across the authorities on how they are used. Some authorities pick them up. We encourage that, because we consider it to be good project planning. Other authorities see them as using time that could be spent more productively elsewhere. Those authorities will use measures such as just stopping the clock so that, if a piece of information that they need is missing, they do not measure that time. All those approaches can work if they are consistent. As long as, at the end, we can give the Scottish Government consistent figures about how planning performs, they all work.

There is a lot of room for culture change. We are using more pre-application discussions in which we have everyone round the table, including bodies such as Scottish Water, to try to draw them into the same timescale so that we have certainty. Again, that is patchy. In the past, we have discussed whether it might be easier if we charged for that. Some authorities have tried that. I have had developers asking whether my authority would charge, because they think that a neighbouring authority gives a better service because it charges. That authority gives a bound book at the end that includes the timescales and everything that the developer has to do, which seems like a good service and a good way forward. That is starting to drive some culture change. I am sorry for mentioning Scottish Water—it could be any of a number of stakeholders.

There is also the culture on the development side. The planning system gets on well with large engineering projects, because they very much have a project management culture. Through Homes for Scotland and the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, we are working extensively with house builders to try to merge our culture with theirs. I am not saying that one is right or wrong but house building alone seems to be the area in which there are delays and frustrations that we still need to do some work on. I am not blaming anyone for that, but there is a piece of work to be done that might not be legislative work. It might involve people picking that up and working together for the desired outcome.

Monica Lennon

As you have mentioned pre-application discussions, I will ask a tiny question about those. The committee had a one-day conference in Stirling—some of the witnesses might have been there—at which we had round-table discussions with committee members as facilitators. In one of my sessions, the point came up that some planning authorities do not do pre-application discussions. Is Heads of Planning aware of that?

Robert Gray

Yes. We are all trying different things. I like pre-application discussions. I like not charging for them, because I do not want anyone to be put off. If we can raise everything up front on day 1 and know what the problems are, we have much longer to solve those problems before we get to a determination.

Pre-application discussions should be done. We find that some authorities go much more into full cost recovery. If we are going to do something, it has a cost and we have to know where that will be paid from. In my authority at the moment, the cost for pre-application discussions comes from the public purse. Everyone benefits, but the developer benefits more. There is a discussion still to be had about the charging, what the real value of the pre-application discussion is and what it would be worth to the developer to put money into the system to make it much more efficient.

The Convener

Mr Miles can answer and then we will have to move on to a new line of questioning.

Gavin Miles

We have been a proponent of process agreements and we offer them on all the applications that we call in. When we started doing that, it worked exceptionally well for the first year or so, because applicants took it on seriously and provided the information at the times that we needed it. Since then, we have found that, in general, deadlines are being missed by applicants, rather than by consultees in the process. We extend the timescales and keep going with that process agreement, because in general we think that there is a good development in there but more information is needed to get it determined. However, that drags things out. We are looking at how to encourage people to keep to the deadlines and not have the application sitting there.

We share pre-application advice with five local authorities, but people either take it or they do not. It is exceptionally frustrating when applications are put into the system and the pre-application advice has been more or less ignored. That leads to delays later on, because we say, “Hold on, we told you months ago that you needed X, Y and Z with your application, but it is not there.”

There are two sides: what planning authorities can do and what the development industry can do. As Robert Gray says, the project-managed projects, which begin by looking at the planning process as something to get through effectively, work their way through the system swiftly and efficiently, but the ones that are not managed that way tend to float around.

Monica Lennon

Perhaps we need to grade the performance of applicants, too.

Andy Wightman

I want to talk about the national planning framework and strategic development plans. Changes have been mooted, such as merging the planning framework with Scottish planning policy and making it part of all development plans, which raises questions about how the NPF should be developed, scrutinised and adopted by the Scottish Parliament and ministers. It is fair to say that there is cross-party consensus that the national planning framework is a good thing and none of the written evidence seriously questions whether we should have it—it is in law, so we have to have it—but are the changes proposed in the bill appropriate?

From reading the submissions from South Lanarkshire Council, Aberdeenshire Council and the City of Edinburgh Council, it is clear that councils do not want greater centralisation of the planning system or the national planning framework to become part of the statutory development plan. What are your views about the proposed changes to the national planning framework?

Councillor Heddle

COSLA’s comments on the withdrawal of strategic development plans were slightly ambivalent—

Andy Wightman

Sorry to interrupt, but I was going to ask about strategic development plans separately. I notice that COSLA does not say much about the national planning framework except in relation to strategic development plans.

Councillor Heddle

I will keep my comments to the national planning framework.

Andy Wightman

Thank you.

Councillor Heddle

With regard to the national planning framework, Robert Gray made the point that it is important that the planning process is kept under local democratic control. Given the move towards incorporating the regional aspirations within the national planning framework, sitting alongside the local aspirations in the local development plan, there is a risk that it could lead to more direction from above and so the withdrawal of local democratic control.

COSLA feels that the planning process and the modifications to that process that are proposed in the bill should have an end point, where decisions are taken locally wherever possible. We would resist an erosion, through the action of ministerial direction, of the powers of local authorities to determine plans. However, we are equally circumspect about the way in which local place plans play into the process. I am sure that there will be questions on that, so I will not say any more on that now.

We have concerns about the proposals for how the national planning framework will play out and we are keen to work with the Government to discover how locally elected members can have the best possible say in the development and adoption of the regional aspects.

The Convener

Are there any other comments? I see that Mr Gray would like to speak. I will bring you in later, but I am trying to encourage everyone to speak.

11:45  
David Leslie

The relationship between the national planning framework and whatever arrangement that we have at regional level is really important. The input of the cities and regions to the national planning framework might well be determined through that arrangement, so we will come back and look at that in more detail.

Edinburgh, by its nature as the capital city, has a number of national interests in its development. The way in which we manage those developments should be left to the area’s planning authority to deal with in detail. It is important that the local experience is recognised when the national planning framework is prepared. It is a matter of how we input to that process.

The Convener

Would you like to add anything, Mr Gray?

Robert Gray

No. David Leslie has made the point.

Andy Wightman

I will move on to strategic development plans in a moment.

The policy memorandum, under “National Planning Framework”, states:

“national developments are accorded the same status as the development plan in planning decisions.”

Will the proposed changes in the bill make any difference whatsoever to the status of the national planning framework and the regard that local authorities pay to it when they draft their local development plans and make planning determinations?

The Convener

There is not a stampede to answer that question. It would be helpful if you could answer, Mr Gray.

Robert Gray

I am trying to hold back.

We take into account the national planning framework in everything that we do. Under the proposed legislation, it looks more like a national development plan. It replaces a strategic development plan with which we need to be consistent. My potential issue with the national planning framework is about the way in which engagement with the stakeholders will work. Subsidiarity is a political issue that I will leave to Councillor Heddle. However, there needs to be some way in which we are all brought into the national planning framework, so that it is everyone’s plan. How that would happen is not spelled out in the bill.

Right at the beginning of this process, one of the asks of HOPS was for the repositioning of planning. Planning is a unique activity in that it brings together not just developers and infrastructure providers but communities. We really want to be positioned centrally. We like the idea of an important and powerful national planning framework. Someone told the committee previously that the Irish national planning framework was so important that it was launched by the Taoiseach and 17 Cabinet ministers. It was the plan for the country. We like the idea of the national planning framework being that important, as long as we all have an input to it, by having a hearing and a say. That is our aspiration for the national planning framework.

Gavin Miles

I am not sure whether the national planning framework necessarily makes much difference to the way in which decisions are made. The process of getting to the national planning framework is what everyone is a bit concerned about.

Ailsa Anderson

We have to be careful about the point at which we consider the national planning framework, particularly if it can be amended at any stage. Decisions made at that point might lead to a local development plan being incompatible with the national planning framework, given that whatever document is decided on will be the prevailing document. Consultation, particularly on the national planning framework, is important to ensure that there is a robust engagement process and that all opportunities for people to participate are taken.

Andy Wightman

That is helpful. Robert Gray said that there needs to be proper engagement. I do not think that anyone doubts that, and previous iterations have attempted to do that. However, the national planning framework is the Government’s plan; Parliament does not vote on or adopt the plan. Is there a danger that, if we elevate the national planning framework to part of the development plan, a minority Administration could push through developments that Parliament or the public might not want but with which you would need to comply?

Councillor Heddle

I suppose that there is the potential that that could be the case, but I am struggling to think of how examples of what you are suggesting might come through the process.

I go back to my fallback position, which is that we are keen that the local dimension and local democracy are maintained to as great an extent as possible. I would need to think through the implications of what you are suggesting and what impact it would have before I could have a more reasoned and nuanced discussion.

The issue is one on which we have not explicitly taken a position in our submissions thus far. If amendments were to be lodged along those lines, we would need to go back to our board to get an all-COSLA position, if that was possible.

Andy Wightman

I will move on to strategic development plans. It is fair to say that, in its policy memorandum, the Government tells us that the consultation that was done on the planning review threw up mixed views on strategic development plans. We received strong evidence from organisations such as Clydeplan that the process works well and they want it to continue. In principle, there is nothing in the bill that will stop the continuation of the development plan process, but local authorities will be encouraged to produce development plans merely on a voluntary rather than a statutory basis.

Do panel members have any strong views on the future of strategic development plans?

Robert Gray

What is being said everywhere, including by COSLA, is that one size does not fit all. There are four strategic development planning authorities, which are to be replaced or repurposed. The Aberdeen city and shire strategic development planning authority seems to be carrying on, at least for the moment. Tayplan will merge into a bigger group. I think that more guidance is needed for the strategic development planning authorities for Glasgow and Edinburgh, because their plans are particularly large and complex.

I do not see how an accurate national planning framework can be put together without the sort of information that is collected through the strategic development plans. A new national planning framework will have a housing supply target, which will be based on a lot of data that is collected across the whole of Scotland. At the moment, that data is collected in a number of ways. We are trying—Clydeplan is leading on this—to simplify that and to have one way of collecting data. That will assist with what the bill aspires to do, which is to provide a national planning framework that will largely replace strategic development plans.

The conclusion that we have reached is that one size does not fit all. Different areas will do different things. When the strategic development planning authorities were set up, I recall there being a lot of debate about whether Inverness should have a strategic development planning authority. The answer was no, because it falls within one local authority, so there is no point in having another layer.

The regional partnerships are based on local geography and putting things together in such a way that we can input to national documents. That is happening already, so we are relatively comfortable, but when it comes to Glasgow and Edinburgh, more guidance needs to follow. There needs to be more guidance on what the duty to co-operate means and how it will be introduced. I am not sure what will happen in the central belt if authorities cannot reach agreement among themselves on things that we think of as regional.

The Convener

Do members of the panel have any other views on strategic planning?

David Leslie

The City of Edinburgh Council recognises the benefits that the city has gained from regional planning arrangements. Through the strategic development plan, we have been able to work with neighbouring authorities to address the wider needs that the city cannot meet within its administrative boundaries. We have worked with other authorities to deliver cross-boundary solutions, for example in relation to implications for infrastructure. The question in our mind is whether the future arrangements will allow us to work in a similar way with the partners that we need to work with at regional level.

We recognise that some form of regional spatial planning is required to underpin the regional partnership delivery of things such as the city region deal. There is no doubt that a spatial plan is an important foundation for that. The question is really about the tone that the bill sets for it. Is it a tone that will encourage the partners to work together in the way that they do at the moment, or will it allow partners to weaken their engagement? Weakening engagement could mean a weakening of the resources that are devoted to spatial planning at a regional level.

Linking that back to previous questions about the national planning framework, we will have a duty to feed into that. At the regional level, do we have the strength to define our vision and objectives so that they can be clearly articulated and feed into it?

Councillor Heddle

Mr Leslie made some of the points that I was going to make. Following on from what Mr Wightman said, there is nothing in the bill that would prevent regional working taking place on an informal basis, at least. However, the context in which we work is that there is other legislation coming through that encourages regional working, we are expected to collaborate across local authorities to develop regional plans in respect of the enterprise and skills review, and there is cross-council working on education.

Councils will always work together when there is an opportunity to improve services and service delivery. The problem of working together comes when we come up with a plan that in some way conflicts with the regional dimension of the national planning framework as placed alongside the local development plan. That needs to be unpicked.

The Convener

Okay. We have had a good cut at that.

Jenny Gilruth

I want to revisit some of Andy Wightman’s line of questioning. In his written submission, Robert Gray points to the three strategic objectives that have been identified by Heads of Planning Scotland. The first is:

“Planning needs to be repositioned as a strategic enabler, as well as a statutory, regulatory function.”

We heard contributions from the previous panel of witnesses on city deals and on the disconnect between the aspiration for city deals to drive inclusive growth and the aspirations for the Planning (Scotland) Bill in its current context. Is there an opportunity to join up what we do in Government with regard to the economy and planning, and to drive investment to tackle inequalities?

Robert Gray

The straightforward answer is yes. It is part of repositioning. City region deals did not come within the normal defined system that we had been working to, and they had to be dealt with quickly, as they are important. It was about how we provide the infrastructure that we need, which was not particularly unified in a set of plans.

Every activity that we do involves the use of land, so planning should be central to all that, and the way in which we set things up should work with the infrastructure. The plans are the place where we line up where the infrastructure works with the development.

My answer is yes, there is an opportunity for Government to do what you suggest, but—this is a bit like a stuck record—we are the people who bring in the community, which deals with the equality issue of whether planning is being done fairly. Yes, we have the capacity through the plan-making system, and that is the bit that perhaps has not been as valued as it should have been, because everybody is interested in the development management system and the issue of the day. Through plan making, we can deal with the use of land and the way in which infrastructure is provided, including in the city deal models.

Community aspirations should not be lost in that and this is the place where we resolve such conflicts. We should be making great places and if we are not, we are not succeeding. That is what we want to be judged on at the end of this. I am sorry—that was a very long way of saying yes, I agree with what you said.

The Convener

Would any other members of the panel like to say yes in relation to that before Jenny Gilruth follows up? I think that the panel might be in agreement.

Jenny Gilruth

In its current form, the legislation says that a planning authority must “have regard to” a local place plan when preparing a local development plan. We have heard numerous criticisms of the wording “have regard to” not being robust enough, and of communities perhaps being ignored. What is the panel’s view on that?

In their written submission, Miss Hopper and Mr Leslie say:

“there are concerns that Local Place Plans could raise expectations”.

Does the rest of the panel agree with that assertion?

The Convener

Mr Leslie, perhaps you could start off on that and give the rest of the panel a chance to gather their thoughts on those issues.

12:00  
David Leslie

From the council’s perspective, a local place plan is of interest in encouraging greater community engagement in the planning process. We might ask whether it will achieve that. The question of raising expectations is about when in the process a local place plan could be used. At the moment, our view is that there should be some flexibility on that, because we can see benefit in a local place plan helping to articulate community objectives at the stage of preparing a local development plan. We can also see it helping to articulate community outcomes once key development proposals are defined in a local development plan, so it could be prepared after the adoption of such a plan.

Managing expectations is about clarity in what the relationship is. I come back to my point about one size not fitting all. There could be an opportunity for local place plans to be used by community groups in a number of scenarios, but they need to be clear on what they can expect to be an outcome from that and when in the process the plan might be most effective. Clearly, some form of guidance from Government to manage consistency and expectations will be important.

The Convener

Are there any other comments on local place plans?

Gavin Miles

We would agree with that. Unless there is an equal resource from the public sector to support them, there is a real risk that inequality will be enhanced and that richer areas will do better, because they have more people with more free time and skills to devote to something that they want to see, whereas in poorer areas—or in those where there are more people who are just working and busier—that will not happen. How such a plan ties into the development plan system is a big issue, because we do not want communities investing a lot of time and energy in something that is then not ignored but perhaps not taken into account in the way that they want it to be. That is where we need to have more clarity about exactly how such a plan will fit in.

Ailsa Anderson

There is certainly a place for local place plans if they are used in the right way. We need to ensure that they are deliverable and not just aspirational when it comes to progressing proposals in development plans. We need to be able to have something tangible in them to take forward.

There are questions about what we do at local level when a local place plan contradicts the NPF, which might be, for example, in a desire to see no more housing in an area in which we have identified that there is an acute need. Another issue that we need to address is how such plans fit into the context of other documents that are available, particularly to community councils, to progress their aspirations, and how they sit alongside community action plans and locality plans coming through the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015. Therefore, as far as progressing local place plans is concerned, a lot of clarity is still required and a lot of guidance will be required, particularly on how they will be delivered by community councils, how they will be prepared consistently and the resourcing that is required by both spatial planners and community planning to take them forward.

Councillor Heddle

In COSLA’s submission, we were not wholly supportive of local place planning but we are not against it. We are entirely supportive of the principle of involving communities in their plans, and particularly community councils in community planning.

When it comes to local place plans as described, other panellists have made the point that there is a potential equality issue in that less well-resourced communities may struggle to produce such plans and will lose out to those who can do so. To get away from that, we could resource support, which brings us to the expectations question. Expectations will be raised where there is not a realistic understanding of what is possible or, indeed, likely. That suggests that there needs to be a close relationship between the people developing the local place plan and the planning authority, to support those people, so a resourcing question is inherent in that.

The final thing that I want to say on local place plans is on the “have regard to” question. As framed, that phrase is appropriate. We would be more supportive of local place planning if it were framed in that way, because it would leave decision making with elected representatives. It would also allow elected representatives to wrestle with problems that might come from a local place plan potentially being in conflict with other things in the framework. We can write down a number of things already. There might be conflict with the national planning framework, the local development plan, simplified planning zones, the “agent of change” principle, the fairer Scotland duty and locality planning. A fully informed local place plan might have to consider all those things, and that is an entire industry in itself. Flexibility in allowing elected members to wrestle with problems is appropriate, and we would be content with the phrase “have regard to”.

The Convener

Alexander Stewart was exploring something along those lines earlier. Does he want to explore it further now?

Alexander Stewart

Yes, if I may. To follow on from Jenny Gilruth’s comments, resources for implementing how things will happen in communities have been talked about. Some communities have community councils, but some do not; rather, they have other organisations that try to assist. How do you ensure that they are engaged at the early stage in order to ensure that expectations are met and that they are not led in a certain direction only for something not to happen or to fail? How do you square that circle?

The Convener

No one is making eye contact with me. Come on, witnesses.

Gavin Miles

I was going to add to the previous discussion that we are probably sounding more negative than we really are, as we all invest an awful lot of time and money in trying to engage communities very well throughout the process.

Different authorities will have different ways of doing that. We have done that through trying to have people out speaking to communities and through community action plans. Historically, such plans have not focused on land use planning elements but, over time, we have tried to get them to do that. Through such plans, people create a plan for their community. We try to ensure that as many people across the community as possible are spoken to before there is a plan for the community. I am not sure that local place plans would necessarily have to involve that. There is a worry that a place plan could come from one part of the community rather than the whole community.

It is inevitable that the public sector tries to get as many people involved as possible, but that takes time and money. As a national park authority, we have maybe devoted more to doing that. We have a smaller population to cover than big urban authorities or authorities that cover a wide area have, but that works, and it feeds into the development plan. I do not see how there can be resourcing evenly across bigger areas. We do that over years; it is phased. We have a five-year rotation in the plans for communities.

Alexander Stewart

It is about identifying the stakeholders in the community and ensuring that there can be a good rapport with them on what they want and how they feel they are being treated. Lip service should not be paid to their being part of the process.

On people trying to manage that in much larger urban areas, Edinburgh will have a massive issue with trying to deal with it in a specific area compared with smaller council areas or locations that have a real community spirit and which will not be advised in other areas. It is about capturing that process. However, without the resources, it is virtually impossible to achieve that. Without dealing with the financial part, is there any other way of achieving that?

Gavin Miles

We have tried to address that point in the national park. We have tried to tackle individual communities, and we probably started with the ones that had more ability in the first place. We worked with them first and then went round to the others.

Maybe the tricky part is that there is a learning process for whoever is doing that and for the community. More people get involved in the process the second time because they see the value in it. It is unlikely to be done properly the first time; people get better the second time. It is iterative. People improve over time. However, that will be a challenge.

The Convener

I want to check something. It is interesting that communities can self-define. There can be a community of interest or a geographical community, but that could create problems once lines are drawn on a map. Someone mentioned that a community might not want any additional housing. However, if a line on a map is drawn a little bit to the east or to the west, it might suddenly be found that there is a wider community that sees a need for housing.

Do we need clearer guidance in the first place on what we mean by “communities” and how local authorities should interact with them? I would like to think of the local place plans as being positive in terms of place making and development instead of being restrictive and stopping the development and place making that are needed in a wider community. What are your thoughts?

Gavin Miles

As I have been saying, having a local place plan would make a lot of sense if it enhanced the development plan, and it would provide quite a clear context for a community to take things forward. If all it does is add detail to something that is already in the development plan or compete with the plan itself, you have the potential for unhappy communities.

Ailsa Anderson

On the question of defining communities, it is also important to define the phrase “local place” when we consider local place plans. A community council area could cover many settlements and communities, but would each community or part of a community require its own local place plan? If so, it would be a very big task to deliver all that in local development planning. There might be communities in community council areas that are particularly involved in these things and have a good sense of place and community, but there might be other settlements or communities that are not as engaged in the process. The issue is how flexible the local place plan can be to accommodate everyone’s aspirations and desires with regard to the outcomes from these documents.

The Convener

That is why I am wondering whether we need a lot more guidance and structure in that respect. As you have suggested, there could be six or seven communities within the boundaries of a community council area, and they could all disagree with each other on what the local place plan should look like. Indeed, they might not identify with the community council area in which they have been placed. If we want a planning authority to at least “have regard to” the local place plan—and I say to Councillor Heddle that some of us would say that the bill should go further than that—there must be some structural alignment with the local development plan in the first place to allow that to happen.

Councillor Heddle

The kind of structure and guidance that you have suggested would definitely be useful, but they need to be accompanied by flexibility. After all, we live in a large and diverse country, and the issues that pertain in my local authority area of Orkney, with its 21 inhabited islands and population of 20,000, will be different from those in Edinburgh, where you will have that number of people in a small subcommunity that contributes to a larger community and where you might find communities set against each other for the reasons—the nimby issue, for want of a better word—that you have described. It would be useful if there were pilot local place plans that we could consider and which would allow us to develop best practice in that respect.

That was not the main point that I was going to make, but it is the one that I have ended up making. [Laughter.]

The Convener

We will go with that, then, unless you want to add anything else.

If members have no other supplementaries on local place plans, we should—if we are to do our job properly—ask a couple of mop-up questions on local development plans. First, it is suggested that there be a minimum consultation requirement in producing an evidence report. If no one has any views on the matter, we will move on, but does anyone wish to comment?

Ailsa Anderson

I am aware that there is a proposal to remove the requirement for a main issues report. As part of developing the evidence report, it is essential that the options be considered and presented for public scrutiny. In order to prepare that document, it may be worth while to still have the main issues process in order to have public scrutiny and link into the strategic environmental assessment. I do not know whether the committee is willing to consider that, rather than removing the process from the system. It would also allow for the gate check to consider whether all the options have been considered and for the favourable option to be presented as part of the gate check, which would then feed into the preparation of the draft proposed plan.

