High Level Group on Planning Performance minutes: October 2017

Minutes from the High Level Group on Planning Performance meeting which took place on 24 October 2017.

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
Steve Rogers, Heads of Planning Scotland
Jim Birrell, Heads of Planning Scotland
Keith Winter, SOLACE
Kate Houghton, Royal Town Planning Institute
Fiona Rice, Key Agencies Group
Alison Baisden, Key Agencies Group
John McNairney, Scottish Government
Robert Nicol, COSLA
Suzanne Stephen, Scottish Government
Marie Ferguson, Scottish Government


Rob McIntosh, SOLAR

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
  • Paper 1 - Actions from last meeting
  • Paper 2 - Performance update
  • Paper 3 - Remit of the high level group
  • Performance recommendations from the planning review:
    • Paper 4 - customer satisfaction (360 feedback)
    • Paper 5 - monitoring outcomes
    • Paper 6 - self assessment/peer review
    • Paper 7 - skills and performance co-ordinator
  • Paper 8 - Key agency reporting
  • Fees and resources

Paper 1 - Actions from last meeting

Meeting objective

To note progress on the actions from the last meeting in November 2016.

  1. Stopping the Clock – SG officials to work with HOPS on consistency around clock stopping to create more robust guidance.

    SG officials met to consider the guidance. It was felt that it was robust however analysts did agree to look more closely at applications where the clock was stopped to ensure greater consistency. Officials have queried specific applications where it was felt the guidance was not being adhered to or whether it was being used inappropriately, for example short clock stops or when there had been activity regarding the application. A table of those authorities who have stopped the clock, the number of times they have done so and the timescales is included at the very front of the bulletin.

  2. Statistics – SG officials to explore ways in which the statistics could be presented with more of a narrative and whether non-SG stakeholders can get early sight of statistics.

    Greater emphasis has been put on the narrative within the statistical bulletin around reasons for lengthy delays for major applications. The pre-release of statistical data is prohibited, however the pre-release of some specific statistical data to an outside party may be possible in very specific circumstances.

  3. Legacy cases – SG officials to arrange a meeting with HfS and SPF on the causes of delay for major applications.

    The Chief Planner met with Homes for Scotland officials earlier this year and presented data to them on the causes for delay.

  4. Performance - SG officials to set up a meeting to discuss how peer review and self-assessment can be made more robust and credible.

    Two meetings have taken place to discuss both these aspects, along with other performance issues arising out of the review. Papers are attached which consider how we can make performance processes more robust.

  5. Remit – SG and COSLA to draft new remit for agreement with the group.

    Officials have met and a revised remit is attached for the group’s consideration.

Meeting outcome

Progress was noted.

Paper 2 - Performance update

Meeting objective: To note current performance statistics.


2012/13 2016/17
Development Type Total Apps Average decisiontime (weeks) Total Apps Average decision time (weeks)
Major 238 36.3 246 37.0
Local 29,332 11.4 26,488 9.2
Local (non-householder) 15,886 14.3 13,586 11.0
Housing 13,446 8 13,400 7.3
Major housing 76 40.1 108 44.9
Local housing 5,563 17.2 4,899 12.7
Major business & industry 45 22.8 26 33.2
Local business & industry 2,531 11.8 1,738 9.3
Major other 66 34.3 94 30.4
Local other 5,822 11.3 5,919 10.0

In 2016/17, over 26,000 applications were determined within 9.2 weeks, the quickest since 2010, when we began collecting data in this way. This includes almost 4900 local housing applications determined within 12.7 weeks.

Major application decision times, which account for 1% of all applications has been criticised by industry. The main source of delays for major applications include the conclusion of legal agreements, often involving protracted negotiations on matters such as affordable housing, impact on viability and phasing of payments; submission of new drawings and plans; land ownership issues; and the delay or sisting of the application by the applicant, often due to funding issues.

Planning Performance Frameworks

In addition to monitoring statistics, planning authority performance is assessed on an annual basis against 15 key markers agreed by the High Level Group on Planning Performance and allocated a red, amber or green rating. These markers include decision-making timescales; up-to-date development plans; processing agreements; continuous improvement and clear and proportionate supporting information. The table below shows how authorities have improved since the introduction of this performance measurement in 2012. 2016/17 reports are currently being assessed.

Performance against the key markers

2012 to 2013 2013 to 2014 2014 to 2015 2015 to 2016
Red 117 50 36 30
Amber 173 171 105 101
Green 172 235 315 328

Processing Agreements

A processing agreement is a project management tool where both applicant and authority agree a timetable for assessment and decision. In 2012/13, 9 authorities made decisions on 40 applications dealt with using a processing agreement. All authorities now offer processing agreements and in 2016/17, 1503 applications were made using a processing agreement, with 81.7% of these processed within agreed timescales.

Housing Approvals and Completions

As part of the annual Planning Performance Framework exercise authorities provide data on the number of housing units they have approved during the last reporting year along with the number of completions over the last 5 years.

The 2016/17 data (compiled by the Improvement Service and Heads of Planning Scotland) is shown below:

  • 38,000 housing approvals in 2016-2017
  • 39,000 houses included in the established HLS
  • 147,900 houses in the 5 year effective land supply
  • 106,980 houses in the 5 year housing supply target
  • 14,080- average annual completions in last 5 years
  • 80,790 houses completed over last 5 years

Approval Rates

94.2% applications approved in 2016/17. Approval rate is consistently high and has been for over 10 years.

Meeting outcome

Actions from meeting:

  • 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.
  • SG officials to provide KW with a note of SCOTS colleagues involved in eDevelopment.

