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Scottish Government proposes introduction of presumption in favour of sustainable development

The Scottish Government has launched a consultation on a revised draft of the Scottish Planning Policy (SPP) which introduces a presumption in favour of sustainable development, bringing Scottish regulation into line with that in England and Wales.30 Oct 2013

Following a consultation on the SPP over the summer, the Scottish Government has launched a further consultation on a revised section on 'sustainability and planning'. 

An expert welcomed the proposals but said that the revisions downgraded the importance and weight to be attached to economic considerations when determining planning applications. 

The consultation paper (15-page/1MB PDF) sets out proposals to replace the principal policies on 'sustainable economic growth' and 'sustainable development' in the draft SPP with a principal policy on 'sustainability and planning', which will include a presumption in favour of sustainable development. 

The proposals would align national planning policy in Scotland more closely with England and Wales where a presumption in favour of sustainable development is part of the National Planning Policy Framework.  

The revised policy would prescribe that development plans should reflect the presumption in favour of development that contributes to sustainable development. Where the plan is out-of-date or does not contain policy relevant to the proposal, the policy presumption in favour of development that contributes to sustainable development would apply. 

"The headline proposal to introduce a 'presumption in favour of sustainable development' which would apply unless material considerations indicate otherwise will be generally welcomed by the development industry as many had suggested a 'presumption' should be introduced to put planning policy on a more positive footing," said Gary McGovern, Scottish planning expert at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com. 

"However, looking past the 'presumption' to the detail of the recast policy on sustainability, there has been a noticeable softening of the language relating to the importance and weight to be attached to economic considerations when determining planning applications as compared to the April draft SPP." 

The draft SPP had stated local authorities should attach 'significant weight' to the 'economic benefit of proposed development' as a material consideration when determining planning applications. In the recast policy, authorities would instead be directed to give 'due weight' to the 'net economic benefit'. McGovern said this would leave it open to the planning authority to determine the weight in any given case. 

"These changes to the detail of the policy from the previous draft are substantive and not changes of emphasis. The original proposed text arguably gave special weight to the economic benefits of development, putting those front and centre in the planning process," he said. 

The paper also states that Scottish Ministers intend to amend the Regulatory Reform Bill to make it clear that planning functions of a local authority will not be subject to the proposed duty to contribute to sustainable economic growth. 

"The amendments appear to be a reaction to concerns voiced by local authorities and other third sector groups that the wording in the April draft would give primacy to economic considerations over environmental and other conditions in the determination of planning applications. However, the development industry may be concerned that the Scottish Government is giving with one hand and taking away with the other, such that the overall effect is not as positive as might appear to be the case at first glance," McGovern said. 

The final SPP is due to be published in June 2014.