High Level Group on Planning Performance minutes: February 2018

Minutes from the High Level Group on Planning Performance meeting which took place on 27 February 2018.

Attendees and apologies


Kevin Stewart MSP, Minister for Local Governemnt and Housing (Chair)
Councillor Steven Heddle, COSLA Environment and Economy Spokesperson
Robert Gray, Heads of Planning Scotland
Jim Birrell, Heads of Planning Scotland Keith Winter, SOLACE Rob McIntosh, SOLAR Craig McLaren, Royal Town Planning Institute Fiona Rice, Key Agencies Group Robert Nicol, COSLA Calum Lindsay, COSLA John McNairney, Scottish Government Helen Wood, Scottish Government Chris Sinclair, Scottish government Marie Ferguson, Scottish government

Items and actions


  • Welcome and opening remarks
    • Kevin Stewart MSP, Minister for Local Government and Housing (Chair)
    • Councillor Steven Heddle, COSLA Environment and Economy Spokesperson
  • Actions from last meeting (Papers 1 and 2)
  • Planning Performance Statistics (Paper 3)
  • Bill Update including discussion on performance provisions
  • Update on research projects (Paper 4)
  • PPF Feedback Update (Paper 5)

Paper 1 - Acitons from last meeting

Meeting objective

To note progress on the actions from the last meeting in October 2017.


  1. SG officials to look at ways of broadening out the narrative around major developments, looking at the types of development and background to decision making. For discussion (paper 3).

  2. SG officials to provide KW with a note of SCOTS colleagues involved in eDevelopment - complete.

  3. SG officials would look again at wording around the strategic purpose of the group. An alternative would be circulated to the group via email. For discussion (paper 2).

  4. It was agreed that the membership would remain as it was, although other stakeholders may be invited where specific circumstances required. For discussion (paper 2).

  5. Papers from the group will be published on the SG website – complete.

  6. The group will meet again post-introduction of the Bill. Early 2018 – complete.

  7. Group agreed to leave this paper at present and pick up again post-Bill. Customer service tender issued.

  8. Officials to provide copy of Outcomes from Planning tender specification to Minister - complete.

  9. HOPS to be notified when research commissioned so they can encourage authorities to support data collection. HOPS P&P updated as and when required and appointed researchers are encouraged to engage with HOPS.

  10. Officials to explore options for an event hosted by the Minister aimed at local authority junior officers to allow the sharing of skills, knowledge and ideas. Still under consideration.

  11. Authorities to maximise the opportunities to learn from each other through secondments and staff exchanges. HOPs to update group.

  12. It was agreed that further details need to be confirmed around the role, remit and resourcing of the skills co-ordinator – events have now been overtaken by the bill however this work will help to inform the bill provisions with regards to the performance co-ordinator.

  13. The group noted the paper and agreed the approach was proportionate and practical. KAG will keep in touch with officials to discuss details and provide progress updates at future meetings. Ongoing.

Meeting outcome

  • Actions from meeting – progress was noted.
  • Action from meeting – PAD to consider including question on SNH customer service should they run a wider survey on customer service in the future.

Paper 2 - Remit of the group

Meeting objective

  • Agree the remit and consider wording around purpose.
  • Re-consider whether membership needs to be widened post introduction of Bill.

Current remit

The current remit was agreed at the group’s first meeting in 2013:

  1. Review and support improved planning performance across Scotland.

  2. Identify key markers/criteria of good planning authority performance standards.

  3. Review planning performance in relation to key markers, linking performance with further future reform of planning fees.

  4. Set the process for measuring performance for the operation of the Better Regulation Bill’s penalty clause proposals, including the steps and opportunities to improve before implementation.

  5. Give direction for priority actions on performance improvement.

  6. Identify good practice and agree opportunities to improve performance including, where necessary, through discussion with particular planning authorities.

Current position

At the previous meeting in October, it was agreed that the remit of the group should be updated to ensure the group supports the reform agenda but that an alternative purpose/mission statement should be agreed via email.