12:15  
The Convener

I cannot speak for committee members, but I suspect that they are open minded on the subject. At the moment, we are just looking at the weight of evidence and listening to suggestions.

It is helpful that Ailsa Anderson mentioned the gate check. When planning authorities get to the gate-check stage, should there be a requirement for further engagement and consultation with stakeholders to make sure that the process has been handled correctly? If so, who should those stakeholders be? Again, you do not have to comment on that. We are just trying to tick off the various elements of the bill as we go through it.

Robert Gray

We quite like the gate-check procedure because, if you get through it, it means that you will not fall down on those aspects at a later stage. Otherwise, you could lose two years. We see the gate check as a positive thing.

At HOPS, we have never discussed whether other stakeholders should be part of the gate check, but there is no reason why they should not be. I think that we are quite open minded about that.

David Leslie

In the analysis of the process that we went through for our current local development plan, stakeholders who were involved in the process gave strong evidence about the importance of early and continual engagement. I think that that answers both questions. Whatever the process is, we have to ensure that we gain ownership and understanding early in the process and that we retain that as the development plan evolves. There is an opportunity to use gate checks—in the plural rather than the singular—throughout the process to build that understanding.

The Convener

Okay. As a housekeeping note to fellow committee members, I note that the witnesses will hear a heck of a lot from me if no one else makes a bid to ask questions.

Oh. Mr Wightman has a question. Excellent.

Andy Wightman

My question is on a new topic. Is that okay?

The Convener

Absolutely.

Andy Wightman

We love new topics.

We have not explored very much the bill’s proposal that statutory supplementary guidance be abolished. Are there any views on that, given that, for some authorities and some communities, it is deemed to be a valuable way of framing local planning policy?

Ailsa Anderson

I work in Aberdeenshire, where most of our supplementary guidance is map based. If it was to form part of the plan, the plan would be bulked out significantly.

There is a place for supplementary guidance in providing the additional information. Going with the current status, where there needs to be a policy hook, would be a good way to go, because we at least have the context, which has been scrutinised, and then we have the map-based evidence sitting separately.

Andy Wightman

Are you saying that we should not abolish statutory supplementary guidance?

Ailsa Anderson

We should not necessarily abolish it. I think that there is a place for it.

Kate Hopper (City of Edinburgh Council)

I agree that there is a role for statutory supplementary guidance. The City of Edinburgh Council is keen on using its statutory guidance to deliver infrastructure. We are introducing supplementary guidance for that, because it allows us to address the changing nature of growth within Edinburgh much more quickly and transparently.

We would still support some role for guidance that allows us to introduce a changing infrastructure plan, for example, within the 10-year process of a local development plan, but we do not have a view at present on whether that should be statutory or non-statutory guidance.

Gavin Miles

I suppose the point is that one size does not fit all. There are authorities that have used supplementary guidance effectively and for which it is vital, and there are others that have got less out of it. It probably depends on what the authority is like and its approach to planning in general.

Andy Wightman

However, if the provision is abolished, no one will be able to use statutory supplementary guidance at all.

Gavin Miles

Yes.

Andy Wightman

This might be a bit random, but I noticed that, in Heads of Planning Scotland’s submission, all the “yes” responses to the committee’s questions are marked in bold—you are the most enthusiastic cheerleader for the bill. It is fair to say that, across most of our written evidence, our engagement with communities and the oral evidence to the committee, most people consider that the bill is okay as far as it goes but want more—they want it to be a bit bolder and clearer. The act that we will get at the end of this process is not the bill that we have at the moment, so why does Heads of Planning Scotland appear to be the sole cheerleader for the minister?

The Convener

Do not let Mr Wightman temper your enthusiasm, Mr Gray.

Andy Wightman

I am genuinely curious.

Robert Gray

I am speechless.

The Convener

I do not believe that.

Robert Gray

The submission was put together largely by the executive on behalf of a number of authorities. There were lots of different authors, but we made the submission look as though there was only one.

On the route to get here, we put a number of asks, because we wanted game changers in the bill. I will temper my enthusiasm by saying that we did not get our game changers. Nevertheless, we got things that, technically, we can work with. There are controversial proposals such as place plans and simplified planning zones, but those are tools in the box that you do not have to pick up and use if they are not for you. That said, perhaps place plans are a bit different in that regard.

If a council wants to pick up, for example, a simplified planning zone because it considers that it will help regeneration and inward investment and that it is the right thing for it to do, that is fine. If another local authority considers that that is the wrong approach for it, because there is too much exclusion of elected members and communities, and that it is not going to use it, that is also okay. Some of our enthusiasm is because the bill recognises that no one size fits all. The bill will help councils to pick up and use the bits that are useful for them; so, overall, we are supportive of it.

The first game changer that we wanted was central repositioning. Does the bill do that? Is there something in the bill that says what planning is, what it is for and how important it is? No—we did not get that.

The second aspect that we wanted to be addressed is the resourcing of planning, but primary legislation is probably not the right place to deal with that.

The third leg of what we called for is the continued simplifying and streamlining of what we do, but that does not particularly affect us either way.

On the three things that we were measuring the bill against, it did not do the first one particularly well; we will wait and see on the second one, because that does not necessarily need legislation; and the third one does not prevent our continuing to simplify and streamline, perhaps with assistance through the proposed national planning performance co-ordinator role.

Our response to the bill is measured, but our answer to the questions that we were asked was “yes”.

The Convener

I saw your enthusiasm seeping away as you answered that question.

Andy Wightman

That response is helpful. Part of the reason for Heads of Planning Scotland’s response might be—I am speculating—that, over the past two years, it has been very involved in the independent review and in working groups inside the Government, so the bill is the last stage for it whereas it is the first stage for a lot of other people, because they have not been as heavily engaged.

There is broad support for your point about the purposes of planning, so you can take some comfort in knowing that there will almost certainly be movement in that direction.

I do not know whether Mr Heddle wants to respond.

Councillor Heddle

I would not dream of speaking on behalf of Heads of Planning Scotland.

With your indulgence, I will briefly return to your question on supplementary guidance. Supplementary guidance is another useful tool in the toolbox, because it is a means of taking out of the larger plan issues that might be subject to change when the plan is being put together. As we move to local development plans on a longer timescale, the risk is that something could go into those plans that rapidly became redundant and was at odds with authorities’ planning aspirations.

The Convener

Simplified development zones were mentioned, so we should explore that issue, given that it is in the bill. The committee has heard a lot of evidence about simplified development zones. A lot of folk do not like the name and want to see the balance between getting the development zone right and doing place making properly. What is the purpose of simplified development zones? What is good about them? In what areas would you want clearer safeguards or definitions?

Ailsa Anderson

In principle, simplified development zones are a useful tool that could be made available to planning authorities to use where they deem that it would be appropriate. They should perhaps sit under development plans in order to avoid undermining the plan-led system. That would mean that there would be public scrutiny and, as part of the evidence report, the gate check could confirm that a simplified development zone was appropriate for an area and was not being imposed by a third party, for example.

Such zones should be applied only in areas where there is a need, because avoidance of planning has been seen as a blockage in the system. They should not be used just as a matter of course; there needs to be a purpose in implementing such zones in a particular area.

David Leslie

I support the comments that have just been made in that City of Edinburgh Council sees the potential for simplified development zones to be a delivery mechanism for the local development plan. We support them but firmly in the context of a plan-led system. You could perhaps explore the potential for a simplified development zone while the local development plan was in preparation. In that way, you could begin to build community engagement with the concept and identify the issues that would need to be resolved before a simplified development zone was established.

We firmly support the idea of masterplanning and the use of design frameworks and so on being set out in advance to bring transparency to the use of the simplified development zone—if it were to advance delivery of the local development plan.

The Convener

That is helpful. I suggested to the previous panel that each local authority should consider whether it had suitable areas that might benefit from a simplified development zone. I was not suggesting that local authorities must choose an area but that they should identify whether there were appropriate areas in their authority. If the zones become a national objective, would that be a reasonable duty or burden to place on planning authorities?

David Leslie

The simple answer is yes.

Gavin Miles

Yes.

The Convener

Does COSLA have any resistance to a duty being placed on local authorities to consider creating simplified development zones and giving a rationale for why they have chosen certain areas or why they have decided against it?

Councillor Heddle

Our preference would be for that to be discretionary. The landscape—both geographically and in terms of economic development—will vary from area to area, particularly in terms of what opportunities the council is looking for and what it already has. There is a cost to planning for simplified development zones, and that might not ultimately be recognised to be a good spend.

The Convener

If the bill is passed and the rolling out of simplified development zones becomes a national priority because they are beneficial, with certain caveats, the national Government might approach a planning authority and ask why, given that there is not a lot of development in its area, it has not created a simplified development zone. If every planning authority had had to consider the zones as a tool in its box, that authority would at least have a rationale for choosing not to use that tool, which would create a dynamic between central direction and local democracy. Should councils consider creating SDZs as a matter of course?

Councillor Heddle

That question could be asked under any circumstances, and it would be up to the individual local authority to justify its decisions. I do not see a duty on local authorities to identify simplified development zones as being helpful, and we would prefer to have discretion.

Graham Simpson

I want to take that a stage further. The bill will give ministers the power to set up simplified development zones—they could do it in Edinburgh, Mr Leslie, or even in Orkney. Is that right, or should ministers not have that power?

12:30  
David Leslie

I will answer that question, as Edinburgh has been mentioned. I return to my previous answer about embedding SDZs within a plan-led process to ensure local accountability. If the planning authority in Edinburgh has considered the issue as part of the preparation of the development plan and has decided that the simplified development zones approach is not an appropriate tool for taking forward development in one of the city’s growth areas, it will be in a strong position to discuss with ministers why it does not consider the approach to be appropriate. If the approach is imposed, we will be entering another area of discussion.

The Convener

Okay. It is good to have that on the record.

Councillor Heddle

I concur with my colleague. There are issues of local democracy and subsidiarity at work here. If the approach is imposed on local authorities, that can only be described as a power grab.

Graham Simpson

Indeed, but that approach is in the bill, Councillor Heddle.

The Convener

We will wait and see what the minister says about that in a few weeks’ time.

We should explore the infrastructure levy, because there is provision for that in the bill. The levy is an enabling power—it is one way of raising finances for infrastructure and promoting development. Do witnesses have any thoughts on that? Is there a missed trick? Could we do other things to raise those finances?

Robert Gray

Our experience in the north-east has been quite difficult. We had a strategic transport fund that was, in effect, an experimental form of infrastructure fund. It failed at the Supreme Court because there was too great a distance between the intervention—which was a junction or railway station—and the development that was contributing towards it. We could not line them up well enough.

The bill would probably enable us to go ahead with that now, but it would lead to other difficulties around reasonableness, proportionality and trying to get developers to buy into it. We found that developers liked the transport fund. They would probably like an infrastructure fund, because it would give them some certainty about how much they would be asked for. The landowners very much did not like the fund. It was interesting that it was challenged by the landowners, as it is the value of the land that reduces, ultimately.

The transport fund was an interesting experiment, and I wish people well with the infrastructure fund, although I am disappointed with the level of funding that the Government says is likely to be raised by it. It has put a figure of £75 million against it nationally. Each council needs that sort of money for the infrastructure that it is short of and for the type of development that is needed, and we were looking for something more like £80 million for the interventions. Fife Council thinks along the same lines, and other large authorities will need that amount of money for things such as road and rail improvements and stations if they are to incur no net detriment for new development—although I know that that is almost impossible. In some parts of the country, our infrastructure is pretty creaky.

The discussion around the infrastructure levy goes beyond things that we normally think of as essential for development to take place. There is a debate around the country about whether broadband is now needed and whether we should not be developing where there is no broadband, because it has become such a normal part of people’s lives in the same way that they need a road to their house. There is a debate about whether that kind of improvement should be chargeable under an infrastructure levy.

To sound a bit like a stuck record, it is another tool in the box and it is useful to have it, although we expect to have another two rounds of research before we start to think about using it again. I hope that it works, but it has a long way to go yet.

The Convener

Okay. Are there any other thoughts about the infrastructure levy?

Kate Hopper

City of Edinburgh Council has concerns about the use of a levy, because we do not have the evidence to show that it is the best solution for Edinburgh or for the country. We would support it if it could be used locally to replace section 75 of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997. At the moment, there is concern that a levy could be used purely for strategic, cross-boundary infrastructure, whereas that is really due to historical growth in Edinburgh and not to future growth allocated through our local development plans.

The cost of delivering Edinburgh’s local development plan, which was referred to this morning, has been estimated as being in the region of £450 million to £480 million. What was not mentioned this morning is that there is an infrastructure gap of around £200 million due to the current issues with section 75. There is concern that, if we were able to deliver only £75 million through a national levy, that would not come close to what Edinburgh requires to deliver its own local development plan.

Our concern is whether such a levy will go far enough. Could it be used locally to replace section 75? Could we use a delivery programme or an action programme to set out an infrastructure strategy for the city that would set out the infrastructure that is required, using a levy or a tariff to generate that infrastructure? Edinburgh’s proposed approach would be such a levy.

The Convener

That is helpful, because you are suggesting other mechanisms to do what is at the heart of the question. It seems that the infrastructure levy might be okay but that it is only a small part of a much larger solution, so we need to think of other ways of raising cash. Are there any other solutions? Does there have to be a magic wand to make it all better? Are there any other helpful interventions that you wish to put on the record?

Robert Gray

It goes back to the point that one size does not fit all. The Borders railway required a specific act of Parliament. It was very like the north-east strategic transport fund, and it was successful because, when it was challenged, the individual challenger did not have to pay his money but the scheme did not collapse. There was an acceptance that all developers along the railway line would have some benefit and they would all pay into it. The infrastructure levy will probably allow other authorities to pick it up if it is the right thing for them.

The Convener

Thank you—that is helpful. We will move on to a new line of questioning.

Monica Lennon

I am going to move on to equal rights of appeal. Before I do, I will read from one of the submissions that we have received:

“Delays in the system are caused by severe cuts to planning budgets and staff shortages. It is resources they need not reorganisation.

Planners tell us that they are overwhelmed by the volume and complexity of their workloads. They are also extremely stressed ... Good planning doesn’t require yet another reform programme. Improvement will come through adequate funding and staffing levels and empowering staff and giving them the time to do their work, reflect, learn and implement change.”

That is the view of Unison Scotland, the largest trade union in Scottish public services, and it tells us that it

“represents the full range of staff in planning teams”.

We have some people here who are on the front line. Is any of that relatable? Would Kate Hopper or Ailsa Anderson like to comment?

The Convener

Would anyone like to comment?

Robert Gray

Planners are very hard worked, but this is about good management and we have, in the past, not been very good at collecting the statistics that we need. Some authorities, with the use of consultants, have come up with some figures for how many planning applications an individual planner should have in a year and how many they should have at any one time. A planning authority can then work out how many planners it needs and, at that point, the resource can go up and down at the discretion of its chief executive. There should be formulas for how many planners are needed. We are very bad at increasing the number of planners when there is an upturn. It is difficult to balance the peaks and troughs—it is about managing the resource.

We have a skills shortage and difficulty in attracting people into the profession. We have a shortage of courses, I believe, and the future of some of them is a bit uncertain. It is a problem that HOPS is addressing in a number of ways. HOPS will be working on what the true cost of a planning application is and what staffing is needed to deal with it.

Monica Lennon

I am interested in planners’ ability to do their jobs and in good morale. Unison Scotland’s comments are pretty brutal. I did not see anything like them in the HOPS response, so maybe the planning bosses are not so close to the situation. I do not want to put people on the spot on their personal experience, but I imagine that Kate Hopper and Ailsa Anderson are very much on the front line day to day—more so than the management tier. I was chair of the Scottish young planners network many years ago. What is it like for young planners right now?

Ailsa Anderson

Working within constraints has an effect on the Scottish young planners network. However, we do as well as we can with the resources that are available to us. From talking to people in the network who work across a wide range of sectors, I know that everyone—whether they are in the private sector, the public sector or an agency—is feeling the constraints. We work with what we have.

As for moving forward, certainty on the procedures that we, as officers, must abide by and on what is expected of us when we are in the front line and when we engage with key stakeholders, and ensuring that the system is robust and fit for purpose will help everybody to get on with their day-to-day jobs.

Monica Lennon

I turn to Councillor Heddle to get COSLA’s take. I note that the Royal Town Planning Institute—I should probably remind the committee that I am still a member of the RTPI—analysed the planning performance framework and found that, between 2009 and 2015, there was a 23 per cent reduction in the number of people doing planning jobs in planning authorities. Is that situation sustainable?

Councillor Heddle

The answer is probably no, but the same thing could be said across the entire spectrum of local government finance. All aspects of local government finance have been subject to efficiencies and cuts, and that is just a further embodiment of that.

Monica Lennon

Someone earlier—I think that it was Graeme Purves—mentioned the climate that we are working in. Perhaps that was an allusion to austerity. What staff and financial resources will planning authorities require to deliver a higher-quality service? Does the bill address any of that? If not, what is missing in it, and what needs to be changed?

Councillor Heddle

There is a degree of uncertainty, because the bill assumes that it will lead to savings for planning authorities that can be reinvested in the service. I believe that that will happen, but I think that the bill has the potential to place a greater burden on planning authorities. We have already talked about the potential impact of local place plans if the expectation is that local authorities have to support them. Equally, the issue of assessment and performance reporting goes through the bill like letters through a stick of rock, and that will undoubtedly place additional burdens on local authorities. Because of the trade-offs inherent in the bill with regard to resourcing requirements and resources for local authorities, it is difficult to say whether the bill itself will help with resources.

Monica Lennon

Before I move on to equal rights of appeal, I want to raise a connected issue. The committee has talked a lot about the aspirations behind the previous planning bill, with its big emphasis on front loading, early engagement and collaborative working. However, as we have heard, that legislation has not really been that successful. Is that entirely down to resources, or are resources only part of the story?

Robert Gray

Resources are part of it. For the past six years at least, we have spoken to the different ministers about increasing resources for planning by increasing the fees. The ministerial view has always been that, if performance improves, fees will be increased, but no one has ever defined the level of improvement that is required or the level of fee increase. We are still discussing the matter, and the agenda is still the same: if we keep improving, there will be an improvement in resources. We have to work out the true cost of planning and where those resources will come from, and then resource it properly. I certainly recognise the stress that you mentioned earlier.

Monica Lennon

If one of the aspirations of good place making is to put people at the heart of decision making, can you find any room in your hearts at all for an equal right of appeal in certain circumstances? I am going for the heartstrings here—if anyone has a heart. Can we pick a volunteer?

The Convener

Basically, what are your views on an equal right of appeal? I call Mr Leslie.

David Leslie

I am bound to respond by saying that all planners have a heart.

The Convener

They share it between them.

David Leslie

Since the planning process started, a right of community engagement in one form or another has been built into it. Most planning authorities, including that in Edinburgh, are looking at ways of having meaningful community engagement. Our council commitment to looking at a community right of appeal—we have had discussions with the Government about Edinburgh’s experience and why we have reached that position—is very much in recognition of our experience of front loading the system and the fact that that has not been enough to generate community trust and confidence in the planning process. We are asking ourselves what more could be required to do that. Some of that could come from place plans and other tools of community engagement, which we have discussed. However, at the end of the process, there still seems to be a lack of opportunity in certain circumstances for community members to feel that they can question the way in which a decision has been made.

12:45  

We have set out certain circumstances in which defined community bodies—we would use the same terminology that is used in the bill and in the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015—could be given some form of equality of right of appeal.

Monica Lennon

It seems that, compared with other planning authorities, Edinburgh is taking quite an unusual position, and arguably quite a progressive one. Can the representatives of Heads of Planning Scotland or COSLA say whether any other authorities are considering equalising appeal rights, even in a limited way?

Robert Gray

They are not. As heads of planning, we have spent many years dealing with streamlining and making delivery faster. A third-party right of appeal will not make delivery faster; it will make it slower. That takes us to the issue of whether it is fair.

Looking at the history of planning, in 1947 the development value of everyone’s land was nationalised and no one could just build what they wanted; they had to ask for permission. If the decision was unfair, they had a right of appeal. At that point, third parties did not have much to do with it. Have we now moved on so far that the situation is inequitable? There is the question of whether developers should still have a right of appeal beyond local democracy. I prefer that question to one concerning third-party rights of appeal, because I think that if we keep front loading the process with things such as place plans and engaging people in the up-front planning process through plan making, we will have something that involves people and is equitable, and we would then need a very good reason to depart from the plan. Of course, the departures come through local democracy as well—from elected people, generally.

More than any of the other activities that we have in local government, planning already involves the communities. I do not think that yet another right of appeal would be beneficial. I think that we would regret it if we saw it in action.

Monica Lennon

Other colleagues might want to ask about tapering the appeal rights that are available. As an observation, the language that we use in the planning system is important, and there has been a shift in language from talking about third parties to talking about equal partners. Is there a sense among heads of planning that communities are a third party and are somehow not on an equal platform? From the evidence that we have heard, I think that that antagonises communities and local people, including local businesses and makes them feel that they are not on the same wavelength and that they do not have the same status. Do you accept that if planners are using phrases such as “third parties”, that in itself could be a barrier to good community engagement?

Robert Gray

Yes, people outside the system do not understand the term “third party”—I think that that is just a fact.

There are also cross-boundary issues. When one authority approves something even though the town immediately across the boundary is full of objectors, is that fair? The people in that town have no right of appeal. If there were to be some movement on the issue of others being allowed into the system to debate whether development should happen, that would enable us to would look to such criteria. In such a case, there is a built-in unfairness with regard to people who live in the wrong authority area, as it is not their elected members who have made a decision that has affected them.

There are quite a few cases involving boundary issues, and there might be some mileage in looking at that issue but, if you live in an authority area and your elected representative has done something that you do not like, at some point a decision has to be made and the recourse is to not to elect them again—sorry, Councillor Heddle.

The Convener

I do not think that that was meant for Councillor Heddle personally—just all councillors. Councillor Heddle, you have been very patient and I know that you want to come in.

Councillor Heddle

COSLA has not supported a third-party right of appeal, due to the impact that it might have on development and local economies through the time that it could take to determine applications and the external forces that might act against local interests.

I could pick on my local authority area, Orkney, as one that many people would like to be turned into a nature reserve, but the elected members reasonably take the view that it is a place where people should be allowed to live and work as well. They have to be circumspect about things like that.

The bill includes measures to involve communities, such as the local place plans. There is also the work that already happens on pre-application procedures. The increased planning performance demonstrates that that is good for performance as well. The infrastructure levy is another potential way to involve communities because it creates a direct linkage between development and positive developments for the community if it can be determined locally and the benefits can be reaped locally.

COSLA will have to consider that aspect before stage 2 of the bill, not least because the discussion is widening to an equal right of appeal rather than a third-party right of appeal. An equal right of appeal could mean many things. It could mean that nobody has any right to appeal. I do not know whether that is what you intend at this point, but there is a spectrum of approaches that we need to consider. I noticed that, in a previous meeting, Dr Inch made some interesting points about an equal right of appeal under strict circumstances—a limited equal right of appeal. That is also something that we have to consider.

