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MEETING HOUSING NEED IS HARD. CHANGING PLANNING APPEAL RIGHTS WOULD MAKE IT IMPOSSIBLE.

By HFS Director of Planning Tammy Swift-Adams

As MSPs return to Holyrood from October Recess, the Local Government and Communities Committee will continue interrogating the Planning Bill.

They’ve already made some changes, with opposition parties aligning against the Scottish Government’s thinking on development plans.

They believe, for example, that the Minister’s desire to write a plan for Scotland must come with a willingness to set home building targets. We believe that’s essential in achieving a whole-system response to the housing crisis.

Less promisingly, only the Conservatives have grasped the fact that a development plan written partly by the Minister and partly by the council must work as a whole. Legislation shouldn’t say the local and national components can be at odds, but that is where development plans have been left (at least until January 2019 when the Bill will be debated by full Parliament).

The committee is turning now to other things, not least the emotive topic of planning appeals.

There has been much talk of community or ‘third party’ appeal rights. Homes for Scotland, home builders and many others are deeply concerned this will sour and stymie a system already punctured with conflict. Already failing to deliver.

Some people suggest another way to ‘equalise’ appeal rights is to remove or restrict the applicant’s right to appeal a refusal.

This too would be catastrophic. Like them or not, applicant appeals are a positive and necessary part of planning. Without them our housing crisis would be even worse. We would lose chances to build, serve and strengthen communities. Our ability to attract and retain investment would suffer.

We can’t afford to miss positive opportunities and, with the Bill stretching local plans to ten years, Scotland will be more reliant on unallocated sites as those plans age. These are the sites most likely to come through an appeal.

Fairness in planning comes from positive process and positive outcomes. It doesn’t hinge on ‘equal’ rights to appeal. Fairness depends on planning fearlessly to deliver what Scotland needs now and for the future. It means more affordable homes, and enough market homes for aspiring home owners and those looking to upsize or downsize as life changes. It means making difficult, forward-looking decisions in the face of real-time opposition.

Should a home builder have to roll-up their plans and leave the area if permission is refused or their proposal isn’t a perfect fit with a complicated and sometimes outdated set of policies? Those who campaigned for a refusal might get short-term satisfaction and relief, but another potentially sustainable development, offering homes that people need, will be lost.

MSPs will also decide whether appeal rights should be linked to plan conformity. This wouldn’t make planning more transparent or support a plan-led system. It would do the opposite. You can’t distinguish ‘good’ from ‘bad’ development just on the basis of site allocations, and gauging compliance with wider policy considerations is no easy task.

Applicant appeals make a vital contribution to housing supply and other development needs, but don’t dominate the system. Only 30% of all applicants refused planning permission choose to appeal. Others go back to the drawing board or give up. Less than 40% of appeals succeed, so only 12% of council refusals are overturned.

In 2017 there were 17 appeals allowed for developments of ten or more homes. 14 were for allocated sites. The others a were a modest affordable housing project and two greenfield developments in areas with a housing land shortfall, both of which were found by Reporters to be plan-compliant. Not one appeal was allowed for a major housing development that wasn’t in line with the plan.

This explains why home builders feel the chance of winning an appeal on an unallocated site is limited and would be non-existent if housing land supplies were maintained.

Together, the three unallocated sites will provide 316 homes. The allocated sites will contribute many hundreds more. Consider this against the fact only 806 additional new homes were built in 2017 compared to the previous year. Without the homes resulting from appeals, housing supply in Scotland would, in all likelihood, be in decline.

Community frustration must be addressed, but changing appeal rights isn’t the answer.  Reform must serve the twin goals of a better community voice in planning and meeting housing need and demand. Inclusive development planning, in short.

It has been good to hear some Party Conference commitments to building more homes. We now need the Planning Bill to keep that mission in sight.

Published 22 October 2018

 

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