By Sarah Baillie, Planning Partner at Addleshaw Goddard LLP law firm

SINCE 2014, conversations in the development and property sector have centred around the Scottish Government’s vision of creating a game changing, world-class planning system. We hoped the new Planning Bill would ultimately reflect this. A stronger, high-performing framework would be created to contribute to inclusive growth, enabling housing and infrastructure delivery and supporting quality of life by promoting quality of place and empowering communities.

However, a year on, the only reason the bill may go down as game changing is due to its potential to grind the entire system to a halt. Its stage-two process saw 300-plus amendments presented by MSPs, with 230 accepted. Figures from the Royal Town Planning Institute Scotland show the latest draft of the bill will add 63 new, unnecessary and unfunded duties to local planning authorities, with a further 25 on the Scottish Government. This is in addition to the other demands the bill will place upon constrained planning departments.

As for a world-class system, there is a growing list of the world’s problems MSPs expect planners to have a statutory duty to resolve, ranging from public toilet provision to water refill points. It is worth reminding MSPs that this bill is about improving efficiency and making the system less, not more, complicated. It is there to set a legislative framework and process for delivering planning practice, policy and development; not to debate and set policy within it. An unnecessary void is being filled with bluster from MSPs.

Take infrastructure as an example. It was one of four key themes in the planning review where significant change was to come through an “infrastructure first approach”. But all the bill does is introduce powers for an infrastructure levy.

Disappointingly, it leaves the detail as to how this will operate in practice to be consulted on later. Also, it frustratingly fails to address the question as to how physical infrastructure provision will be delivered. This is an opportunity missed to tackle an issue head-on every government has side-stepped.

As the bill enters its final stage, MSPs need to consider what amendments are necessary and in the national interest but, most importantly, should cast aside political divides. If need be, they should look to Susan Aitken, Glasgow City Council leader, for inspiration. She established the independent Glasgow Connectivity Commission, which produced its first report Connecting Glasgow: Creating an Inclusive, Thriving and Liveable City. It was invited not to “shirk from making tough recommendations”. It is a refreshing and collaborative mix of independent experts across the public and private sectors who appreciate and recognise the intrinsic role effective planning and infrastructure plays in delivering much wider transformational benefits for local communities, city regions and the country.

The report is everything the bill isn’t. It is bold, imaginative, rejuvenating, inspirational, innovative, collaborative and game-changing; fit for a world-class city and country. It is more aligned to the Planning Bill’s purpose than the bill is. Its passage to date is perhaps an ironic reflection of planning practice: hostile engagement, political point scoring and irrational decision making. For the bill to achieve what it set out to do during its final stage of parliamentary consideration, political gamesmanship and populism must not cast aside pragmatism, expert opinion and efficient scrutiny of legislation. MSPs need seriously to consider the bill as it stands as there is a risk it will become self-defeating.