A new Planning Bill representing the most significant set of alterations to the planning regime in a decade, has been passed after extensive debate by the Scottish Parliament and is set to become law soon. The main features of the Bill to note from a rural/development perspective are as follows:

  • Attempts to include third party rights of appeal in respect of decisions contrary to the local plan were defeated and are not included.

  • No additional controls were imposed in relation to hill tracks. The position remains that tracks for agriculture and forestry are permitted without the need for planning permission under the General Permitted Development Order (GPDO), with permission being required for tracks used for shooting and field sports. The Scottish Government has however committed itself to a wide review of the GPDO following completion of the Bill and has said it will look at the position on hill tracks afresh as part of that review so further regulation may yet follow.

  • Planning authorities are given powers to create short-term let control areas, to allow them to prevent proliferation of ‘Airbnb/Disneyfication’ of particular towns and cities. This was a watered-down version of a provision that appeared earlier in the Bill providing for an automatic requirement to obtain planning permission for change of use to short-terms lets and which does not apply.

  • New duties are imposed on planning authorities to prepare forestry and woodland strategies to identify woodlands of high nature conservation value in their areas and to set out their policies and proposals as to their development, the protection and enhancement of woodlands and their resilience to climate change. In practice, the majority of planning authorities already have such strategies in place but the new provision makes this a requirement for all planning authorities.

  • The Bill contains an enabling power for Scottish Ministers to make regulations allowing for a levy to be paid to local authorities by developers to fund infrastructure projects in their areas. The details of this are to be left to the regulations themselves. More fundamental reform, in the shape of land value uplift capture, might require more far-reaching changes to the planning system and this is an area which has been excluded from the Bill but which is being considered further by the Scottish Land Commission.