Scottish regulators have confidence in streamlined planning
Proposals to speed up the planning process in Scotland to make 'sustainable development' quicker and easier will not put the environment at risk, according to regulators.
Reforms will include a higher threshold for applications requiring scrutiny, with applications being decided by council officers rather than elected councillors.
They will also make it easier to make planning applications online.
The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) has said the reforms are welcome and will not put the country's unique heritage and environmental assets at greater risk.
The agency's chairman David Sigsworth said: "Scotland's natural environment is one of its key assets and, as Scotland's environmental watchdog, SEPA has a vital role in protecting and improving it.
"Planning reform and the drive for sustainable economic growth won't change that fundamental role, but it will make the system better for everyone involved.
"In SEPA, we are very keen not just to enable developers to comply with legislation but also to help them navigate through the system as smoothly as possible.
"This is about working in a different way - a way that is simpler, more effective, avoids unnecessary complexity or delay and is more joined-up.
"SEPA will be working, as part of the reformed planning system, with other agencies, local authorities and businesses to enable good development that will allow our economy to grow."
SEPA chief executive Campbell Gemmell added: "This change in approach does not mean that SEPA will support development which comes at an unacceptable cost to the environment.
"It does mean that SEPA will help to make the system easier to negotiate for developers and this will help planning authorities to make quicker decisions.
"SEPA already plays a significant role in the planning system, but we know that there are things that we can improve on. Ultimately we want to get better, clearer, more robust guidance into play, so it becomes increasingly unnecessary for SEPA to be an extra step in the dialogue between the applicant and the planning authority, particularly on local developments."
Announcing the changes, Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney said: "Planning is critical to increasing sustainable economic growth - a sustainable, dynamic and growing economy means a better quality of life for all. Planning reform needs to help, not hinder, the economy - especially in the current climate.
"We do not want development anywhere or at any price. What we do want to see is planning valued for its positive, promotional and enabling role much more than it is resented for its regulatory one.