Interactions and Co-ordination Issues between River Basin Management Plans and Development Plans in Scotland
August 2006


SEPA and the Scottish Executive commissioned Land Use Consultants (LUC), through SNIFFER, to undertake a preparatory review of the interactions between River Basin Management Plans (RBMPs) and Development Plans in Scotland.  The aim of this review was to identify key interactions and opportunities for co-ordinated working between SEPA and planning authorities, particularly in the lead up to preparation of the first RBMPs.

The Water Framework Directive

The Water Framework Directive (WFD) (2000/60/EC) establishes a European-wide framework for the protection, improvement and sustainable use of inland surface water, coastal water and groundwater. The Water Environment and Water Services Act (WEWS) transposes the WFD in Scotland.  SEPA is the lead authority for implementing the WEWS Act, working alongside ‘responsible authorities’ including local authorities, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Scottish Water, The Forestry Commission, national park authorities and district salmon fishery boards.

The WEWS Act introduces a planning system for the water environment, requiring the preparation of RBMPs for River Basin Districts (RBDs).  A RBMP will be prepared for the Scotland RBD which covers most of Scotland and further RBMPs for the Solway-Tweed and Northumberland RBDs.  The first RBMPs must be produced by December 2009 and must establish environmental objectives for each waterbody to protect and improve the water environment, with a Programme of Measures to progressively achieve the objectives.

Whilst SEPA will lead and co-ordinate the river basin planning process, it must develop an inclusive and collaborative approach to river basin management planning involving other parties.  SEPA published a River Basin Planning Strategy for the Scotland RBD ( in December 2005 detailing actions to support the RBMP production process.  These include the formation of a National Advisory Group (NAG), along with eight Area Advisory Groups (AAGs) charged with preparing Area Management Plans, which together will form the RBMP for the district.

Land Use Planning

Protecting, enhancing and managing the water environment does not just fall to RBMPs.  Under the WEWS Act, it is a statutory requirement that as far as practicable, all public bodies adopt an integrated approach to this objective.  Planning authorities and SEPA must therefore exercise their respective land use planning and environmental protection functions in a co-ordinated manner.  The land use planning system in Scotland guides the future development and use of land in the public interest.  It is a plan-led system whereby Development Plans (i.e. Structure and Local Plans) provide the basis for planning decisions.  The Planning etc (Scotland) Bill (hereafter referred to as ‘the Planning Bill’) sets out major reform proposals for the delivery of a modernised planning system in Scotland.  Early discussions with the Steering Group for this project confirmed that whilst emphasis should be placed on the current land use planning system, the project should have regard to the provisions of the modernising planning agenda.

Effective Co-ordination

Effective co-ordination between river basin management planning and land use planning is essential to ensure that both systems deliver sustainable outcomes and that their interface is well managed and efficient.  SEPA and planning authorities should seek to ensure that their plans are co-ordinated and contribute to common economic, social and environmental objectives.  Ultimately, Development Plans and RBMPs with significantly mismatching objectives and policies could experience delays during plan approval stages.  Whilst the research focuses on the interaction between RBMPs and Development Plans, the regulatory controls associated with each system (i.e. the Controlled Activities Regulations and the development management process) must also be well integrated.

SEPA and planning authorities are not starting ‘from scratch’ in striving towards integrated protection of the water environment.  There are opportunities to build upon existing good practice for co-ordinated working throughout Scotland, and to establish the multi-disciplinary NAG and AAG mechanisms.  However, consultation on the draft Strategy for the Scotland RBD revealed considerable stakeholder support, in particular from planning authorities, for the development of additional practical tools to specifically link river basin planning and land use planning.  Accordingly, the published Strategy proposes the formation of a Planning Working Group (PWG) in mid 2006, with membership from the Scottish Executive, SEPA and other planning professionals to inform co-ordination between RBMPs and Development Plans.

