Overview of Planning in Scotland

The purpose of land use planning is to manage the development and use of land in the long-term public interest.

The Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 is the main piece of planning legislation in Scotland. Most recently, changes to the 1997 Act were made by the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 and new secondary legislation and guidance are still being taken forward, so there will still be changes to how the planning system will work in the next few years.

The Transforming Planning website provides useful information on how planning in Scotland is changing.

There are three key parts to Scotland's Planning System:

Development planning

This guides the future use of land and buildings in cities, town and rural areas through plans, policies and guidance.

Development management

Development management is concerned with making decisions on planning applications. Decisions must be guided by policies in the development plan.


Planning enforcement is about making sure development is carried out correctly and taking action when it is not.

Development Planning

Local Development Plans (LDPs) set out how our places will change in the future, including what development should and shouldn’t happen.  This includes where new homes and workplaces will be built, how services and facilities will be provided, such as education and travel. 

The planning system in Scotland is plan-led.  This means that the starting point in making decisions on planning applications is the development plan, before any other considerations are then taken into account.

Scotland's 34 Planning Authorities (32 Local Authorities and 2 National Parks) are legally required to prepare an LDP for their area. LPDs are a way to tell a story about the future of places and define what the ambitions and outcomes for an area are looking 20 years ahead.  In the future, these plans will be updated every 10 years.

Local Development Plans should tell a clear and compelling story about the future of places.  They set out how places will change into the future, including where development should and shouldn’t happen. Development plans guide decisions on applications for planning permission.

LDPs are expected to be place-based, visual plans with the inclusion of a clear spatial strategy reflected more in a collection of maps, site briefs and masterplans than in lengthy written text and policy. They should implement national planning policies by setting out a spatial strategy that shows what they mean for a particular place.

There isn’t one way to tell the story of a place, and different tools – including graphic and digital approaches - will work better in different places. There should however be focus on clarity, succinctness and accessibility for everyone who will use the plan.

The best practice guide Designing for a Changing Climate: Planning Reform by Architecture & Design Scotland outlines general principles for content and graphic communication for development plans.

The Planning, Architecture and Regeneration Division local development planning team has created a portfolio of examples of visual and graphic communication from existing local development plans. The examples illustrate a range of techniques for communicating spatial and place-based information, proposals, policies and plans.

As part of the new process, Local Place Plans present an opportunity for communities to develop proposals for the development and use of land in the place they live and/or work. These will be community-led plans and the planning authority should take into account any registered Local Place Plans in the LDP . Local Place Plans will enable communities to have a more direct role in the decisions that influence their place and can provide a framework for communities to take action themselves.  There is a draft How to guide on Local Place Plans


Placemaking focusses on developing a positive contribution to the overall physical and social environment around us.

Read more about Placemaking here

Development Management

A significant part of the planning system is concerned with applications for new development and planning permission. This is the development management system.

Decisions about planning applications are based on the Development Plan for an area.  Individual decisions also need to take into account ‘material considerations’, which are issues relevant the local context and specifics of an application. 

Developments, such as new schools, new and changing retail uses and new large-scale housing or mixed-use developments, will require planning permission from the planning authority. Planners will assess proposed developments against national policies set out in the National Planning Framework and against their Local Development Plan policies (which combined form the Development Plan) – this is the basis of the ‘plan-led’ system.

Development falls within three different categories, local, major or national. Most planning applications are for local developments. Major developments include developments of 50 or more homes as well as other areas of development related to energy, waste, fish farming and large retail developments. National developments are specific projects which have been identified in the National Planning Framework because of their national importance and are mainly large public works.

As well as physical developments, planning permission is also required for significant changes in the use of land or buildings.  There are also wide ranging permitted development rights.  Where a development proposal meets the certain restrictions and conditions then an application for planning permission is not required. 


Place and Health

A briefing paper on Place and Wellbeing has been produced by the Spatial Planning, Health and Wellbeing Collaborative. The paper contains helpful information on integrating land use planning and public health in Scotland.

Access the Place and Health paper here


If something is built without planning permission or not in line with permission then the council can use their enforcement powers. Enforcement is important because it makes sure that everyone stays within planning law and the conditions of their planning permission.

In these situations, the council will choose what action to take. If something is built without permission, but would have been likely to have been granted permission, the council may ask the person responsible to make a 'retrospective' planning application. This will then be decided in the same way as all other planning applications. If the council grants planning permission, there may be conditions attached.

Councils also have powers to serve notices asking for more information about a development. They can stop development that does not have permission or where the development does not follow the conditions attached to the permission which was granted. The council can issue a fixed penalty or prosecute the responsible people if the development continues. The final option available to councils is to demolish the illegal development and to recover the cost of this from the developer.

Community-led design

Involving communities in planning processes is good for the environment, for our wellbeing and for our sense of community.  It's not only about consulting with communities, but about providing meaningful opportunities for citizens to contribute their own ideas. 

Learn more about community-led design here