Rights of Appeal in Planning
5.1 Widening the right of appeal to include third parties, even in limited circumstances, could not be done without some impact on the practical operation of the planning system as it currently exists. There could be difficulties, at least in the short term, in finding additional staff resources to provide a wider appeal service. This implies that staff would need to be diverted from current activity.
Recruitment and training
5.2 Earlier parts of this paper discuss possible circumstances under which a third party right of appeal might be introduced and who would have the right to appeal. In advance of any firm decision on whether and how to introduce this, it is difficult to estimate the increase in workload in a new, extended planning appeal system. For example we understand that in Ireland around 45% of appeal cases are lodged by third parties. If third party appeals in Scotland followed this pattern, it would imply about 550 additional appeals. On the other hand all appeals in Ireland run at about 7% of the number of planning authority decisions, which in Scotland would mean around 3,500 cases. The volume of additional appeal cases could vary amongst planning authorities. However, there would indeed be an increase and we would need to address how this increased appeal case load could be processed efficiently by both the Scottish Executive and the planning authorities.
5.3 This is against a background of constantly increasing demands. The annual case load has risen from almost 40,000 applications in 1996-97 to almost 48,000 applications in 2002-03. There is an ever evolving policy framework, both in the planning field and in other areas of Executive policy and international obligations which require resources in planning. Examples are the introduction of Strategic Environmental Assessment, the implementation of the Water Framework Directive and the transfer of responsibility for neighbour notification from the applicant to the planning authority.
5.4 This has implications for the number of professional planners and administrative staff in local authorities, the Scottish Executive Planning Division and SEIRU. The numbers and the balance between professional and administrative staff will depend on the approach taken. In general it is likely to be more difficult to recruit sufficient numbers of professional staff.
5.5 Setting aside the financial cost of increasing staffing levels, which are addressed in the accompanying Regulatory Impact Assessment, we have to consider whether the new staff could be recruited. With an increase in demand for planners, planning authorities and the Scottish Executive are likely to be competing against each other to some extent for the same candidates. The private sector (both developers and consultancy firms) may also need to recruit additional professional planning staff to service this additional statutory process and would be seeking staff from the same pool as the public sector.
5.6 Most inquiry reporters are chartered planners. They also have the other skills required to carry out specific tasks, such as presiding over public local inquiries. It is doubtful whether SEIRU would be able to recruit enough professional staff with the relevant expertise to deal effectively with a significant increase in workload. A source of additional reporters would be recruitment of local authority planners, which in turn could create recruitment and retention problems for planning authorities, leading to a reduction in the quality of the planning system generally.
5.7 Across the UK, the number of students graduating in planning has remained fairly steady in recent years, although one of Scotland's universities is no longer taking new planning students and this may have some impact on the planning workforce in the future. With an increase in demand for planners it may be that, in years to come, there will be a higher intake to planning courses at our universities. There would however be a transitional period and other factors could also affect the choice of planning as a profession. Despite the importance that is attached to up-to-date and relevant development plans there would be the perception that most local authority planners would work mainly in development control posts, reacting to planning applications and defending appeals, rather than engaging in forward planning. This might be seen by some as detrimentally affecting the attractiveness of the planning profession. Potential recruits could be attracted by other areas such as community planning if these are perceived to offer a more positive and forward-looking role than land use planning.
Impact on other areas of planning
5.8 The increasing focus on development plans which would result from an additional right of appeal should lead to a greater sense of commitment and urgency as regards updating of development plans. With a greater emphasis on the later stages of the planning system, however, there may be some pressure in local authorities and in the Scottish Executive to reallocate planning staff from development planning and policy work or the planning enforcement service to deal with the additional work on appeals.
5.9 Planning authorities are obliged to carry out their statutory duties. Any reduction of staff within the planning authority to accommodate additional statutory appeal rights could have a detrimental effect on non statutory aspects which contribute to the quality of planning, eg design considerations and pre-application discussions. There may also be pressure to divert non-professional staff from other areas of local authority work at the expense of other priorities.
5.10 By adding a further stage to the overall planning process, there would be some additional delay to a system that is already criticised by some for being too slow and unresponsive. The counter argument is that the quality of decision is more important than the speed. There is a view that a wider right of appeal would add delay to those cases which are the subject of third party appeal, but that the existence of a wider right of appeal might speed the system by encouraging applicants to produce better founded applications and to make more use of pre-application discussion to resolve contentious issues and by perhaps bringing about a slight reduction in the overall number of applications. However, the opposing argument is that applicants may not be willing to spend more time on pre-application discussions if they face the risk of a third party appeal as well. As indicated above, planning authorities may not feel they have the resources to engage in pre-application discussions.
How do you feel the planning service at both planning authorities and the Scottish Executive would be placed to manage the likely increase in workload?
Do you think there would be any implications for the attractiveness of planning as a career if there were to be a significant increase in the appeal caseload? Please give reasons for your answer.