Development Department Research Programme Research Findings No. 84Advertising Planning Proposals
James Barr Planning Consultants
A range of planning proposals require to be advertised in local newspapers and, in certain cases, in the Edinburgh Gazette. The main objective of this requirement is to inform members of the public of certain planning and listed building applications and development plan progress. Little is known on the cost to local authorities of meeting this requirement, nor the effectiveness of the advertisements in informing the public. In February 1999 The Scottish Office (now Scottish Executive) commissioned research into the cost and effectiveness of advertising planning proposals in Scotland. The report describes the aims and method of the research, outlines the findings and makes recommendations for change
- Most authorities advertise between 21-40% of planning applications submitted to them.
- In 1998, 26% of all advertisements were for Planning applications in conservation areas while 23% were for listed building applications. 19% were bad neighbour developments, 14% for applications affecting the setting of a listed building and 12% for development plan departures.
- The net cost of advertising in financial year 1998/99 ranged from around £2,300 for one of the small rural authorities to approximately £65,000 for a city authority.
- Local Authority Planning staff expressed a high level of dissatisfaction with the current situation, but an inconsistent explanation of the main problems or the potential areas for change.
- A minimum level of advertising is desirable to complement neighbour notification but beyond this, Local Authority discretion should be used to determine the scope and precise nature of newspaper advertisements.
- The cost to the Scottish Executive Inquiry Reporters Unit (SEIRU) of advertising appeals averaged approximately £40.
- One authority spent over £5,000 per year on advertising in the Edinburgh Gazette. Most spent around £3,000-£4,000.
- Planning authorities contacted were unanimous in their view that advertising in the Edinburgh Gazette does not provide good value for money.
The Planning system in Scotland operates to secure the efficient and effective development and use of land in the public interest. The public have a contribution to make at key stages in development planning and development control and are informed of planning proposals by means which include the placing of advertisements in newspapers and the Edinburgh Gazette. Planning Authorities and The Scottish Executive Inquiry Reporters Unit (SEIRU) are required to place advertisements in respect of certain planning and listed building applications, and for stages of the development plan process, but are not always able to reclaim the cost of the advertisement from the applicant. Concern has been expressed by Planning Authorities over the cost and effectiveness of these advertisements.
Aims and Objectives
The purpose of the study was to examine the costs to local authorities and perceived effectiveness of advertising in local newspapers and the Edinburgh Gazette, and to provide recommendations for improving the current system and achieving better value for money.
The main objectives were:
- To identify the categories of planning and related applications (including applications for listed building and conservation area consent) which require to be advertised publicly; stages of public advertisement in the development plan process; and costs of public advertisement borne by SEIRU
- To identify where advertisements were to be placed e.g. local papers and Edinburgh Gazette
- To identify who bears the costs of advertisement e.g. planning authority/ developer/SEIRU
- To identify the costs of advertisements distinguishing between local papers and the Edinburgh Gazette
- To assess the response rates to public advertising
- To identify variations and advise on best practice
- To consider alternative approaches which are practical, secure value for money and maintain or improve public access to the planning process.
The method used to assess the costs and effectiveness of public advertisements had four main elements:
- Desk study - Involving identification of statutory requirements and review of reports on aspects of planning relevant to this study.
- Questionnaire - All 32 local authority planning services in Scotland and the Scottish Executive Inquiry Reporters Unit were sent a questionnaire and asked to provide information relating to the costs of advertising and its perceived effect. A 72% response rate was achieved.
- Interviews - Face to face interviews were held with five local authorities. These sought to identify and explore qualitative issues. Additional telephone interviews were held with amenity groups and community councils.
- Workshop - Representatives from amenity groups, local authorities, SEIRU, the private sector and community councils were brought together to discuss a number of the issues raised within the previous stages of the study.
In addition an assessment of good practice was made which included comparative research from the German planning system.
Effectiveness of Advertising in Newspapers
The main benefit of advertising in newspapers is that it should enable a greater number of members of the public to become involved in the planning process. However, the research showed that the actual numbers responding to advertisements for planning proposals is perceived to be low. Only limited research has been undertaken by local authorities to determine exactly how effective advertisements are. In most cases, where an authority receives a representation in relation to a planning application or development plan proposal, there is no mechanism for recording how the person or organisation making the representation became aware of the proposal. There is however a perception, identified through interviews, telephone research and the workshop, that neighbour notification and word of mouth are probably more effective means of informing the public than newspaper advertisements.
Circulation figures of local newspapers indicate that a smaller percentage of the population buy local papers in urban areas than in rural areas. For this reason, advertisements in rural newspapers may be more effective than in urban areas. There is also a difference in levels of satisfaction amongst local authorities with rural planning officers more content with the effectiveness of advertising in newspapers than their urban counterparts.
Greater flexibility may be appropriate to enable authorities to advertise in the manner which they consider worthwhile. In this way, the rural authorities who believe that newspaper advertisements play a useful role could continue to advertise, while urban authorities who expressed more satisfaction with the use of neighbour notification and weekly lists could be free to advertise only to a minimum level, enabling cost savings.
Style and Content of Advertisements
Planning officers and community councils expressed concerns over the style and content of advertisements. Although community councils and interest groups such as the Scottish Civic Trust make regular use of newspaper advertisements, there were clear suggestions that the style and content, and their location in newspapers, was not 'user friendly'. Community Councils and Interest Groups also receive information through weekly lists supplied by the planning authority and appear to use this list either in addition to or in preference to the advertisement.
Potential for IT
The use of electronic media, most notably the internet and e-mail is growing rapidly. Most local authorities now have the ability to send information via e-mail and this is increasingly seen as an acceptable way of informing interest groups of planning matters. Use of e-mail is set to grow further and is likely to become an ever more acceptable means of informing the public.
Cost to Planning Authorities and SEIRU
The cost to Planning Authorities is dependent on the number of applications advertised, the cost per application charged by each individual newspaper and the number of advertisements where costs cannot be reclaimed from the applicant. Authorities with large numbers of listed building applications or developments in conservation areas are likely to incur the highest costs.
The Scottish Executive Inquiry Reporters Unit incur substantial advertising costs but have little opportunity to reclaim this expenditure. The requirement to inform the public of Planning Appeals and Development Plan Inquiries is considered important although appellants are not charged with the costs of placing an advertisement.
Recommendations arising from the Research
- A minimum requirement to inform the public should remain.
- Above the minimum requirement, Planning Authorities should be given greater flexibility to choose the means they believe to be most effective in their area.
- The requirement to advertise proposals in the Edinburgh Gazette should be removed.
- Where advertisements are placed in newspapers, local authorities should be encouraged to design them in as user friendly a manner as possible.
- The costs of advertising should be passed onto the applicant wherever possible.
- Electronic media should be promoted as a way of furthering the dissemination of information about planning proposals in an efficient and cost effective manner.
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