David C Bell: Scots could learn from England’s new planning system, says David C Bell

PRACTISING as a chartered town planner in both Scotland and England, I have the benefit of being able closely to compare the operation of the planning system in both countries. Scotland has for a long time been seen as having a progressive and leading edge planning system.

In England, the Department of Communities and Local Government last week published the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which took force with immediate effect as a material consideration in planning decisions. Its aim has been to streamline the system, cutting more than 1,000 pages of guidance to a document which captures that policy in just over 50 pages. This is exactly what the Scottish Government did in 2010, with the launch of Scottish Planning Policy (SPP).

However, the English document has gone further with the introduction of a presumption in favour of sustainable development – the central tenet of the NPPF. The primacy of a development plan remains but, and this is critical, where a plan is absent or silent or if policies are out of date, planning permission should be granted unless adverse impacts demonstrably outweigh the benefits.

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

This approach reflects the coalition government’s desires to stimulate economic growth and cut bureaucracy. The Scottish Government states in SPP that the planning system is essential to its central purpose of achieving sustainable economic growth. Unfortunately, in practice, in Scotland I still too often see little regard for the economic benefits of development proposals in planning application reports to committees. If the Scottish Government’s central purpose is to be robustly achieved, more weight needs to be placed on economic considerations in planning decisions.

The Chancellor George Osborne stated, in launching the NPPF, that an industrialist had told him it took only months to secure consent for a factory in Germany, but more than a year in England. In a competitive context for inward and footloose investment an efficient planning system is essential. This time, we may wish to learn from our colleagues south of the Border.

• David C Bell is director and head of planning at Jones Lang LaSalle.