However, following the introduction of the elected member and performance provisions in the Planning Bill we consider it appropriate that the group should again discuss the remit to consider what changes are required.

Proposed remit

The remit discussed at the last meeting is offered again for discussion:

  • To champion improvement of the planning system by encouraging all stakeholders to create better places
  • Support planning to be a more corporate and collaborative part of central and local government
  • oversee development of an improved performance monitoring system
  • give strategic direction for priority actions on performance improvement and resourcing
  • promote an inclusive and positive approach to change
  • monitor blockages in the system and identify opportunities to address

Group membership

At the last meeting the group considered whether the membership of the group should be widened. It was agreed that the core membership of the group would be retained and other stakeholders would be invited to attend where specific circumstances required. Do we need to reconsider whether the group should be widened in light of the Bill?

Meeting outcome

  • Action from meeting – it was agreed that following the inclusion of performance provisions within the Bill that the remit needed to be reconsidered and the work of the group reflected in this. Officials to consider remit separately by email and prepare amended one for next meeting.

  • Action from meeting – group to consider most appropriate private sector representation on the group as and when required, with potential for a standing representative as well.

  • Action from meeting – Joint letter from Minister and Cllr Heddle to representative bodies to outline approach to membership.

Paper 3 - Planning performance statistics

Meeting objective

  • Consider changing frequency of publication
  • Agree new narrative on presentation
  • Future of ‘Stopping the clock’

Frequency of planning statistics publications

The Planning Performance Statistics are published quarterly, with the 4th quarter including annual results. Prior to the move to average timescales figures were collected from authorities on a bi-annual basis and published annually. Given the relatively low number of major applications, it is felt that a less frequent publication would result in a larger, less volatile dataset providing a more accurate picture and would place less burden on the time and resources of the data providers. A less frequent publication would also give government Statisticians more time to:

  • develop better ways to communicate the statistics i.e. the use of infographics.
  • review the data collected to ensure the statistics provided best meet the needs of internal and external stakeholders.
  • standardise how authorities submit the data to reduce processing time.
  • set up a data provider working group to enable continuous improvements and to share best practise.


  • Collect data and publish twice yearly.
  • Collect data twice yearly and publish annually.
  • Collect data and publish annually.

A new narrative

At the last meeting officials were asked to consider how a new narrative might provide a greater insight into the statistics and the stories behind decision making.

Changes to the presentation of the statistics is also being considered, making the data less table heavy and making the statistics more meaningful, including the use of infographics. The group are asked to consider this in conjunction with the options presented above.

Stoping the clock


When the planning performance statistics moved to average timescales there were calls to allow authorities to ‘stop the clock’ as there was some concern that the move to an average timescale could mean quicker refusals. There was also concern about legacy cases and how these would influence the statistics.

‘Stop the clock’ was introduced to allow authorities to take time out of reporting where delays were due to applicant inactivity/behaviour. Guidance was produced and has been strengthened and updated a number of times. Despite this stronger guidance we know that there remain issues around the transparency and interpretation of the guidance. The guidance is clear it is not about removing a few days – its about removing large chunks of time where further information has been sought and has not been forthcoming in a timely manner however it is clear that it is not always being used in this way.

Now that legacy cases are reducing we would expect that complex applications requiring further information or habitat surveys to be undertaken should be routinely dealt with using a processing agreement.


  • Stop ‘stop the clock’ completely.
  • Allow only where a bat or other such survey or where a further assessment is required.
  • Allow only where an applicant requests the application be sisted for a period of time.

Meeting outcome

Timing of publication

  • Action from meeting – PAD to approach colleagues in CAS re pre-release to COSLA.
  • Action from meeting – group agreed change in publication timing to six months initially.
  • Action from meeting – PAD to consider what performance information might be available to the group on a quarterly basis.

