Through the enforcement lens – a day in the life of an Enforcement Officer


What does a day in planning enforcement look like? A pertinent question for me, the network manager of NAPE, the National Association of Planning Enforcement. Since my first day in 2015 I’ve been guided and am working alongside a dedicated voluntary committee which represents all the regions and nations of the UK. Naturally, issues vary geographically. High density areas may see a high use of POCA (Proceeds of Crime Act), for example, whereas others deal with work to listed buildings or untidy lands. With officers facing different needs and challenges across the country, as captured by the NAPE bulletin, commonalities like the need to get notices right and being up to date on case law remain. Enforcement is the golden thread of the planning system: it upholds it and ensures compliance.

In order to follow through my quest in providing a relevant and interesting service for our enforcement officers and members of the network I took the opportunity to shadow a team in Scotland. Lyle, Ian and the team at Fife Council’s department of Economy, Planning and Employability gave me a practical insight into their roles and where enforcement sits within the system.

Fife is Scotland’s third largest local authority. Across the shore from Edinburgh, pick your bridge of choice and you are greeted by greenery, coastlines and pockets of large scale housing developments and urban settlements, curving up to the university town of St Andrews and lining the Firth of Forth. Dotted across the authority are listed houses and new towns such as Glenrothes as well as agricultural and mineral sites. Already, an enforcement officer can smell the challenges. Several large scale housing developments can be seen along some of Scotland’s most significant roads as well as many wind turbines as I discovered (and whose proximity to a road I verified using a laser). Going from site to site (think knightriders-of-planning) and meeting the public in this way showed a human dimension of the system, as you see the direct impact on individuals – perhaps why this function is often called the “sharp end of planning”. Whether it is a tanning studio turned restaurant, a wall that overshadows a neighbouring garden or a derelict mine, it is individuals and the natural environment that are impacted when we don’t uphold the principles agreed through the system. It is enforcement officers that ensure the integrity of the system and that the path to a solution is found. The function is corrective, not punitive, and entirely essential.

Lyle, Ian and I sit and pick out several cases on the commonly used Uniform, an enforcement workflow system that links with the Idox Planning Portal. Since the transition to digital databases, if budgets allow enforcement officers might consider using an iPad on site visits rather than paperwork. The team of four deals with up to 1100 cases a year. In 2013/2014, at any one time, the average open case load was 59 per post. Of course, any conversation with local planning authorities touches upon the resourcing issue. We know that in some parts of the UK there’s been a significant decrease in development management staff. RTPI NW has studied the resourcing question in detail and we know that in the North West of England staffing has fallen on average by 27% .RTPI Scotland scrutiny of 2014/2015 figures shows there were approximately 650 full time posts in development management out of 1280 in planning as a whole. 6% of this was enforcement staff.

How does a busy enforcement team cope with the pressures of cuts and changing systems? Well, CPD-rich events assist in prioritising, finding new ways of doing things and sharing best practice though supportive forums. Also important is getting it right from the start of the planning process, something advocated at the NAPE annual conference. Bodies and forums such as the Improvement Service, the Planning Advisory Service and NAPE work to provide support. Last year, the latter two jointly published an advice note. The ongoing Scottish Planning review is also addressing enforcement. This root-and -branch review of the Scottish planning system identified that failure to enforce (often brought about by resource constraints) is undermining public trust in the planning system. Reforms are promised, an opportunity to further strengthen the enforcement function and provide easier ways to deal with breaches of planning control in these times of constrained budgets and staff numbers. When breaches in planning law and non-compliance with conditions or approved drawings arise, the reforms ought to recognise that as part of improving development management, a well-resourced, reinforced and more effective planning enforcement regime is needed to restore some adverse perceptions of the planning system. The RTPI Scotland’s Written Evidence included the recommendation that the enforcement regime should have increased penalties for breaches.

In my opinion, it is the resilience, adaptability and knowledge of these teams which is remarkable. Being able to negotiating with difficult business owners, advising members of the public on the phone, protecting natural habitats and enforcing legislation is done in a day’s work. Therefore, it is essential that enforcement has a voice and uses it to make us all better planners.

