The Scottish Government has published Ryden’s research report on the ‘Use of Simplified Planning Zones (SPZs) and equivalent mechanisms used outwith Scotland’. Produced with input from Brodies, the research assesses the potential for a more flexible and widely applicable land use zoning mechanism than SPZs currently provide. The report will help inform Scotland’s planning reforms.
Commenting on the report, Kevin Stewart, Minister for Housing and Local Government said: “As set out in our recent Programme for Government, Simplified Planning Zones can improve the planning process, offer significant opportunities for the self‑build and custom‑build sector and make it easier for more people to build homes. This research looks at what is working in systems beyond Scotland and, together with our pilot zones that are encouraging housing and inward investment in four local authorities, will play a significant part in how we reform our planning laws to make them work for people, communities, builders and our economy.”
SPZs are areas where the need to apply for planning permission is removed for certain types of development. An SPZ requires a scheme which specifies the type and quantity of permitted development, as well as any limitations, conditions or guidelines. If a development proposal complies with the scheme, planning permission is not required. SPZs can therefore streamline the planning process; saving time, money and providing certainty for landowners, investors and interested parties.
SPZs were developed mostly to aid regeneration and encourage employment, yet their use has been very limited in Scotland. The 2014 Hillington Park SPZ was the first in the country in 25 years; since its adoption the planning authorities have been notified of £25m investment in the Park. Interest has recently been rekindled in the potential of SPZs as part of the ongoing review of Scotland’s planning system. The recent Scottish Government paper ‘Places, people and planning’ suggested that “greater use of a zoned approach to development has potential to support housing delivery… and also wider objectives including business development and town centre renewal”.
Following a tender process, the Scottish Government appointed Ryden to carry out research into SPZs with the aim of assessing the potential for a more flexible mechanism and explore ways to overcome barriers currently limiting the wider uptake of SPZs.
Ryden’s report recommends key principles for a rebranded and more ambitious zoning approach. The recommendations are based on the firm’s analysis of Scotland’s existing SPZs, plus similar mechanisms in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Ireland, as well as European models. An insightful study tour of Strategic Development Zones in Ireland and 25 detailed interview consultations also informed the report.
The key principles identified by Ryden as requiring consideration by the Scottish Government in order to establish the modernised mechanism, and remove barriers to adoption, include:
To date, the majority of SPZs have focused on employment sites due to being typically homogenous. One Town Centre SPZ exists in Renfrew and four housing SPZs are currently being piloted by the Scottish Government. The report recommends that these existing sectors are built on, an increased range of housing sectors explored as well as sites identified as national economic priorities in the National Planning Framework 3 (NPF3).
Protected Area Exclusions
Current SPZ legislation restricts certain sites from inclusion within an SPZ including: sites requiring an environmental impact assessment (EIA), green belt sites, conservation areas and National Scenic Areas. The report recommends that this should be more flexible in order that potential opportunities are not lost. For example, rather than exclude their designation within conservation areas, proposals could require design guidance. The inclusion of sites requiring an EIA could also be determined through scoping with the planning authority.
Legislation and Process
A key barrier to wider use of SPZs is the extensive preparation process, for example the stringent timescales to prepare a scheme and early investment (e.g. surveys) that may be required. The report recommends that preparation should be more flexible to suit the specific scheme in relation to: duration, revisions and revoke, extent of community consultation and preparation in line with the Local Development Plan. Upfront investment of delivery is encouraged and whilst there is a loss of planning fees, a charging mechanism could be explored and fees received from other streams e.g. building warrants. It is also recommended that other statutory consents are aligned through the refreshed model.
Dr Mark Robertson, partner at Ryden who led this research, said: “Ryden is delighted to have delivered this SPZ project which will inform the next stage of planning reforms in Scotland. It has set out some best practice examples of similar mechanisms outwith Scotland and highlighted solutions to overcome existing barriers to the wider use of SPZs.”