The Convener

We have 10 minutes maximum left of this evidence-taking session and then we really have to close. I am keen to let members back in. I apologise, but brevity would be very helpful.

Gavin Miles

The reason that we did not support the right of appeal is that we often have the same group of people objecting to every development that our planning committee considers. Sometimes, they have well-set-out, considered reasons; sometimes it is simply because they do not want development in a national park. If every one of those decisions was appealed, the process could grind to a halt. For many planning authorities, the fear is that the right of appeal could be misused in some cases.

Graham Simpson

I am really interested in what the witnesses from the City of Edinburgh Council said. I have never heard a council talk like that and say that it does not think that it is getting things right and that we should consider some sort of right of appeal. That is refreshing because councils are normally defensive. They think that they are getting everything right. They all think that they have hearts, of course, as you do, Mr Leslie.

I was looking frantically through your written submission and could not see anything in there about a right of appeal. The City of Edinburgh Council has obviously considered it. Will you give us some more details about the kind of scheme that the council is thinking of and whether Edinburgh could be used as a trial area for it? If MSPs and the Government were not sure about how it would work, perhaps it could be tried somewhere.

David Leslie

It is an interesting idea to pilot the right of appeal in one area.

The limited amount of work that we have done on the matter is, I emphasise, focused on communities. We are not using the term “third party”. In the Edinburgh planning concordat, we already have a basis for a tripartite approach to dealing with major developments, which involves the developer, the planning authority and the relevant affected community. The commitment to a right of appeal has grown from that basis. It is also a recognition that many developments in the city do not fall into the category of a major development but are significant local developments, in relation to which there is no statutory provision for pre-application engagement with the community at the moment. We recognise that that definition needs to be considered.

We are very much considering the idea in the round, not in isolation. The right of appeal would work only in certain circumstances. I certainly concur with the comments that other colleagues have made that it would not be in the council’s interest to hold back development. An appeals process would have to be done in a way that allowed the community to feel greater confidence in planning decision making without delaying the process unnecessarily.

Graham Simpson

Has the idea gone through any committee of the council?

David Leslie

It is a council commitment. As it is one of the administration’s commitments, it was agreed by the full council.

The Convener

It would be helpful if you could tell us specifically what the commitment is.

David Leslie

I can read it out to you. Council commitment 10 is to

“Work with the Scottish Government to review planning policy and overhaul the planning appeal system to make it shorter, more independent and give communities the right to appeal”.

Graham Simpson

Beyond that, what are the details?

David Leslie

Those have been articulated only in discussion with the Government.

Graham Simpson

So you have had discussions with the Government about the matter.

David Leslie

We have approached the Government to express our views.

The Convener

We can follow up on that when the minister appears before us.

Graham Simpson

Is there anything that you could send us in writing? It would be useful to receive such documentation, because the bill does not include such a right of appeal. If a major council—the council that covers the capital city—has discussed the issue with the Government, we need to know about it. We will have to come up with suggestions for the bill, so we would be grateful to receive anything that you can share with us.

David Leslie

I would be happy to follow up on that.

The Convener

That would be very helpful. We are working to a timescale on the bill. It would be helpful to find out what that community right of appeal would look like, when the City of Edinburgh Council thinks that it could be implemented and whether the work on it will fall within our timescale.

Andy Wightman

Earlier, Robert Gray said that the question that he would prefer to be asked was that of whether the applicant’s right of appeal should persist. I wonder whether Mr Gray has an answer to that question. It is worth noting that, as has been said, the applicant’s right of appeal has always been part of the system, but when it was introduced, it was intended to be temporary. In most other European countries, applicants do not have appeal rights, because there is a plan, which is stuck to. We have a more discretionary system.

In light of the fact that Robert Gray and others have said that a third-party right of appeal would clog up the system and lead to delays, would getting rid of the applicant’s right of appeal get rid of delays and strengthen democracy?

Robert Gray

We have a local review body within councils for things that do not have to go to the Government for appeal. I am speaking for me rather than HOPS here; the HOPS view is written down. I do not have any particular difficulty with the applicant’s right of appeal being to another council body and being part of local democracy. I do not think that the applicant’s right of appeal has to be a right of appeal to the minister.

I know that, on some things, the minister has a much wider view than a local authority. There is a subsidiarity issue in there. However, there are many more things that I think are of local significance that could be dealt with locally—I might be straying into Councillor Heddle’s territory by making a political statement rather than a technical statement. Technically, that could work—some of the appeals that go to Government could go to a local review body that was run by the council.

Andy Wightman

Technically, anything could work. My question is whether you think that there should continue to be a merits-based appeal on decisions that have been based firmly on a highly comprehensive and well-supported local development plan, that are widely supported in the community and that are upheld even when the case goes to a reporter, only for a minister to overturn them. Do you think that that is an acceptable way of strengthening the planning system?

Robert Gray

I am sorry—I missed a bit of your question. In making a determination, a planner looks at the policy background, which is the development plan, and other material considerations. The weight that they give to those material considerations is a matter for the decision maker. In general, when a case goes to a reporter or a minister, he gives a different weight to those considerations. I am not sure why the reporter’s decision on the weight that is given to those is any more valid than the decision of local elected representatives who live locally.

I am happy for there to be a system of appeal, but it should be local and dealt with through the elected member system that we already have for some things.

13:00  
The Convener

Feel free to give us supplementary evidence on that in writing if you want.

Before I close this evidence session, I will ask the same question on equal right of appeal that I asked the previous panel. The bill will go through. It may or may not be amended in that area, but stage 3 will come and go and planning legislation will be on the books. If there is no equal right of appeal and the counter to that is that there is front loading of the planning process, how should we gauge the success of that front loading? In five or 10 years, when a successor committee asks how well the planning act did without the equal right of appeal and whether it did what it said on the tin, what would that committee look at to demonstrate that?

David Leslie

Quite simply, you would look at quality of outcomes. If one of the key outcomes that we are seeking to achieve is good places, we need to find ways of measuring whether stakeholders consider that place making has been delivered. If we are sitting here again in five or 10 years, we will need to have developed measures on quality outcomes that we can report locally.

The Convener

That is helpful. Our deputy convener has rightly spoken about the ambitions in 2006 in relation to front loading the system. The realisation of those ambitions has been patchy at best—that is the diplomatic thing to say. We have another planning bill before us that talks about further front loading of the system. For whoever is looking at the system again in 10 years—it almost certainly will not be us—what monitoring framework should be in place to allow them to see whether the act did what it said on the tin? Are there any other thoughts on that before I close this evidence session?

Ailsa Anderson

I agree that it is at the point of delivery when we can see whether there is tangible change. The good thing about the planning system is that, when a decision is made and the development is delivered, we can see the tangible difference that it makes to a business, a community or individuals, depending on the level that we go to.

In thinking about the young planners of the future, it is important that they have access to good education and continuing professional development and that there is continued enthusiasm from the professional and community sides of planning.

The Convener

I am thankful that you took time to put that on the record before we close this evidence session.

Councillor Heddle

To return to the earlier point, the measure of success could be that no councillors are kicked out at the elections because of planning decisions.

The Convener

That will be virtually impossible, Councillor Heddle. On that not so positive note, I thank the witnesses for what has been a long and worthwhile evidence session. Please follow the course of the bill and provide any supplementary evidence that you would like to send. I know that you are constrained by our questions and by the time that is available, so please stay in contact with us. Thank you for attending to help us with our scrutiny of the bill.

We now move to agenda item 2, which we previously agreed to take in private.

13:03 Meeting continued in private until 13:30.  
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Fourth meeting transcript

The Convener (Bob Doris)

Good morning and welcome to the 10th meeting in 2018 of the Local Government and Communities Committee. I remind everyone present to turn off mobile phones. As meeting papers are provided in digital format, members may use tablets during the meeting. We have a full house today—no apologies have been received.

Under agenda item 1, the committee will take evidence on the Planning (Scotland) Bill at stage 1. I welcome Kevin Stewart, the Minister for Local Government and Housing. With him are John McNairney, chief planner, Andy Kinnaird, bill manager, and Norman Macleod, senior principal legal officer, from the Scottish Government. I invite the minister to make opening remarks.

Kevin Stewart (Minister for Local Government and Housing)

Thank you, convener, and good morning. The Planning (Scotland) Bill is just one element, but a vital one, of a full programme of review of the planning system. The bill’s content and our intentions for the review as a whole are rooted in the findings and recommendations of an independent panel that was made up of users of the planning system.

There have been a number of drivers for the planning review from the beginning: the need to deliver more housing, the need to improve the experience and influence of our communities, the effectiveness of development planning and leading positive change in our places, the need for more proactive management of development, and the need for strong leadership and better management of skills and resources. We have maintained our focus on all those drivers throughout, and we are taking forward the vast majority of the panel’s recommendations.

We are not starting from scratch. Much of the existing planning system will remain—for example, there will be a continuing requirement for development planning to contribute to the principles of sustainable development. However, we are proposing changes that will radically reform how planning is done. The bill is certainly more than just tinkering—it will lead an essential shift in our planning services away from a largely regulatory function, and it will strip back unnecessary process to facilitate delivery of good-quality development and the great places that our communities deserve. For example, our reforms for development planning will create greater clarity for all about the future direction of development and will free planners and stakeholders from the continuous cycle of plan writing, which will enable them to work together on plan delivery.

The bill pursues a continued drive for better up-front collaboration involving people from the outset in the choices that need to be made about future development. Local place plans will give people a greater opportunity to come together to discuss, consider and express their aspirations, and a chance to have real influence over the future of their places.

I accept that there are mixed views about appeal rights. I have considered the issues and I agree entirely with the independent panel: stronger community engagement at an early stage is much more constructive than adversarial appeals at the end. I want our reforms to remove conflict, mistrust and tactics from the system: better early collaboration by everyone is the way to go.

Scotland needs investment in good development for our communities, and our planning system should, of course, facilitate that. The bill should not bring further complexity, process and uncertainty to people who may want to invest in Scotland. The reforms must lead to improved performance and to a more positive, proactive and confident planning system. Our proposals for increased resources, skills development and performance improvement will bring a supportive approach, which will encourage the whole planning service to function well.

Although the legislation focuses on process, following on from the bill we will also progress work on national planning framework 4, which will incorporate Scottish planning policy. That will involve further collaboration on and scrutiny of important priorities in national planning policy.

I hope that that provides a useful context to inform our discussion today. I am looking forward to discussing the bill with members and to answering your questions.

The Convener

Thank you very much, minister. That is welcome. We move to questions.

Andy Wightman (Lothian) (Green)

Thank you for coming this morning, minister. You laid out at the beginning some of what you called the drivers of the bill. Our job as a committee is to scrutinise the bill and to report to Parliament on its general principles. Can you tell us what the general principles are?

Kevin Stewart

As I said in my opening remarks, the Government commissioned an independent root-and-branch review of planning in 2016. The review looked at the planning system as a whole and concluded that it is not broken, but change is needed to make it more efficient and effective.

The panel said that the vision underpinning the Planning (Scotland) Act 2006 remains valid, and that planning should be an enabler of sustainable economic development, rather than a regulator. The panel also sought to strengthen the system and made 48 recommendations for change. Many of those recommendations can be achieved through wider changes—for example, from policy to practice—and we are taking those forward alongside the bill.

The bill has an important role to play in setting the framework for the system as a whole. Building on existing legislation, the bill includes carefully targeted changes, which may appear technical but will play a big role in supporting broader ambitions of planning reform.

Andy Wightman

You mentioned the independent review and its recommendations, but can you succinctly describe for us the bill’s general principles? Your opening remarks can stand as your response to that question, if you are content for them to do so.

Kevin Stewart

My opening remarks stand. We want a planning system that works for people. I know from casework, as many members do, that the planning system is a rather confusing place for many folks. Following the review, we undertook to look at all that. Removal of the processes that we have already talked about will to a degree help to give folk a much better understanding of the current situation with planning.

As I have said right from the outset when I came into this role, one of the key things for me is to reach a point at which we can intertwine community and spatial planning. Community planning now involves a huge number of folk in many parts of the country; I want the same for spatial planning, and I think that intertwining the two can help in that regard. The committee has received evidence and written submissions from a number of folk saying that some of the things that are going on at the moment do not entice people into getting involved, but I want their involvement.

There are a number of workstreams beyond the bill, including the establishment of a digital task force. We could use technology much more to get many more people involved. Moreover, in this year of young people, I want many more young people to get involved in the system, because it is important that they have a say in planning for their future. The fact is that, in the main, the folks who are involved are older and settled.

The Convener

Mr Wightman, I thought that you were going to push a little bit further on the issue.

Andy Wightman

We are only here for two and a quarter hours, convener. I have sought the answer to my question.

The Convener

If you are going to ask the questions that I think you are going to ask, deputy convener, it would be helpful if you came in here and followed some of that up.

Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

First, I remind the committee that I am a member of the Royal Town Planning Institute.

I want to develop Andy Wightman’s line of questioning. For clarity, what do you think is the core purpose of planning?

Kevin Stewart

As I see it, the core purpose of planning is to create great places. It is about ensuring that we serve Scotland’s communities, that we achieve sustainable economic growth and that we have the housing that we need and the jobs that we need for our economy to thrive.

Monica Lennon

The bill does not state the core purpose of planning, and we have heard from a number of witnesses—the RTPI, Professor Cliff Hague and others—that that would be a very sensible addition to the bill. We have also been told that other countries have been able to state very distinctly the purpose of planning. Is that an omission from the bill?

Kevin Stewart

I do not think so. We agree that the United Nations goals are a useful starting point, but we think that they are more relevant to policy than to primary legislation.

There is also a duty for planning authorities to contribute to sustainable development in the exercise of their functions, as introduced by the 2006 act.

09:30  

There are many different ideas on the purpose of planning. The week before last, I was at a meeting with folks from the Scottish alliance for people and places. If we had gone round the room and asked, there would have been different ideas about the purpose of planning.

Other countries set all that out in policy, rather than in legislation. Reaching a definition and getting agreement on it is always going to be extremely difficult.

There are also a number of legal aspects to consider. If you do not mind, convener, I will bring in Mr Macleod at this point. As our legal expert, he might wish to add a few things.

The Convener

Of course.

Norman Macleod (Scottish Government)

My observation is that we can set out a purpose of planning in policy terms. If that were to be put in legislation, however, it would have legal effect. If it were to have legal effect, it could be used—and people would want it to be used—to challenge decisions and alter how things are processed at all levels of the planning system. We would therefore need to be very clear that that purpose of planning was what we want it to be. It would be much harder to amend a purpose in legislation than to amend a purpose in a policy document.

Monica Lennon

Is it the case that there is not a clear and agreed definition of planning? Professor Cliff Hague, who is a renowned international academic, said:

“What is the alternative to having a purpose? There are presumably two possibilities. One is that there is no purpose, in which case why are we doing it? The other is that there is a purpose but we are not prepared to say what it is, and that is not a great piece of administration.”—[Official Report, Local Government and Communities Committee, 7 March 2018; c 49.]

Is there a legal impediment to linking the purpose of planning to the UN’s sustainable development goals? Would that not be a sensible place to start?

Kevin Stewart

I outlined what I see as being the purpose of planning. I do not think that many folk would disagree with many of the things that I have said.

The question is whether the definition should be in legislation or in policy. Mr Macleod has outlined the issues in his way—what is the purpose, how do we get to that point and what is the situation if that is challengeable?

As Ms Lennon is probably aware, such discussions around the topic arose during scrutiny of the Planning (Wales) Act 2015. An independent advisory group said that there was a need to introduce a statutory purpose, which the Welsh Government resisted during early scrutiny. I believe that it had some difficulties around that.

The Law Commission is currently undertaking a review of planning law in Wales, with a view to providing recommendations for consolidating and simplifying it. Its consideration of the appropriate section of the Planning (Wales) Act 2015 and the proposal on the need for a statutory purpose is set out in a detailed consultation paper that was issued in November last year. The commission suggests that setting out a purpose in law could cause unnecessary and unhelpful duplication as well as conflict.

The last thing that I, and others, want is conflict; a huge part of what we are embarking on is about trying to remove conflict from the system.

The Convener

Okay. We will move on to a new topic.

Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

The bill has been described as a centralising bill. From going through it, that appears to be the case. Can you point to any part of it in which powers will not flow to you?

Kevin Stewart

I do not think that powers will flow to me at all. As I have said previously, I am not the kind of person who goes for a power grab. The bill is about getting it right for the people of Scotland. That is why we have ensured that it provides the opportunity for local place plans and why we have looked at removing often confusing process from the system. That is in order to involve more people in the planning system at the very early stages. I think that we are on the right track, and I dispute the suggestion that the bill is a centralising bill.

If I may, convener, I will bring in Mr McNairney.

John McNairney (Scottish Government)

On looking at the system as a whole, which is what we do, and trying to ensure that it works more effectively, the introduction of local place plans, the alignment of community and spatial planning, the co-production of the national planning framework, the strengthening of local review bodies, which, from their principle, are about returning powers to local government from central Government, and the day-to-day scrutiny of planning cases—ministers take very few planning decision cases now—are examples of the direction of travel away from centralisation.

Graham Simpson

That was a very long way of not answering the question. I asked whether the minister can point to any part of the bill in which powers will not flow to him. You have not answered that question, but I will give you another opportunity to do so before we move on to another area.

Kevin Stewart

Maybe Mr Simpson would like to point out areas in which powers will flow to me.

The Convener

I heard the same answer that Mr Simpson heard. It is not for me to arbitrate in the flow of questioning, but it would be good if you put on the record specific examples of where power will flow to local communities. Mr Simpson could then follow that up if he wants to.

Kevin Stewart

I have outlined the key area in which power will flow to communities: local place plans. Mr McNairney has outlined that, as well. I know that I am being repetitive, but I have said right from the beginning that I want communities to have a say. I want spatial planning to be intertwined with community planning, which will allow communities to have a greater say in their neighbourhoods and areas. I highlight that area.

The Convener

That is helpful, minister. Does Mr Simpson want to follow up on that?

Graham Simpson

I do not seem to be getting anywhere with that line of questioning, so I will move on to simplified development zones, if that is okay, convener.

The Convener

Yes—go for it.

Graham Simpson

The issue flows on rather nicely. Paragraph 6 of proposed new schedule 5A to the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 states:

“The Scottish Ministers may at any time direct a planning authority”

and set out the terms by which it must make or alter a simplified development zone scheme. That seems to be pretty centralised to me.

I know that you have been asked this question by the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee. One of the concerns is that, as the bill stands, it does not specify where simplified development zones cannot be set up. I know that you have committed to correcting that oversight—assuming that it is an oversight—but can you give us more details of your thinking on that?

Kevin Stewart

I wrote to the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee, which had questions in that regard.

On your question about the power in relation to simplified development zones, we do not at all envisage using that power frequently. It will be an option to consider when we prepare the delivery programme for the national planning framework and are considering how best to ensure that key sites and projects of national or regional importance are managed and brought forward for development in a co-ordinated way.

Ministers might think that a simplified development zone could support housing delivery, for example. In Ireland, the strategic development zone approach, whereby the Government makes an order that requires the planning authority to prepare an SDZ scheme and bring it forward within two years of the date of the order, has enabled the creation of quality neighbourhoods that address housing shortages.

I reiterate that we do not envisage using the power frequently. I mentioned my letter to the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee. We have agreed with that committee’s suggestion that types of land that may not be included in a simplified development zone should be set out in the bill. There should be a power to add or remove entries in that list, by regulation. I have undertaken to lodge an amendment to that effect at stage 2.

The Convener

That is helpful.

Graham Simpson

That is absolutely right; you undertook to do that, minister. Can you tell us what types of land might be covered in your amendment?

Kevin Stewart

I have given an undertaking to look at all that very closely at stage 2, and I will continue to have discussions about the matter. We will let you know what we plan to do as we come closer to stage 2.

Graham Simpson

If you do not envisage using the power to make a simplified development zone scheme very often, why do you need it?

Kevin Stewart

Issues might arise, as has happened elsewhere, that necessitate ministers becoming involved in simplified development zones.

Some of the debate about the issue has been interesting. Some folk—including Mr Simpson, I think—want ministers to become much more involved in the establishment of new towns, in relation to which powers exist under the New Towns (Scotland) Act 1968. A new town is a huge development, and Mr Simpson and others want ministers to become more involved in such developments. However, he seems not to want us to have the ability to intervene in relation to a simplified development zone in the national interest. That would involve a much smaller development than a new town.

Graham Simpson

Minister, you should not assume that I take a particular view just because I asked you a question about something. We are here to scrutinise the bill—

The Convener

Can we depersonalise this? Will you just ask your question? We have a lot to get through.

Graham Simpson

The minister mentioned me a number of times, so I am just putting him straight. If a committee member asks a question—

The Convener

Hang on. We genuinely have a lot to get through. We want to get through the nuts and bolts of the bill, and I want people who ask questions and people who give evidence to do so in a respectful and straightforward manner. That applies to everyone around this table, including me. Will you ask your question?

Graham Simpson

It has been asked, convener.

Kevin Stewart

Let me make a point of clarification about the power in relation to simplified development zones. It is, in effect, a reserved power for ministers. I expect the vast bulk of such zones to be led through local development plan commitments.

09:45  
The Convener

There are a couple of supplementary questions. The line of questioning is very reasonable and valid. A few members of the committee would like to bring to life how simplified development zones would be used. Would you expect, minister, that the next time each local authority looks at its local development plan, it will have given detailed consideration to the parts of its land that could, should and will be used as simplified development zones, for example? Is that an expectation that you would have of every local authority with the passage and delivery of the bill?

Kevin Stewart

I expect all local authorities to make decisions for themselves about whether they think that simplified development zones are required in their areas. As members are well aware, we currently have pilots on simplified development zones. Those zones offer up opportunities in both urban and rural areas to ensure that the right development takes place in the right place. I know that the committee—

The Convener

Minister, I apologise for cutting across you, but we have a lot to get through. The specific question was about whether there is an expectation that, at the drafting of their next development plans, every local authority will have in them their simplified development zones and why they have selected them or a detailed explanation about why they have not selected them. Is that your understanding of what the bill will deliver?

Kevin Stewart

I expect local authorities, as the makers and deliverers of local development plans, to come up with what they think is right for their particular areas. Some local authorities may not see simplified development zones as being the way forward for them, but other local authorities may choose to move along that way of doing things. As I have said, such zones offer a huge amount of opportunity, and I think that the pilots will prove that to be the case. In the past, we have seen situations with simplified planning zones—Hillington in Glasgow springs to mind—in which we have seen real moves as regards sustainable economic growth because such zones have been in place. However, it is up to local authorities to look at what is best for their areas.

The Convener

I will push at the same question again. A local authority may decide that it is up for a simplified development zone that will be at either place A or place B on the map, in a delineated area. Will ministers have to give approval and say that the authority has got the right place? Alternatively, as Mr Simpson suggested, can ministers say that they have the power, that the authority has picked the wrong place, and that they will impose it in another place? I am trying to bring to life what would happen. As long as it is for the local authority to decide where the simplified development zone is, is that completely in its democratic gift, without Government interference?