See the website to find out what NAPE gets up to your area and to see more about NAPE.

Keep the Kids Out! How can planning support children’s participation?


In a guest blog, Jenny Wood, researcher in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the Scottish planning system at Heriot-Watt University, responds to the planning review recommendation to make statutory engaging young people in planning and development.

The UNCRC enshrines in international law a commitment to listen and respect the views of the child (Article 12), and to uphold their need to play and participate in public life (Article 31). These are paramount to the work of planners in ensuring a system that has both inclusive processes and outcomes.

Children’s rights are not widely known or understood, but they are now becoming more mainstream, and I am happy that the independent review panel recently recommended that the Scottish planning system introduce a statutory duty to engage ‘young people’ in planning (Recommendation 47). The Scottish Government are yet to respond on this issue, but this is an important time to push for recognition of the abilities of children to participate, and the value it can have both to how we manage space, and to the children themselves. Whilst I remain concerned that there is little attention in the review to ensuring Article 31 in the planning system, I set out here some suggestions for encouraging greater participation of children in the planning process.

Firstly, I feel it is important to be critical of the language of ‘young people’ used in the planning review. Whilst ‘young people’ has no standard definition, in general usage it tends to refer to people aged between 13 and 25, and using this language thus suggests that only children of secondary school age have a right to participate, and may perpetuate a view that younger children are not capable. In my experience, planners tend to understand the importance of trying to engage teenagers, and whilst some planning authorities have found ways to gather their views, there is substantial scope to reduce complexity and enable younger children to participate. I would like to spread the message therefore that engaging with children (of both primary and secondary school age) need not be an onerous, but that the skills and expertise can be learnt; support exists from children’s practitioners and organisations; and that the discussions really can be as simple as asking a child ‘what do you like and dislike about your area’.

Though the process need not be complex, an important consideration in thinking about children is that their engagement needs to be more open to a range of issues and emotions than many current approaches to community engagement allow. Children (like many adults) are unlikely to grasp what is and is not a ‘planning matter’. Such criteria are exclusionary, and engagement with children will be wasted if a planner is only willing to listen to what is directly under their remit. For instance, if a child complains about the volume of traffic in their local area, then these views should be shared with relevant departments and colleagues that could take more direct measures to address this than planners. Equally, we should be open to the more general messages that emerge from children’s participation. For example, if a group of children express a wish for a zoo in their local area, this is unlikely to be deliverable, however planners could address a general wish for more exciting leisure opportunities through more creative means. After all, this approach urges us to think more holistically about place-making, and not simply planning. It also acknowledges that children may not always have the same language and frames of reference to express themselves in traditional ways. This means that engagement with children should be as much about understanding their experiences to enhance planning outcomes, as it is conforming to a statutory process.

To fulfil a more collaborative approach to children’s spatial needs, we could learn from the Welsh Government, which instigated a statutory duty on all local authorities to assess the sufficiency of play and leisure opportunities in their areas, and then work to secure (as far as practicable) improved opportunities where issues were found in current provision. This is not lead by planners, but requires their participation, as well as the direct participation of children. Although this policy is in its infancy, I have found evidence that it is beginning to change local authority policy, and the understanding and attitudes of planners towards children’s needs.

I give some advice to planners thinking about engaging children here. However, to help with this process and to find methods that are both friendly to children, and friendly to planners, we can look at some of the methods already in use. For example, we could use games such as Minecraft if we have the tools and expertise available. There is also the potential that planning participation can be linked to wider events, such as in Tattenhall Neighbourhood Plan where they organised a free rave for local young people, provided that attendants first filled-out a survey about the area. Moreover, to create more strategic approach to children’s participation, planning authorities could learn from Children’s Tracks in Norway (where children’s participation is a statutory duty), and SoftGIS methodology in Finland. Initially, these methods involved children drawing on, annotating and commenting on maps of their area, but have subsequently become online, GIS-based systems. I drew on these approaches in my research, but worked offline by giving primary school children A3 OS maps of their local area (and a masterplan at a later date) which they annotated. These methods could be simple stepping stones to bring children’s views into development planning, and to individual planning applications.

