21
Dec

Festive Greetings To You All

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It’s pretty hard trying to settle into an uncertain festive period. Last year I sent virtual hugs to you all after a difficult year. This year, well it all seems pretty similar doesn’t it?  I hope you all manage to see your family and friends over the festive period and can find time to relax and have some fun.  

In this blog I have summarised what we got up to last year (which was quite a lot, despite restrictions etc etc).

I also have given you some food for thought on the NPF4, which as we all predicted has come out in time for the Christmas holiday. We would like to thank the civil servants for their considerate gift of a double consultation timed to coincide with the festive period.

I have given you some indication of how PD will respond to the Parliamentary consultation. Your views will help to inform the scrutiny of the draft by MSPs on the Local Government Housing and Planning Committee.

This consultation finishes on 10th January.

There is ANOTHER government consultation on NPF4 (this is a more detailed consultation, run by civil servants) which closes on the 31st March.

We will be organising workshops in February with our colleagues in the RSPB to help you frame your responses to this consultation.

We understand having 2 consultations running in parallel is MAHOOSIVELY time consuming and very confusing.

We have complained.

Planning Democracy’s Year 2021

What have we been doing?

Peer Mentoring and Support

We have been getting more and more enquiries requesting help and support from our peer mentors. We have managed to keep this service going, despite being rejected, again, for funding to employ a dedicated co-ordinator.

We were able to do what we did thanks to an extremely generous donation from one of our mentors

As we get better and more experienced at helping people, the outcomes are getting more positive. The effect is that word is spreading and we are getting an increasing number of enquiries.

We need more mentors!

Please email us if you have experience in any planning issue or process and want to help support others. We will be providing training next year. You can find out what people have said about their experiences with our mentors here.

Big thanks to our brilliant and wonderful mentors.

Resources on Planning

Events

This year we held three online events. The most recent on NPF4 with John Mayhew from Association for Protection of Rural Scotland. Earlier in the year Bob Colenutt talked to us about Housing and Tackling the Volume House Builders, which was very popular, as was our other event with Dan Jackman, a Scottish Government Reporter, on planning appeals and Local Development Plans. Sign up to our You Tube page for all PD events and webinars.

Guides

We also produced our latest guide on planning appeals and understanding the housing crisis which explains why houses are so expensive and why greenfield sites are being targeted for housing.

Please circulate this link to our resource page to your community contacts, so that people are aware of all our guides.

More resources are planned next year on Local Development Plans and Wildlife Protection

It costs us money to produce these resources, please help us do more by donating.

Advocacy and Campaigns

We spent a lot of time working with MSPs, in particular those on the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee (LGHP). We have had several in depth meetings to discuss the issues with one particularly supportive MSP and we would like to thank her for her receptiveness. We have given evidence at the LGHP, both written and oral.

We also met with the new Minister Tom Arthur last week to try to find some common ground and hopefully to develop a positive relationship with him. We focussed a lot on Community Wealth Building which is essentially jargon for a more locally focussed economy, with communities at the heart. However we also raised the issue of a recent decision by the Aarhus Compliance Committee about Equal Rights of Appeal. It was somewhat brushed off. However this is not the end of this one. Suffice to say….

You will definitely be hearing more on Equal Rights of Appeal next year!

National Planning Framework 4

We spent most of the year waiting for the draft National Planning Framework 4, which we hoped would be as transformative as it was billed.

When we met the NPF4 team way back in Feb 2020, they seemed genuinely excited by the thought of a radically different plan. In my mind I conjured up all sorts of possibilities, different formats and layouts, a well thought out plan with transformative policies.

I guess the Government’s civil servants view of transformative is not quite the same as ours.

Turns out I was a little over optimistic.

True, there is a shift in some of the language of the document. The centrality of public interest planning has, to a certain extent, displaced the language of economic growth.  But any real change really needs to strike at the heart of neoliberal capitalism and banish altogether the concept that sustained economic growth, is the most efficient and effective way of achieving ‘progress’. This document has not done that, for it continues to promote and enable development, rather than limit or prevent the kinds of development that we know are not good for the planet.

The plan is to be applauded in its ambition to be transformative, but unless there are strong policies and workable mechanisms to make it deliverable it cannot and will not achieve that ambition. We have limited time, we have been talking for so many years, nothing has changed, we are still on the same trajectory, we need strong and clear leadership from them to halt the direction of travel.

We urge you to respond to the consultation by the 10th January, (we have tried to assist in the next bit of this blog by detailing our own response).

Please copy your own MSPs to your response as well.

Reminder: The other NPF4 Scottish Government consultation is running at the same time, but the deadline is not until March 31st. We will hold workshops to help you respond to this more detailed consultation in February.

So having very reluctantly given you your holiday homework we wish you all a peaceful, healthy and happy festive break.