Kevin Stewart

We would not have to approve simplified development zones; that is up to local authorities. We would, of course, have to be notified if there were objections.

Let me be completely and utterly up front. I expect that local authorities would engage with communities in the preparation of any scheme for an area, rather than the community having to react to that. We have built in various opportunities for the public to be involved in the preparation of simplified development zone schemes. We will set out in secondary legislation more details of the community engagement requirement in the preparation of such schemes, which will include early engagement, consultation with key agencies and the opportunity for formal representations. If there are objections, ministers may prescribe certain cases in which a hearing should be held.

I hope that that is helpful, convener.

The Convener

It is helpful, but I am trying to get at the converse. The expectation is that, if local authorities proactively seek simplified development zones, there should be detailed community consultation ahead of confirming that, but other than notification, you do not anticipate ministerial or Government involvement at that stage. That seems to be what you suggest. My question is about the converse: when local authorities do not go for simplified development zones, will the Scottish Government trawl each of those areas to identify whether the authorities have got that right or wrong and whether there is a need for ministerial involvement? Is that what we can expect on enactment of the bill?

Kevin Stewart

As I said in response to Graham Simpson’s initial question, I do not envisage using the Scottish ministers’ power to designate simplified development zones frequently. It would be used only if it was in the national or regional interest. As far as I am concerned, if it is not in the national or regional interest, it is a matter for local authorities to determine.

John McNairney

The expectation is that authorities will consider the role that a simplified development zone might have, including when they are preparing local development plans. It is not intended that Government would actively police that or that, if an authority decides that there is no role in its area for a simplified development zone, we would question that or try to cut across it.

Some authorities will want to promote simplified development zones. At present, there is limited appetite for that but, as the pilots develop and people see the benefits, the tool will be there to be used. The process for designating them will be more straightforward than at present. Currently, there is a lot of process around it, although the current and proposed frameworks are about front loading.

The interface of central Government with the matter would be limited. There is potential for the national planning framework to be supported by a simplified development zone in certain cases, but that is still open for consideration.

The Convener

That is helpful. That was the key part of the answer. I wanted to know whether the Government would proactively police local authorities that do not come up with simplified development zones. The answer seems to be that that is not the intent. That is what I was trying to tease out.

Monica Lennon

In instances in which a request is made to a planning authority for a simplified development zone and that request is refused or no answer is given within three months, the applicant or relevant person can refer the matter to the Scottish ministers. Therefore, ministers would have a locus.

Minister, you have talked about using your proactive powers sparingly in the national interest, but if a local authority has turned down a request because it does not conform with the development plan and the matter lands in front of you because someone has an answer that they do not like or did not get an answer within three months, what tests will you or future ministers apply? I know that you are keen to improve the effectiveness of development plans in a plan-led system. Is not there scope for conflict in the system in that respect?

Kevin Stewart

As the planning minister, cases often cross my desk in which folk do not get their own way. Like all my predecessors, I have to wrestle with such matters regularly. As with all other things that cross my desk, I would have to consider every request very carefully indeed.

We will consult on how the procedures will work in practice. In my previous answers, I have talked about the level of consultation that I expect at local level for any move to implement a simplified development zone. That would be part of my consideration if such a case were ever to cross my desk.

Monica Lennon

For clarification, is it correct that, with the introduction of simplified development zones, the bill is putting in place another appeal mechanism under which cases will be referred to ministers when an SDZ request is not granted or when no decision is taken within three months?

Kevin Stewart

The thing is that, at this moment in time—

Monica Lennon

Is that a yes or a no, minister? Is this another appeal situation?

Kevin Stewart

I suppose that you could consider it that way, yes.

Monica Lennon

So—there will be more appeals.

Kevin Stewart

At the end of the day, we will make sure that we consult on how these procedures work in practice.

The Convener

Graham Simpson has a brief supplementary, after which we will definitely move on. As I keep saying, we have a lot to get through, and we are going to get through it all.

Graham Simpson

If a council were to decide, for whatever reason, to set up an SDZ, according to the bill you would still have the power to alter the scheme. Why would you want to do that? Why can you not leave councils to do what they wish in their areas?

Kevin Stewart

I will bring in Mr McNairney first and then respond myself.

John McNairney

The local authority would prepare the scheme; however, there might be objections and disagreement, so it might have a hearing. As a result, the scheme might then be notified to ministers. Some of the triggers for notification might be similar to those for casework; for example, something with a local authority interest might be significantly contrary to the development plan. There might be other reasons why a scheme would get notified, but ministers would then take a view on whether to call in the proposal or leave the matter with the planning authority. That is really about which level of government should take the decision.

If ministers were to call a decision in, you would expect the matter to go to the directorate for planning and environmental appeals; the minister would then get a recommendation, as he does with major casework. We do not envisage that that will be the norm, but we need to provide in legislation a framework that allows for all eventualities. Even if some of the powers are methods of last resort, they need to be in the bill.

As I meant to say earlier, the measures are intended to be positive and something that the community supports, so they will be front loaded. That said, in the event of any dispute and triggers being met, we would expect such matters to be notified to central Government.

The Convener

Do you want to add anything, minister?

Kevin Stewart

I think that Mr McNairney covered the matter in some depth, convener.

The Convener

Do you have any further comments, Mr Simpson?

Graham Simpson

I would just point out that the section in question makes no mention of disputes. It is just a blanket power.

The Convener

Might the Government have to think about restricting that provision or establishing criteria with regard to it?

Kevin Stewart

As I said perhaps two answers ago, we will set out and consult on the procedures. Those things will be open to scrutiny, as they always are.

The Convener

I see that Mr Wightman is trying to catch my eye, but I will take his line of questioning later. We will move on to an area that Jenny Gilruth and Alexander Stewart are interested in.

Jenny Gilruth (Mid Fife and Glenrothes) (SNP)

I want to look at the provisions on local place plans. Under the bill, planning authorities are to “have regard to” the local place plan, which means that a community could create such a plan but its needs could then be completely ignored. That possibility was highlighted in a previous evidence session when Dr Andy Inch said that

“A risk of a weak status for local place plans in decision making is that communities and others can invest hundreds of hours and huge amounts of voluntary time and effort into producing the local place plans, only to find that subsequent decisions broadly disregard”—[Official Report, Local Government and Communities Committee, 28 February 2018; c 5.]

them. Do we need to revisit the wording of the bill and consider again putting local place plans on a statutory footing, so that communities are listened to in the planning process?

10:00  
Kevin Stewart

We want planning authorities to consider seriously the plans that local communities have put forward for their places, but they will not be bound to adopt them in full.

Planning has to deal with the connections of places at all scales. There has to be consideration right across the board and, of course, account has to be taken of the national planning framework. Planning authorities have to consider the whole area that they represent and how they meet their statutory duties on issues such as equalities and climate change, which local plans might not—I repeat, might not—cover.

I have listened very carefully to the arguments on the wording, which at the moment is “have regard to”. I think that we should require planning authorities to “take account” of local place plans in preparing their local development plans. That would place local place plans on the same level as the national planning framework and local outcome improvement plans, for which the phraseology “take account” is used.

Jenny Gilruth

I see a lot of fellow members disagreeing with that, so I want to follow up on it. I assume that the wording “take account” does not put a statutory obligation on planning authorities to actually listen to the local plans.

The Convener

I think that there were bemused looks rather than looks of disagreement from committee members. Minister, if you could enlighten us, that would be helpful.

Kevin Stewart

I want to ensure that communities have their say in planning, but other factors come into play. There are factors that the local development plan needs to take account of. There are policy-related requirements with respect to local development plans and requirements to deliver for an area as a whole and not necessarily just one community. At some point, a local authority also has to be able to take into account either necessary policy objectives or national planning framework objectives.

As members are well aware, the local development plan has to go through substantial scrutiny before being adopted, including a strategic environmental assessment, independent examination and public consultation. If local place plans were to be automatically adopted, they would need similar scrutiny. We want to reduce bureaucracy, as folk are well aware, but we also want to make it easy for communities to put forward their proposals and their ambitions for their places.

Our approach, therefore, allows the scrutiny to be undertaken when a planning authority prepares or reviews its local development plan, taking account of local place plans for the area, rather than placing the burden on the community.

I have said elsewhere, when talking about the early stages of community planning, that in the first scheme that I was involved with, members of the community placed stickers on a map of the area to show what they wanted to see. In that particular exercise, we ended up with folk wanting three swimming pools within four streets, because no parameters were set and there was no communication about it.

However, when people know that certain things have to take place in a particular area they exercise good judgment. If we achieve that level of communication, people will formulate place plans that take account of what is necessary for the particular place, again removing unnecessary conflict. That is the position that I would like us to reach.

Jenny Gilruth

Many of the organisations that we have taken evidence from have highlighted capacity issues around developing local place plans and have suggested that there should be a cost associated with the plans, with financial support from the Government. My concern is that poorer communities are going to be disadvantaged in relation to local place plans. If there is no active community council, for example, there is no obvious body to develop the plan, and there may not be the capacity to do that because, in the past, the community may never have had the opportunity to feed into the planning process. What are your comments on those issues?

Kevin Stewart

I will start with some of the costs that have been suggested by folk who have given evidence to this committee and other committees of the Parliament, one of which is the figure of £13,000 for each local place plan. That £13,000 would be the total cost if a community had to pay for everything in a charette-type circumstance. However, that is not necessary, as I said when I appeared in front of the Finance and Constitution Committee a few weeks ago.

A number of places around the country have already formulated place plans with no resource input from anywhere else. In some cases, I have heard it said that folk did not want the resource input, because they thought that that might mean there would be interference from elsewhere. I have talked in the chamber about Linlithgow and its local place plan, which it developed on its own, and the convener of the Finance and Constitution Committee talked about areas in his Stirling constituency where folk have developed their own local place plans.

The financial memorandum for the bill, which I went over in some depth with the Finance and Constitution Committee, estimates that

“five or six in a medium-sized authority, over a three-year period, might be reasonable, making a total of around 92 LPPs being prepared each year.”

I do not want local place plans to be too onerous or necessarily to require a significant amount of planning expertise. We already have tools and templates that help communities to understand and formulate what they think is required in their place. I have talked before at this committee about the use of the place standard tool, which is one of the ways forward.

At the Finance and Constitution Committee, I said that I expect local authorities to prioritise and use resource to support more deprived communities that want to formulate local place plans and to give those communities the help that they need. I hope that the engagement in formulating local development plans will be completely and utterly inclusive, to ensure that communities that are more disadvantaged get help and support.

Finally, also at the Finance and Constitution Committee, I pointed out that there are Government funds available for such work. The £20 million empowering communities fund invests in communities so that they can develop the resource and resilience necessary to decide their own priorities and needs. I imagine that there will be applications to that fund. Over the past few years, the Government has invested to allow communities to hold their own charrettes. There are various opportunities.

I share Ms Gilruth’s desire to ensure that poorer communities are not disadvantaged, and I expect local authorities to prioritise help for such communities in the first instance.

Jenny Gilruth

My final comment is a point rather than a question. Recently, the committee has taken a lot of evidence on the city region deals. We have produced a report and will hold a debate in Parliament next week. The committee has heard evidence on the disconnect between the city region deal aspiration, which is meant to drive inclusive growth, and the planning process.

It was interesting that you alluded to the actions of local authorities and said that you hoped that they would listen to the aspirations of communities. In my experience, Fife Council did not listen to the aspirations of some of the poorest communities in Scotland in the area that I represent. Given that it was just hoped that Fife Council would carry out community engagement and the council was not required to show evidence of how it had done so, the council did not do it.

I am concerned that, if local authorities are not compelled to do something, they will not do it. They will go ahead with their own pet projects, as I found in my experience of the city deals, whereby the city of Edinburgh benefited hugely from the city deal funding and Fife did not.

Kevin Stewart

I have read the committee’s city region deal report, but that was several weeks ago. I cannot remember the detail of your recommendations off the top of my head.

The city region deals fall within Mr Brown’s domain. I do not want to put words into his mouth or anyone else’s, but there has been some frustration at points about the negotiation around the deals and the quickness with which some things have been done without consultation. Where there is an opportunity for consultation, I always want it to happen.

Mr Brown and others will look carefully at the committee’s report on its scrutiny of city region deals and its recommendations, and I will convey Ms Gilruth’s remarks on that to Mr Brown—although he has probably already heard them.

The Convener

I can confirm that he almost certainly has, minister.

Jenny Gilruth

Yes.

The Convener

I hope that he will take account of them.

Alexander Stewart has a question, but I ask him to be patient, because his colleague Graham Simpson has a specific supplementary question. I ask members to hold back their supplementary questions until after Mr Stewart has exhausted his line of questioning.

Graham Simpson

I am happy to let Alexander Stewart ask his questions as long as I can come back in.

The Convener

You have a very specific question, Mr Simpson, so it would be better to raise it now, while the matter is still fresh.

Graham Simpson

You mentioned Linlithgow, minister. Several members of the committee visited Linlithgow and spoke to the people who had been involved in preparing the local place plan. I have to say that they were less than impressed with the process. They put an awful lot of work into it and produced a very impressive document, but West Lothian Council decided not to adopt it. I think that was the point that Jenny Gilruth was making in her line of questioning.

If councils only have to “have regard to” or “take account of”—whatever form of words you want to use—the plans, that same outcome may come about. Do you not think that the bill needs to be a bit tougher in order to make councils do something with the plans?

10:15  
Kevin Stewart

As I said, the wording “take account” would create equality with other aspects of planning. I will bring in Mr Macleod on the use of the terminology and then answer the specific points that Mr Simpson has raised.

Norman Macleod

I will not spend time discussing the distinction between “take account of” and “have regard to”. The important thing is that, if the amendment is made, the words “to take account of” in the bill—the legislative requirement—will be the same for local place plans as for the national planning framework and for local outcome improvement plans. Those plans will be treated in the same way in the legislation. I am not sure that we would want to put one higher than the other, so the legislative requirement on local authorities to take account of various matters would be the same as for local development plans and the national planning framework.

Kevin Stewart

I will now address the specific points that Mr Simpson made. I have not had the opportunity to go to Linlithgow or to speak to the good folk who put together that plan. As folk are aware, I was sent an overview of the document, and I was very impressed with what the community there has achieved. Of course, that was done under the current arrangements. The provision in the bill will mean that communities such as the one in Linlithgow will have a clearer role in the process and planning authorities will be better equipped to take account of the engagement that exists.

I want to see good practice taking hold across authorities and I want to see local authorities taking account of what folks have to say at a community planning level, as in other spheres of business. Terminology in legislation can often be difficult, but, as Mr Macleod pointed out, the terminology “take account” is in the legislation relating to the national planning framework and the local outcome improvement plans.

The Convener

I think that we will leave it at that point, Mr Simpson. Thank you for putting the concerns from Linlithgow on the record. This committee has to mirror the evidence and concerns that we hear in communities, and we have done a lot of outreach work. There are potentially a few supplementary questions, but Alexander Stewart wants to explore a line of inquiry first.

Alexander Stewart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

Minister, you touched on the need to improve people’s experience and ensure that communities have their say. You suggested that local place plans may be a vehicle by which to achieve that. Why have you chosen to go down the local place plan route when, in some cases, the same could have been achieved by improving engagement at the stage of drafting the local development plan?

Kevin Stewart

I want folk to be involved in planning much more than they are currently. It frustrates me that a huge amount of the engagement that takes place is at the end of a process, and it is normally an objection to something that is coming forward.

I want folk to play a part in shaping their communities at an early point. In particular, I want young folk to play a role in shaping their futures, because they are the folk who are least involved in the planning system but will be most affected by the decisions that we take in the here and now.

We are not introducing local place plans alone, and I want to see further engagement during the drafting of local development plans, too. As part of the wider planning review, we will bring forward proposals to ensure that planning authorities consult more widely on their development plans, including with children and young people.

I have been mightily impressed by a pilot scheme that has been taking place at Galashiels academy. The Government put some resource in to allow the planning advisory service to carry out a pilot there using the place standard, which I have mentioned. To begin with, they were using the place standard in paper form, but an app has been developed that means there is even more excitement about the project.

It is fair to say that the young folk of Galashiels envisage their place differently from the folks who have, until now, been engaged in the planning process, because they see things differently. Participation is one of the six key themes in the year of young people, but I want that engagement to go beyond this year—I want it to become permanent.

Beyond that pilot scheme in Galashiels, I have a digital task force looking at planning as a whole and at how we can use new technologies to simplify the current system and get more folk engaged. It is key that we get many more people engaged in planning.

However, this is not just about local place plans; it is also about improving communication and getting more engagement in local development plans. It is not one or the other—it is all.

Alexander Stewart

Having the engagement of young people, and having the aspiration and ambition to achieve that engagement, is all good and well—we all probably want to see that—but the big issue is how we ensure that it takes place. In communities in which there is engagement and a structure for it, that could be achieved and expanded. However, ensuring that communities that do not have that structure are not disadvantaged in the whole process is most important. Are we ending up with a two-tier system in which communities that have that process can and do engage while other communities do not?

Kevin Stewart

I agree completely and utterly with Mr Stewart on those points about engagement. I want to see communities that might struggle to become engaged prioritised in terms of resource. I want to ensure that, when it comes to the formulation of development plans, planning authorities widen their communication. I also, without doubt, want to see more young folk involved in the system.

Planning has been described to me by some folk as rather dry, so I want to make it a bit exciting. With technology, I think we can do that. That is why the review is not just about this bill. We are on a journey—in terms of the results of the independent review, the planning bill, NPF and Scottish planning policy—that we need to continue in order that we get more folk involved. Convener, if you will excuse this expression, rather than planning being seen as dry, I want it to be seen as a wee bit sexy and as something that folk want to get involved in.

The Convener

This might be a good time to interject. I am conscious of the lengthy reply that you have given, for which we are grateful, but we have scheduled 2 hours and 45 minutes to spend with you and your officials, which is a huge amount of time. It must be exciting—

Kevin Stewart

I hope that you are giving me a half-time break, convener.

The Convener

We can take a brief break at 11 am, if that would be welcome.

Kevin Stewart

I would be grateful for that.

The Convener

That would be for 5 minutes. I appeal to MSPs and to you, minister, for focus and brevity in questions and answers so that we get the comfort break and have the meeting done and dusted by 12 pm. That is an appeal to everyone.

Alexander Stewart

The minister has identified what we all want to achieve. The bill will enable that to happen if it is resourced, if councils are resourced and if communities are resourced. If they are not resourced, it will fail. How are we going to bridge that gap?

Kevin Stewart

The financial memorandum shows that freeing up folk from doing a huge amount of the bureaucratic stuff saves a fair amount of money. Off the top of my head, I do not know what the number is, but it will come to me. I expect local authorities to use that freed-up resource to deal with the changes that we are making by investing in helping communities to have their say, whether through local place plans or greater engagement. There is a huge opportunity to do that.

I recognise that this committee and other committees have heard a fair amount about resourcing. Over the past few weeks, some local authorities have put additional resource for planning in their budgets, and I am pleased about that. Craig McLaren of RTPI said that, at the moment, 0.44 per cent of local authority budgets go to planning, and RTPI expects that to drop to 0.4 per cent. I hope that the change that we are seeing will mean that planning resources increase.

As I have said previously with respect to resourcing, I would like planning to become cost neutral at some point, so that the fees that come in cover the costs of the service completely. I have also said that I am not willing to increase planning fees again until we see better performance, and in a number of authorities we are beginning to see that better performance.

I do not want to dictate to local authorities how they should spend their money, but you can be assured that I will keep a very close eye on resourcing and performance over the piece, with a view to getting to a point in the future when the service pays for itself.

10:30  
The Convener

I will follow up on that, and I note that Jenny Gilruth and Monica Lennon want to ask supplementaries on resource issues, too.

Resources will be an issue. An additional area of complexity with local place plans is that they must dovetail with local development plans. If the local place plan goes off in one direction and the local development plan goes in another, how can they mesh together? How can one be adopted by the other? There must be much closer articulation between a local place plan and a local development plan. I am not sure how that can happen when account must be taken of the national planning framework, too. A degree of meaningful expertise is required to develop local place plans that will have added weight and value in influencing local development plans. That costs money. If an area does not have an active community development trust or is not particularly affluent, there might not be the skill set or the resource available to do that. It would be helpful to have your reflections on how local authorities and Government might target resources.

Kevin Stewart

I do not have the financial memorandum in front of me, and I cannot remember some of the numbers off the top of my head, so I will write to you.

As you are well aware, I have given evidence to the Finance and Constitution Committee on resources. If you do not quote me, I can—

The Convener

Minister, for your own safety, I warn you that this is a live session.

Kevin Stewart

I will not be specific. A number of millions of pounds will come into play with the changes to the local development plan system, which will free up resource. I would expect local authorities to look at using that additional resource at their disposal to invest in local place planning and to ensure that the communication of local development planning is right. I do not want to dictate to local authorities, but they will have a huge opportunity to make sure that the freed-up resource goes into ensuring that they get that area of planning absolutely right.

In addition, if the bill is agreed to and becomes an act, we will consult again on the fees structure, including on enhanced fees and discretionary charging, to ensure that it reflects the developments in planning. We will undertake a full impact assessment on the implications of the changes for system users.

I apologise for not bringing the financial memorandum with me, convener.

The Convener

You have answered a really good question, but it was not the one that I asked. I am trying to make the point—which I hope you appreciate—that there could be a need for resources to be targeted intensively at certain parts of local authority areas across the country. Your reply was about what local authorities could do to target some of the money that they might make from efficiencies in their area, but you also mentioned existing national funds that could, in theory, be used.

My contention is that, separate from existing national funds and what local authorities might do, it might be beneficial to establish a pilot fund to target some of our deprived communities across Scotland. I am decoupling that pilot fund from the moneys that are set out in the financial memorandum as being required to make the bill work. A stand-alone fund for such community capacity building would be very welcome as a way to bring to life the bill as and when it is passed. I know that you do not hold the purse strings, but would you give consideration to that?

Kevin Stewart

I would consider targeting the funds that the planning and architecture division has in certain areas to see what the benefits of that would be. I am certainly not promising any additional funding—you would not expect me to—because that would be to go against what is in the financial memorandum, and Mr Mackay would be extremely unhappy with me if I were to promise additional moneys that I do not have at my disposal.

However, I will consider targeting the funds that we currently have to ensure that there is community capacity and resilience in certain places. I reiterate that I expect local authorities to use the freed-up resource to get the process absolutely right in their areas. As I said in my response to Ms Gilruth, I expect more disadvantaged communities to be seen as the priority.

The Convener

Okay. You can let us have more information on that.

I want to mop up a couple of things. Alexander Stewart was talking about local development plans, as well as local place plans. We have talked about the need for early community engagement to be a recurring exercise rather than just a one-off occurrence, regardless of whether there is a local place plan. However, there is no duty in the bill to ensure that there will be stakeholder and community engagement in the development of the evidence report for the local development plans, or during the gate-check exercise. Is that a missed opportunity for community engagement that the Government might want to reconsider?

