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Planning Bill finally passes stage 3

21 June 2019

The Planning (Scotland) Bill passed its final stage at Holyrood yesterday evening, after three days of debate to try and simplify the multitude of amendments previously made, that had caused the measure to be described as "unworkable".

MSPs voted 78-26 in favour of the measure, described by Conservative MSP Graham Simpson as "the most amended bill in the Parliament's history", which is intended to support a more inclusive and collaborative planning system.

Under the bill, people will be able to prepare local place plans covering what will be done in their communities, including over issues such as housing, open space and community facilities as well as business and employment opportunities. However the right added for objectors to appeal decisions to grant planning permission has been removed.

Local authorities will have a new duty to work together to produce "regional spatial strategies", which will provide long-term direction to large scale development, matching local and national planning needs, outcomes and priorities.

Additionally, the National Planning Framework, Scotland’s long-term plan for future development, will now be required to be approved by Parliament.

Other changes include new powers for local authorities to introduce control areas where planning permission will always be required if owners want to change the use of their property to short-term lets, though stronger controls added at stage 2 were restricted by further amendments.

During the final debate, Planning Minister Kevin Stewart rejected a charge from Labour's Neil Findlay that as the bill stood, there remained an inherent imbalance in the system in favour of developers over communities. However Labour members voted against the bill, which spokesperson Alex Rowley claimed would do nothing to address infrastructure issues such as schools and health services to support housing development, or the "sense of alienation" in communities as regards planning issues, or the cuts to finance and staffing in planning departments.

Labour were joined by the Greens, for whom Andy Wightman said the bill "has not had the substantial amendment required to transform the planning system... to deliver a plan-led system in which communities have autonomy to determine for themselves"; and the Liberal Democrats, whose Alex Cole-Hamilton described the bill as "a manifest exercise in centralisation" which "relegates councils to the role of mere consultees". He also complained that it had failed to reform appeal rights or to properly regulate holiday lets.

However Adam Tomkins for the Conservatives said the bill passed the test of delivering on its "core mission" of growing the economy through development, and would help to secure environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive growth in the Scottish economy.

Mr Stewart said after the vote: "This bill is a radical new way forward for planning in Scotland. It’s a vision that empowers communities to have a positive say in shaping their future.

"There is now more scope for local planning to influence regional and national plans, and we expect to see more collaboration where people and local authorities across Scotland work closely together for all our benefit."

Click here to view the final debate.

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