This Wednesday at mine and PAS’s Edinburgh Fringe show Keep the Kids Out! we will debate some of these ideas. We hope that this will be a jumping off point for a commitment to the inclusive and meaningful participation of children in planning, so that we can achieve outcomes that are really in children’s interests.

These are the views of the author.

The Planning Review – Effective Development Planning?

In a guest blog, Dorothy McDonald, Assistant Manager of Clydeplan, discusses issues raised by the planning review in taking forward development plans 

RTPIImage_17People seem to like our tiered system of development planning. You know, the triangular hierarchy of NPF, SDP and LDPs through to development management decisions. It make good theoretical sense and others including academia, and those down south, Celtic colleagues in Wales and Ireland, and those in Europe and further afield, must look at that diagram and think that this small nation of ours has really got things sussed. Indeed some are seeking to emulate that system.

However the review panel and others, question the efficacy of the system particularly in relation to delivering development.

The most recent thinking, within the draft planning and delivery advice and the review recommendations, aims to shift the focus of development planning from preparation and policy, to infrastructure, delivery and outcomes. This is commendable and supported by all of us with an interest in the creation of great places for people.

  • The review recommends that NPF (and SPP) are to be enhanced and possibly integrated, to include setting regional housing targets for local development plans (R2, R4, R12). NPF is also to provide a clearer vision for infrastructure investment and development across the city regions which links more directly to relevant delivery and investment programmes. It is also recommended that Planning and Architecture division should be recognised as a leader and co-ordinator of the place agenda within the Scottish Government and resourced to reflect this. (R36)
  • SDPs are to be removed from the system, replaced by an enhanced NPF, however SDPAs are to be “repurposed” to support housing delivery, to coordinate cross boundary thinking to inform local development plans, to play a crucial role within a new national infrastructure agency and to be given a statutory duty to cooperate with the Scottish Government in producing the NPF. (R2, R17)
  • LDPS are to focus on place, be based on community led locality plans, avoid policy duplication, include a clear schedule of infrastructure costs and move from plan preparation to plan implementation within a longer term cycle. (R23, R44)

And for all tiers of the system, planning services should aspire to become leaders and innovators within the context of public service reform. R36.

There is room for improving the effectiveness of development planning however, part of the issue I would suggest, is related to an occasional misunderstanding of roles. In one sense, the system of development plans does not actively do anything other than confer on the planning authority the ability to grant planning permission to land and we can all cite any number of examples of where Planning Permission has been granted and never implemented. Thereafter their locus and influence on both delivery and infrastructure is very light.

Where development planning can and often does plays a strong role, is in working collaboratively with delivery partners including other services, the key agencies, communities and the development industry.

To effect real bite to development planning activities and the translation to outcomes, the scope of the review recommendations rightly goes beyond the current remit of development planning teams (national, strategic and local) and into wider territory of government and service delivery.

So effective development plans.

Yes let’s have an effective policy context that has more clarity and bite. For example regional housing targets which are clear, have buy–in, and can therefore be unambiguously translated into local development plans. And yes, less duplication of policy and more place based plans. This will lead to more certainty, clarity, community involvement and a smoother ride for planning applications.

But effective development plans…that deliver.

Yes but this will continue to present challenges unless planning teams are resourced, skilled, and constituted in an appropriate manner. A number of the review recommendations may assist including those that call for greater alignment of development planning with wider government strategies and corporate services; more commitment from chief executives; and the need for a corporate structures requiring key infrastructure providers to co-operate in delivering plans.

On resources however, as we know planning services account for 0.63% of local authority budgets, and many development planning teams, certainly all of the strategic planning teams, are constituted and resourced primarily to prepare the Plan. In budgetary terms, the Planning and Architecture Division is also a small player within government.

