Significant changes are being made to our planning system as the Scottish Government continues to implement the 2019 Planning Act.

The Scottish Government also recently published Draft of Scotland 2045: Our Fourth National Planning Framework, which sets out how their approach to planning and development will help to achieve a net zero, sustainable Scotland by 2045. It reflects priorities across Scottish Government portfolios and brings together a wide range of plans, programmes and policies.

One major area that will affect landowners who may be looking at the future of their holdings is the imminent move to 10-year development plans. Although this change should offer more opportunities to secure allocations for housing sites, there may also be greater technical requirements before allocation that could make the process more onerous early on. Crucially, it means that landowners looking to promote their land for housing will need to start engaging much earlier with housebuilders or land promoters to secure Option Agreements.  

At present, Local Development Plans (LDP) and the land allocations within them are reviewed every five years so Local Authorities only have to provide a 5-year land supply for housing. New 10-year plans will require a greater housing land release, which should create more opportunity for landowners to successfully promote sites for allocation within the LDP.

However, these housing land requirements will no longer be determined by each Local Authority. Instead, Scottish Ministers have set targets in the National Planning Framework 4 document.

Once approved NPF 4 will provide certainty as to how the housing land targets will be set nationally, which will then inform each LDP. 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.

At the same time, we are also seeing a higher element of risk and cost in future. A key element here is the proposed Gate Check process, which may require those promoting allocations in a LDP to complete more detailed technical surveys and site analysis to demonstrate deliverability before allocation.

Whilst important for meeting national targets, this approach will add to the cost of promoting sites and there is a concern that by putting the responsibility and cost on landowners to provide additional technical data, many will miss out through lack of time or funds.

One solution, though, is to engage with housebuilders and land promoters at an earlier stage, before allocation. In this way any Gate Check costs and reporting can be covered as part of an Option Agreement and landowners will find the process considerably simpler.  

It is important that the Government provides early clarification on how the allocation and Gate Check process will work and the level of information required to support promotion of sites through the LDP. Option/Promotion Agreements require specialist advice from a suitably experienced and qualified surveyor to ensure that the landowner’s interests are protected.  An early lead in will give landowners enough time to start the complex and time-consuming process of negotiating an Option/Promotion Agreements with housebuilders or land promotors before the preparation of new Proposed Local Development Plans commences.