A new planning system


Posted by in October's Magazine

BenMacpherson
MSP for Edinburgh North and Leith

Issues about planning are very much in the news at the moment. Leith has seen some controversial plans for new developments – and I have written about my support for the Save Leith Walk campaign in a recent issue of the Leither. I think it’s a really positive and healthy demonstration of growing community empowerment and active citizenship that members of the public are increasingly engaged in their communities, with many people getting involved in community activism for the first time in campaigns like Save Leith Walk. 

In Leith and beyond, there is an increasing recognition that the places we live in have a major impact on our sense of wellbeing and our understanding of community. And if done well, working together, planning can nurture our environment. Good planning and development should not feel like a force that comes from the outside, but should instead reflect existing needs, local preferences and identified sources of sustainable growth for the local economy.  

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The Planning (Scotland) Bill was introduced to the Scottish Parliament on 4 December 2017 and was passed on 20 June 2019, containing innovative new ways for communities to interact with the planning process. Now that the Bill has passed as an Act, the Scottish Government will start to develop secondary legislation as part of the law’s implementation, through a longer-term, collaborative programme of work.

Two benefits of the new Act include the streamlining of the planning system and the enhanced empowerment of communities in the planning process. There is an agreed overarching statutory purpose for planning, which states that planning is about “development and use of land in the long-term public interest”. In practice, this means that there will be more opportunities for community engagement, including through community-led place plans, to inform local development plans. 

More specifically, the Act includes new ‘Agent of Change’ powers to protect live music venues such as Leith Depot

The new legislation will create far more effective involvement and influence for local residents at the earliest stages of planning, reducing the need for, or likelihood of, any appeals at the end of the process. It is vital that we create better, more meaningful, and earlier engagement with residents through the preparation of development plans – and the Act introduces notably enhanced pre-application consultation with local communities on major planning applications. Furthermore, it guarantees that this will be done by limiting time between engaging local people and lodging applications, ensuring that developers feedback to communities how their views were considered. 

The Act also provides new opportunities for community bodies to prepare Local Place Plans. What’s more, new government guidance will be produced which will promote use of mediation to resolve areas of conflict at early stages of planning processes. This will be backed up with statutory guidance to support enhanced and effective community engagement on planning matters.

Holistic improvements for communities take a focus in the Act, with a statutory requirement for the Council to provide adequate space for play opportunities for young children in Local Development Plans. Additionally, there are requirements to take into account the health effects of developments into consideration, like supporting public health and equalities, before granting planning permission. And plans will have to consider whether developments adequately protect the environment and places of historical and archaeological significance. 

Lastly, and importantly, the Act provides a way for communities to be able to have conversations about the cultural impact of any changes in their local area. This includes a recognition of the economic and social benefits that music venues can bring to communities – something we have certainly seen in Leith. More specifically, the Act includes new ‘Agent of Change’ powers to protect live music venues, so that they do not come under threat of closure due to any new housing being built in the surrounding area. And new provisions for culture have been added to Scottish planning law, providing arts organisations with what campaigners described as “a way to be part of the conversation”. 

The Act will ultimately provide local residents with the opportunity to both be and feel integrally involved with the future of their communities from the beginning of the planning process, in a much more enhanced way than there’s ever been before. I strongly believe that there is good reason to feel positive about this Act and look forward to the changes that this new legislation will bring. 

Arguably, if several of the provisions in this Act had been in place a number of years ago then perhaps the Save Leith Walk campaign may not have been necessary, as I am sure that any Local Place Plan for Leith would want to maintain the sandstone building and keep the shops open!? 

Together, let’s use the new measures in this Act to empower even more of Leith in the planning process, and make sure that the development of Leith is as community led as it can be.

Twitter: @BenMacpherson


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