2021 is going to be a hugely important year for planning in Scotland. It will bring significant changes to our planning system as the Scottish Government continues to implement the 2019 Planning Act and work progresses on the publication of Scotland’s 4th National Planning Framework. The Scottish Government have committed to consulting on the details of the new development planning system in early 2021, and this will be the first step in the move to 10 year development plans.

But what does this mean for landowners?

  • Potentially greater certainty on housing land numbers
  • More opportunities to secure land allocations for housing sites
  • However there is likely to be an increased requirement to provide detailed technical site information before a site is allocated

At present, plans - and the land allocations within them - are currently reviewed every 5 years. It means local authorities only have to provide a 5-year land supply for housing.

The emergence of 10-year plans will result in a need for greater housing land release, which may mean there is more opportunity for landowners to successfully promote sites for allocation with the LDP. But the housing land requirements will not be set by each local authority. Instead, the Scottish Ministers will set housing land targets in the National Planning Framework 4 document, a draft of which is due to be published in September.  One could hope that this provides a level of certainty as to how the housing land targets will be set nationally, which will then inform each local development plan. However, this is yet to be tested, and it is likely that housing land requirements and the delivery of housing sites will remain a hugely influential and political issue.

One area where further detail is greatly needed is regarding the gate check process, what this will mean for developers, and how this could impact housing delivery. While the gate check will ensure some form of independent scrutiny of a plan at the early stages, it is unclear how this will be undertaken and what level of information will be required. There is the risk that it will mean those seeking allocations in a local development plan may be required to complete more detailed surveys and site analysis to demonstrate the deliverability of the proposed site before it can be allocated in the Local Development Plan.

While we see more opportunity for landowners through these emerging 10 years plans and increasing land supply targets, we also see a higher element of risk. Providing a high level of information at the initial stages of the planning process, with no certainty that the site will even be supported for residential development presents an issue. Landowners often don’t have the funds upfront to provide this information, and so there is concern that by putting the responsibility on the landowners to provide additional technical data, many will miss out.

When it comes to the “call for sites” or other similar processes for site promotion, we need a clear approach from the Government, which is applied consistently across all local authorities. This will ensure that a suitable and appropriate level of evidence can be provided. Additionally, by increasing transparency in this process, it will ensure that landowners can enter into appropriate options agreements with developers who may be able to cross-fund some of the survey requirements. This will ensure that promoted sites have been carefully considered by developers and that the deliverability of a site is considered at an early stage.

However, it is important that clarity on the allocation/gatecheck process, and the level of information required to support promotion is provided as soon as possible. This is important as it will allow for landowners to enter into an Option with housebuilders prior to commencement of the preparation of Proposed Local Development Plans, to ensure that the information can be gathered in time where the landowner cannot afford to fund it themselves. Clarity on this process must be given with sufficient notice as it takes time for sites to be marketed and Option/Promotion Agreements to be negotiated and agreed.

Certainty over the process and timescales for allocating and reviewing sites through the ‘gatecheck’ process, will also allow developers to agree suitable Option timescales to promote sites and eventually purchase for development upon securing an allocation/planning permission, without falling out of contract with landowners. This is important in minimising risk to housebuilders/promoters, who will be expending significant sums of money gathering the increased level of information required to support sites through the Local Development Plan Process.

Montagu Evans are one of the largest teams of residential land and planning experts in Scotland and are well placed to advise you on the how the changes to the Scottish Planning System may impact you and your land.

We deliver integrated transactional and planning solutions from masterplanning through to site disposals and are experts in option and promotion agreements. We are currently providing advice on strategic land for c. 11,500 homes across various Scottish local authority areas.

We would be happy to discuss how our Scottish team can assist in navigating the new processes and protocols which will be implemented in the near future