Irrespective of this limitation, the ambitions of development planners remain high and the need for further culture change to improve working practices within planning authorities is important. In that respect the review recommendations which highlight the central and coordinating role that planning should play within public service delivery, assist with imbuing confidence within the profession. Culture change is however a two way street and others, including corporate and community planning, and the development industry, also require to work with the development plan.

In relation to the regional tier specifically, the review panel acknowledge the value of planning at a city-region scale saying that the city-region remains a critical scale for planning. However they question the impact of SDPs, and consider that collaboration and co-ordinated action are now more important than production of a plan. They therefore recommend that SDPAs are repurposed to pioneer a different way of working where planners proactively co-ordinate development with infrastructure delivery at the city-region scale and suggest deletion of SDPs.

Whilst I broadly agree with the sentiment that development planning activity should be more positively and proactively orientated (“repurposed”), within all tiers of the system, I do not agree with the final conclusion to delete SDPs. The value of planning at the city region scale will only be fully realised when aligned with more effective regional governance involving coordination of land use, transport, the economy, housing, infrastructure and City Deals, and in that context a regional planning strategy seems even more important to ensure the alignment of strategies, land use and delivery. And I am not alone in saying that! (Review of the Strategic Development Plans in Scotland, 2014)

Personally, a good result from this would be: publication of the advice on planning and delivery; enhanced clarity within development plans such as in relation to housing targets (which has been emerging as the new system has been bedding in and maturing post 2006 Act); invigorated activity around Action Programmes; renewed recognition of the importance of planning within government; and an undertaking to consider the systemic changes that are required to support delivery and outcomes, which is likely to extend across government services and potentially into local government reform.

Finally let’s all remember that when this planning system of ours is being asked to deliver more development of better quality, this is within the context of a prolonged recessionary period, combined now with a Brexiting Britain, all of which has effected confidence within all sectors but particularly within construction, retail and development sectors. Send for reinforcements!

These are the views of the author.


The Planning Review – what do planners think?

Rhiannon Moylan of Perth and Kinross Council gives her view on a recent East of Scotland Chapter event, an opportunity for planners across the board to reflect on the outcomes of the Planning Review.

Last month the East of Scotland Chapter brought together professionals from a variety of backgrounds to discuss their initial thoughts on the Planning Review panel’s report, Empowering Planning to Deliver Great Places. The discussion that followed explored the possible implications of the recommendations, prior to the Government’s response to the review.

Chair Nick Smith (TAYplan) began the event with a poll:

  • Who supports every recommendation?
  • Who doesn’t support any of the recommendations?
  • Who thinks the recommendations are deliverable?

The answers…? Nobody agreed with every recommendation, yet everyone supported at least one. This showed some promise. But no one felt that the recommendations were all deliverable, clearly a key challenge.

Our first speaker, Mark Richardson, runs a planning and land management practice, Ristol Consulting Ltd, which represents the interests of family companies and estates throughout Scotland. Mark focussed on two key themes of the report: The planning profession and delivery. He welcomed the recognition of the role of planners in placemaking and delivering innovation, drawing on international examples such as the City of Freiburg to highlight the central role planners can play in delivery. He argued that planners should be proactive and encourage the public sector to step in and reduce risk for developers, as they have in Hamburg, to give one example. This could enable greater innovation in self-building and custom building, which he believes can play a key role in meeting housing needs. Mark’s vision for planning in ten years’ time is; that it is a popular profession; that housing has moved on from a narrow focus on shortfall and affordability, and; that Scotland is a leader in planning best practice.  I’m sure many of us support these aspirations.

Next up was Jill Paterson, Environment and Development Plan Manager at Angus Council. She has experience in the private and public sectors in consultancy, development planning and developer obligations.  Jill’s main concern was the implementation of the planning review. While generally positive about the report, suggesting that its findings reinforce the views of many planners, she cautioned that the ‘devil is in the detail’. This theme would recur throughout the discussion that followed.  Jill saw opportunity in the focus on delivery, the emphasis on working with community planning, and the removal of the Main Issues Report, which in her experience causes too much confusion especially in the context of community engagement.  However, several challenges for implementation were highlighted:  Without an enquiry, how would gate checks work? Who will drive forward housing delivery? Where will funding for infrastructure come from?  Secondary legislation will be key to realising these recommendations.

