We wanted to make this a festive blog, but as always there is important news as well.
This post includes important information about our webinar on 9th February, new housing policies, and the upcoming National Planning Framework 4, BUT also we wish you all a Happy and Restorative Christmas and a Hopeful New Year. As always, this is with our sympathies for those who are forced to respond to those sneaky applications deliberately timed to come over Christmas.
How do I start a Christmas blog after such a turbulent year?
I am going to start by sending virtual hugs to everyone, unable as we are to meet and give solace to each other, in these difficult times, with real hugs. It feels that the world needs nurturing right now and we all need to show a little kindness to each other.
Which leads me to thank our dedicated peer mentors and supporters for all their time and effort in helping others on their planning issues. It is never an easy task as many of our mentors still have their own planning issues to respond to, so providing support for others is extra effort for them, even in normal circumstances. So, a huge thank you to those mentors who have helped others on a very wide range of issues from biodiversity surveys to landfill extensions.
Along with many others, we at Planning Democracy have had our own challenges. The funding to continue our mentoring programme that we had high hopes of receiving did not materialise. The number of applications from needy organisations apparently soared and funders focussed on covid related applications.
Despite our work being described as ‘brilliant’ by the funders and benefiting many communities, we missed out. Our mentoring programme continues, but in a reduced capacity. We are ever more reliant on the generosity of our supporters to keep us going. It remains challenging for us to respond to the calls for help we receive and to campaign for greater rights, but we continue, mainly through voluntary effort.
Please do consider donating – perhaps as a Christmas gift to someone who has everything?
We have had some wonderful help from some very special supporters, which has meant we are able to continue to operate and we would like to thank them wholeheartedly for their immense generosity.
Planning and Covid
Planning of course has been affected by covid. In April, we responded to the Government’s consultation around the relaxation of rules for developers (for example on Pre Application Consultation). No such relaxations for communities of course, who were given no extra support or consideration, despite the fact that many of them were the ones volunteering and assisting their communities during lockdown.
We worked with community councils in South Lanarkshire who were told they were not allowed to conduct meetings online. This seemed ludicrous considering others were allowed to do so and meant they were unable to make decisions or carry out their business. We campaigned to change the inflexible rules. A recent meeting of the local authority has now confirmed, in a revised Scheme of Establishment, that community councils in South Lanarkshire are finally able to meet and make decisions virtually, albeit nearly 10 months into the covid crisis.
Planning Appeals and Housing
PD’s work has focussed a lot on planning and housing this year, as we worked with communities to respond to the Government’s technical housing consultation. As you might have read in a previous blog post, we have been concerned for some time about the increasing ability of volume house builders to appeal planning decisions on technicalities around effective housing land supply. Too often this leads to speculative housing applications being given the go ahead, often on treasured greenfield sites that are not allocated in the Local Development Plan.
No matter how much some communities work to protect sites, it is clear from their high-handed approach that the house builders know they have all the power and resources at their disposal. It would be nice if some of them showed a little empathy for the lives they impose upon, and a little understanding of the impact of their developments on people and environment. They claim to be delivering much needed affordable housing, but the bottom line is that it’s their profit margins, not people left on the margins, that they are looking out for.
The Scottish Government published their finalised housing and planning policy on Friday 18th December.
For those of you who are interested, but baffled by the complex nature of these policies, we sympathise and have developed briefings that explain the situation. We will update them over the holidays so that you can be fully informed on the current policy.
Suffice to say that the updated policies are less belt and braces than the original proposals. They have been modified, presumably as a result of the lobbying tactics of the likes of Homes for Scotland. The new policy is only a moderate improvement on the status quo, but how much so remains to be tested in future appeals and in the courts.
We are not the only ones who have concerns about the volume of developer appeals and the likelihood of local decisions being overturned. Cllr Jimmy Black, ex deputy convenor of planning in Dundee, has expressed concern about the large number of appeals on major housing developments in Dundee (66%) in this article featured in the Scottish Community Alliance’s Local People Leading bulletin.