We hope to come back refreshed ourselves, as next year there is much to do, soooo much to do.

To help us you may want to consider a Christmas donation to Planning Democracy.

Give the gift of helping someone else in their planning battle.

 It can make a huge difference to someone’s life.

Happy Christmas All

Clare and the PD team.

This next bit of the blog may help you respond to the Parliamentary Consultation on NPF4.

So you might want to go and get a cup of tea/ shot of gin/ dram of whisky before you go on.

I have provided the draft text for Planning Democracy’s response below with our recommendations.

If you only have time for a very short response, you could just write and say you support what we say in our response below.

If you are new to NPF4 and want a clear introduction to this important document and its increased significance take time to watch John Mayhew’s presentation and looking at his slides and our own.

To respond to the Parliamentary Consultation go here.

The deadline is January 10th

We know that politicians rarely read everything, they are inundated with information.

We think it best to keep it short and simple.

We have tried to do this ourselves by summarising our recommendations at the top with more detail underneath.

The parliamentary consultation asks 5 questions, which perhaps reflect some of Holyrood’s key concerns at the moment, such as climate change, providing affordable housing and rural repopulation.

We have answered 3 of the 5 questions, focussing on the issues we are most familiar with.

Planning Democracy’s draft Response to National Planning Framework 4 Parliamentary consultation.

Summary of our recommendations:

  1. Significant weight needs to be given to the Biodiversity crisis as well as the Global Climate Emergency. Both absolutely need to be prioritized, with no wiggle room or get out clauses.
  2. We agree with policy 1 on a plan led approach to sustainable development in the public interest. In line with this we would like to see
    • Introduction of Public Interest Panels particularly on controversial developments, These panels should have adequate community representation.
    • The inclusion of a presumption against development that is not in the Local Development Plan.
    • Acknowledgement that a right of appeal on proposals contrary to the development plan would provide an incentive for developers to comply with the Local Development Plan.
  3. Resource planning departments properly to deliver NPF4.  Ring fenced funding is required for public led planning, local authority ecologists, community engagement and enforcement.
  4. Requiring local authorities to provide a generous supply of land for housing is an inefficient means of delivering housing, which makes it harder to ensure an infrastructure first approach. We want specific land allocations for social and affordable housing (rather than all tenure). We want local authorities to be enabled to deliver public and community led housing projects.

Question: How can we design our environments to address climate change?

It is great to see a strong central policy of zero carbon emissions, climate is given prominence as the second policy states that significant weight must be given to the Global Climate Emergency.

The biodiversity and climate crises are interlinked and should be given equal status. Biodiversity is fundamental to life. The destruction of habitats and ecosystems, which often happens when land is developed, has serious consequences. Our natural world is fundamental to the regulation of greenhouse gases and protection against extreme weather.  With the serious biodiversity losses we are currently causing, we are accelerating climate change and increasing our vulnerability to it.

The plan talks about mitigation in terms of flooding, but focusses less on how to mitigate against biodiversity loss, which will impact seriously on other land uses such as agriculture.

We welcome the significance given to The Global Climate Energency in policy 2. However, this is almost immediately watered down in the following paragraphs which provide a potential get out clause.

Development proposals that will generate significant emissions, on their own or when combined with other proposals or when considered in combination with other proposals, allocations or consented development, should not be supported unless the applicant provides evidence that this level of emissions is the minimum that can be achieved for the development to be viable and it is also demonstrated that the proposed development is in the long-term public interest.

Planning in Scotland is determined on a case by case basis and developers with deep pockets are able to argue details on each application in the courts. Unless policy writers have the courage of their conviction and  provide a very clear message that the wrong kind of development will not be accepted,  then it will be setting up a whole new world of legal challenges, consultancy work will burgeon on things like viability, life cycle analysis and carbon accounting, creating a new arena for professionals to make money and businesses with money to contest.

These will be the people who benefit from the plan, not the intended communities or environment and nature.

Recommendation

  1. Significant weight needs to be given to the Biodiversity Crisis as well as the Global Climate Emergency. Both absolutely need to be prioritized with no wiggle room or get out clauses.

Question: how can land and spaces best promote equality?

To promote equality we need to recognise the power imbalances within the planning system itself. How can a planning system that has inherent inequalities deliver development that benefits all equally? Resource poor communities are expected to engage in plan led system which is anything but plan led. It is unethical to ask people such as busy NHS staff, single parents and people struggling to find work, to spend hours drawing up Local Place Plans or engaging in development plan consultations, unless we have a truly plan led system that delivers what is in the plan. Our discretionary planning system denies them a voice, without hearing that voice you cannot understand people’s experience of equality of land and space.  

