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Planning White Paper Briefing No 121

July 2005


In P&I Briefing 81 we outlined the Scottish Executive's consultation proposals for planning reform and the subsequent UNISON Scotland submission. The Executive have considered the responses to that consultation and published a White Paper. This will be followed by legislation. This briefing sets out the main proposals in the White Paper and UNISON Scotland's initial response.

Local government officers in particular note the staffing implications. Expect more reorganisation - the reforms are more radical than they may at first appear.



The White Paper sets out the Executive's plans for Scotland's planning system. It recognises the central role of planning in the delivery of a sustainable pattern of economic growth, whilst protecting our most important natural assets. This is addressed in a new hierarchy of development plans. It also claims to respond to the need for improved opportunities for meaningful public involvement in the planning system, highlighted by the demands for third party right of appeal.

Hierarchy for Planning

It is argued that the current system is poorly focussed and the system needs a hierarchy of plans to deal with different types of development in different ways.

Under the new structure, proposed developments will be processed and scrutinised depending upon whether they raise issues of national, major, local or minor importance.

National Developments - those developments that are considered to be of national, strategic importance will be proposed and debated in the context of the next National Planning Framework. Some are set out in existing national plans and might include substantial water treatment or waste management installations and strategically important transport links and facilities. The need for these developments will be decided at a national level, by Scottish Ministers and with the full involvement of Parliament.

Major Developments - large-scale developments which are not national in importance, but are significant in scale such as a shopping centre or large-scale housing development. Planning authorities and developers will be able to put a processing agreement in place, setting out timetables for processing the application, and application fees will be increased. The existing arrangements for appeals will apply, subject to the changes proposed below.

Local Developments - will, as now, be a matter for Scotland's planning authorities. These include smaller housing developments, commercial enterprises and some householder developments. Councillors will continue to decide upon controversial applications or those with a significant impact on the area, with a right of appeal to the Scottish Ministers. All other local applications will be determined by officers but with a right of appeal, not to the Scottish Ministers as at present, but to a local review body comprised of locally elected members.

Minor Developments - particularly small-scale changes to single houses. The aim is to extend the categories or number of developments that do not require planning permission.


Plans will be simpler documents that take a long-term view, identify sufficient land to meet the key needs of economic growth and housing development and protect important natural and built heritage resources. They will be the core documents against which planning applications will be measured for determination. Proposals include:

  • a statutory requirement to update development plans every five years;
  • a single tier of local development plans everywhere apart from the four largest city regions; and
  • one proposed plan, replacing the present system of different drafts.

Efficiency measures including:

  • encourage greater use of e-planning;
  • improving the way in which planning agreements are used;
  • introducing standard planning application forms; and
  • reducing the time limit for appeals from six months to three months.

Widening Inclusion

The Executive has rejected the introduction of a third party right of appeal and instead introduce a range of measures to make the planning system more inclusive. They propose:

  • new statutory requirements for pre-application consultations;
  • new procedures to ensure wide public participation in the formulation of development plans, including notification of key proposals to neighbours;
  • requiring more frequent use of hearings, allowing local people to present their views on planning applications before they are determined;
  • new procedures to assess whether local people have been engaged effectively in the development plan process,
  • procedures to subject applications that do not accord with the development plan to enhanced levels of scrutiny;
  • a new requirement for planning authorities to give reasons for their decisions.
  • introducing early determination of appeals that are not well founded.
  • limiting the right to introduce new evidence to support the appeal.

Consequences for Planning Authorities

These changes will have significant consequences for members in planning authorities. The White Paper assumes a number of efficiency savings that will release resources for the additional costs. There is a vague commitment to discuss the financial impacts of the new system with local authorities.

There is a section in the White Paper on 'supporting' planning authorities that includes a review of performance targets and the audit programme. £2.25m has been allocated in the Planning Development Budget to address skill gaps and training needs. A common e-planning system is being prepared using the Efficient Government Fund.

UNISON Scotland Reaction

There is much in the White Paper that will be welcomed by UNISON members. The recognition of the central role of planning and the move to increase meaningful public involvement without Third Party appeals. A key concern will be how far the new structure undermines local democracy with further centralisation. Is the agenda being driven by the demands of big business at the expense of local accountability.

However, our main concern is that neighbour notification, more hearings, pre-application consultation and broader public involvement all have significant resource requirements on already stretched planning departments. Given that local government has not benefited from significant increases in government funding, additional resources need to be made available. Without them the White Paper cannot be implemented.

Action for Branches

The White Paper can be viewed at http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2005/06/27113519/35231 and UNISON's submission to the consultation and initial reaction at the UNISON Scotland website www.unison-scotland.org.uk.

Branches should consult members, particularly those working in planning functions on the implications of the White Paper. Comments should be forwarded to Dave Watson d.watson@unison.co.uk by 12 September 2005.

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Further Information

Action for Branches

The White Paper can be viewed at http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/
and UNISON's submission to the consultation and initial reaction at the UNISON Scotland website www.unison-scotland.org.uk.

Branches should consult members, particularly those working in planning functions on the implications of the White Paper. Comments should be forwarded to Dave Watson d.watson@unison.co.uk by 12 September 2005.