The Scottish Government have stepped back from plans for a law to require the planning system to contribute to economic growth.
This is a very welcome step. The planned duty to “contribute to achieving sustainable economic growth” would have applied to Local Authorities’ planning functions and was heavily criticised by the Law Society of Scotland for skewing decision making and adding uncertainty.
The duty will still, however, apply to Scotland’s regulators such as SEPA, Scottish Natural Heritage and Local Authorities’ in their other regulatory functions like environmental health.
This U-turn for planning was welcomed by Green MSP Alison Johnstone, who has been an ardent critic of the duty. She said:
“Sustainable economic growth is ill-conceived jargon. The u-turn shows that Ministers are beginning to realise the implications it will have on decision-making. Planners and other public bodies already balance many economic, environmental and social factors in their work, and this diktat on promoting growth is both unhelpful and unwise. I was particularly concerned about its impact on planning decisions and this duty becoming a developer’s charter, so this u-turn is a small victory.”
Scottish Wildlife Trust also welcomed the move:
“The Scottish Wildlife Trust believes that removing the economic growth duty from planning decisions is a step in the right direction for Scotland’s plan-led system and hopefully will lead to not only better decisions for Scotland’s wildlife, but also the quality, design and location of new developments.“
Of course the SNP are not backing away from the concept of sustainable economic growth in the planning system. Economic considerations are strengthened even further by the new draft national guidance – this is something Planning Democracy will continue to oppose because it crowds out genuine participation in decision-making. Our manifesto sets out why there is more to planning than efficient decision-making. You can also read our response to the draft Scottish Planning Policy here.
We believe there is more to planning than promoting economic growth; democratic decision-making should be central to a fair balancing of social, environmental, economic, local and national priorities in deciding on development.
Clare Symonds of Planning Democracy said:
“The removal of this duty is a positive step but Scottish Ministers still aren’t listening to communities across Scotland who feel ignored and sidelined by a planning system that claims to have participation at its heart.”