Housing is an example where much of the time and energy of planning departments is taken up with enabling private sector housing, this benefits those lucky enough to afford to buy a house, often as an asset rather than a home. See our answer to your housing question on how to bring about more equality in this area.

We strongly support policy 1, a plan led system of planning, because it provides certainty for communities as well as developers.  However currently planning allows developers to bring proposals forward whether or not they have been identified in the development plan. Developers are allowed to appeal decisions and have roughly a 50% chance of succeeding at appeal. Our planning system needs to be better designed to encourage developers to put in applications that conform with the plan.

Developments which stray from the plan should be actively and strongly discouraged, otherwise it defeats the purpose of development plans and wastes the time and resources spent by planners making up to date plans. Planning Democracy campaigned hard for Equal Rights of Appeal during the planning reforms of 2019. We continue to urge MSPs consider changing the current system of appeals to make it fairer and to incentivise a plan led system.

Until that is achieved we ask for strong policies in NPF4 to ensure a presumption against development which is not in the plan.

We support the recognition in policy 1 that local development plans should manage the use and development of land in the long term public interest.  However public interest is not an easy term to define, much like sustainable development. To ensure this public interest development is achieved the NPF4 should introduce a requirement for all new development to be subject to a set of ‘public interest tests’. While we welcome the community benefit statements introduced by the NPF4, these are likely to become more tickbox exercises. We would recommend instead Public Interest Panels, similar to current design panel models, but with community representation, which could be set up to provide a deliberative means of assessing public interest on large or controversial developments.

This would help to give substance to the currently opaque and ambiguous ways in which planning outcomes are weighed and assessed through policy and the application of material considerations. A presumption that all development needs to be net positive in public interest.

Planning Departments have lost significant numbers of staff. This affects communities and the environment disproportionately. To address inequalities, deliver public interest development, planning departments need to be properly resourced. Ring fenced funding is required for public led planning, local authority ecologists, community engagement and enforcement.

Recommendations

2. We agree with policy 1 on a plan led approach to sustainable development in the public interest. In line with this we would like to see

a) Introduction of Public Interest Panels particularly on controversial developments, These panels should have adequate community representation.

b) The inclusion of a presumption against development that is not in the Local Development Plan.

c) Acknowledgement that a right of appeal on proposals contrary to the development plan would provide an incentive for developers to comply with the Local Development Plan.

3. Resource planning departments properly to deliver NPF4.  Ring fenced funding is required for public led planning, local authority ecologists, community engagement and enforcement.

Question: What does your ideal home look like and what surrounds it?

In order to achieve the kind of homes we want; well built, close to services such as schools and GPs with plenty of natural greenspace we need to stop relying on the private sector to deliver all the housing we need. There is growing consensus that current model of housing delivery is not resulting in affordable well built homes. A different approach is needed.

We welcome the introduction to the Quality Homes policy which states the need for our housing stock to contribute less to Scotland’s climate emissions and highlights the wider benefits of better energy efficiency and greener buildings.

But policies that try to deliver affordable housing by allocating generous amounts of land for all-tenure housing are fundamentally flawed. NPF4 policies focus on local authorities allocating enough land for housing and using the Minimum All Tenure Housing Land Requirement or MATHLR as the basis for establishing a deliverable pipeline of land for housing.

The problem is that

  • that this continues to rely on the delivery of the majority of housing through the private sector, which does not deliver the proportion or variety of affordable and social housing needed.
  • it is a very inefficient means of delivering housing in terms of land, because it relies on larger amounts of land to be allocated for housing, assuming that not all sites will be viable or deliverable. This makes it harder to deliver an infrastructure first approach to housing, because it is not clear which land is going to be used, so upfront infrastructure cannot always be provided ahead of time.
  • It is an inefficient means of delivering the level of affordable housing needed because it requires large amounts of housing land only a proportion of which will be used for affordable housing through section 75 agreements.
  • It focuses on new build to deliver housing rather than looking to reuse existing buildings.
  • Overgenerous allocations will result in greenfield sites being used disproportionately as they are often more profitable to deliver than the more complex brownfield sites.

Recommendations

4. a) Policy needs to be stronger to encourage more public led planning, where local authorities are enabled to deliver more housing themselves through land assembly mechanisms that allow public/ community or public/ private partnerships

b) Land allocations should be tenure specific for social and affordable housing where this is the type of housing required.

c) The Minimum All Tenure Housing Land Requirement should be not be regarded or presented as a minimum. There is already considerable contingency and generosity built in and the figures are likely to be grossly inflated from the ‘minimum’ to meet need and demand.

d) Housing policies need to direct housing to the most sustainable sites that are allocated in the development plan. Policies on protecting Greenfield sites, Town Centre Living; Urban Edges; Vacant and derelict land and empty buildings; Rural Places; Natural Places must not be undermined in order to achieve housing land targets.


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