THE PLANNING REFORM CONTEXT
Immediate Past Convener, The
at Lothian Chambers,
In this short contribution I’ll try to set out some of the context of planning reform in Scotland, and in particular to look at the idea of proportionate attention -the idea of dealing with different scales of development in different ways.
It was 50 years ago, when I was 13 or 14, that I
decided here in
Planning in those days –in theory anyway- presented the same face to all comers. All development plans followed the same procedures. Highly expensive sledgehammers were being used to crack nuts. Wouldn’t it be sensible (the government of the day was advised) to have different scales of plan. Then the big strategic plan could deal with the big strategic issues and the little local plan could cope with all those much less significant yet time-consuming details. Wait, that sounds too good for just planning: why not make two grades of local authority as well? Then each could deal with issues appropriately at its own level.
Since then our planning system has moved forward in a series of modernisations. Each one seemed right for the spirit of the times. Each one failed to fulfil its promise and was later to be swept onwards in more calls for change. There was plenty of good work by developers, district councils, regional councils and new Town Development Corporations. But to some extent the problem was always one of culture –lack of the right attitudes, the right resources, the right political will, the right constructive spirit- rather than the letter of the law and the regulations, in spite progressive regulatory tweaking over the years.
To look at the context of the reforms we’re going
through today, let’s step back 10 years to January
1999, to the Consultation on Land Use Planning under a Scottish
Parliament. Devolution was on its way. A
consultancy team led by Richard Slipper, Ann Faulds
and Sarah Boyack had just submitted a major report on
Development Planning the year before.
The new Scottish Office Planning Audit Unit had published its first
report on development control in local authorities. The Planning Minister Calum
Macdonald introduced a consultation on possible change with the words “The
essential role of the planning system is to regulate and control the
development and use of land in the public interest.” It was a very downbeat
perspective. He referred to “criticism
not so much about the fundamentals of the system, but about the way the system
is being operated.” He talked about slowness and negativity getting in the
way of business competitiveness. He mentioned criticism from others that
planning didn’t seem to be putting the environment at the heart of its policies
to safeguard communities from harmful developments. And the document set out
Secretary of State Dewar’s determination to combat
social exclusion and promote
“Land Use Planning under a Scottish Parliament” on the Scope of Planning
32. The Government take the view that the focus of statutory development plans and development control is and must remain the use and development of land. However, in the interests of promoting sustainable development, planning must take into account economic, social and environmental priorities, as well as provide an effective and enduring framework for decisions on the location of new developments and priorities for land use change, redevelopment and regeneration. Planning may need to be given more emphasis within the priorities for both national and local government if the co-ordination that is needed to take such factors properly into account is to be effectively undertaken.
The results of the consultation were published towards the end of 1999 by the new Scottish Executive, and introduced by Sarah Boyack as the new Planning Minister. The main conclusion, that with some tweaking, the system was mainly fit for purpose was later castigated in some quarters as a missed opportunity for reform (for example by Philip Allmendinger writing in in 2002).
By then –as the Parliament and Executive began to stretch their sinews, reform in the air again and a Review of Stategic Planning in Scotland had begun consultation in June 2001. Now was the time when the National Planning Framework started to take positive shape – it was a concept which many found attractive and indeed necessary and 80% of respondents favoured it. The case for more supplementary planning guidance –over and above statutory development plans was made –and accepted. Consultation on public involvement in Planning also began in 2001. New communications began to revolutionise access to planning information and the e-planning agenda began to take shape. From the welter of comments made on all these consultations and initiatives, Priority and proportionality emerge as characteristics the planning system is thought to lack.
And from this point on a kind of separation begins to develop, culminating in the hierarchy diagram of national major local and minor developments introduced in the 2005 White Paper, Modernising the Planning System.
Government’s understandable concern is to see national priorities dealt with quickly, and major developments prioritised. And there are many good things in encouraging public bodies to prioritise their resources and responses and take a much more strategic and proportionate view of their relationship to planning.
What is less evident perhaps is a concern for the
wellness of the system as a whole, since the day to day operation of planning
is properly seen as a local responsibility.
The trouble is that bad local planning decisions cannot always be
answered through the ballot box because administrative units here in
Reforms often start in one context, and end when the world is very different. They often begin with the aim of simplification, and end with more complexity. They often aim for more speed, but end up with causing a temporary standstill. Reforms often start by assuming that big things are more important than small ones, and yet the devil is in the detail. Attention to detail is often the means to a greater good. The point I am making is not that reform is bad or dangerous, just that like all surgery it needs intensive post-operative care. Once the carnival of modernisation has passed, there is tidying up to be done. It remains as true today as it was in 1999 that - to be effective - planning may need to be given proper emphasis, proper attention, in the priorities for both national and local government.
Roger Kelly: convener’s message: