Well, so what you might say.
Planning policy is certainly one of those areas which doesn’t generally have “best seller” written all over it, especially in terms of its appeal to the general public, but nevertheless it is a critical aspect of government decision making, particularly when it relates to housing.
Housing itself is another policy area which few governments, if any, have really got to grips with.
So what does this decision tell us and what does it actually mean?
In short, it concerns a term called “Tilted Balance” – and the courts have thrown out a Scottish Government attempt to derail the Tilted Balance towards granting permission for housing development.
Tilted Balance is the presumption in favour of granting permission of residential property developments is automatically engaged in areas where there is a housing shortage, or a development plan is out of date, unless the proposed development whose adverse impact would significantly and demonstrably outweigh its benefits.
The courts had previously provided helpful guidance to the application of this principle when over-ruling planners at Inverclyde Council who refused to grant permission because the development did not meet all the requirements of “sustainable development”.
This decision was seen as extremely helpful however the Scottish Government then sought to derail the Tilted Balance at the end of 2020, through, it would seem, a back door, a Planning Advice Note.
This created more hurdles for those involved in housing delivery whilst, quite surprisingly, removing the presumption towards sustainable environment. Curious indeed.
In quashing this particular guidance and re-affirming the Tilted Balance, the courts have taken what appears a sensible and pragmatic view that alleviating a chronic housing shortage is, in itself, a normal step towards a sustainable environment.
There’s no doubt this will be extremely welcome news for housebuilders and developers who are under pressure to provide the necessary supply of housing that the country requires – an obvious clue to the excess of demand over supply is writ large through the increase of average house prices over the last few months.
But this is by no means an end to the matter.
Next month will see the consultation begin on National Planning Framework 4 in which the Scottish Government will set out a new plan for Scotland in 2050 – this will be a major strategy and some critical, long term decisions will need to be made.
But again, this is not the end either.
We now have the high profile coming together of the SNP and the Greens and this will undoubtedly produce some further policy thinking – indeed their Co-operation Agreement has, as a stated aim that “every opportunity should be taken to ensure that land use changes…addresses the twin environmental and climate crises, and support a just transition”.
Finally there is no avoiding what will be the highest profile climate summit, possibly ever, in COP26 – being held in Scotland this year. Could we see additional policy measures in its wake?
So what’s the plan for planning? It’s anyone’s guess.