Proposed changes to Scotland’s planning system could hamper green recovery

Press Release

Proposed changes to Scotland’s planning system could hamper a green recovery, Scottish Land & Estates (SLE), the organisation which represents landowners and businesses, has warned today.

The proposals by the Scottish Government in their ‘Scottish Planning Policy and Housing: Proposed Policy Amendments’ consultation could see the removal of the ‘presumption of sustainable development’ which allows for flexibility in the current planning system.

Currently, if there is a shortfall of effective housing land supply in a local development plan, developers can make applications on the basis that their proposals will help make up that shortfall. That proposal can then be considered as sustainable development and be looked at favourably when planning permission is considered. The presumption can also be used by other types of developments that have not been considered by the local development plan, for example, a new renewable energy type or a space port.

Gavin Mowat, Policy Adviser at Scottish Land & Estates, said: “Since lockdown began, developers are reporting increased demand for properties with gardens and space to work from home. It is likely that existing local development plans which are fast becoming outdated, will not have identified suitable unconstrained land where such homes could be built. The planning system needs to retain flexibility to meet this new demand. The presumption of sustainable development should remain at the forefront of the plan making process.

“Removing this pillar of the Scottish planning system has not been appropriately justified and could have severe unintended consequences including impacting the green recovery as development plans lose their flexibility to incorporate new renewable technologies in the fight against climate change.

“Now is not the time to be considering such a fundamental change in the way housing development is considered, particularly in rural areas, even in the short term. If Ministers are concerned with LDP cycles ending without being renewed during the Covid pandemic, we suggest using emergency coronavirus legislation to extend their lifecycle while retaining the presumption would be a better approach.”

In their consultation response, SLE also says that any confusion about the ‘presumption of sustainable development’ in Scottish planning policy is generally borne from a lack of understanding of the discretionary planning system in Scotland. SLE believes that allowing housing development to fulfill demand where effective housing land supply has failed to deliver, is a reasonable and legitimate way to achieve sustainable growth in communities. Any application which relies on this material consideration is still required to obtain planning consent through a considered process. To argue that it undermines transparency is wrongheaded.

You can read SLE’s full consultation response here.