New narrative

  • Action from meeting – agreed that a new narrative was required, group to email MF with ideas and examples on how this could be changed, e.g. infographics, blogs, articles. Have a clear idea for next meeting.
  • Action from meeting – JB to share PPF benchmarking outcomes with the group.
  • Action from meeting – new narrative/presentation and use of information to be added to agenda of Digital Task Force.

Stop the Clock

  • Action from meeting – HOPS and PAD to look at strengthening guidance and bring updated paper back to next meeting, reflecting a suggested ‘4th option’ where stopping the clock is allowed, but more strictly in line with SG guidelines.
  • Action from meeting - PAD to liaise with CAS on checks/auditing reasons.

Paper 4 - Research

Meeting objective

To note research underway and to be commissioned.

Completed research

Research currently underway

  • Monitoring the Outcomes from Planning
  • Economic Impact of Planning
  • Permitted Development Rights – Frontloaded Sustainability Appraisal
  • Delays in Deciding Applications for Housing – out to tender.
  • Customer Service – out to tender
  • Planning, health and food
  • Housing land audits research
  • Development Plan (DP) Exemplars
  • Testing information required on site viability for Development Plans

Research still to be commissioned

  • Community-led design research
  • Provision of accommodation for gypsy / travellers in Scotland

Meeting outcome

Action from meeting – figures on number of people accessing research to be brought back to next meeting.

Paper 5 - Planning performance framework feedback

Meeting objective

  • To note key marker performance in 2016/17
  • Agree change to assessment of marker 1

Key marker performance 2016/17

2016/17’s PPF assessment showed the following.

The number of green ratings awarded this year has decreased to 323 with the number of amber ratings increasing to 123 and the number of red markings decreasing to 24.

2013 to 2014 2014 to 2015 2015 to 2016 2016 to 2017
Red 49 36 27 24
Amber 173 105 104 123
Green 234 315 330 323

The total number will vary each year due to the number of authorities that have been assessed on Key Markers 9 and 10 which relates to the preparation of their Main Issues Report. More Local Development Plans were up to date at the time of reporting than in the previous 4 years, only two enforcement charters were out of date and decision making has remained relatively steady with some authorities delivering exceptionally fast decision making timescales for local applications.

Assessment of marker 1

The current assessment of decision making timescales is a blunt tool. The High Level Group has considered previously what might be an appropriate way to assess the marker more fairly and consistently.

We consider that any planning authority who makes decisions within the statutory timescale should be awarded an automatic green. This will allow authorities greater flexibility re staffing and reduce pressure to improve to an almost impossible timescale. Below are examples where authorities have been performing above average and within the statutory timescale but have been marked down because decision times have slipped slightly.

2012 to 2013 2013 to 2014 2014 to 2015 2015 to 2016 2016 to 2017
Authority 1 10.1 8.6 7.7 6.7 6.8
Authority 2 6.3 6.0 6.0 6.0 6.3

The table below shows the performance of authorities on marker 1 where assessed by the current method and by the new proposed method. Moving to an automatic green for decisions made within the statutory timescales would see in the last reporting year, two authorities moving from red to amber and five authorities moving from amber to green.

2016 to 2017 No of authorities (current method) No of authorities (proposed)
Red 7 5
Amber 19 14
Green 8 13

Meeting outcome

  • Action from meeting – progress was noted
  • Action from meeting – KAG members to send PPFs to PAD by date (TBC)

Action points from outwith papers

  • Action from meeting – Bill supporting documents to be added as an agenda for next meeting.
  • Action from meeting – it was agreed meetings would take place quarterly, all attendees would have input to agenda and any additional items should be sent to PAD one month in advance of the meeting date.

Actions from bilateral

  • SG to provide a list of general issues which are raised with Minister and PAD about performance of authorities.
  • Provide some initial thoughts on what good performance might look like taking into account both hard and soft evidence and how this might lead to an assessment.


Email: Suzanne.Stephen@gov.scot

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