Kevin Stewart

Our intention is that communities should be closely engaged in the preparation of the evidence report and that the gate check should examine how engagement has taken place and identify areas of agreement or dispute with different stakeholders. There are powers for ministers to prescribe matters to be included in the evidence report and the procedures and matters to be assessed in the gate check. That is in proposed new section 16A of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997, which is inserted by section 3(4) of the bill.

We intend to include the duties for stakeholder and community engagement through the secondary legislation, but I understand the concern of the committee that our intentions for greater community engagement in development planning are not visible on the face of the bill. There are a number of ways in which that aspect might be strengthened, and I will consider what amendments we might lodge at stage 2.

The Convener

That would be very welcome. Other members have supplementary questions on the issue.

Jenny Gilruth

Minister, you spoke about planning becoming exciting—I will not use the other word that you used—but in the annex to your letter to the committee you said that

“it is not always the case that community groups represent the views of their community as a whole.”

Going back to my previous line of questioning on local place plans, community councils are often made up of people of a certain demographic, and perhaps a certain gender as well. Therefore, there might be a disconnect between them and the people whom they are representing.

You spoke about Galashiels academy, and my colleague Andy Wightman and I met pupils from there on Friday. They are a fantastic group of young people who are completely engaged in the process in their area. When we started going through the specifics of the bill with them, they looked at us with blank faces—as we might expect from members of the public. However, when we asked them what their school was like and what a new school might look like to them, they came alive and started talking about it. There is an opportunity to get the voices of young people heard on the bill.

When we talked to the pupils about whether communities were listened to under the current legislation, they thought that there should be some sort of statutory requirement for young people and the wider community to be spoken to. Should this year of young people not be an opportunity for the Government to signal its intent with regard to how important young people’s voices are by mandating councils to listen to the views of young people as part of any planning process? For example, when councils are designing schools, they should have to listen to the people who populate our schools—the pupils and young people.

Kevin Stewart

I am glad that Ms Gilruth and Mr Wightman were excited by the opportunity to meet the folk from Galashiels and hear their views, because those are somewhat different from the views that many of us regularly hear.

I want everyone to become involved in the planning system, but I do not know whether mandating the involvement of particular groups is the right way forward, because we would then have to go through the entire gamut, which might well add to bureaucracy. The regulations for local development plans will certainly set out engagement requirements, and I want to be pretty strong on those requirements.

I will reflect on what Ms Gilruth said about mandation, but we have to be careful about that. However, she can be very sure that I want young people to be involved in the planning system. Beyond that, I want many more people who are currently disengaged from the system to become involved. If we achieve that, we will have much less conflict in the system.

Jenny Gilruth

My point is that, if we get that generational change, people will be far less likely to think that planning is something that is done to them as opposed to being something that they are part of. It is more of a bottom-up approach that I am talking about. That is certainly the view that we got from Galashiels academy, and it would be great if other schools and other young people felt that they had the capacity to engage in the system, or if the system could adapt to engage with a wider audience of people as opposed to a select few who sit on community councils, for example.

Kevin Stewart

That wider audience can be addressed not just through schools or other formal processes. To get complete and utter buy-in from folk, we need to change the way that we do things. Technology gives us the ability to do that. It is quite something to be able to see a three-dimensional visualisation of a place from an iPad as you walk around a blank space seeing what is proposed in an area. If we can do such things on not just a building scale but a place scale, that will ensure that we bring new folk into involvement in the planning system. That really excites me, and I will certainly do all that I can—not just because it is the year of young people—to ensure that young people are involved in the system, because that is vital.

The Convener

I am trying really hard not to cut you off, minister.

Kevin Stewart

I know. I am sorry.

The Convener

I have been a laid-back convener and have let you expand on your answers, but as we move to the last hour or hour and a half of the session, you will find that I will have to start to cut you off.

Monica Lennon

Has the Government considered giving young people statutory rights? That could mean allowing a school community to produce a local place plan or, for example, that a member of the Scottish Youth Parliament could have formal rights to be a consultee in pre-application consultation in the way that community councils have. That would be a way to embed rights for young people as key stakeholders. Rather than just reminding people that they have the opportunity to take part and encouraging local authorities, ministers and others to take young people into account, cannot we just embed rights in the bill?

Kevin Stewart

In some regards, the move that we are making on local place plans should ensure that many more folk are involved in the formulation of such plans and planning as a whole. I have absolutely no problem with schools, young folk or anyone else becoming involved in planning. I probably got overexcited in answering Ms Gilruth but, as I just said, I want that to happen. However, it is not necessary to put that in the bill.

Monica Lennon

I was not asking about involvement. I was asking about rights to be consulted and to propose a local place plan. Are you willing to consider such rights at this stage?

Kevin Stewart

I would expect local authorities to involve as many people as possible in community engagement—as they do with any other consultation. Local place plans will work best when the entire community becomes involved. That is what I want to happen. However, prescribing the inclusion of different groups in the bill is not something that I would agree with.

10:45  
The Convener

We will move on to another line of questioning before we take a break.

Andy Wightman

I want to explore the relationship between the national planning framework and strategic development plans, but before I do that, I have a brief question about simplified development zones. Paragraph 7 of proposed new schedule 5A says that

“A request is valid ... if the requirements prescribed in regulations ... have been met”.

The regulations make no reference to the kind of person who could make a request for a simplified development zone. As it stands, it appears that such a request could arise from anybody. My sister lives in Switzerland. Could she make a valid request for a simplified development zone?

The Convener

Mr Wightman’s sister will soon be on the Christmas card list—she has made a few appearances at committee.

Kevin Stewart

I do not know whether I will be on her Christmas card list or she will be on mine. I will bring in Mr McNairney.

John McNairney

There is no restriction on that because proposals might come from a private landowner, for example. Mr Wightman is correct to say that the bill makes no such restrictions and we would need to rely on regulations to define in more detail the requirement for specific connections with the locality or any other restrictions.

Andy Wightman

That is my question. Paragraph 7(3) of proposed new schedule 5A says that regulations

“may, in particular, include requirements as to—

(a) how a request must be made, and

(b) steps that must be taken before a request may be made.”

Can I take it that the wording

“may, in particular, include”

does not preclude including something in regulations about who can make a request?

John McNairney

Yes, I would say so. Our lawyer, Norman Macleod, might like to take that question.

Norman Macleod

I am not sure that the possibility of individuals based in Switzerland making requests was considered when we drafted the bill. The basic thrust is that no limitation is set out in the bill and the ultimate filter is the quality of the plan that is proposed; a request is made for a plan, which would go through the local planning authority and the authority would consider the merits of the proposal, rather than the identity of the person who has made it.

Andy Wightman

Thank you. That is helpful.

The Convener

Given the time constraints, it would be helpful, minister, if you could write to the committee to provide greater clarity on the intention of the bill and any subsequent regulations in relation to who could propose—or be precluded from proposing—a simplified development zone. We are moving on to a new area and I do not want to open up that entire line of questioning again.

Kevin Stewart

We will write to the committee on it. I do not know whether Mr Wightman would like a copy to be sent to his sister.

Andy Wightman

I am simply concerned that the regulations do not appear to include provision for such requests and that the system could get clogged up.

The Convener

I do not intend to diminish your point, Mr Wightman. I am just conscious of time constraints.

Andy Wightman

Absolutely, convener. I, too, am conscious of time.

The bill makes important, significant changes to the national planning framework, how it is handled and how it is regarded. For example, it will be combined with Scottish planning policy and is to become part of the development plan.

I want to reflect on earlier comments about the idea that local authorities should take account of local place plans, which would put them on the same footing as the national planning framework, of which authorities must take account. Although that is literally correct, it forgets that the bill proposes that the national planning framework should become part of the development plan, so it would have a massively enhanced status compared to anything else.

Historically, the national planning framework is a light-touch spatial expression of ministers’ policies. Why did you feel that it was necessary to make it part of the development plan?

Kevin Stewart

The independent panel made the case for that. Many stakeholders have called for an enhanced role for the national planning framework. Incorporating the Scottish planning policy into the national planning framework is a big opportunity to streamline local development plans across Scotland—

Andy Wightman

I am not particularly concerned about merging planning policy and the national planning framework; I am asking why the NPF needs to be part of the development plan.

Kevin Stewart

One of the reasons is that there will be no need to repeat policies in 32 different local development plans, unless of course there is a need to tailor them to local circumstances.

We also intend to use the NPF to provide greater clarity in requirements for housing land, to reduce some of the conflict in the system. Development plan status will help in that regard. Instead of working as they do in the current situation, local development plans will be able to focus on achieving outcomes in places where future development should actually happen. We believe that, by reducing duplication, that could significantly reduce the amount of time that people in organisations have to spend contributing to development plans.

Andy Wightman

That is a significant difference from the situation that we have at the moment under the 2006 act, which requires the planning authorities to have regard to or take account of—I cannot remember which—the national planning framework.

John McNairney

At the moment, the development plan is a combination of the strategic development plan and the local development plan. The bill proposes that we no longer prepare the strategic development plan. A key reason why the national planning framework should become part of the development plan is to take account of the strategic element that currently exists, albeit only around the four largest cities, so that we have a conjoined development plan. It is different, but it allows there to be a strategic overview part of the development plan across the whole country.

Andy Wightman

That is helpful.

On the assumption that the strategic development plan will become part of the local development plan, can I ask a few questions about how the national planning framework is agreed? At the moment, ministers publish the framework, it is laid before Parliament and this committee and other committees have a look at it. If I remember correctly, the minister was a convener of the committee that scrutinised the last one in 2014. That went to a debate in Parliament in March 2014 and Parliament passed a motion stating that the reports of the committees were Parliament’s response to the Government on its proposed national planning framework. Parliament does not approve the national planning framework, and yet it will become part of the development plan for all 34 planning authorities in Scotland. Is there a case for improving the scrutiny, sign-off and approval of the national planning framework in Parliament to enhance its democratic standing?

Kevin Stewart

As Mr Wightman points out, Parliament was fully involved in developing the third national planning framework. The lead committee took evidence from the minister at an early stage, and during the scrutiny four committees heard evidence and produced reports on NPF3. We are at an early stage in designing the process for national planning framework 4, but we are taking into account recommendations made by Parliament when it considered NPF3. For example, the report on NPF3 asked that we build into the process early debate by Parliament on the national developments. That would be extremely helpful.

As other witnesses said to the committee, there is a good track record of taking into account Parliament’s views in finalising the national planning framework. You can be reassured, convener, that I will further consider the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee’s recommendations on amendments to the provisions on the national planning framework.

Andy Wightman

I fully accept that previous Governments have taken account of Parliament’s views. That is perfectly proper. The difference is that the national planning framework will be part of the statutory development plan. That places it on a very different footing from that which it had before. You can correct me if I am wrong on this, but that provides for the possibility that a future minority Government could put things into the national planning framework to express preferences that are against the wishes of committees in the Parliament and are opposed by Parliament but would become part of the statutory development plan for planning authorities because Parliament cannot say no to the national planning framework.

Kevin Stewart

I understand where Mr Wightman is coming from on that. As I said, I have the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee report and will consider further the recommendations on amendments to provisions on the national planning framework.

The Convener

Mr Simpson has a specific point on that, for obvious reasons.

Graham Simpson

Minister, I am encouraged to hear what you said. Will you go a bit further? One of the recommendations of the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee was that the Government should

“amend the Bill so that significant amendments to the NPF resulting in a change to the overall policy become subject to specific public and parliamentary consultation requirements set out on the face of the Bill.”

Are you saying that you are willing to do that?

Kevin Stewart

I said that I note the recommendations of the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee on the issue and will consider them further. We are significantly enhancing Parliament’s ability to scrutinise a national planning framework. I have not had the recommendations from the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee for long and I will consider them further at stage 2.

Andy Wightman

The Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee’s recommendations on consultation are not what I was asking about. I was asking about whether the national planning framework should be approved by Parliament—which would put it on a more democratically accountable footing—given the fact that it is to be part of the statutory development plan.

As Mr McNairney noted, the bill gets rid of strategic development plans. It is fair to say that your policy memorandum reflects the fact that there have been mixed views on those plans. The committee has to think carefully about what recommendations it is going to make to Parliament on the question. We have had witnesses, such as those from Clydeplan, who have successfully produced regional plans and are keen that they be maintained. In principle, there is no reason why they could not continue under voluntary arrangements, but there is a worry that, if strategic planning—which is a long-standing feature of the planning system—is to be moved on to a voluntary footing, there will be less incentive for planning authorities to engage in it because of resources and other reasons.

In that context, it is notable that research that Kevin Murray Associates did for the Scottish Government in 2014 said:

“This report has addressed the core question of whether the strategic development planning system in Scotland is fit for purpose. The answer is that the system is still bedding in; it is not ‘broken’, nor is its potential yet fully optimised.”

Will you reflect on the evidence that we have heard about the value of strategic regional planning, the high regard in which it is held outside Scotland and whether voluntary arrangements will deliver the same quality of strategic planning as we have had to date?

11:00  
Kevin Stewart

I will start off by commenting on the report by Kevin Murray Associates and then I will bring in Mr McNairney. Although the report did not recommend the removal of strategic development plans, its conclusions and recommendations raised similar points to the issues that we are seeking to provide, which include stronger collaborative leadership; greater alignment of vision, strategy and delivery mechanisms; improved community engagement and awareness raising; a more streamlined process for housing needs and demand assessments; better coverage of infrastructure; stronger links with wider community planning; improved action planning; and a focus on delivering outcomes. Together with the wider planning reform, the bill will ensure that many of those recommendations can be implemented.

Before I bring in Mr McNairney, I will speak from a purely practical point of view, as a constituency MSP. One of the things that frustrates many folk who are involved in the planning process or who have tried to become involved in the process is the shift from the local development plan to the strategic development plan—they do not understand how all that is put together, which leads to confusion. They cannot understand why they have been consulted on one plan and then are being consulted on another. In order to simplify the process and get rid of confusion, the bill proposes the right way forward.

I will bring in Mr McNairney to make a comment and I would be grateful, convener, if you will allow me to make a few reflections after that.

John McNairney

We strongly support strategic planning. The national planning framework is a form of strategic plan, albeit a national one. The changes reflect both the findings of the independent panel and, as Mr Wightman has suggested, the different views around the country on the issue.

Currently, the strategic development plans focus on four areas, but there are other parts of Scotland that have cross-boundary issues. The partnership working in different regions of Scotland might change over time. At present, Highland Council, the North and South Ayrshire Councils, Dumfries and Galloway Council, and Falkirk Council are not part of the SDP network. We have sought to provide stronger regional focus. There is already a regional perspective in national planning framework 3, which moves us on considerably from earlier versions. The proposals are simply to strengthen that. We co-produce the national planning framework with planning authorities working over different geographies, to ensure that it can give regional perspectives and more information about regional infrastructure such as housing and so on, in a way that reduces duplication and complexity in the system.

There is a feeling, which I share, that, for a country of Scotland’s size, we are approaching a position in which we have too many plans: we have the national planning framework, SDPs, LDPs and community planning integrating with those, and now we have local place plans. That comes with some baggage if consultation is going to happen in a way that is really inclusive and effective. The focus is drifting towards simply making plans.

What you see here, and what is at the root of your question, is a rationalisation. We think that things can work more effectively with a stronger national planning framework. It should not necessarily be imposed, because it must be co-produced and have a strong element of what different authorities, working together, want to influence.

The Convener

I will take a final supplementary question in a moment. Minister, would you like to comment first?

Kevin Stewart

No, that is fine. Mr McNairney has covered everything.

Andy Wightman

That was very helpful—thank you.

I suppose that, by getting rid of strategic planning as a statutory requirement, the concern is that we would hollow out the process. We will be producing local place plans, but they will not have much statutory effect, and we will have a national planning framework, which does not get much democratic scrutiny but is part of the development plan. We have to grapple with those issues, but I understand the rationale that Mr McNairney has laid out.

Kevin Stewart

The other point to make is that we are in changing circumstances. As Mr McNairney rightly pointed out, we have strategic development plans that cover the four city regions. Many areas do not have anything like that in place, and this is the opportunity for more co-operation at a strategic level between authorities. Ayrshire is a probably a good example to cite. We are hopeful that it will soon get the growth deal right, and that will require strategic development co-operation across Ayrshire. Given what we have seen as things have developed, we know that different things are at play from what we had when strategic development plans were introduced. The city region deals are a prime example in that regard, as Ms Gilruth pointed out earlier.

There are opportunities for an increased level of co-operation in strategic planning without our being prescriptive or making things overly cumbersome for folks who are often confused about the amount of planning that is going on.

The Convener

Before we all get that comfort break, I will ask one more question. The contention was made that the national planning framework does not get democratic scrutiny. My view is that it gets a massive amount of democratic scrutiny. The issue is whether there should be a final vote in the Scottish Parliament. What are the benefits of putting the framework to a vote? Are there any downsides to doing that? On the downsides—I say this with full self-awareness—there is horse-trading on the budget process and deals to be done on whether to sign up to an agreed budget. Might the national planning framework be privy to that, too, were it to go to a vote in the Scottish Parliament? What are the benefits and the drawbacks of that approach?

Kevin Stewart

My personal experience is that the scrutiny of national planning framework 3 was particularly good. As I have said, a number of parliamentary committees were involved in that. Having that level of scrutiny is grand, and I would expect that level of scrutiny to continue. As it stands, and as it is proposed, the Parliament will have a huge amount of oversight of national planning framework 4.

The Convener

I thought that would I not have any success in drawing that out of you, minister. We will have a five-minute comfort break. After that, we will wrap up the session after an hour, so we will have to frame our questions appropriately.

11:08 Meeting suspended.  11:14 On resuming—  
The Convener

Welcome back, everyone. We continue our consideration of the Planning (Scotland) Bill. Although the bill contains provisions to impose and implement an infrastructure levy, there is no detail on the levy. From the Government’s point of view, the jury is still out on whether that power should be exercised and consideration is being given to the issue. It has been contended that, in the greater scheme of things, the levy would not raise a significant amount of cash. What are the latest considerations in Government about why the levy is included in the bill if you might not use it? If it were to be used, how much cash would it be likely to garner?

Kevin Stewart

I am well aware of some of the evidence that the committee has taken. Infrastructure delivery is one of the biggest challenges facing local authorities at this time and it is important that the opportunity of introducing an infrastructure levy that could facilitate development is not missed.

The infrastructure levy would not be intended to fund all infrastructure requirements, nor would that be possible given the scale of those requirements across the country. Although receipts would likely be small compared with total public sector infrastructure spend, they would have a positive impact on infrastructure delivery by, for example, levering in other funding. We have done an amount of work and received an independent report on the infrastructure levy and how it might work. All that information is available on the Scottish Government website, and I am sure that many of you will have trawled through it.

We still need to do a number of things to get the measures absolutely right, so we are asking for the power to introduce a levy even if we would not necessarily to do so at this time. I will bring in Mr McNairney to cover the technicalities of our work on the levy.

The Convener

Before Mr McNairney provides that technical response, is it a fair summation that the Government considers that an infrastructure levy is the right thing to do in principle but that you want to make sure that you get it right in practice before you implement it?

Kevin Stewart

You are absolutely correct, convener.

The Convener

Do you want to add anything, Mr McNairney?

John McNairney

I will be brief. The levy was also a recommendation of the independent panel. We have looked at it in the context of our recognition that section 75 of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 has limitations—its focus on restricting and regulating necessarily means that there has to be a strong connection between the improvement and the site. As we have seen from at least one court case, as you stretch the boundaries of section 75, you can fail to meet the tests. The infrastructure levy is an opportunity that we do not want to close our minds to, so we have focused on research, although we recognise that more work needs to be done.

The Convener

That is helpful. It may also be worth seeking the minister’s views on an issue that is not in the bill but could, in theory, be in the same part of the bill that deals with the infrastructure levy. The Scottish Land Commission is carrying out a lot of work on land value taxes. Again, I am keen to tease out whether, if that is the Scottish Government’s intended direction of travel, although we are not quite sure how it might work in practice, there is an opportunity in part 5 of the bill to seek the power to introduce a land value tax through secondary legislation. If the principle appears to be a good idea, doing that would allow us to roll out such a tax without having to return to primary legislation. Is there the potential to look at that?

Kevin Stewart

This bill is not the place for that, and we must allow other work to continue in that area. The Government has already said that it will enhance compulsory purchase orders and refresh the associated powers. We will look into introducing compulsory sale order legislation during this session of Parliament but, more important, we have to allow the Scottish Land Commission to take a hard look at land value taxes, which it is currently doing. The committee will have seen the SLC’s report last week, which called for the state to lead in major public interest development. We have to allow the SLC to do that work, so that it can get it absolutely right, as with the infrastructure levy.

The Convener

I accept that that is the Government’s reason and that you are not persuaded that the provision to implement land value tax should be in the bill. However, the infrastructure levy is not good to go yet either and it is going to be in the bill.

Kevin Stewart

The difference is that we have consulted on the infrastructure levy but not on land value capture, compulsory sale orders or compulsory purchase orders. That has to be done in absolutely the right way. It is vital that we look at what the Scottish Land Commission comes up with on that before we move forward, doing the right and appropriate thing in terms of consulting on any propositions that we make.

The Convener

My final question goes back to the principle of the matter. It is always dangerous to give a local example, but I stay in the Summerston part of my constituency of Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn, in one of the houses that used to be a field a few years ago. All the fields across the road were green belt until the latest iteration of the local development plan, but that has now changed, opening the window for development there. Forgetting about the rights or wrongs of that and whether opposition to it is nimbyistic or whatever, I suspect that the land value has gone up substantially because of that redesignation in the local development plan. In principle, should some of that be captured for the public purse?

Kevin Stewart

I am not going to speculate about your area, convener, or any other, in that regard. As I have said, we have consulted on the infrastructure levy and we are moving forward on that, although there is still a bit of work to do. We have not consulted on land value capture or compulsory purchase and sale orders. We have to get that absolutely right, so those are discussions for a later date.

The Convener

Mr Simpson has a supplementary question.

Graham Simpson

I go back to report from the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee, which looked at the infrastructure levy. It makes the point that the powers

“are drawn very widely ... and inhibit the Parliament from conducting line by line scrutiny of policy”.

One of the three recommendations is that an enhanced form of scrutiny called the super-affirmative procedure should be on the face of the bill, so that Parliament can properly scrutinise whatever you decide that you want to do.

Kevin Stewart

My answer to the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee, which Mr Simpson convenes, was that I am happy to look at the affirmative procedure for that. I was also questioned about the matter by the Finance and Constitution Committee, following an appearance at Mr Simpson’s committee. Basically, I was asked by Murdo Fraser whether it is a way for the Scottish Government to attract further resource for itself. I responded that it does not offer Mr Mackay the ability to add to his budget.

The Convener

You have got that on the record. We move to the next line of questioning.

Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

Regarding the planning authorities’ performance, a number of stakeholders have raised concerns about, for example, the length of delay in applications being processed. How can we monitor performance? Should it be monitored on the quality of outcome, on the speed by which the planning applications are processed or, I hope, by a combination of the two?

The Convener

Mr Gibson is feeling poorly this morning, so I thank him for persevering and asking some questions.