For many, 2021 is going to be a year of hope but continued uncertainty. With so many upheavals in some people’s lives it will be hard for many to follow the success or otherwise of these new policies. Communities in Kilmacolm and Kingseat will likely be among those who may or may not get a much needed reprieve as they await their appeal decisions.
We will keep you updated, but we will be asking you to ensure that planning is not lost in the melee of your other life priorities. If anything, covid has taught us the importance of place, communities, nearby greenspace and nature. Planning and regulation of development and developers is crucial to how we control what gets built and where.
These housing policies are interim only.
There is an opportunity to strengthen them further as all Scottish Planning Policies will be updated along with the National Planning Framework 4 in 2021.
We will need YOUR help. We must make our voice heard.
You can be sure the developers will.
The National Planning Framework 4: What Why When?
Cast your mind back to January (can anyone remember a pre covid world?) when the Government ran a Call for Ideas consultation on the National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4).
The NPF4 has been given greater weight since the planning reforms of 2019 and is now a
VERY IMPORTANT THING
as it has been combined with Scottish Planning Policies. Together, they form the development plan, which means planners and councillors are required to heed them when making planning decisions. Local authorities are also expected to ‘take the NPF4 into account’ when writing their Local Development Plans as are communities doing their own Local Place Plans.
It is therefore important to know what NPF4 is going to say.
The Government have published their Position Statement on NPF4, which gives a clue as to the general direction of travel for planning policy in 2021. It appears there is greater focus on important things like climate change. They have summarised what they are concentrating on in the following 4 themes:
- net zero emissions
- resilient communities
- wellbeing economy, and
- better greener places.
If you can, please read the Government website on the NPF4 consultation and respond by 19th February.
Although the 4 themes are hard to disagree with, the devil will be in the detail (or possibly the lack of it). As we have seen with the housing policy, developers are in a position to exploit any weaknesses or loosely written policies.
Despite the apparently hopeful direction of travel, it is clear that the Scottish Government find it hard to decouple from their addiction to growth and a pro development agenda. As long as there remains a presumption in favour of ‘sustainable’ development, anyone finding themselves opposing an unwanted development is forced into a defensive position. Any policy shift needs to make ‘no development’ a serious option, rather than one where development per se is seen as a Good Thing because it is feeds the relentless requirement for economic growth.
The National Planning Framework will include Scottish Planning Policies, which set out guidance for those making decisions on planning applications. It will also include a Spatial element (for example plans and maps of what is going where) and also the National Developments.
National Developments are developments that receive special status on account of them being of national strategic importance (there were 14 of them in NPF3). Once designated, the question of whether a national development is needed does not have to be debated in later planning decisions, that means the principle of the development is already decided. This means they are very hard to stop once named in the NPF4. Previous national developments have included the Queensferry Crossing, the Dundee waterfront city regeneration project, national grid electricity transmission lines, and the Commonwealth Games facilities in Glasgow.
In our market driven planning system, the way that National Developments are chosen is by putting out a call for ‘stakeholders’ (normally developers) to put forward suggestions (as opposed to communities or Government deciding what is needed for the common good). Importantly, you should be aware that Homes for Scotland and Savills have both put forward suggestions that 25,000 houses be included as a national development, which is interesting as the NPF4 already has a requirement to include housing targets. But as we know they will stop at nothing to make it as easy as possible to bypass planning regulations and enable them to build what they want, anywhere.
Environmental groups such as the RSPB and Scottish Wildlife Trust have also put forward the idea of a nature network, as a national development, which many of you might want to support.
Webinar on the National Planning Framework 4
Tuesday 9th February at 6pm, online
It will be an opportunity to learn about NPF4, discuss the Position Statement, and to think about your responses.
We will let you know more next year – but hold the date in your diary!
Reminder: the deadline for responses on the NPF4 Position Statement is 19th February 2021.
In the meantime, it just remains for all of us at Planning Democracy to wish you all the best Christmas you can have with all the restrictions in place. We hope it is a restorative time and that 2021 and planning will be kinder to everyone.