On 20 June 2019 the Scottish Parliament passed the Planning Bill. The Bill modernises the Scottish planning system, aiming to achieve a more strategic, regional-focused and less bureaucratic approach.

It also contains a number of aspects that will be of particular interest to the greenspace and green infrastructure communities, including:

  • changes to development planning
  • new statutory requirements for open space strategies, play sufficiency assessments, and forestry and woodland strategies
  • infrastructure levy for green and blue infrastructure

Towards a stronger and more effective strategic planning

The Planning Bill includes new arrangements for preparing and amending the National Planning Framework (NPF). The NPF will for the first time become part of the statutory development plan and will have to be approved by the Scottish Parliament, which strengthens its important status in planning decision making. The Bill also removes the requirement to prepare strategic development plans and instead brings in requirements for planning authorities to prepare regional spatial strategies. These can be, where considered as appropriate, set up by working with other authorities. Regional spatial strategies provide the advantage of being more agile, align with wider regional partnerships and allow a greater focus on delivery. Additionally, local authorities that are located within the Central Scotland Green Network area will be required to consult the CSGN on their proposed local development plan.

Open Space Strategies 

Open space strategies will now be a statutory requirement. The Bill states these are to set out a strategic framework of the planning authority’s policies and proposals as to the development, maintenance and use of green infrastructure in their district, including open spaces and green networks. An open space strategy must contain: an audit of existing open space provision, an assessment of the current and future requirements, and any other matter which the planning authority consider appropriate.

The Bill gives definitions of the terms green infrastructure and green networks, which are different to those currently in Scottish Planning Policy. The Bill provides the opportunity to amend these definitions by regulations that will need to be approved by the Scottish Parliament. The Minister has indicated that he will undertake a wider policy review to give stakeholders the opportunity to comment on definitions and highlight new drivers. 

Play sufficiency assessment

The Scottish Planning Bill requires planning authorities to assess the sufficiency of children’s play opportunities in their area. These Play Sufficiency Assessments (PSA) must be reviewed as evidence reports which contribute to the local development plan. Further detail on requirements of preparing PSAs will be brought forward in secondary legislation.

Forestry and woodland strategies

The Bill also brings in a requirement for planning authorities to prepare forestry and woodland strategies. These will identify woodlands of high nature conservation value in the planning authority’s area and set out the authority’s policies and proposals as to the development of forestry and woodlands, the protection and enhancement of woodlands, the resilience to climate change of woodlands, the expansion of a range of types of woodlands to provide multiple benefits to the physical, cultural, economic, social and environmental characteristics of the area and any other matter which they consider appropriate. Authorities can work together to prepare a forestry and woodland strategy. The Bill sets out procedural details around consultation on the strategy and publication requirements.

Infrastructure levy - includes  green and blue infrastructure

Part 5 of the Bill introduces a power for Scottish Ministers to make regulations establishing an infrastructure levy.

This would be paid to a local authority in relation to the development in its area to fund infrastructure projects. The definition of 'infrastructure' includes 'green and blue' infrastructure, defined as meaning 'features of the natural and built environment (including water) that provide a range of ecosystem and social benefits'. As with open space strategies, this definition could be amended by regulations.

Next steps

The Planning Bill is expected to receive Royal Assent in summer 2019 and will then become an Act. F

The Scottish Government is begining a programme of work to develop and consult on the necessary regulations, guidance and policies to implement the new legislation. The provisions of the new Act will not come into force until they are "commenced" by Orders laid before the Scottish Parliament.

Keep up-to-date with the Scottish Government’s latest information about the Planning Reform, read the passed Planning Bill or the full blog Green Infrastructure and the Planning Reform.