sketch plan view of urban masterplan

So… what are Masterplans?

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sketch plan view of urban masterplan

I’ve learnt lots about planning over the past few years but masterplans are one thing I’ve just never got my head around. They are clearly very influential – one local to me, the Caltongate masterplan in Edinburgh, has been recently revived after the last developer went bankrupt.

But what are they? What sort of rights do people have to be involved in deciding what goes into one (or even if we need one)? And what sort of standing do masterplans have in law and in determining future development? I decided to force myself to sit in the local library and find out.

What I discovered is that masterplan is basically jargon for ‘supplementary guidance’, which is a document adopted by the local authority that gives more detail to an issue identified in the local or strategic development plans (SDP/LDP).

This document can cover just about anything related to land and development – like detailed plans for development of small areas, guidance on the location of developments like wind farms or detailed policies on the design of new development.

What role does supplementary guidance play in determining applications?

Firstly, a reminder that planning applications are decided “in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise” (Scottish Planning Policy). This means that developments that fit the development plan are very likely to be approved.

Before 2009, supplementary guidance was a material consideration; now however, supplementary guidance has been promoted to form part of the ‘development plan’.

In other words, supplementary guidance has the same standing as the SDP or LDP when it comes to the planning authority determining planning applications. It therefore plays a very key role.

There is a small complexity… supplementary guidance is part of the ‘development plan’ as long as the principle of the development is already established in the SDP/LDP and the subject of the guidance is specifically referred to there as “matters which are to be dealt with in supplementary guidance” (Regulation 27). Local Authorities can still produce supplementary guidance that is not specifically referenced in the LDP/SDP but its standing will be different – it will considered a material consideration (probably a very influential one if recently adopted) and is referred to as non-statutory guidance.

Old Masterplans

What about old supplementary guidance adopted before 2009? This will remain a material consideration. However if an old masterplan is specifically linked to from a newly published LDP/SDP its standing will likely be promoted to ‘development plan’ status. I expect this would follow a brief update and consultation.

What sort of rights do citizens have to influence supplementary guidance?

The Planning Act requires for planning authorities to ensure that there is “adequate publicity of the proposals” so that people “who may be expected to wish to make representations to the authority about the proposal are made aware that they are entitled to do so”, and that people are “given an adequate opportunity of making such representations”. The deadline for representations must be publicised too. (Circular 01/09)

These requirements for advertising supplementary guidance are significantly less prescriptive that of the SDP or LDP – there are no minimum time-scales, specific advertising requirements or other stipulations.

After publicity the authority are to “consider any such representations timeously made to them”. They then must send the Scottish Government a copy of the guidance they wish to adopt along with a statement setting out the publicity measures they have undertaken, the comments they received, and an explanation of how these comments were taken into account. After 28 days, the authority may then adopt the guidance unless the Scottish Government have directed otherwise. (Circular 01/09).

The regulations for adoption are less onerous again compared to those for adopting the SDP or LDP.

These lighter-touch regulations might give Local Authorities the scope to tailor their public engagement to the supplementary guidance being produced. It could however be a back door to bringing controversial details of a development into the development plan with less fuss.

Government oversight

As mentioned above the Scottish Government have 28 days to scrutinise the guidance and the process. The Government intends that its scrutiny will focus making sure the supplementary guidance is properly connected to the SDP/LDP rather than on the detail of the policy itself. This scrutiny is undertaken in practical terms by civil servants in the Directorate for the Built Environment, most probably the planner who has responsibility for your area (territorial planner).

They will also assess whether there has been adequate public involvement. However there is no measure of what adequate means.

If you feel like there has not been adequate advertisement obviously the best way to fight for more would be to contact the planning department at the Council as early as possible. There might also be a way to argue to the Government during the scrutiny phase that there just was not enough awareness in the local area to justify the local authority adopting the guidance.

To argue this you could to speak to the planner with responsibility for your territory at the Government’s Directorate for the Built Environment (just phone up and ask). They would appreciate some clear arguments which you might feel are best written down, if so, ask for their email and put your thoughts in writing.

Cartoon map of a new Eco-business parkYour experience?

What is your experience of masterplans and supplementary guidance? We are keen to hear from you.


NOTES: relevant bits of legislation for supplementary guidance

Planning Circular 1/09: Development Planning. Paras 93-99 –

Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 subsection 22 as amended by Planning etc. (Scotland) Act 2006, Part 2 –

The Town and Country Planning (Development Planning) (Scotland) Regulations 2008. Regulation 27 –

While supplementary guidance can be about a wide range of things there are some issues that cannot be considered in supplementary guidance. These are detailed in Circular 01/09, para 97.

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