Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Major Decisions to be made soon?

APTSec is becoming increasingly concerned that major planning applications for development in the A96 Corridor (which are currently contrary to existing local plans) will be determined before the new Highland–wide Local Development Plan has completed its 'Examination' stage. Why should I be concerned, well...

Once the Highland-wide Local Development Plan, 'Proposed Plan', is published in May 2010, consultation will take place (June / July / Aug / Sept?) and representations will no doubt be made. If there are any unresolved matters in relation to representations then someone will be appointed by Government Ministers to undertake an examination of the plan.

Examinations are intended as the principal means of independently testing the issues arising from representations on proposed strategic development plans (SDPs) and local development plans (LDPs). On completing the examination, the person appointed to examine the Local Development Plan will prepare a report setting out and giving reasons for their conclusions and recommendations. In contrast to the 'old' Public Inquiry System, examination reports are largely binding on planning authorities.

The Planning, Environment and Development Committee has agreed (Nov 2009) that major development schemes identified in the A96 Corridor should be taken forward in the context of the ongoing development plan process and should not be determined in advance of the preparation of the Proposed (HwLDP) Plan. The recommendation of the report was (click here):

"RECOMMENDATIONThe Committee is asked to:

(i) Agree that all the current major development schemes in East Inverness, Tornagrain, Delnies and South Nairn (and any which are subsequently submitted) which are identified in the A96 Corridor Framework are taken forward in the context of the ongoing Local Development Plan work and should not be determined in advance of the preparation of the Proposed Plan;

(ii) Agree that this will not affect consideration of those schemes which benefit from existing adopted Local Plan allocations, or the proposed Campus site at Beechwood, which was specifically promoted as a priority development area at the time the A96 Corridor Framework was approved by Council.

(iii) Agree that a review of this position be taken following the publication of the Highland wide Local Development Plan Proposed Plan in early 2010 and that in the meantime, discussions will continue with all interested parties as part of the normal planning process."

This could be seen as providing an option whereby the Tornagrain planning application, for example, or indeed any other major application, could be considered as soon as possible after the new plan is published, but not yet progressed to the examination stage. Why is this important to APTSec? Well...

In a letter (Oct 2005), from the former Director of Planning, Mr Rennilson, to Fergus Ewing MSP the Director states of the plans for the A96 Corridor, “…the concept will remain to be tested through the statutory development plan system. The information leaflet makes clear that the final conclusions of the work will require to be incorporated into future local plans of the area this will allow the public to make representations on this issue and, if necessary, for it to be tested through Public Local Inquiry. Thereafter, each aspect of the Masterplan will also require to be the subject of planning applications, when the public will have further opportunities to make their views known.” The A96 Corridor masterplan had moved from 'stage I ' to 'stage II' further to views being gathered via the 'information leaflet' that Mr Rennilson refers to.

Hence, it seems to me, that in response to concerns - with respect to the emergence of the A96 Corridor proposals - expressed by the MSP on behalf of his constituents, the Director had clearly indicated that any new plan into which proposals for the A96 was incorporated would be independently tested before any planning applications would be considered.

We also need to consider the fact that Section 25 of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 states that a Planning Authority’s decision on a planning application must be made in accordance with the Development Plan – unless material considerations indicate otherwise. This has relevance because policies in emerging Development Plans, including proposed plans which are not yet “adopted” (Local Development Plans) or “approved” (Strategic Development Plans) are regarded as material considerations - see the updated Planning Aid Scotland leaflet on 'Material Considerations' here

Therefore if any or all of the proposals for the Corridor make it into the Proposed Plan, which is supposed to be the authorities 'settled view', then this could be seen as a significant material consideration in favour of relevant planning applications even though the plan would not yet have made it to the examination stage, with all the promise of 'independent testing'. APTSec is arranging a training meeting for May 14th in Inverness (more details to be announced) to cover responses to development plans and examinations. Please contact me if you would like more details.

Click here for more information on plans and examinations.