Kenneth Gibson

Thanks, convener.

Kevin Stewart

I wish Mr Gibson a speedy recovery.

Mr Gibson is absolutely right about planning authorities’ performance. The issue comes up regularly all over the place. Planning authorities lead the delivery of the planning service in their areas and have the primary responsibility for managing the operation of that system.

I acknowledge that sometimes applicant behaviour and other stakeholders that are involved in the process play a part in planning performance. We have commissioned research on barriers to decision making, so that we can get a more rounded picture of where delays lie. How we view performance has moved on a little bit in recent years. Speed of delivery is still a vital element of good performance, but there is more to it than that.

The planning performance framework and key markers already recognise planning performance as being about whole-service delivery. The policy memorandum states:

“The Bill will increase scrutiny of the full extent of planning authority performance; in how authorities carry out their functions and deliver their services, on the quality of their decision-making and on the outcomes for their areas.”

That sets out the holistic approach to managing and improving performance across all of planning that I want to see. As I said, we have commissioned research and I intend to keep a close eye on the matter. The form and content of performance reports will be defined following consultation and we will continue to work with the high-level working group on planning and other stakeholders to develop that.

Kenneth Gibson

How will the proposed performance monitoring blend in with the performance monitoring that is already in the system? What differences will it make? Will there be any overlap or will it be as seamless as one would hope that it would be?

Kevin Stewart

The bill’s provisions will complement other things that are already in the system. I expect that the provisions will formalise, improve and replace current arrangements. As folk are well aware, we have talked about appointing a performance co-ordinator in the bill. Some folk view that as a massive threat or as me trying to exercise authority or power. However, I view the role of the co-ordinator as ensuring that best practice is exported across the piece to help authorities that might have particular difficulties. I say to those who think that that will be an additional burden that the requirement for local authorities to report what has gone on in their areas is already there in their annual report on performance. I dispute that the appointment of a performance co-ordinator would be an additional burden.

Kenneth Gibson

Why are the functions of the national planning performance co-ordinator and the performance assessor not included in the bill whereas, in other pieces of legislation—for example, on prison inspection—such roles have been included?

11:30  
Kevin Stewart

The co-ordinator’s general functions are set out in the bill and the regulations will provide further details of a technical and administrative level—for example, how performance is to be monitored and how often reports should be prepared.

The co-ordinator’s role is separate from that of a person who is appointed to conduct an assessment of the planning authority’s performance. The assessor can be appointed to carry out an in-depth assessment of, and make recommendations on, any aspect of an authority’s performance or its performance in general. The scope of that is to be tailored as appropriate.

I will bring in Mr McNairney for some of the more technical aspects and to save my voice.

John McNairney

Some of that is agreed informally but has not been put into legislation before now. The co-ordinator will, in essence, look to improve performance, help to share good practice and report to ministers on how performance is improving over the course of the year. The assessor’s role is, of course, entirely different. The assessor considers a particular issue to do with performance and, again, reports to ministers.

The direction of travel is to ensure that we can improve performance and ensure that there are some teeth in the bill as we approach thinking about improving the resourcing of the system as well. There is a connection between the two.

The Convener

Because of time constraints, I ask for relatively brief supplementaries and responses.

Kevin Stewart

I will try, convener.

The Convener

I know.

Monica Lennon

The Scottish Government expects planning authorities to use processing agreements for all major applications and other complex local developments. Are you happy with the uptake of processing agreements? Does the Government have any evidence as to how they might be improving performance or delivery?

Kevin Stewart

I will bring in Mr McNairney on processing agreements—I know that he has opinions on the matter—and I will add to that.

John McNairney

There has been a slow take-up of processing agreements. Initially, the City of Edinburgh Council was at the forefront and it was clear from its experience that, as a project management tool for dealing with difficult, major applications, processing agreements were positive. They generally are positive, so we have continued to try to promote them. We cannot compel developers to enter into them, because they are agreements.

Kevin Stewart

Nor can we compel local authorities.

John McNairney

However, over the past five years, take-up has improved from a lower level. I think that there are now 1,200 annually.

Kevin Stewart

I have the latest figures for processing agreements in front of me: in 2015-16, there were 680; in 2016-17, there were 1,503.

Monica Lennon

From that data, are you able to tell us what the reason is for the clock being stopped? Is it a lack of information from developers or delays with other consultees, for example? Do you have that kind of information?

Kevin Stewart

I will bring Mr McNairney in and then comment myself on clock stopping and the level of attention that I have been paying to it.

John McNairney

We do not have information in every case. The information that we have relates to returns where there are particularly lengthy cases. The authorities provide us with reasons. Sometimes, it might be a staffing issue or workload. It could be an agency’s delay. It could be information that has been sought during the process but not yet been provided. Those are common reasons, as are delays under section 75 of the 1997 act, which probably account for about 50 per cent of the overall processing times for major developments.

We do not scrutinise every case. Where originally agreed timetables are not met, there should be agreement by both parties on what the extended period should be. My understanding is that between 60 and 70 per cent of processing agreements meet the timescale. That is one of the ingredients in taking the view that, overall, such agreements are a good thing.

Kevin Stewart

I have been paying particular attention to things such as clock stopping as I have been receiving regular information on that, although sometimes that information is a little bit scant. I have concerns that it is sometimes far too easy to blame the local authority for something, when it may not necessarily be the performance of the local authority that is at fault.

As I said, some of the information is scant, and it would be fair to say that not enough is being done on that area. That is why we have commissioned research on reasons for delays and to explore the barriers to decision making. I am sure that the committee will want to look at that research once it is complete. I do not know what the timescales for the research are off the top of my head.

John McNairney

I am afraid that I do not know that.

Kevin Stewart

We will keep you in the loop.

Monica Lennon

It is unfortunate that that research was not commissioned earlier. We have heard anecdotally that planning is a barrier and a slow process, that it is bureaucratic and that the problem often lies with planning authorities, planners and the people who work in those departments. However, we do not really know what is causing delays. Some complexities are unavoidable. Some data will be reported to the Government and research is under way, but what will that research tell us?

Kevin Stewart

I do not know, which is why we are undertaking research.

Monica Lennon

We are being asked to examine the Planning (Scotland) Bill and we are tinkering and making transformative changes to the system, but we do not know what is causing delay and blockage.

The Convener

Is there a question?

Monica Lennon

An early indication on that research would be helpful.

Kevin Stewart

As I said at the beginning, we are on a journey and the bill is not the be-all and end-all. We have commissioned a huge amount of research in various areas as we have progressed from the independent planning review all the way through to the stakeholder engagement, and we will continue to ensure that we have got all the available information.

The Convener

Can you give us an idea of the timeline?

Kevin Stewart

One of the reasons why we have commissioned the research is because I was not particularly happy about the information that we had—it was not enough. We will send you a note about the timeline and we will share that research once it is complete.

Graham Simpson

I have a quick question that follows on from what Mr Gibson manfully managed to get out earlier. When the bill talks about assessing a planning authority’s performance, it says that ministers—I presume that that is you, minister—will appoint someone to look at the planning authority’s performance. The bill says that ministers will set out the functions that are to be assessed and so on, but it does not spell out in any detail what is meant by performance and what kind of things would be looked at. Could that be sorted out at stage 2?

John McNairney

It could be widely defined. We have not specified that. As I said, in relation to section 75 consents, there can be particular themes at the root of delay. Performance could also be about how stakeholders, particularly community interests, are dealt with. It is not intended to be focused on speed of approval, for example; it is focused on the holistic way in which we want to consider performance.

Graham Simpson

So the power is a very wide one, which is my point. Perhaps you could spell things out more in the bill.

The Convener

That is a substantive question. I am not trying to take your question from you, Mr Simpson, but we are under time constraints. Will more information on that substantive point be available ahead of stage 2? I ask that just to allow us to move on.

Kevin Stewart

We can provide the committee with more detail on that. However, it has to be said that, in the communications that I get as minister and that others probably receive as members, issues about performance can be wide and varied. Such aspects are often raised by members of the public rather than by other stakeholders. However, we will get more detail for the committee.

The Convener

That would be helpful. My apologies for that, Mr Simpson. I will allow Alexander Stewart to ask his question.

Alexander Stewart

Performance is vital, as everyone understands. However, as we have touched on already, the pressures of work in a planning department, resource and workforce planning implications and customer satisfaction with developers and individuals all come into the mix when we talk about performance. The question is how we manage that to ensure that what is intended in the bill becomes a reality. There is an apprehension that an element of sanction or control is coming through, and there is an issue about how councils will perceive that. Depending on which planning department in the country is involved, there may be thousands of planning applications or only a handful, and you will have to gauge how best to work that. Is it the intention that this is all about control and sanction?

Kevin Stewart

I will ask Mr McNairney to respond first and then I will come in.

John McNairney

The intention is that there will be some control. In practice, we work positively with stakeholders in the system. It might be that for some elements the assessor and the directing authorities are very much instances of the last resort, but they are there. The 2006 act contains provisions on assessment that were not implemented because things moved on and we moved to a performance framework and a collaborative approach to improving performance. However, as we move into the territory of significant fee increases, we will need to have a mechanism to ensure that those who are paying for full cost recovery can expect a reasonable service in return.

Alexander Stewart

Do you intend to have a value-for-money situation, then?

Kevin Stewart

It is not just about that. It can be frustrating that I have coming across my desk—as we all do, from time to time—statements such as, “This is a problem—how are you going to deal with it?” and, at the moment, we have nothing at our disposal for dealing with performance.

I always prefer carrot rather than stick; I prefer a light-touch approach where at all possible. I would prefer our role to be the positive one of ensuring that we export best practice right across the country. However, we will see what occurs: the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The vast bulk of the issues that cross my desk are not necessarily those that people would expect. It would be fair to say that, in recent times, most of the complaints that I have had about performance are from community groups in relation to certain authorities that I will not name here, convener.

The Convener

Before we move on to the next line of questioning, which will be led by Andy Wightman, I want to make a point. In monitoring performance in the national health service, one of the things that has been brought in is called Care Opinion, through which good, bad and indifferent experiences of the NHS are captured and garnered and put out there almost in real time. One thing that that has shown is that we do not necessarily get to hear about the good stuff alongside the negative stuff.

Could we have a positive side to monitoring performance that captures positive opinions? I am thinking of examples such as an individual who sought to build an extension to their house and had a supportive and seamless planning process, or a community group that made representations in pre-consultation and felt that they were listened to when the substantive planning application was submitted. Is there data out there that could give us a flavour of performance that we are currently missing and is that something that we could act on?

11:45  
Kevin Stewart

We sometimes hear about the bad rather than the good in this life. In my position, I sometimes hear the good as well as the bad. There is good practice in many places and we celebrate that good practice regularly. Recently, I had the good fortune of attending the planning awards, which provide an opportunity for folk to network and share good practice. In the review, we would look at 360 degree feedback as part of monitoring. Mr McNairney might like to add more on the data that we have.

On Care Opinion, I think that it is run by an independent organisation, and it is useful.

The Convener

I am not trying to bounce you into a yes or no.

Kevin Stewart

I will not be bounced.

The Convener

My question is whether you are sympathetic to that kind of platform.

Kevin Stewart

I am sympathetic to the monitoring that we have talked about.

John McNairney

Authorities take feedback from stakeholders and include that in their current planning performance returns, so there is some indication of that. There are 15 markers in the performance framework, so it is fairly wide. However, we probably do not celebrate or promote the good things enough—there is tonnes of good practice in the planning system, across a wide spectrum of activity.

Kevin Stewart

I will reflect on what you have said about Care Opinion, convener.

The Convener

Thank you—I would appreciate that.

Andy Wightman

I want to raise some equality issues. Engender has drawn to our attention the fact that the planning system must be fully inclusive and that planning is a very gendered issue. Engender cites examples from Vienna, where gender equality has been incorporated into urban planning. The equality impact assessment needs to critically engage with gendered issues, but Engender argues that the Planning (Scotland) Bill does not achieve that. It says that, in terms of gender, the bill’s equality impact assessment is “exceptionally bad”. Engender goes on to say:

“At present, it does not meet minimum standards set out by law and thus cannot assist the Committee in adequately considering equality dimensions of the Bill.”

What is your reaction to that, minister?

Kevin Stewart

I saw the Engender submission only this morning. I believe completely and utterly in equality and I will look through the submission and reflect on that.

The Convener

The committee has only just had the opportunity to look at that submission, too. However, we wanted to ensure that that concern was put on record.

Monica Lennon

I would have been more reassured if you had made a defence of the equality impact assessment, minister. I look forward to getting more information from the Government on that.

We have heard a lot of evidence about front loading, which was an aspiration of the 2006 act and continues to be an aspiration in the bill. What is front loading and why are we not yet in touching distance of it?

Kevin Stewart

I do not agree with Ms Lennon that front loading has failed, although it can be improved and, in some cases, dramatically improved. We talked about celebrating what we get right. We have seen extremely good examples of public engagement to capture the views and opinions of local people in places such as Aberdeen and Dundee. Highland Council and TAYplan have been recognised for their work with communities, including children and young people, which we talked about earlier.

The charrette programme is a good example. Earlier, we touched briefly on the place standard, which, in my opinion, has been very successful. Without a doubt, more can be done to embed front loading through our proposals for the national planning framework and through development planning, local place plans, SDZs and pre-application consultation. However, I do not agree with the concept that front loading has failed, because there have been success stories in many areas.

Monica Lennon

It is interesting that you gave TAYplan as an example of success, because I believe that it will be abolished under the proposals.

We have heard in evidence that public confidence and trust in planning are quite low and we have heard examples of how communities feel disengaged and not listened to. We have heard that community groups feel that some developers approach pre-application consultation as a tick-box exercise, because of the way in which notice is given of public meetings and what is reported back to councils as having happened at those meetings. People do not feel that the pre-application consultation really adds value or changes anything. Does the minister recognise those concerns?

Kevin Stewart

In some cases, there has been good practice on pre-application. We often lose sight of the fact that many developers do a huge amount of work in consulting and bringing community views into play.

I offer one example off the top of my head. Sanctuary Housing Association is developing housing for key workers at the site of Craiginches prison in Aberdeen. At the cutting of the ground there, I had the opportunity to talk to local residents, who felt extremely included all the way through the process. A number of the original plans were changed to take cognisance of their views. In many cases, there is a change of attitude in that regard, but there is still a way to go in some places. A wise applicant will take cognisance of the views of the folk in the application area.

Monica Lennon

We have heard in evidence from a range of stakeholders—community groups, in particular—that they do not feel that there is a level playing field. They cannot match developers in terms of resource, expertise and legal rights in the process. That brings us to a point at which, 12 years on from the previous planning bill, there is a growing debate on, and a growing demand for, equalisation of the system through the introduction of an equal right of appeal.

A couple of days ago, you wrote to us to put on record that the Government is firmly opposed to an equal right of appeal. Is the Government, in principle, totally against equalising appeal rights?

Kevin Stewart

We have made it clear that we agree with the independent planning review panel, which did not recommend an equal right of appeal. An equal right of appeal would add conflict at the end of the system. I would rather concentrate on the beginning of the system with a view to getting people together to iron out differences and arriving at a situation in which agreement can be reached in many cases, as happened with the Sanctuary Housing Association development at the Craiginches site. That is a much better way of dealing with the issue.

If we end up with an equal right of appeal, what will happen in many places is that communities and developers will concentrate right from the beginning on the conflict at the end, rather than sitting down and discussing what is required for the community.

Monica Lennon

You mentioned the independent panel. According to written evidence from Scottish Environment LINK,

“The issues around equal rights of appeal were not fully explored by the independent panel. The issue was touched on briefly only and not given the depth of consideration such a fundamental issue requires.”

Where is Scottish Environment LINK coming from?

Kevin Stewart

I will bring in Mr McNairney, because he was in post when the independent panel carried out the review. I was not planning minister at the time—

Monica Lennon

But you must have a view on the panel’s work.

Kevin Stewart

I do have a view. If you will allow me to, I will give you that view. I think that it is unfair to say that the independent panel did not take the views of all people. Mr McNairney has more information on exactly what the independent panel did.

The Convener

Before I bring in Mr McNairney, I point out that lots of members have supplementaries, including me. I advise anyone else who wants to come in to get my attention now, otherwise we will run out of time.

John McNairney

The panel issued a call for evidence and took written and oral evidence. It set out a number of questions, not all of which I have in front of me, but one of them concerned the balance of rights and whether improvements could be made to that. That was part of the context in which people offered views. There were people whose view was that there should be a third-party or equal right of appeal and others who took a different view. It was not the case that the review panel did not consider the issue; having considered it, one of its 48 recommendations was that no change should be made to the appeal rights.

Therefore, we did not actively pursue the issue—we did not have a separate consultation on rights of appeal—but we set out our position in the consultation that we issued last year. Throughout the process, people have made their views known. Ministers set out their statement following the recommendations of the independent panel, and it was broadly supportive of those recommendations, including that there should be no significant change to rights of appeal.

Monica Lennon

A couple of weeks ago, we took evidence from Petra Biberbach, who was on the independent review panel. We know that she is on record as not being in favour of equal rights of appeal, but during the discussion she accepted that there should now be a debate on the issue. Why would there need to be a debate on it if it is clearly not the right thing to do? She recognised people’s concerns and frustrations with the system and thought that there should be a debate on the matter.

Kevin Stewart

I recognise people’s frustrations, and the last thing I want to do is add to those. The Scottish alliance for people and places said in its response:

“We are concerned that the introduction of this measure will create further conflict between communities and other stakeholders in our places and undermine the collective ambition for a positive, front-loaded planning system that incentivises participation at the very beginning and throughout the process.”

I agree with that. I would much rather that we deal with this at the beginning, because if at the end of the day we were to equalise rights of appeal, I can foresee that there would be a huge amount of conflict at the end of the process and that not many folk would speak at the beginning of it, which is actually the right time for them to speak to one another.

I will bring in Mr McNairney again.

John McNairney

Stakeholders focus on a particular issue, but the whole system is relevant to this issue. A lot of the frustration for communities is that they do not have the certainty that we want them to have about which sites are going to be developed.

The development plan and changes to it are key, because if we can get better information from developers about how deliverable sites are so that they can be carefully considered and, at the gate check and beyond, we can get everything right, we will have a plan in which stakeholders generally can have some confidence. The problem at present is that shortcomings in, say, effective housing land emerge at the end of the process, and that causes tension for all stakeholders.

12:00  
Monica Lennon

That all sounds persuasive, but the bill also proposes that ministers be able to come along and designate simplified development zones, even though a development plan might have been adopted and the community might not want the SDZ. That will introduce more conflict, so it does not seem consistent that you are introducing other processes but firmly closing the door to communities having anywhere near the rights that developers have.

Kevin Stewart

I will not go back to simplified development zones, because everything that I have said about them is on the record.

My great fear is that there is already too much conflict and mistrust in the system. An equal third-party right of appeal can only add to that. In some cases, developers and communities would be much more likely to adopt a tactical approach, aiming to win an appeal rather than to engage at the outset. Initial engagement is absolutely vital. That is why the emphasis in the bill is on dealing with everything at the beginning.

As I have said, we are following the independent panel’s recommendations. It is unfair to say that it did not discuss the issue in depth, because it did. Even though we made it clear from the beginning that the Government was not in favour of an equal right of appeal, those discussions have still taken place at many of the fora that I have attended and many more that Mr McNairney and his colleagues have attended.

John McNairney

As I said, we did not do a separate consultation on rights of appeal, but people have made their views known throughout the past two years.

The Convener

It is reasonable to say that, when it comes to planning, regardless of whether anyone—including the committee, in its call for evidence—explicitly asks for views on an equal right of appeal, they will get them anyway. We have had substantial evidence in favour of and against an equal right of appeal.

Minister, in your letter, you make the point that,

“Since 2014, around 5,500 housing units have been approved”

because of a developer’s right to appeal. Some—not all—of the proponents of an equal right of appeal say that that could be achieved by taking away the developer’s right to appeal. Would that cause you concerns about meeting national house-building targets, for example?

Kevin Stewart

I have the dilemma, but also the huge opportunity, of being in the post that I am in. That leads to different conversations with different people, and it sometimes leads to very strange conversations about some of the issues.

I will give an example. I am sorry if I am going over old ground—I might have told the story before. I spoke to a woman who said, “We desperately need more housing in this area, minister,” and the next line was, “but you canna build it here, here, here and here.” There is a balance to be struck in planning properly for the housing needs of an area. As I pointed out in my letter, other developments that can often be seen as controversial but which are entirely necessary have been decided upon on appeal.

The Convener

I am trying to be helpful—I have given every other set of witnesses an opportunity to put their views on the issue on the record. In the annex to your letter, you mentioned 5,500 families who are currently in houses but who might not have had them if the developer had not had the right to appeal. Do you have concerns about that, or not? You talked about some people having what we might call a nimbyist approach, but would you have concerns about national strategic targets if we were to seek to withdraw a developer’s right to appeal?

Kevin Stewart

That is a possibility. It might not be a national problem, but we could have a situation in a particular area in which a decision had been taken not to build any homes when it was quite clear that there was a need and a demand for housing. If there is not the ability for developers to appeal in such situations, does that mean that we will not build homes and not meet the needs of people in those areas?

The Convener

I have a final question and then I would like other members to come in. I am trying to interrogate the letter that the minister sent to the committee. One suggestion is that recognised community groups should have a right of appeal—which might deal with Mr Wightman’s problem about his sister in Switzerland. I do not think that she would be part of a recognised community group, but she might—you never know.

The point that I am trying to get to is this: I think that what you are saying, minister, is that if we were to go down that road it would be quite difficult to identify what a “recognised community group” would be or would look like. From my local experience, I sometimes agree with folk who say that they just do not want development in their area—I am one of those people, sometimes. We all have our own self-interest and awareness, but I sense from your letter a feeling that there will always be some people who are against things and that an equal right of appeal would, almost automatically, trigger a number of appeals because that is just the position that some people take. Sometimes I am in that position over local development.

Perhaps we could talk a bit about what a recognised community group would look like and how it could be defined. If we were to go down that road, would it just build resistance to developments at the outset of the process?

Kevin Stewart

Defining “recognised community group” would be very difficult indeed and there would be arguments over what one actually is. That is why the Government and I are not in favour of doing that. We could argue about a definition forever.

Some folk have suggested that the recognised community group could be, for example, a community council. However, we all know that many community councils across the country are not reflective of the views of the communities that they purport to represent. I speak only from my experience as an elected member: in the years in which I have been a councillor and a parliamentarian, I have come across folk in groups who have said that they will oppose any development in a community. I have come across a community council that was initially formed to oppose changes to a park, but that was not reflective of the views of that community. Designated community groups having an equal right of appeal would open up a can of worms and create even greater conflict, and might actually lead to a huge amount of community division.

Monica Lennon

I want to explore that point. If community councils in a lot of places are unrepresentative, why do they have statutory rights in the planning system and why are you giving them the power to introduce local place plans?

Kevin Stewart

We are where we are, as far as the legislation is concerned: community councils have such powers from the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973. We are embarking on a local governance review in co-operation with local government and community partners, in the course of which we will look at all such aspects.

