One of the country’s leading planning experts has warned that more must be done to meet rising demand for new homes in Scotland.
In his white paper, Delivery of Housing Land, Neil Collar, Head of Planning at Brodies, highlights possible solutions to what he sees as the key challenges.
These include encouraging local authorities speed up the system for costing infrastructure upgrades, introducing simplified planning zones for approved housing sites, and cutting the unnecessary red-tape that is holding up planning decisions.
According to a recent report by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, under the “best case scenario” it could take until 2031/32 before enough new homes are built to meet the projected increase in new households.
Collar, who was named among the 100 most influential figures in planning by Planning Magazine, calls for all those involved in the housebuilding sector – including the Scottish Government, local authorities and developers – to ensure there is a strategy to deliver these new homes, involving cultural, procedural and legal changes, and a focus on removing infrastructure constraints.
This comes as dozens of construction projects across Edinburgh have been postponed due to delays in agreeing a Local Development Plan.
Collar argues that in some cases the local authority process of identifying sites for housing development is taking too long and that there are frequent delays. He proposes the introduction of a fast-track approach using simplified planning zones for sites that have already been approved in local plans.
“The planning system needs to make up its mind: less scrutiny/more speed at the plan-making stage, or at the planning application stage? For example, consideration could be given to creating a Simplified Planning Zone style concept, to cut bureaucracy for housing sites already approved in the plan,” he says.
On the issue of what he sees as unnecessary bureaucracy, Collar adds: “Ironically the planning reforms in 2009 made the planning system more complicated, especially with the introduction of local review bodies. A particular concern is the amount of red tape that still has to be navigated after planning permission has been granted.
“Attention should be given to the amount of information which planning permission conditions require to be submitted for approval – these conditions have become ubiquitous in recent years. Inevitably, fine-tuning of designs requires approval, but there is uncertainty about when a change is ‘non-material’ and does not require a formal planning application.
“We also need to consider the overzealous approach being taken by some planning authorities to uncertainties regarding the interpretation of the statutory provisions on time limits for commencement of development, and submission of matters for approval.”
Noting the need for planning authorities to be properly funded, Collar says that planners also need the support of elected representatives: “Councillors need to lead from the front, make what are sometimes hard or unpopular decisions, and support their planners… the planning system is based on exercise of judgment, so planners need to be confident and get on with making decisions, and not be distracted by ifs, buts and maybes.
“There needs to be confidence to make the decision without requesting more and more information, which causes delay twice over, because the information needs to be prepared and then once it has been submitted, the planning officer needs to review it. Local authority departments need to work together, and planning officers need to be project managers to ensure internal responses are not delayed. Issues need to be identified early in the process, not drip-fed months afterwards.”