Dr Maggie Bochel, Director of the Planning Division at Aberdeen-based Burness Paul, and with over 25 years’ experience in all aspects of the planning process, was next to give her take.  While acknowledging the good intentions of the current review and the review from 2006, she highlighted that many of the recommendations are dependent on culture change.  She again emphasised the importance of the as of yet missing detail, asking key questions about implementation. Who will make the final decisions on local place plans? Who will guarantee community engagement? How can we ensure the gate check process won’t draw out plan-making and increase legal challenges? How do we deliver essential infrastructure? Maggie suggested that detail is needed to build on the strengths in the review; its success will therefore depend on a positive government response.

Finally, Director of RTPI Scotland and chartered town planner, regeneration specialist and economic development practitioner Craig McLaren offered his view. He called for the response to the review to maximise the role of planning. He noted that the panel, made up of non-planners, had given an overwhelmingly positive review of planning.  Craig called for planners to now take the lead in prioritising among the 48 recommendations, and then to work with Government to ensure that the value of planning and placemaking is fully realised by any reform that takes place.

A lively discussion followed the presentations. Issues raised included the preparation of new legislation, the likelihood of a radical change to the planning system and the importance of encouraging people into the profession. All four speakers viewed the review in a positive light and felt that the recommendations could help deliver a better planning system. But the question remains: Where we do go from here?

If this event taught me one thing it would be that ‘the devil is in the detail’. We won’t be able to judge the success of the review until we have more information regarding its impact on upcoming legislation.

What can Scotland learn from England and Wales’ experience with the Community Infrastructure Levy?

The last few weeks has seen plenty of top level discussion about the outcomes of the independent Planning Review. This blog kicks off a series in which we will aim to open the discussion about some of the specific recommendations in the panel’s report.


Recommendation 18 of Empowering planning to deliver great places says…

“Options for a national or regional infrastructure levy should be defined and consulted upon”

Crucially, in the detail, the recommendation says that these options should ‘draw on the lessons learned from the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) in England and Wales…’. So, what are these lessons?

England and Wales are currently awaiting a substantive response to this question themselves, a review into the functioning of CIL being underway. However, given the amount of evidence available we don’t think that it is premature for Scotland to look south of the border and consider if a CIL-style system could work here.

Like in Scotland, there has been serious concern in England and Wales that planning obligations have not addressed the pressures of growth on existing infrastructure.

CIL was supposed to open up development opportunities by creating an income stream for the infrastructure needed to support growth. It was also supposed to create certainty for developers in terms of infrastructure contributions, as the levy due on development would be clear in advance of the application process beginning. To establish a clear difference in purpose between CIL and planning obligations, following the introduction of the levy no more than five planning obligations would be ‘pooled’ to pay for any single piece of infrastructure. Any shortfall in funding would then be met from the CIL pot.

CIL was introduced in England and Wales through the Planning Act 2008, and then implemented through the Community Infrastructure Levy Regulations 2010. Under the regulations, each local authority is able to produce a ‘charging schedule’, specifying the amount of CIL that would be charged across all types of development over 100m².

Six years after its implementation, take up of CIL across local authorities is still patchy. Adopted Charging Schedules tend to be clustered in South East England and urban areas, where land values are higher. There is no doubt that the amount of money raised by CIL is still a small contribution to infrastructure funding.

The relationship between planning obligations and CIL, especially with regards to the ‘pooling restrictions’ has been a particularly challenging issue. The practical response to this challenge is to ‘zero rate’ certain types of large complex development, meaning that planning obligations can be maximised to meet the specific infrastructure needs associated. However, on major phased developments, delivery through several planning consents means that securing the funds to pay for their supporting infrastructure through just five planning obligation agreements has proved difficult.