Monica Lennon

Are you saying that community councils can be trusted to introduce local place plans but not to make judgments on whether to take appeals on planning decisions?

Kevin Stewart

I am saying that bodies can propose local place plans—the body does not necessarily have to be a community council. As with other aspects of local governance, they are from 1970s legislation, and they will be looked at with all the other aspects as we embark on the local governance review.

The Convener

We will close the meeting at 12:20.

Andy Wightman

I say for the record that I have in front of me the questions that the independent review panel asked in its consultation, and I do not see any questions on rights of appeal, although there is one question on whether we need to change the system to ensure that everyone has a fair hearing.

You said that you are following the recommendations of the independent review. The independent review talked only about a third-party right of appeal. Recommendation 46, for example, says that there should not be a third-party right of appeal, but the review did not ask questions about appeals or say anything about the applicant’s right of appeal. Can you confirm that the independent review did not say anything about whether an applicant’s right of appeal should remain unreformed?

Kevin Stewart

I do not have the report in front of me, so I cannot say yea or nay to that.

Andy Wightman

I will ask a brief supplementary. In a letter to the committee, on the idea that rights of appeal could be tied to compliance with the local development plan, you suggest that consistency with the plan would be very difficult to determine. As I understand matters, however, prior to 2006 local planning authorities were required to notify ministers of decisions that represent a departure from the local development plan. There are a number of other examples in planning policy, such as the requirement that planning authorities notify ministers if they are minded to grant permission for a planning application

“where proposals represent a significant departure from the approved structure plan”.

I suggest that planning authorities are well used to making such judgments.

Kevin Stewart

I think that authorities did some of that in the past. I will bring in Mr McNairney to speak about that. I would like to come back after that, convener.

John McNairney

All that Mr Wightman said is true. Judging whether to advertise a development as being contrary to the development plan was certainly not clear cut. Especially for major developments, it could be found that a development is contrary to some policies in the plan but is generally consistent with the allocation. Would the development then be contrary to the development plan?

It is not always possible to make a straightforward judgment. Reporters will have seen cases in which an authority has refused an application on the basis that it is contrary to the development plan, but the reporter takes the view that it is not. It is not a clear-cut, black-and-white judgment. That is another element of potential complexity.

Kevin Stewart

For the record, I will say that the Government is not in favour of an equal right of appeal or—

Andy Wightman

I am sorry, can you clarify what—

Kevin Stewart

—or of proposals for a limited right of appeal. Beyond that, we are not in favour of removal of the applicant’s right of appeal, as I outlined in my letter to the committee.

Andy Wightman

I will let others in. Time is pressing.

The Convener

Time is pressing, but I am open to members following up on some of that, although we are about to close. The committee will have to sit down, balance the evidence and decide on the issue for our stage 1 report.

If the committee does not favour an equal right of appeal, how do we know that there has been successful front loading in the bill? I think that the deputy convener made the point about the 2006 act that it may not have done everything that it was meant to do in relation to front loading. After 10 years—that would be the duration of new local development plans—how would we know what success looks like in relation to front loading, rather than equal right of appeal, and how would that be monitored?

Kevin Stewart

First of all, no matter what we put into play, there will be instances in which people do not get the results that they want from planning. We will continue to monitor how planning is operating and how our proposals turn out in terms of performance management, stakeholder satisfaction and how engaged people become.

12:15  

The committee should also be aware that if you recommend limited or equal rights of appeal, you will have to consider how local authorities would resource that, because there would be added costs. I have no idea what that resource burden would be, but it would divert resources from the up-front planning and collaboration that I and many others want, and it could lead to further gumming up of the system.

Monica Lennon

What information can you share with the committee about the current cost of developer-led appeals? We heard from industry witnesses a couple of weeks ago that developers are spending tens, if not hundreds of thousands of pounds on appeals related to major applications, and that legal costs are sometimes awarded against local authorities by the planning and environmental appeals division reporter. I know that in North Lanarkshire such costs have run into hundreds of thousands of pounds. Have you looked at the cost-benefit side of developer-led appeals?

Kevin Stewart

I do not know the answers off the top of my head, and I do not think that anybody would expect me to keep that information at the front of my mind. I will talk to the planning and environmental appeals division—the DPEA—and others to see what, if any, information we can provide on that front.

The Convener

Perhaps after 3 hours we can forgive you for not having that at the front of your mind. It has been a marathon meeting. It had to be, to be quite frank, because there is a lot in the bill and we had to scrutinise every part of it.

I thank you and your officials for attending here today. We look forward to your response to our stage 1 report.

Kevin Stewart

I appreciate the opportunity, convener.

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28 February 2018

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7 March 2018

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14 March 2018

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21 March 2018

Committee Findings

What is secondary legislation?

Secondary legislation is sometimes called 'subordinate' or 'delegated' legislation. It can be used to:

  • make changes to the law without a completely new Act having to be passed. (An Act is a bill that’s been approved by Parliament and given Royal Assent (formally approved) by the Queen)
  • give details of how a law will be applied
  • bring a section (or sections) of a law that’s already been passed into force

Local Government and Communities Committee Stage 1 report

This report was published on 11 May 2018.

Find out what else the Local Government and Communities Committee is doing. 

Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee

This committee looks at the powers of this Bill to allow the Scottish Government or others to create 'secondary legislation' or regulations.

It met to discuss the Bill in public on:

20 February 2018

22 May 2018

 

Finance and Constitution Committee

The committee may consider:

  • the costs of the Bill
  • whether there has been enough information provided about the costs

The committee questioned the Scottish Government team that looks at the costs of the Bill on:

28 February 2018

21 March 2018

Debate on the Bill

A debate for MSPs to discuss what the Planning (Scotland) Bill aims to do and how it'll do it.

 

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Stage 1 debate transcript

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-12421, in the name of Kevin Stewart, on stage 1 of the Planning (Scotland) Bill.

14:25  
The Minister for Local Government and Housing (Kevin Stewart)

I am very pleased to open this stage 1 debate on the Planning (Scotland) Bill. The bill sets out the future structure of our planning system. It sets out a new approach to making plans and decisions about how Scotland’s places will develop and grow through greater collaboration between decision makers and those who their decisions will affect.

The review of planning is driving a wide programme of improvements to strengthen and simplify the planning system. The bill is a vital element of that wider review programme, and it will be supported by a suite of more detailed secondary legislation, guidance, the roll-out of best practice, and our collaborative work on national planning framework 4, which we will progress following the bill’s passage through the Parliament.

There has been a thorough and inclusive process to get us here today. The review began in 2015 with the appointment of an independent panel that was made up of users of the planning system. There is a clear line from the recommendations and outcomes from the independent review through to the bill that we now have before us.

Following the panel’s work, we convened a series of stakeholder working groups and conducted two separate public consultations to explore and shape our proposals. My officials and I have continued to engage widely with stakeholders throughout the review, and the proposals are underpinned by an extensive programme of research. Therefore, the review of planning has been highly collaborative from the outset and clear about what needs to happen before any decisions are made about how it will happen. That is entirely reflective of how I see our planning system itself needing to evolve and operate. That should start with good-quality collaboration and truly involve stakeholders at the earliest stages.

I welcome the Local Government and Communities Committee’s comprehensive report and its wide engagement with planning stakeholders, including communities across Scotland, in scrutinising the principles and provisions of the bill. I am pleased that the committee has agreed that the bill can improve the planning process in Scotland and with its recommendation

“that Parliament agrees the general principles of the Bill.”

The Scottish Government has already responded in some detail to the issues raised and the recommendations that the committee has made. I will set out our thoughts on some of the matters that are raised in the committee’s report.

There was some debate in the committee evidence sessions about introducing a statutory purpose for planning, what that should look like, and what matters should be included. I listened carefully to that debate and will continue to reflect on it. I have no concerns in principle about bringing greater clarity about what planning does—indeed, there could be some real benefits in guiding those who operate and engage in the system—but we have to keep in view how the system operates in practice. Taking that into account, I believe that the purpose of planning should be set out in national policy and not necessarily in statute.

The national planning framework is, and has been since its first iteration, an expression of Government policy. Governments now and in the future must be able to develop and implement their policies and strategies.

Alex Cole-Hamilton (Edinburgh Western) (LD)

Does the minister share the concerns of many local councillors around Scotland, from my party and his, who think that the iteration of the NPF in the confines of the bill amounts to centralisation on an unprecedented scale by removing local autonomy and accountability?

Kevin Stewart

No; I completely and utterly disagree with that. During national planning framework 3, immense scrutiny was undertaken by this Parliament, including by five committees, and by people the length and breadth of Scotland who fed their views into those committees. I do not believe one little bit that that is centralisation.

The committee heard that the Scottish Government has a good track record of taking into account Parliament’s views in finalising the NPF. As many members will recall, the Parliament was fully involved in NPF3; the lead committee took evidence and four other committees heard evidence and produced reports. Work on the next national planning framework, which will progress after the bill, will be highly collaborative and engage fully with Parliament. It is important, for example, that Parliament can debate from an early stage the national developments that Scotland needs. However, I maintain that each NPF should be adopted by the Scottish Government of the time. It is a Government strategy, not a bill, and I do not agree that the Scottish Parliament should use a legislative process to amend and approve it.

The bill seeks to remove strategic development plans from the system, but I have always been clear that a strong continuing role for strategic planning in Scotland will remain through the national planning framework and regional partnership working across the country. However, strategic development planning in Scotland has had challenges as well as successes, and we need the system to change so that planning can better respond to the world that we live in.

Mike Rumbles (North East Scotland) (LD)

Will the minister take an intervention?

Kevin Stewart

Not at the moment—I will expand this point first.

I understand the concerns that have been raised by some about political support and resources being available for strategic planning, so we will look at lodging an amendment at stage 2 to introduce a clearer duty for planning authorities to work together on strategic planning. I want to ensure that we avoid being too prescriptive about that to ensure that we allow for different approaches that reflect local circumstances.

Mike Rumbles

I have looked through each part of the bill. Can the minister direct me to any part that does not give him more and greater powers?

Kevin Stewart

I will point out a number of examples as I move through my speech. I am doing this methodically, so we will come to all parts of the bill in due course.

I welcome the committee’s agreement on moving local development planning to a 10-year cycle and to the alignment with community planning to provide a more coherent vision for communities. That is key to our commitment to effective front loading of the planning system, and linking community needs and aspirations into development planning. Local place plans are another important element in that, and the influence of communities is vital in those areas. That will provide a statutory role for communities in shaping future development and is a golden opportunity to ensure that planning connects with wider efforts to empower communities the length and breadth of Scotland.

I see the bill’s provisions for simplified development zones as a very useful tool to promote leadership in delivering good development and quality placemaking, and to incentivise investment in priority areas. I do not agree with the committee’s suggestion that SDZs should be brought forward only if included in statutory development plans. The proposal has been wrongly perceived as a means to bypass proper planning scrutiny, which is simply not the case.

Some evidence has been presented to the committee on the name and branding of SDZs. I agree that the branding is important for stressing the positive purpose and the opportunities that they will bring, and that they are not simply a rerun of the simplified planning zones that they will replace. The zones are not about deregulation.

Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

The minister mentioned simplified planning zones, of which there have only ever been two in Scotland. Why is that the case, and why will SDZs be a more fruitful option?

Kevin Stewart

I believe that SDZs can be a more fruitful option because they will be able to empower planning to deliver great places; I will lodge amendments to rename SDZs as masterplan consent areas in order to reflect better that positive role and the role of communities in their development.

There has been substantial evidence and debate about rights of appeal in the planning system. That issue has been well debated throughout the review of planning and, indeed, in previous legislation. I remain committed to delivering on the independent panel’s recommendation of a planning system that fosters collaboration rather than conflict. However, it is clear that people sometimes feel frustrated by the planning system and that is why the bill seeks to ensure that members of our communities can have greater and earlier influence on how their areas will develop.

I have made the Scottish Government’s position on appeals very clear and I agree entirely with the independent panel’s views that stronger engagement at the outset will be much more constructive than adding adversarial appeals at the end. There is already too much conflict and mistrust in the system and a third party or equal right of appeal can only add to that, which would run entirely counter to the positive collaboration that is pursued through the bill.

I am certain that we should not do anything that could restrict the potential for future investment in Scotland by removing or limiting applicants’ right to appeal. Our current planning appeal system has supported the delivery of development—the homes, jobs and facilities that our communities need—with each decision being carefully considered. Many developments exist only because they were approved on appeal. Limiting appeal rights would add further complexity and frustration to the system if it was not clear who had the right to appeal or in what circumstances they could appeal. For example, conformity with the development plan is not always black and white; often it requires judgment on a case-by-case basis.

There is a great deal of consensus on the outcomes that we are seeking, but it is also inevitable with planning that there will be different views on how the system should work. Planning needs to work for all of us, and the changes that we introduce to the system also need to work for all. I am sure that members will agree that we will have to steer a course through all those different views to arrive at a new, coherent and streamlined framework for planning that is fair and inclusive and works for Scotland. I look forward to hearing more views from around the chamber. I will listen carefully and respond to the matters raised, and I will contemplate what further amendments might be appropriate at stage 2 should the Parliament choose to proceed.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Planning (Scotland) Bill.

The Presiding Officer

I point out that there is plenty of time in hand this afternoon for interventions and interruptions. I call Bob Doris to speak to the motion on behalf of the Local Government and Communities Committee.

14:38  
Bob Doris (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)

I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate as the convener of the Local Government and Communities Committee. As the lead committee on the bill, we reported our views on it on 17 May. Our report was 103 pages long, so I will forgive members if they have not had time to digest all of it. Equally, I will not be able to do justice to all our recommendations in this speech, so I will focus on a few key recommendations to provide a flavour of our thinking.

First, I thank everyone who helped us reach our recommendations and conclusions. We had a tremendous response, with more than 300 substantive written views as well as online comments, lively discussions on Skye and in Motherwell, Aberdeen and Stirling, and thoughtful contributions at committee meetings. I also thank the young people who responded to our survey, the students from Galashiels academy who spoke with us and those we met in Linlithgow. I am sure that members will agree that that was part of an extensive engagement strategy by the committee. I also thank fellow committee members and the clerking team for their hard work, collegiate approach and good humour during the production of the stage 1 report.

The bill is intended to improve the system of development planning, give people more say in the future of their places and support the delivery of planning developments. Our role was to examine whether it can deliver on that ambition.

Fittingly, our stage 1 report starts with the purpose of planning. Planning serves a wide range of policy areas—from social development through to economic prosperity. As we heard in evidence, the bill should be clear about the public interest outcomes that planning is to deliver, which will provide more clarity about the planning system’s overarching policy ambitions.

The committee agreed that, if the bill is to deliver on those ambitions, it must set out a shared vision of what planning is there to achieve. I therefore welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to

“consider further the best way ... to articulate the purpose of planning in legislation”

and to

“bring forward appropriate amendments at Stage 2.”

Part 1 strengthens the national planning framework by incorporating Scottish planning policy into it. The NPF is then to form part of every local development plan. Under the bill, the NPF will be reviewed every 10 years, and the time for parliamentary consideration will be extended to 90 days.

Some people welcomed the NPF’s enhanced status, but more concern was expressed about it becoming part of local development plans. Some questioned whether that would represent greater central control over local democracy and asked whether, if the NPF is to become a stronger national vision that lasts for 10 years, the Parliament should have a greater scrutiny and approval role.

The committee welcomed the stronger role for the NPF, but we recommended coupling that to greater parliamentary scrutiny. We are therefore disappointed that the minister did not support the committee’s call for a longer time for parliamentary scrutiny than the bill proposes. A period of 90 days does not provide for a lot of parliamentary scrutiny, given that people might not see the draft NPF until it is laid before Parliament for consideration.

What would 90 days mean? It could mean four weeks to consult wider stakeholders; one week to notify witnesses that we would like them to come to our committee; three weeks to take evidence; two weeks to draft a report; three weeks for the committee to deliberate on its report; and the holding of a debate in the chamber. That is a lot to pack into 90 days. Given that and the fact that the NPF will be decided on only once a decade, I urge the minister to reconsider his decision.

The Scottish Government did not accept our recommendation of parliamentary amendment and approval of the final NPF; instead, it distinguished between legislation, which is open to amendment, and the NPF, which is a policy document. The Government said that allowing amendments would add time and complexity to the process and that it has a track record of amending the NPF as a result of parliamentary scrutiny. Committee members and I will listen with interest to the wider Parliament’s views on the parliamentary process for the NPF. However, we welcome the Government’s commitment to provide more supporting information, including impact assessments, once the draft NPF is laid before Parliament.

The bill introduces local place plans, which are intended to empower communities to become involved in designing their local places. We welcome the statutory role for communities and the minister’s proposed amendment to require planning authorities to take account of the plans. I welcome the Scottish Government’s response that councils will have to be clear about how the plans

“have been taken into account”

and that that will

“be considered in examination as appropriate.”

I also welcome the consideration of further amendments to bring further clarity. I say “I”, rather than “the committee”, because the committee has not had a chance to consider the Government’s stage 1 response. However, I am absolutely sure that my fellow committee members will want much more clarity.

The Scottish Government argued that the funding to develop local place plans was a wider responsibility outwith planning, spoke of signposting to funds, outlined what it would consider to be additional support and said that it would consider further how any additional support may be directed towards disadvantaged communities. Our committee wishes to follow very carefully how, or to what extent, that support is directed to disadvantaged communities.

Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

The committee report draws attention to the frustrations that communities feel about not having some equality of process in the system. Will Bob Doris outline his view and the committee’s conclusions on an equal right or third-party right of appeal? The paragraph on that is short and I was not too clear what the committee was saying on that.

Bob Doris

It will not surprise the member that I will make reference to equal right of appeal when I get to that part of my speech. I can certainly give my own thinking, but I am here to speak on behalf of the committee, not for myself personally. That is an important principle in the stage 1 debate.

On local place plans, we also remain to be persuaded that there is adequate funding and resource available to support communities, particularly disadvantaged communities that stand to gain most from such plans. I urge the minister to consider specific funding to support local place plans, rather than spreading existing community empowerment funding even more widely.

Simplified development zones would be similar to the current simplified planning zones, but the types of permission that are automatically deemed for such zones would be extended to a limit of 10 years. The committee believes that such zones could potentially make a positive contribution to placemaking or delivering infrastructure. Rather than seeing them as representing a sea change in purposeful development, we describe them as a

“discretionary tool in the tool box”.

However, we recommend that only the Scottish Government and planning authorities should have a statutory right to bring forward simplified development zone proposals, although others could put forward suggestions for proposals.

It is disappointing that the Scottish Government is not able to support our recommendation in that area. The Scottish Government’s response seems to equate the matter to limiting the ability of an applicant to submit a planning application. That is not how I view such matters. Any simplified development zone must surely have the strong buy-in of either the local authority or the national Government, and preferably both. I note that the Scottish Government believes that such provisions have not been widely understood, and I acknowledge the minister’s proposal for a name change from simplified development zones and a rebranding to better reflect their purpose. I am sure that our committee will await that further clarity with great interest.

Another issue was the equal right of appeal, which is not actually in the Planning (Scotland) Bill. Let me begin by making specific reference to developer right of appeal. The committee believes that in a plan-led system, such appeals should be allowed only in certain circumstances. We are disappointed that the Scottish Government has not sought to progress that proposal. However, I note that in part 3 of the bill, entitled “Development Management”, in relation to which our committee recommends limiting or deterring repeat applications, local authorities have the power to decline to determine such applications in certain circumstances. We welcome that the Scottish Government has agreed to reconsider that particular issue.

In relation to equal right of appeal more generally, the evidence that we heard largely replicated the long-standing debate on the matter. For example, would an equal right of appeal encourage more meaningful engagement with communities or would it reduce early engagement? Would equal right of appeal deter investment and slow development or is it an important element to rebalancing a plan-led system? The arguments did not change. What is clear to us is that many communities feel frustrated with the current planning system. Our report does not support equal right of appeal, but neither does it seek to close the door on it. Rather, we cast the issue in a wider context and say that planning authorities and developers should engage earlier and more meaningfully with communities in the planning process.

Our committee was not persuaded that the bill improved enough on previous attempts to front load the planning system, and we were not convinced that the proposals in the bill go far enough to address that. We want people to feel involved at all stages in the planning system, and we urge the Scottish Government to look at those issues before stage 2.

Mike Rumbles

On local place plans, the bill states:

“A community body may prepare a local place plan.”

Which community body? What about competing community bodies? What about the conflict that is inherent in different communities? Did the committee look at that issue in detail?

Bob Doris

Yes. The committee looked at that issue in some detail. Just because a body has an interest does not mean that it is a wider community interest. There has to be much more clarity on how we ensure that a community body is truly representative, and we hope that we will get some clarity on that at stage 2. Mike Rumbles makes a very reasonable point. We heard very similar points on equal right of appeal, in relation to ensuring that certain interests are reflective of wider community interests. That is a common theme that runs through the bill.

The Scottish Government has now responded to our stage 1 report, ahead of stage 2, including proposing potential amendments. It is for each individual member—not only in our committee but across the wider Parliament—to decide whether those amendments go far enough, or whether the Government needs to be pushed further.

The committee did not take a position on equal right of appeal because no committee position would hang together on that issue. However, the position on which we hang together is that, if equal right of appeal does not proceed, there needs to be much more and earlier meaningful engagement with communities, as well as co-production of what local development plans look like, with capacity building to make sure that local place plans transform a granular approach to local development planning across the country.

I do not want to abuse my position as committee convener. I will certainly make sure that my voice is known on the issue of equal right of appeal. I say that, for Pauline McNeill’s information, I am not persuaded by the arguments for an equal right of appeal. Other committee members have different views for their own strong and carefully thought-out reasons, which I respect.

That is where we are as a committee on the issue. We are clear that we need to get community engagement right by making sure that it happens early and is front loaded.

I thank Parliament for listening to this consideration of our stage 1 report. I look forward to the debate.

14:50  
Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

Planning is an area that politicians tend to steer clear of on the basis that, whatever they say, they are bound to upset somebody. My view has always been different on the basis that I have a thick skin. I have entered the process that we are in with views shaped by 10 years—some of them bruising—as a councillor, and a main conclusion that I have drawn from that time is that planning is often about who has power, who knows who has power and how that power is used. It is often about money and who stands to gain from what, whereas it should be, but often is not, about making great places that people like and involving people in the process of shaping their areas.

When I first read the bill—it is a difficult read, as the Law Society of Scotland points out—I thought that it was very centralising. My initial impression was right. There are an almost unprecedented 46 delegated powers flowing to ministers; therefore, the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee, which is the committee that I convene, was right to make a series of recommendations that would put in place checks and balances. Parliament should agree that that is necessary.

It is a centralising bill all right. In committee, when I asked the minister to name a section of the bill under which powers would not flow to him, he could not do so.

Kevin Stewart

Let us look at some of the provisions in the bill, and Mr Simpson can tell me whether he considers them to be centralising. More decisions will be sent to local review bodies rather than elsewhere; there will be stronger alignment between spatial and community planning; there will be co-production of the national planning framework; local authorities will have more discretion on fees; and local place plans will be introduced. Are those centralising measures, or will those measures give power back to the people?

