How we did it: Establishing a simplified planning regime
A simplified planning zone (SPZ) has been put in place to spearhead regeneration of a 1930s industrial estate between Glasgow and Paisley. The Hillington Park SPZ, which straddles the boundary of Renfrewshire Council and Glasgow City Council, was proposed in a bid to ensure certainty from the planning process.

The SPZ, which will be the first such in Scotland for 20 years, will allow landowner Patrizia UK to increase commercial space at the 200-hectare site by around 85,000 square metres. “As long as proposals conform with the SPZ scheme, the uncertainties of going through the planning process for each new development will be avoided,” explains Hillington Park commercial director Jamie Cumming.

James Iles, associate director at Patrizia’s planning consultancy Terence O’ Rourke, comments that the zone proposal followed the approach adopted on another industrial park, near Didcot in Oxfordshire. He expresses confidence that the Hillington Park SPZ will be a useful tool in promoting the reuse of existing space, which includes a defunct Rolls Royce plant.

The advantage of an SPZ over a masterplan is the flexibility it allows, maintains Iles. He compares it to an outline planning approval, although the scheme is in fact quite detailed. “The SPZ scheme sets out zones for different uses and limits on acceptable development. It limits new retail uses and a design guide sets out parameters for new buildings,” he explains.

The SPZ allows a maximum of 579,000 square metres of floorspace across the site. Almost 90 per cent of this is reserved for business, general industrial and storage and distribution uses. However, the scheme also allows up to 17,000 square metres of motor vehicle sales and “complementary” hotel, retail, financial and professional services, food and drink and leisure floorspace in identified sub-zones. Each of these is subject to strict floorspace limits. “We don’t want the park competing with retailers in surrounding areas,” says Ken Clark, planning group manager at Glasgow City Council.

The starting point for the SPZ scheme was a full survey of existing uses on the park. This was followed by negotiations with the councils over possible changes and the potential for expansion, says Cumming. “There had to be some compromise on both sides,” he says.

The first stage involved bringing together the various infrastructure providers to consider the issues that needed to be addressed in preparing the SPZ scheme. A steering group bringing together officers from the two local authorities and service providers met regularly throughout the process.

“The idea of an SPZ initially raised a few eyebrows among councillors, who were not familiar with the concept,” says Renfrewshire Council planning officer Kevin Dalrymple. There were also concerns about the cost of putting together the scheme, he adds: “We did not have the resources for it, but the owners agreed to fund the extensive preparatory work for the SPZ.”

The councils have set up a system to ensure that the prescribed development limits are not exceeded. “We emphasised to councillors that the SPZ is not about abandoning planning controls. The councils do not have to approve new development that complies with the SPZ scheme, but we must be informed of proposals as they come forward,” says Clark. Developers can also apply for a certificate that a proposed development accords with the SPZ scheme, he adds.

Dalrymple explains that preparation of the SPZ scheme and securing agreement on it from councillors took about 18 months. “All the work that might otherwise have been needed to consider an outline planning application, including an environmental impact assessment, flood risk assessments and transport studies, has been done upfront,” he says.

Approval had to be sought from the Scottish Government and the scheme had to go through formal consultation processes as well. After a six-week deposit period, though, it was finally adopted last October. “Since then we have had some interest from occupiers, but it is very early days,” says Cumming. “The SPZ has a lifespan of ten years, after which it will be reviewed and renewal will be considered.”

Following its experience with the Hillington Park SPZ, Renfrewshire Council is now preparing a zone scheme for Renfrew town centre. “This could allow greater flexibility in uses in the town centre,” Dalrymple predicts. But he accepts that the lessons will not be directly transferable: “There are a large number of individual site owners.”