Following the positive mood at the recent Homes for Scotland Annual Lunch and Awards, we can all agree that the housebuilding industry is faring well and housebuilders have a great appetite for new sites in the right locations.

But there are headwinds. Planning is key to delivery of much needed new homes to meet the current shortfall in supply, and when an independent review of the system was announced in 2015 many thought this could be a ‘silver bullet’ opportunity to sort out a creaking system. Homes for Scotland’s planning team have been working hard and engaging with the Scottish Government at various levels to help encourage the development of a planning system which facilitates development. It’s always a hot topic of discussion at the lunch.

The Bill is expected to go through Stage 3 at the Scottish Parliament in June 2019. Getting the Bill into final form will represent the culmination of almost four years of discussion. It hasn’t been an easy ride to date.

What happened at Stage 2?

At Stage 2, where MSPs are given the opportunity to make amendments to draft Bills proposed by the Scottish Government, over 230 amendments were passed in relation to the Bill. However concerns have been raised by planners and developers about the impact of these amendments – thought to be the most ever made to a Bill of the Scottish Parliament.

The revised Bill creates 91 new duties on the planning system. It is estimated by Scottish Government that these new duties will increase local authority costs by up to £75m, and increase business costs by more than £400m. This is a far cry from the review’s initial aim of “empowering planning to deliver great places”.

What’s going to happen at Stage 3?

Kevin Stewart MSP, Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning, has said that he intends to “work constructively” with MSPs to reduce the level of additional bureaucracy currently contained in the Bill during Stage 3.

There is a significant amount of duplication and overlap in the amendments passed at Stage 2, as well as matters being included which may be more appropriately dealt with by other regimes, such as building standards. It is expected (and dearly hoped) that MSPs will work to address these issues. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

What might be in the final Bill?

It is difficult to know which amendments to the Bill will make the cut at Stage 3. Some of the amendments which may, or may not, end up in the final Bill include:

  • A requirement on planning authorities to prepare open space strategies – a strategic framework for development, maintenance and use of green infrastructure in their area;
  • Scottish Ministers are to report biennially on how the planning system is operating to help ensure that the housing needs of older people and disabled people are met. Local development plans are also to include consideration of how such needs are to be met, including the allocation of suitable sites;
  • Retention of strategic development plans;
  • Creation of ‘masterplan consent areas’ – which may provide for compulsory purchase of land within the area for land value capture purposes;
  • Creation of ‘culturally significant zones’ – intended to support cultural venues, facilities and uses by requiring planning authorities to publish proposals for the preservation and enhancement of culturally significant zones and to give particular consideration to the desirability of preserving or enhancing the zone when determining planning applications. There would be a presumption against residential development within a zone or 100m of the boundary of a zone;
  • Use of a dwelling-house for short-term holiday lets is to automatically be considered a material change of use for which planning permission would be required – to combat the ‘Air BnB effect’;
  • The likely health effects of a national or major development are to be given consideration in the determination of applications;
  • There is to be a prohibition on the grant of applications for development on green belt land unless the applicant has demonstrated that the development cannot be achieved on brownfield land;
  • Planning permissions for certain types of development (such as schools, hospitals, shopping centres, and other large public facilities) must be subject to a condition requiring the provision of toilets with specified facilities for those with additional needs;
  • Provision for Scottish Ministers to define ‘material considerations’ by Regulation; and
  • Introduction of neighbour notification for listed building consent applications.

One additional change which I am personally looking forward to happening at the same time as the Bill progresses to Stage 3 is the welcoming of our new Head of Planning, Alasdair Sutherland, into our Edinburgh office – who I’m sure will be keen to help tackle the challenges and take advantage of the improvements the Bill has to offer in due course!


As amended, the very first section of the Bill states: “The purpose of the planning system is to manage the development and use of land in the best long-term public interest.”

As it stands, the Bill would not meet this criteria. It is to be hoped that MSPs will work together and take account of the housebuilding industry’s concerns at Stage 3 to fix this.