As affordable housing contributions are also excluded from CIL, this means that there can be tension between securing funding for affordable housing and funding for the infrastructure needed to made development workable.

The tension between affordable housing and infrastructure delivery has impacted on the effectiveness of CIL in a further context: For those local authorities with particularly high housing need, but lower demand, the continued use of planning obligations is often preferred to CIL. In these places delivering affordable housing numbers is a higher priority than meeting the extra infrastructure demands brought about by housing growth.

Clearly, forcing local authorities to choose between meeting housing need and funding infrastructure is not a long term solution. This is arguably especially true in Scotland where there is a need for frontloaded infrastructure development which opens up opportunities for development. If development is delayed or cancelled, this clearly has a knock on effect for CIL receipts, and therefore the delivery of much-needed infrastructure.

On a positive note, CIL has presented an opportunity for some local authorities to devolve decision making to communities. Crowdfund Plymouth sees some CIL money used to fund community led projects throughout the city. Given current moves among some local authorities in Scotland towards devolving some budgeting decisions to communities, an infrastructure levy might be a way of increasing the slice of the pie that communities are able to distribute.

The recommendation in Empowering planning to deliver great places refers to a ‘regional or national’ levy, so clearly the independent panel does not envision an exact copy of CIL in place in Scotland. However, the lessons about the reliability of levy funding, and competition between different developer contribution streams, are undoubtedly relevant. There are good arguments for streamlining the way that developer contributions are collected, and decisions made on how they are distributed. But, the implementation of CIL in England has not (either by design or coincidence) increased the amount of land value uplift captured for the public benefit. As Scotland faces infrastructure funding challenges, this is an important consideration to bear in mind.

The Planning Review – the need to prioritise, mobilise and evangelise

Kate Houghton, Policy and Practice Officer in RTPI Scotland, discusses how best to take forward the Planning Review

At the outset RTPI Scotland said that the Planning Review was a great opportunity to maximise the potential of the system. Given this we are pleased that the panel’s report supports the Scottish planning system as an important tool for helping Scottish Government, local authorities, communities and developers achieve their ambitions and aspirations.

RTPI Scotland believes that any reformed planning system should be based on four principles:

  • it is a corporate service that influences and supports the work of Scottish Government and local authorities to create great places;
  • it is front-loaded to allow early debate and discussion between planning authorities, communities, stakeholders, utility companies, developers and investors to agree ways forward, roles and responsibilities
  • it is focused on outcomes and delivery, overcoming the current gap between vision and delivering great places for people
  • it is resourced to add value, bearing in mind that Scottish planning authorities have lost 20% of staff in the last 5 years and only receive 0.67% of local authority budgets

It is good to see these key threads running through the panel’s report.The corporate elements have been recognised through the recommendations on a statutory link between community and spatial planning, the establishment of a new Infrastructure Agency and better links between planning and transport governance.  The sentiment behind local authority Chief Executive sign off of local development plans is laudable. But, achieving corporate buy in may be easier to achieve by ensuring that each council has a statutory, professionally qualified Chief Planning Officer such as is the case for other statutory functions. The proposed ‘repurposing’ of Strategic Development Plan Authorities could also provide an opportunity to use the skills located there to better join up planning, infrastructure, transport and city deals.

The recommendations endorse our idea of a front-loaded system through  commitment to upfront community and stakeholder engagement, an “infrastructure first” approach and by re-asserting the primacy of the development plan. The proposed Local Development Plan “gatecheck” at an early stage of the process, replacing the current system of examinations, has potential, though the detail will need to be considered carefully.

In terms of delivery, 10 year development plans with a shorter 2 year processing time should leave more scope for implementation.  An emphasis on more support for upfront infrastructure is welcomed as is more certainty from Scottish Government on housing targets.  That said, the report doesn’t quite move forward the debate on key housing issues such as Housing Needs and Demands Assessments or the definition of effective land. There is a also a question mark about how a proposed Infrastructure Levy would work.

