With wild weather dominating the headlines this month (not that you'd know it from our banner photo), and some serious flooding across the UK as a result, there are inevitably questions to be asked about the role planning can play in contributing to tackling the climate crisis and preventing extreme weather events and their devastating impacts on the places we live becoming more regular occurrences. As such, we were pleased to see that this year’s Scottish budget had a strong focus on both accelerating the country’s transition to a carbon-zero economy, and to increasing government spending on planning and building standards. For more on which, and on other planning highlights from this month, read on below….
Scottish Budget – the Scottish Budget for 2020/2021 has been welcomed for its commitment to investing in low-carbon infrastructure, including a Future Transport Fund to target initiatives like low-emission vehicles and electric-charging infrastructure. The Budget report also included increased funding to implement the Planning (Scotland) Act during 2020/21 (see more below). However, while spending on planning and building standards is to increase from £9.5 million in 2019/20 to £12.4 million over the coming financial year, the RTPI has called for greater investment in the planning system, including a commitment to funding any additional costs or resource needs arising from new duties introduced in the Planning Act. Given the significance of some of the provisions in the Act, and the potential cost of these, we would echo the RTPI’s calls in this regard to ensure that the new system delivers for planners, developers and communities.
Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 – as we commented in last month’s Spotlights, the new Planning Act is likely to continue to be the biggest bit of planning news into 2020 as various provisions of this become law.... Coming into force on 1 March are:
Section 23 - requiring planning authorities to give notice of any application for a major development received on or after 1 March 2020 to each local authority Councillor, MSP and MP representing the district to which the application relates;
Section 27 - removing the requirement that any application which has been subject to a pre-determination hearing must be determined by full Council (applies to all applications that fall to be determined on or after the 1 March 2020); and
Section 30 - requiring decision notices to include a statement as to whether the authority consider the development to be in accordance with the Development Plan, and the reasons for that view (applies to all decision notices issued on or after 1 March 2020).
Full details of the Regulations bringing these provisions into force (plus other provisions already in force) are available here.
National Transport Strategy – a new National Transport Strategy for Scotland was laid before the Scottish Parliament at the beginning of this month, setting out the role of transport in reducing inequalities and taking climate action, while also helping to deliver inclusive economic growth and improving health and wellbeing. In doing this, the strategy acknowledges that a range of actions need to be taken, including technological changes to allow a transition to ultra-low emission vehicles, altering people’s travel behaviour through improved use of public and active travel modes, and reducing the demand for unsustainable transport. All of this obviously has a significant overlap with planning, which needs to ensure places are designed to be accessible by sustainable and active modes of transport, and with the infrastructure in place to support technological advances, to facilitate these changes. As such, we will be watching what happens with the new National Transport Strategy with interest.
On planning applications
Space Hub Sutherland – we were delighted this month to lodge the planning application for Space Hub Sutherland, a dedicated facility for vertical launch of vehicles to deliver small satellites into orbit around the Earth, and the first such facility in the UK. This is an incredibly exciting and innovative project to be involved in, particularly as satellites play a vital role in our understanding of climate change and its impacts by enabling detailed monitoring of key indicators (such as icecaps, ozone and the health of oceans) to take place. Further details on the Space Hub Sutherland project are available on Highlands and Islands Enterprise’s website here.
Orbex Kinloss – also on the theme of space, this month we obtained planning permission for a new facility in Moray for the testing of fuel and pressure vessels for Orbex, an orbital launch services company with headquarters and production facilities in Forres. Currently, Orbex is developing a new micro-launch vehicle capable of taking small satellites to low Earth orbits (hopefully from Space Hub Sutherland!), with it being great to see this level of innovation and industry taking place so close to home, and being supported by the planning system.
Coul Links – exactly a year ago, our February 2019 Spotlights commented on the start of the public inquiry into the proposed new golf course at Coul Links near Dornoch in Sutherland, the planning application for which was called in by the Scottish Government. The Scottish Ministers have now issued their decision and refused the application on the grounds that it would have significant adverse effects on dune habitats, birds and invertebrates, and would therefore run contrary to the conservation objectives of the Loch Fleet SSSI, the Dornoch Firth and Loch Fleet SPA, and the Dornoch and Loch Fleet Ramsar site, with no socio-economic impacts of national importance that outweighed the negative environmental impacts. This highlights the importance of weighing any potential impacts of proposed developments against the anticipated benefits in the decision-making process, with the balance in this case requiring the application to be refused. And, having given planning evidence for Not Coul, representing the interests of those members of the local community who were concerned about the potential environmental impacts of the golf course, we think this was the right decision.
On the courts
Heathrow third runway – we have been following the progress of the Heathrow third runway in our previous blogs, and this month saw the latest in that saga. Following a judicial review of the Government’s decision to proceed with the runway (made in 2018 through a National Policy Statement), the Court of Appeal has ruled that the Policy Statement is unlawful due to a failure to take the Government’s commitment to the provisions of the Paris agreement into account. This is because the legislation under which the National Policy Statement was made expressly requires account to be taken of Government Policy relating to the mitigation of, and adaption to, climate change. And, in this regard, it is important to note that the Government’s decision making on the National Policy Statement is not equivalent to that undertaken when determining a planning application, where decisions have to be made in accordance with the Development Plan (unless material considerations indicate otherwise), with all potential economic, social and environmental impacts requiring to be assessed in accordance with Development Plan policies as part of that process. But it’s unlikely that this will be the end of the road for the runway, with Heathrow already stating that it will challenge the Court’s decision.
On other matters
Living with beauty – report of the Building Better, Building Beautifully Commission – the Commission was set up at the end of 2018 with a remit to review the planning system in England and establish how the creation of beautiful new homes and neighbourhoods might be incentivised. In their Report, which was published at the very end of last month, the Commission proposes a new development and planning framework which will: “Ask for Beauty”; “Refuse Ugliness”; and “Promote Stewardship”. This advocates an integrated approach, in which all matters relevant to placemaking are considered from the outset and subjected to a democratic or co-design process, and in which the profile and role of planning is raised in both political discussions and the wider debate concerning how we wish to live and what kind of a country we want to pass on. While the Commission and its Report relate to England only, the Report makes interesting reading for planners everywhere!
This month, Pippa returned from maternity leave, and we are already making her daughter earn her keep by featuring in this month’s blog (which, if you haven’t read it yet, looks at what role planning can and should play in tackling issues facing the next generation – well worth a read while sheltering from the wild weather outside!).
On which, to find out how we can help with any aspect of the planning process, please visit our website or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, if you would like to see our other blogs or sign up for email updates, please click here.
Thanks for reading!
Pippa and Maggie