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Planning officer of Renfrewshire Council, Kevin Dalrymple, outlines the growing use of Simplified Planning Zones (SPZ) in Scotland and the potential benefits for use within Northern Ireland.
A Simplified Planning Zone (SPZ) is an area where the need to apply for planning permission for certain types of development is removed, so long as the development complies with the details and guidance set out in the scheme, explains Kevin Dalrymple.
He says: “Essentially, they can be used to promote investment through supporting the re-development of vacant stalled sites, alterations, and extensions to existing buildings, changes of use and infrastructure improvements.”
Dalrymple listed the benefits of an SPZ approach to planning. These include a streamlined and simplified planning approach plus the development of positive management and marketing tools.
“They also encourage collaborative working. The benefits generated within an area are diverse. An SPZ supports placemaking and infrastructure improvements while also supporting existing businesses. It also attracts new jobs and investment while promoting a mix of uses, including town centre living. This is an excellent example of the Town Centre First Principle.”
Dalrymple is keen to emphasise that the establishment of an SPZ does not lead to a loss of standards of development or protection for the built environment.
“An SPZ only removes the need to apply for planning permission. Other consents, including advertisement consent; listed building consent and a building warrant are still required, where applicable.
“An SPZ aims to encourage investment in and deliver sustainable economic development through simplifying planning control. While the focus of the SPZ scheme is on core business and employment uses, it also recognises the opportunity to introduce further ‘complementary uses’ creating a more sustainable and attractive park for 21st century business investment; and, to diversify further development opportunities.”
According to Dalrymple, an SPZ provides greater certainty for developers and stakeholders. It removes the need for repetitive planning applications, covering the same range of planning issues, which will save time and cost for the existing organisations and new businesses looking to invest in the park. It can also benefit the councils by reducing the resources needed to manage development in this dynamic area.
Dalrymple references the ‘Hillington Park’ project, one of Scotland’s largest business parks, as an SMZ case study. The development lies to the south of the M8 motorway between Glasgow and Paisley and straddles the joint administrative boundary with approximately 80 per cent of the site within Renfrewshire Council’s area and 20 per cent in Glasgow City Council’s area.
The SPZ Scheme has been approved in a partnership between Renfrewshire Council, Glasgow City Council, and MEPC Hillington Park and the owners of the site and is the first SPZ agreed in Scotland for over 25 years. The project encompasses 200 hectares and is home to 500 businesses.
“To date it has supported existing businesses and the re-development of key sites to deliver 85,000 m² of additional floor space for a range of industrial, business and complementary uses. It was adopted within two years with no objections and will remain in place for 10 years. To date, it has supported over £20 million of investment,” he says.
Dalrymple points out that the Hillington Park SPZ has three planning zones. The first of these, Zone A, covers the majority of the SPZ area. It is dominated by traditional employment and industrial uses. Zone B is focused on the gateway to the park. This area has a wider mix of uses, including the existing retail precinct. It will continue to be a mixed-use area, with opportunity for creating a more distinctive gateway area. Building heights in this area are less uniform and there is potential to reinforce the gateway character through use of taller, landmark buildings. Finally, Zone C is the area safeguarded in both Renfrewshire’s and Glasgow City Council’s development plans. The SPZ continues to safeguard this area to maintain its established function and protect it from inappropriate development that could undermine its existing and future operational capabilities.
Discussing the implications of the SPZ created for Renfrew town centre, Dalrymple explains that, following on from the successful adoption of the Hillington Park SPZ, Renfrewshire Council sought to prepare a SPZ for one of its town centres as a means to stimulate investment within the context of a wider Town Centre Strategy and Action Plan.
In consultation with the Scottish Government, Renfrew Town Centre was selected as a suitable location with the Council agreeing to take part in a nationally funded pilot project to prepare an SPZ scheme for that location.
“The timeline between the initial preparatory work and final adoption took almost 12 months. The provisions of this SPZ scheme are valid for a period of 10 years from the date of its commencement on 25 August 2015.”
“An SPZ offers savings in time, money and effort by removing the need for repetitive planning applications, covering the same range of planning issues.”
He points out that the provisions of the scheme apply only to the area identified within the agreed plan. “Areas outside of this boundary are subject to standard planning control,” he adds. “In using this SPZ scheme there are three stages that are required to be followed before proceeding with development proposals within Renfrew Town Centre. The proposed project must fit within the development options and uses identified for the SMZ. All other conditions must be strictly adhered to and the required notifications submitted.
“For those considering the use of an SPZ approach to planning, there are a number of fundamental guidelines to be followed. Consult early and throughout the process: don’t just stick to the statutory consultees. Keep key agencies and owners within the proposed SPZ area informed throughout the process.
“An SMZ should be kept simple: don’t over complicate the scheme with lots of conditions. Awareness raising is important, once the SPZ has been adopted. Those involved should think how the SPZ will be monitored during the preparation of the scheme.”
According to Dalrymple, the costs associated with the adoption of an SPZ can vary. “Scope is the big factor,” he explains. “But costs will include legal title searched; adverts, consultation, preparation of supporting information and publication costs.
“Hillington SPZ was delivered by a consultant and cost well in excess of £100,000. However, Renfrew Town Centre SPZ was delivered in less than a year for around £10,000.”
In terms of subsequent costs for the managing authority, Dalrymple highlights the 10-year monitoring commitment.
“The reduction in planning fee income is balanced by staff having to deal with fewer planning applications that normally get consent. In addition, there will be a potential increase in building warrant application fees.”
He concludes: “An SPZ offers savings in time, money and effort by removing the need for repetitive planning applications, covering the same range of planning issues.
“There is also the prospect of the scheme being a promotional tool offering certainty on the types of developments that would be permitted, encouraging more investment to strengthen the offering within the town centre.
“In the case of Renfrew, the SPZ also offers flexibility to help a town’s businesses grow and adapt as well as encouraging new businesses to locate in the town centre. In essence, an SPZ scheme deals with planning issues ‘up front’ and confirms what types of development, and how much, is allowed.”