Pleasingly, there is a recognition of the need to invest in the planning service with proposals to move towards full cost recovery for planning applications. Abolishing the penalty clause in favour of incentivising performance improvement is welcomed, as is the idea of making space for planners to plan by removing processes and procedures that don’t add value such as the Main Issues Report and through widening Permitted Development Rights.

We very much welcome the large majority of the panel’s report, although as always the devil will be in the detail.  It has a good, positive narrative to build upon.

We await the response from Scottish Government. This will lead onto a White Paper (likely in the Autumn) and a subsequent Planning Bill, guidance, advice, regulations and support programmes.  As a profession and an Institute we must our response should have three dimensions.

Firstly, we need to prioritise the issues to be taken forward.  We need to identify those of the 48 recommendations that would add most value. To ensure a coherent reform programme moving forward, we will map out where they complement or contradict one another.

Secondly, we need to mobilise. We should use the expertise within the profession to take responsibility for turning ideas into action. We have seen real culture change, but we can do more in both the public and private sectors. We need to build the evidence base to test the ideas, thinking and proposals in the report.

And thirdly, we need to evangelise. Many of the recommendations made are not in the gift of the profession, the Planning Minister or planning authorities. Given this we need to build on the positive messages coming form the review to ensure that everyone with a stake in the system – other Ministers, Scottish Government departments, local authorities, community planning partnerships, MSPs and communities – recognise and realise the positive role that planning can have in helping them to achieve their ambitions and aspirations.


The Planning Review – what is the key message?

Daniel Fawcett, RTPI Scotland Intern Project Officer, looks at the key thoughts running through the recently-published independent review of the Planning system.


In September 2015 the Scottish Government appointed an independent panel to produce a ‘game changing’ review of the Scottish planning system. The report containing the panel’s findings and recommendations, Empowering Planning to Deliver Great Places, was published on May 31st 2016.

The report takes a largely positive approach to the potential of planning. The recommendations focus on how planning can serve as a tool for creating great places, increasing our rate of home-building, and encouraging sustainable growth.

It looks to strengthen the plan-led system, with clearer development plans that take less time to prepare, remain in place for longer, and articulate a long-term vision. This would be underpinned by greater public input, with more frontloaded and innovative community engagement, empowered communities bringing forward local place plans, and statutory links with community planning.

It also recommends the public sector become bolder and more proactive, with access to a greater range of policy tools and powers – particularly to boost housing development. This would be supported through an ‘infrastructure-first’ approach, where the infrastructure needed to ensure delivery would be front-funded via dedicated funds and government guarantees.

The report also recognises the need to support planners in these new roles, recommending increased planning fees, the up-skilling of planners in key topics, and the sharing of specialist staff across multiple authorities. At the corporate level, planning should become more central to local authority working, building links across services. It also recommends investment in IT systems that can support planners in many of these goals.

In truth, these are just some of the report’s recommendations – there are forty eight in total and it would be extremely difficult to summarise them in a five-hundred word  blog post. However, what can be pulled out is a recurring theme – that empowered planners are more effective in how they operate, and that such empowerment can create a greater certainty for those living and investing in our built environment. The report also acknowledges that development issues in Scotland are complex, and that the planning system is not generally the main impediment.

The written evidence RTPI Scotland submitted to the review outlined four principles that should underpin the planning system; it should be delivery and outcome focused, treated as a corporate function within both local authorities and Scottish Government, proactive and frontloaded, and resourced in ways that add value. This thinking carried through to Planning in the Next Parliament, our manifesto for the recent Scottish elections.

As such, RTPI Scotland broadly welcomes the panel’s key message – that planners, planning and the planning system can play distinct and positive roles in how our places will grow. We share their opinions that planning can play a proactive role in creating a sustainable and fairer Scotland, but that a fundamental shift in thinking is needed to achieve this.

The report provides a useful and welcome building block on which to take forward a more proactive planning system. RTPI Scotland looks forward to working with Scottish Government and other key players to meet the review’s aims of “re-establishing the profession as a leader, an innovator and, a strong and effective advocate for the public interest”.