Scots landowners criticise ‘wrongheaded’ planning proposal

Landowners in Scotland have criticised proposed changes to planning laws that could make it harder to develop land for housing.

Scottish planning law was revised under the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019.

A central principle of the law was the “presumption in favour of sustainable development”. The clause meant proposed developments should be granted planning permission unless their adverse effects outweighed their benefits.

See also: Planning system shake-up: Pluses and pitfalls for farmers

In Scotland, that was particularly useful in areas where a shortfall in housing under development could be quickly addressed with additional land areas, provided they met the sustainability criteria.

However, the Scottish government is now working on a national planning policy framework under the law. In a consultation on the planning framework, Holyrood proposed that the presumption in favour should be removed. It suggested the principle caused confusion and was not a transparent process.

But landowner organisation Scottish Land and Estates (SLE) branded the move “wrongheaded” and “a wholesale deletion of a significant cornerstone of the planning system in Scotland”.

Gavin Mowat, SLE policy adviser, said: “Currently, if there is a shortfall of effective housing land supply in a local development plan, developers can make applications on the basis that their proposals will help make up that shortfall.

“That proposal can then be considered as sustainable development and be looked at favourably when planning permission is considered.”

‘Unintended consequences’

Mr Mowat added: “Removing this pillar of the Scottish planning system has not been appropriately justified and could have severe unintended consequences.” 

In its submission to the Scottish government consultation, SLE said it believed allowing housing development to fulfil demand where effective housing land supply had failed to deliver was a reasonable and legitimate way to achieve sustainable growth in communities.

“Any application that relies on this material consideration is still required to obtain planning consent through a considered process.

“To argue that it undermines transparency is wrongheaded,” the SLE said. 

Referring to the Covid-19 lockdown, the organisation said: “Now is not the time to be considering such a fundamental change in the way housing development is considered in rural areas.

“Since lockdown began, developers are reporting increased demand for homes with gardens and space to work from home.”

It added: “We are not confident that existing – and fast becoming outdated – development plans will have identified suitable unconstrained land where such homes could be built in time to meet development plan targets.”

The SLE concluded: “We therefore do not see why developers should not be given planning permission by applying the presumption in favour, to fulfil the policy objective of delivering enough homes.”

Further information

SLE’s full submission

Scottish government consultation 


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