Objectives of research

This research considers the interactions and co-ordination opportunities between RBMPs and development plans and proposes potential mechanisms to resolve problems, avoid conflicts and make the interaction efficient and effective.  The research will inform the initial discussions of the PWG as it seeks to identify opportunities for effective and complementary working and reports these to the NAG, RBMP planners, and development planners.

Key findings and recommendations

The key interactions and co-ordination issues identified during the research are as follows:
  1. Whilst existing arrangements for co-ordination between SEPA and planning authorities exist, RBMPs and the Planning Bill proposals will provide a new dimension to this.
  2. Whilst the scope and purpose of RBMPs and Development Plans and their required contents differ, related objectives and considerations provide the potential for both processes to interact effectively.
  3. National guiding documents and policy statements should encourage protection of the water environment consistently to promote effective interaction between RBMPs and Development Plans at a strategic and local level.
  4. Although the plan preparation programmes and review cycles inherently differ, SEPA and planning authorities should interact at key stages of each plan–making process and should therefore be aware of the consultation and communication arrangements associated with each others’ plans.
  5. As the boundaries of the RBMPs and AAGs do not coincide exactly with planning authority boundaries, SEPA should ensure that future administrative arrangements to guide the preparation, implementation and monitoring of RBMPs are fit for purpose and avoid unnecessary duplication of effort.
  6. Opportunities for information exchange including electronic plan formats, e-planning and the use of GIS databases should focus on what is realistically achievable.
  7. Supplementary planning guidance for Development Plans and sub-basin river management plans should consistently ensure appropriate protection of the water environment at a more ‘local’ level.
  8. There is scope for SEPA and planning authorities to collaborate at key Strategic Environmental Assessment stages, to share and exchange information and avoid both duplication of efforts and inconsistencies.
  9. Effective co-ordination during plan preparation should minimise conflict between the two regulatory systems and reduce the scope for delays in decision-making.

The key recommendations of the research are that:

  1. SEPA and the Scottish Executive should take forward the spatial expression of strategic water management issues in the second National Planning Framework.
  2. The revision of PAN51: Planning and Environmental Protection should incorporate planning advice on the interactions between Development Plans and RBMPs.
  3. SEPA should provide consistent and timeous advice to planning authorities and establish internal monitoring and review procedures to measure the effectiveness of its advice in achieving co-ordination between RBMPs and Development Plans.
  4. The Scottish Executive should consider whether there is a need for ‘model’ policies covering water management as relevant national planning policy is drafted and/or revised.  An alternative might be the dissemination of suggested good practice policies.
  5. Planning authorities should use the opportunity to comment on relevant aspects of SEPA’s draft Significant Water Management Issues (SWMI) Report, particularly the prioritisation of ‘significant’ issues and the potential contribution of land use planning to delivering the objectives of the RBMPs (2006/07).
  6. SEPA RBMP planners and planning authorities should further consider how RBMP electronic information could be shared to assist Development Plan preparation and, conversely, how ‘e-planning’ could assist RBMP preparation.
  7. A strategically focused Planning Working Group (PWG) should help raise awareness of the linkages between RBMPs and land use planning, identify any significant co-ordination issues and highlight any gaps and or inconsistencies in national planning policy guidance.
  8. The PWG should provide a forum for discussing co-ordination issues raised by area-based planning groups and for disseminating examples of good practice to AAGs.
  9. The inaugural meeting of the PWG should establish the co-ordination issues that warrant priority consideration, having regard to the findings of this research.
  10. The RBMP Plan of Action Report due by the end of December 2006 should include an update on the work of the PWG to encourage wider dissemination and raise awareness of the interaction between RBMPs and Development Plans.
Key words: Water Framework Directive, River Basin Management Plans, Development Plans

Copies of this report are available from the Foundation, in electronic format on CDRom at 20.00 + VAT or hard copy at 25.00, less 20% to FWR members
N.B. The report is available for download from the SNIFFER Website