Graham Simpson

I am afraid that, as Mr Stewart will find out, section after section of the bill will see powers flow to him. I smell a rat when I see ministers trying to grab more powers than they need. The bill is a power grab.

Too often, planning is about vested interests, decisions leave a nasty smell and we are left to think that something is not right. Those decisions could be for or against development. Funny things sometimes happen when a lot of money is at stake, and we would not want a system in which there was no right of appeal for anyone; we need checks and balances. Similarly, if a council refuses to meet housing targets, it must be right that it can be challenged.

What is the purpose of the bill? No one knows. If it is to deliver more housing, there is nothing in it that would deliver houses in any great numbers. If it is about protecting the environment, our green spaces and our precious wild land or about conserving our buildings, that is not obvious. It could be about all those things. We consider that the purpose should be set out in the bill, and we will lodge an amendment to that end.

The Local Government and Communities Committee produced a report, which was agreed by all its members, that was, frankly, damning. It was also widely praised. It contained important recommendations with which we agree, the first of which was on setting out the purpose of planning. As I have mentioned that issue, I will talk about some of the other recommendations.

The national planning framework sets out ministers’ land use strategy and will include the Scottish planning policy. It will become a more powerful document than before. Local development plans, which will be signed off by the minister, will have to align to the NPF, which will also be signed off by the minister. All roads lead to Edinburgh: it is all about power. The NPF will become such a powerful document that the committee thinks there should be a mechanism allowing Parliament to amend it before agreeing to it. All parliamentarians should agree with that. However, in an almost entirely negative response to the committee’s report, Kevin Stewart did not agree. It is all about power, and he wants it all.

Kevin Stewart

If Mr Simpson had paid more attention to the bill, he would recognise that the national planning framework will have been prepared collaboratively and transparently and that Parliament will have seen the draft that has been previously consulted on before the NPF becomes the proposed version and is submitted to Parliament. Parliament will then have 90 days to look at the national planning framework document, which is 30 days more than it currently has. Those are changes for the better.

Graham Simpson

That was supposed to be an intervention, not a speech. Mr Stewart is not prepared to allow Parliament to amend that document, although it will be much more powerful than it was before. As the convener of the committee has said, 90 days is not long enough.

I will go on to strategic development plans. The committee heard no strong evidence that getting rid of the regional partnerships is necessary. In fact, as we have seen with city and growth deals, the way to deliver strong growth is through regional working. The committee said that things should be left as they are unless something more robust is suggested, and nothing has been suggested. The minister responded to the committee:

“we maintain that strategic planning matters across Scotland could be set out collectively in the National Planning Framework.”

That is the document that he does not want any of us to have a say over.

Local development plans are where a council sets out its proposals for its area, and they will now cover 10 years rather than five, although they could be reviewed in between, which is fair enough. Councils will have to show in an evidence report how they have engaged with communities, but it is far from clear exactly what they are meant to do. The Government says that it will lodge amendments to make things clearer; we will do likewise, just in case. Local development plans will have to be approved by the minister, although, in its technical paper, the Government says that there could be some flexibility to allow plans to reflect local policy. That is good of it.

Local place plans sound like a good idea until we scratch the surface and the gloss comes off as quickly as a coat of paint with no primer. Communities can produce plans for their areas that councils should “have regard to”, which means they could have regard to them and then quickly disregard them. Even the alternative wording, whereby councils must “take account of” those plans, is little better. The worry is that people could spend a lot of time and money producing plans for their area that go nowhere. That is why the committee said that the onus should be on councils to produce the plans in conjunction with their communities.

Mike Rumbles

I agree with much of what Mr Simpson has said. On local place plans, the bill says:

“A community body may prepare a local place plan.”

Is that not a recipe for conflict? Several different community bodies in an area could produce different plans.

Graham Simpson

The convener has addressed that point. The committee took evidence on that point, and that is why we think that the onus should be on councils initially to prepare the plans. However, the Government calls that approach “overly formalised”, perhaps because it would actually work.

There is a deeply worrying section on performance, councillors and training, which contains probably the most draconian of all the measures that are proposed. The Government wants to appoint a planning performance co-ordinator who will snitch on councils if they are not up to scratch, and ministers could order councils to change their ways. What constitutes poor performance is not defined, which leaves the way open for the whole process to become very political. For example, what if a council refuses to grant consent for any more wind farms in its area? It may have good reason to do so, but the Government could define that as underperforming. It is dangerous.

In any case, as we heard from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, councils have been working closely with the Government voluntarily and things have been getting better. The committee therefore called for that section of the bill to be dropped, and we agree with it. Not surprisingly, the Government disagrees. It is all about power.

Kevin Stewart

Will Graham Simpson give way?

Graham Simpson

No.

The Government also wants councillors to be compelled to train and to pass an exam before being allowed to take planning decisions. The minister is not prepared to do the same—he is not prepared to do the training—but he does not see the hypocrisy in that. The committee thinks that that rather barmy idea should be dropped, and we agree.

The bill contains an enabling power to create an infrastructure levy, but the Government has no idea how it would work. The bill does not address the wider issue of funding infrastructure, which is one of the main barriers to development, although it should. We will introduce ideas on land value capture, for example, and we are happy to work with other parties and the Government to do that.

Simplified development zones, which are apparently to be rebadged as masterplan consent areas—I think that they will be going back to the drawing board on that one—are a good idea and could speed things up. However, we want to see an amendment that says where they cannot be set up.

There is little in the bill that we like. It pleases no one other than the Scottish Government. House builders say that it does not deliver for them. Environmentalists say that it does not deliver for them. Communities are unimpressed. It is centralising. It is all about the minister.

Before I close, I should say something about appeals. I have explained why I think they should exist. The committee was very clear that communities should be involved at all stages of planning and asked the Government to think again, but the Government instantly rejected that plea. The fact is that people feel that planning is something that is done to them, not with them. We need to change that perception, and we should stop branding anyone who wants a greater say over what happens in their area as a nimby. We will introduce ideas on how best to involve everyone in the process.

We would vote against the bill at stage 1, but we have an opportunity to rip the bill apart and produce a planning act that delivers, so we will back the bill at this stage.

Moving forward, I extend an olive branch to the Government. If it will work with others, we can get a planning system that we can all be happy with. Planning should work for everyone. It should reject vested interests. We want a planning system that is for the people and with the people—a planning system for all. We want a planning system that is not a power grab but that delivers a better Scotland for everyone.

The Presiding Officer

Before I call Monica Lennon to open for Labour, I clarify that the Conservatives asked in advance whether they could reduce their number of speakers in the debate and give additional time to the opening speaker, which I agreed to—hence the longer speech from Mr Simpson. Everybody else has exactly the same time as usual. Having said that, there is plenty of time to take interventions, and members should feel free to take advantage of that.

15:02  
Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

I refer to my entry in the register of members’ interests and advise Parliament that I am a member of the Royal Town Planning Institute.

Although I am the deputy convener of the Local Government and Communities Committee, I am speaking today on behalf of Scottish Labour. It would be remiss of me, however, not to begin by thanking my committee colleagues, the clerks and everyone who took part in our stage 1 evidence gathering. The committee’s thoughtful and robust recommendations will help to inform today’s debate. I also thank everyone who sent us a briefing for the debate today.

The creation of the planning system was born of a vision for a healthier and more equal society. Without planning, there would be chaos in our communities. Our built and natural environments have benefited from planning, but some decisions that have been made in the past have embedded inequalities in our communities.

There is much to celebrate about planning, but there is room for improvement. People used to ask me where I worked, and when I said that I was a planner, they immediately thought of the person who came round to inspect their neighbour’s conservatory. Planning is often portrayed as bureaucratic and a bit dry, but planning is fundamental to every aspect of life—homes, jobs, health and wellbeing, transport, and climate justice.

Alex Cole-Hamilton

Monica Lennon is right that planning impacts on so many areas other than the built environment. Does she share my concern that the bill is happening in isolation from the review of transport and the forthcoming legislation that will come out of it?

Monica Lennon

Alex Cole-Hamilton is right on the broader point that we cannot look at planning policy and strategies in isolation. The committee tried to press that point during our evidence sessions, because planning determines our connections to the wider world. Where we live can determine how happy we are, how much we earn and how long we might live.

Planning can also be exciting. We were really impressed by some of the representations that were not about trying to stop things or contain development, but about celebrating the culture in our communities—the “agent of change” principle, about which people had not really heard—and how we protect grass-roots music venues, for example. I know that the minister has made some commitments on that front, which will please the Music Venue Trust and others, but those are the kinds of things that we could embed in the bill in order to give people certainty and ensure that we protect our most important assets.

Lewis Macdonald (North East Scotland) (Lab)

I have seen the minister’s response to the committee’s recommendation. Does Monica Lennon share my disappointment that the minister has not yet been persuaded of the case for including the “agent of change” principle in legislation and in the bill? The point that the Music Venue Trust put to the committee was that although guidance and policy are welcome, they are not binding in a court of law in the way that statutory provision is.

Monica Lennon

I agree with Lewis Macdonald. From reading about what is going to happen in England’s planning system, I think that people there are more persuaded to put that principle into legislation. There is still time for the minister to consider that; we can share the article that the committee looked at.

We need to get better at explaining why we plan and for whom we are planning. During the committee’s scrutiny of the bill, it troubled me greatly that many people feel disconnected from decisions that affect them. Planning decisions have an impact not just for the days and weeks immediately ahead, but for the long-term future. The Planning (Scotland) Bill follows from the Planning (Scotland) Act 2006, which amended the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997, and we were promised planning modernisation.

The most striking feature of the system in recent years is that investment in planning has fallen off a cliff. RTPI Scotland has described the situation as a “crisis of resourcing”; for example, planning authorities have axed almost a quarter of their staff since 2009. Less than half of 1 per cent of local authority budgets is spent on planning. Other specialists who support planners in their work, including environmental health officers, landscape architects, roads engineers and many more, have also been cut.

Doing planning on the cheap is not in anyone’s interests. Despite positive rhetoric from the Scottish Government, I am disappointed by the content of the bill, as it stands. As we have heard, a lack of clear purpose has led to content that is often problematic and is at times contradictory. For example, the bill includes the following: the removal of strategic development planning, while stating a desire for it to continue voluntarily; simplification of local development plans while removing statutory supplementary guidance; a centralising tendency throughout, which will award ministers with power over designation of simplified development zones, for example; and half-baked plans for an infrastructure levy.

Kevin Stewart

Simplified development zones do not give ministers powers; the bill gives local authorities powers to establish them, too. On resourcing, although I would like to see local authorities invest in their planning and building standards departments, as Glasgow City Council has done in its recent budgets, not all local authorities have chosen to do that with the additional fee money. Does Ms Lennon believe that those funds should be ring fenced, or does she think that local authorities should have the independence to choose where to spend the money that they raise?

Monica Lennon

What local government needs is enough money to provide core services for communities. The Scottish Parliament information centre briefing that came out last week shows that under the current Government, austerity has quadrupled for local government.

There is an argument for full cost recovery. At the moment—indeed, for a long time—developers have said that they are willing to pay more for a service if standards increase. However, what we have seen since 2009 is not just a lack of money in planning authorities, because when an organisation loses a quarter of its staff, an awful lot of experience, skills and knowledge about the community also go, and it is really hard to replace them overnight. That is deeply concerning, notwithstanding any provisions in the bill.

Kevin Stewart

Although Ms Lennon is right to say that folk are willing to pay for the system, they also want to see the level of performance rise in authorities. That is not just about timescales. Does she think that the performance sections that are in the bill, which many communities and stakeholder groups across Scotland want, should be in the bill?

Monica Lennon

Everyone wants a high-performance planning system, but the bill does not widen out the definition of performance. It is not just about making decisions quickly and cracking on with things; it is about making sure that we make the right decisions and get the right quality of development for our communities.

I wish I had more time, so that I could respond more fully.

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

You have time. Just keep going and I will let you know when you have run out.

Monica Lennon

I am only about halfway through my speech, but I will move on because the points are related.

Planners who work in the public sector work very hard, as they do elsewhere. However, in its written evidence, Unison said that

“Delays in the system are caused by severe cuts to planning budgets”

and it talks about how staff are under severe pressure and highly stressed. That does not really paint a good picture. Unison repeats the point about planning needing resources and not simply needing reorganisation.

The Law Society of Scotland said that

“the Bill is difficult to follow”,

which does not sit well with the approach of trying to make planning more inclusive and easier for people to engage with.

Fundamentally, one of the most obvious flaws of the proposed legislation is that it lacks definition. On the most basic level, how can we reform the system to improve it if there is no clear stated purpose for planning from which to work? Having a stated purpose for planning is supported by a wide range of stakeholders, and after listening carefully to the evidence, the committee recommended that a purpose should be included in the bill.

As Professor Cliff Hague explained in his oral evidence to the committee:

“What is the alternative to having a purpose? There are presumably two possibilities. One is that there is no purpose, in which case why are we doing it? The other is that there is a purpose but we are not prepared to say what it is, and that is not a great piece of administration.”—[Official Report, Local Government and Communities Committee, 7 March 2018; c 49.]

On Friday, the Scottish Government responded positively to that recommendation. Many of us look forward to progressing discussions on a purpose for the planning system at stage 2.

The approach that we take to the planning system should be a rights-based approach that acts to manage land use in the long-term public interest. The committee reflected—I agree—that the purpose of planning should reflect Scotland’s international obligations, including the United Nations sustainable development goals. The planning system is central to delivery of our commitments on human rights and achieving a fairer society, and the principle of equality should be embedded throughout the planning process.

It is therefore deeply disappointing that we heard evidence from Engender that the equalities impact assessment for the bill was “exceptionally bad” on gender. That is not a good report card.

Although the bill is silent on appeals, the evidence that the committee heard confirmed that the status quo is clearly not working for our communities. Previous attempts to front load the system and to improve community engagement at the beginning of the process have not been successful. I agree that we need to strengthen the plan-led system. However, if we are to do that, it is necessary to equalise appeal rights. That would afford communities a limited right of appeal for situations in which an application that is not in accordance with the development plan is approved, while setting a threshold on the appeal rights of applicants when development that is in accordance with the plan ends up being refused, which Labour believes is not fair. That should deter speculative applications and allow resources to focus all minds on proposals that are consistent with the development plan.

In a strong plan-led system, in which a collaborative culture is valued, there should be a limited need for appeals. We should be getting the right decisions first time around. Planners are more than capable of assessing whether something is in contravention of the development plan, and they used to have report to Government on that basis.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Can you begin to wind up please?

Monica Lennon

Any measures for an enhanced role for the national planning framework should go hand-in-hand with increased parliamentary scrutiny.

In many ways, the bill has been a missed opportunity. At this stage, Scottish Labour will support the general principles, but we are clear that the bill will require significant amendments at stage 2 to make it fit for purpose. We will engage constructively. We want to see a planning system that works for the many and not the few.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I call Andy Wightman—I will be generous with you as well, Mr Wightman.

15:14  
Andy Wightman (Lothian) (Green)

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

As Monica Lennon did, I thank fellow committee members, clerks and the many individuals and organisations who submitted oral and written evidence to the committee, as well as those who provided briefings for today’s debate.

As Graham Simpson pointed out and as the minister said in evidence to the committee, planning is a topic that too frequently is regarded as dull, technical and bureaucratic. That is perhaps because the process is indeed complex, and the legislation even more so. The bill amends the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 and, as it stands, it is virtually impossible for the public to understand what it means. I understand that the minister is anxious that the public should be more engaged in the planning system, and particularly in the process of making plans; I agree with him, but whether the bill will achieve that is an open question. Indeed, I find it hard to discern with any clarity what the general principles of the bill even are.

I believe that we need to shift the focus of Scottish planning towards a system that places the plan more firmly at the centre of the process, thereby reducing discretion to have regard to other material considerations; making compliance with the plan the determinant of who, if anyone, is allowed an appeal on the merits of a decision; empowering communities and planning authorities to create broadly supportive plans; capturing for public benefit the windfall gains to landowners; and strengthening professional input to the process by properly resourcing the planning system.

I will reflect briefly on some of the key elements of the bill. On the purpose of planning, which has been mentioned, I am pleased that there is broad agreement that the bill should, for the first time since 1947, enshrine in statute the purpose of planning. I know that the minister is a big fan of the 1952 Aberdeen city plan. Tom Johnston, the former Secretary of State for Scotland, wrote the foreword to that plan, which he opened by observing:

“The alternative to planning is no planning: it is chaos and waste”.

Indeed. The purpose of planning is, at the very least, to prevent chaos and waste; more positively, it is to promote the allocation of land in the public interest for the common good.

Kevin Stewart

I had no intention of mentioning the Aberdeen local plan of 1952, but Mr Wightman has enticed me into it. In that same foreword, Mr Johnston also said—I paraphrase here—that it would be a great plan if delivered, and the only thing that would stop delivery would be the red weevils of bureaucracy. Does Mr Wightman agree that the bill will lead to simplification and will get rid of some of the red weevils of bureaucracy and make it easier for people to understand the process?

Andy Wightman

The red weevils of bureaucracy are indeed a problem in the planning system, although I am not convinced that the bill will deal with that. We can have an on-going discussion about those red weevils and other insects as we proceed.

The bill also makes significant changes to the national planning framework. As others have said, it incorporates Scottish planning policy into the national planning framework and it incorporates the national planning framework, together with local development, into the development plan for a planning authority area. That is a very significant change.

The committee believes that, given the enhanced status of the national planning framework, it should be subject to parliamentary approval, to mirror the democratic approval given to local development plans. It is disappointing that the minister disagrees, arguing:

“The National Planning Framework is not legislation, it is policy.”

Indeed, he said in his opening remarks that the national planning framework is

“an expression of Government policy.”

However, if it is true that it is merely an expression of policy, it should not form part of a development plan, because the development plan is about plans.

Elsewhere, strategic development plans are to be abolished. Again, the committee disagrees, unless a more robust alternative is created. In particular, it is inappropriate to incorporate strategic planning in a national planning framework because, in my view, that undermines the role of existing planning authorities. Local place plans are another element of the bill that causes concern. In principle, they are a great idea but, without an enhanced status in development planning, they risk raising expectations and frustrating communities.

Over the past few decades, the private developer, rather than the public authority, has become the prime mover in the planning process and, as a result, public trust has been eroded. Powerful private interests and money have corrupted the public interest, which was embodied in the original 1947 act. The bill is an opportunity to turn things round.

One of the problems is that British planning is a highly permissive system, with a wide latitude to depart from the plan where material considerations can be invoked. As Dr Andy Inch from Planning Democracy said in oral evidence, the planning system

“is adversarial because of the discretion that exists at the end of the process, which, by and large, means that speculative development applications are put forward and people react to them.”—[Official Report, Local Government and Communities Committee, 28 February 2018; c 46.]

So long as applicants can appeal decisions that they do not like, confidence in a plan-led system is undermined. An ambition for up-front planning has to be matched by the integrity of the plan. In such a scenario, no appeals should be allowed at all, and a properly considered determination should stand as a final word. That is why, in my view, the bill must be amended to reform the current appeals system. As the architect Malcolm Fraser noted in oral evidence:

“The simple solution is to allow nobody to appeal.”—[Official Report, Local Government and Communities Committee, 7 March 2018; c 76.]

The continuing resistance of ministers to acknowledge that issue is dispiriting.

Six minutes is not sufficient to set out the Greens’ views on the bill. Suffice to say that there is work to be done. That is why I have launched a consultation on reinstating provisions to allow public authorities to acquire land at existing use value, and we will be launching further consultations on improving tree protection and on reducing ministerial discretion by putting material considerations and ministerial call-in powers on a new statutory footing.

Many people submitted evidence to Parliament arguing that the bill should be bold and transformative. The bill fails to achieve or deliver any of those aspirations. It concentrates further power in the hands of ministers, pays lip service to genuine public engagement and removes valuable strategic planning powers.

Greens believe that planning can and must be a force for good for delivering high-quality environments, reducing inequalities and promoting the public interest in the use of land. To that end, substantial amendment is required. If the bill before us was the final bill, we would be voting against it tonight. However, it can be improved, so we will vote to keep it in play.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I remind members that I can be a bit generous with time. That applies even to you, Mr Cole-Hamilton.

15:21  
Alex Cole-Hamilton (Edinburgh Western) (LD)

I am truly honoured by your latitude, Presiding Officer. Thank you very much.

I do not sit on the Local Government and Communities Committee, but I am sighted on the bill and I have some thanks to give to my Opposition counterparts who have walked me through the earlier foothills of the process. I would also like to extend my thanks to the many Lib Dem council groups that have offered opinions in our consultation on what to do on the bill, but I think that we shall stand alone tonight in our opposition to the fundamental principles behind the legislation. That is because, as Liberals, we could never endorse or accept a precept that suggests that ministers or civil servants in Edinburgh who have charge of a much strengthened national planning framework are better placed to understand the needs and aspirations of our local communities than are elected councillors.

The bill relegates local authorities to being consultees, in the main, and it gives priority to the grand designs and unfettered powers of the minister, given the powers that will be conferred on Scottish ministers as a result of the legislation. We are often told in the Parliament that we get a piece of planning legislation, or a planning bill, every 10 years. This bill is something of a disappointment, and we have heard eloquent speeches across the chamber about the deficiencies that can be found in its pages.

It is a bill born of a review, and although I make no judgment on the qualities of the people who undertook that review, it was established with no real objectives, it had no planners among its panel, and it had very ambitious timescales, which forced it to leave out a critical analysis of key issues that should have affected it. I am thinking of the profile of the housing market as it has been in Scotland since 2008, for example, and the significant infrastructure problems that we see in developments that have already been given consent, particularly around transport.

I want to focus on transport. Given that we have an on-going transport review and that legislation will ultimately come from it, I find it astonishing that there should be such a profound dislocation between that process and this one. In my constituency of Edinburgh Western, we have suffered a proliferation of housing development by increment over the past 20 years, and there has been a failure to recognise that those developments are astride two of the most polluted, and most congested, arterial routes into Edinburgh.

It is in the centralisation of the process in the national planning framework that we have the most problems. There is a lack of clarity around that and although I am grateful to the minister for giving some clarity on the NPF, it is not the clarity that I was looking for. He talks about co-production, but it seems that Parliament will be shown the national planning framework and given 90 days to consider it, but will have no power whatsoever to amend it. That is an unfettered power that we cannot accept. It relegates local authorities and their local development plans to the level of delivery tool. The approach fundamentally undermines autonomy and accountability.

I understand that the Scottish National Party Administration might like the SNP administration in the City of Edinburgh Council to duck the blame for the monstrous betrayal of trust in places such as South Queensferry, with the South Scotstoun development, and Cammo, where the Cammo estate is zoned for planning. The Edinburgh SNP has paid no heed to the impact of such development on doctors’ surgeries and road infrastructure and has betrayed the people who sent it to form the council administration. It wants to say, “Don’t blame us. Blame the civil service and the Scottish ministers. We are just delivering their plans.” Well, I am not having it.

I will talk about some of the specifics of the bill. Althou