Paper 3 - Remit of the group

Meeting objectives:

  • agree a new remit
  • agree whether membership needs to be widened
  • determine whether papers should be made public
  • consider timing for the next meeting

Current remit

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

The group will:

  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 November, it was agreed that many of the items on the remit have been achieved or the position has changed. It was agreed to update the remit to ensure the group supports the reform agenda.

Officers from COSLA, HOPS, Key Agency Group, the RTPI and the SG met to discuss an alternative remit. They agreed that in the future the group should: focus on actions and outcomes; recognise the importance of complementing other policy areas; be able to monitor progress and achievements; focus on all stakeholders, not just the public sector; and consider resourcing issues.

Proposed remit

The following amended remit is offered 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

Whilst discussing the remit, the officer group flagged some additional areas for further consideration:

Group membership

Should private sector members, particularly Homes for Scotland and Scottish Property Federation be invited to join the group?

There was no consensus on this issue but the group considered a number of issues. Advantages include: acknowledgement of their impact on planning performance; improve collaboration; help move towards a positive relationship, rather than a blame culture; and ensure that actions towards delivering a reformed system are shared amongst all stakeholders. There were some concerns that such a move may shift too much focus on to solely housing issues; and that widening the group may lead to additional calls for other stakeholders to be part of the group, perhaps to cover community and other interests. It was felt that this could minimise impact of the group and encroach on the role and remit of other groups.


In previous years action points from High Level Group meetings were put on the SG website. Due to a website restructure, the action notes are no longer available. The officer group see merit in reinstating the publication of High Level Group papers, with an increased effort to ensure they are easily accessible and understandable, allowing stakeholders to follow progress of the group.

Frequency of meetings

In the past, meetings have been irregular. It is suggested that at the end of each meeting, the Group considers an appropriate time to next convene.

Meeting outcome

Actions from meeting:

  • SG officials would look again at wording around the strategic purpose of the group. An alternative would be circulated to the group via email.
  • It was agreed that the membership would remain as it was, although other stakeholders may be invited where specific circumstances required.
  • Papers from the group will be published on the SG website.
  • The group will meet again post-introduction of the Bill. Early 2018.

Paper 4 - Customer Satisfaction (360 stakeholder feedback)

Meeting objective:

  • To consider options for collating customer satisfaction levels
  • To consider potential resourcing/lead partner

Planning Review

Places, People and Planning consultation stated that the time is right to improve Planning performance Frameworks. HOPS should consider a number of improvements including 360 feedback.

The consultation responses showed that there was stakeholders support for the 360 feedback proposal, provided that the findings are then acted upon.

Current Position

  • We have no consistent and standardised evidence of customer satisfaction levels of the planning system.
  • Over the years, authorities have given anecdotal evidence that many customers are content with the service provided and the timescales. Whilst some authorities carry out surveys and look at customer satisfaction, there is no information that allows the group at a national level to monitor customer satisfaction.
  • We are aware that building standards carry out a survey of customers, by authority area, which provides useful baseline information on service levels.
  • Any project needs to:

    • look at customer satisfaction levels across all players - SG PAD, SG DPEA, Agencies, Planning authorities and where possible the private sector.
    • provide a national picture of satisfaction.
    • provide a local picture of satisfaction.
    • look at outcomes.
    • allow flexibility at a local level.


  1. Co-ordinated customer survey.


  2. It would provide baseline evidence that we do not currently have.

  3. It would provide consistency.
  4. It would allow a national picture of satisfaction to emerge whilst providing valuable information at a local level to assist service improvement.


  5. The response rates are likely to be low and stakeholders may be less likely to comment on the positive. experiences.

  6. Also, it is hard to encourage those who infrequently come into contact with the planning system to respond.
  7. It could be complex to assess all elements of the system – DP, enforcement, appeals etc.
  8. It may duplicate existing practices at a local level.
  1. Customer Panel – potential to invite targeted individuals on a regular basis to comment on satisfaction.


  2. It would allow more meaningful and direct engagement than a survey.

  3. We would be more likely to get a balanced view of both positive and negative service.


  4. It is less likely to provide a statistical information for use at a national level, but potentially more meaningful to the authority, agency etc.

  5. Mixture of both survey and customer panel.

Meeting outcome

Action from meeting:

  • Group agreed to leave this paper at present and pick up again post-Bill.

Paper 5 - Monitoring outcomes

Meeting objective

To note that research will be commissioned.

Planning Review

In Places, People and Planning, the SG committed to commission research to explore the scope for measuring performance on the basis of quality of places and it was suggested that the Place Standard could play a role in evaluating places before and after development.

The consultation responses showed that there was very strong support from stakeholders for a focus on quality of decisions and outcomes as a measure of performance as well as time. Many suggested that monitoring should also include how planning is delivering national outcomes on health and wellbeing, and climate change and carbon emissions. It was also suggested that it includes monitoring consistency of decision making and interpretation and application of Scottish Planning Policy. Concerns were raised about the time and resource required to monitor performance and outcomes and that this should not come at the expense of delivering primary services.

Current Position

  • Funding has been secured for research in 2017/18.
  • This is due to go out to tender before the end of 2017.

Scope of Research

  • To set out the value of monitoring outcomes.
  • To identify any existing methods for monitoring outcomes in planning authorities.
  • To explore methods for monitoring outcomes from the planning system.
  • To recommend a methodology to form part of future performance monitoring.
  • To provide a breakdown of likely resource required to implement.

Meeting outcomes

Actions from meeting:

  • Officials to provide copy of tender specification to Minister.
  • HOPS to be notified when research commissioned so they can encourage authorities to support data collection.

Paper 6 - Self assessment/peer review

Meeting objective

To consider opportunities to refocus peer review efforts and resources on delivering service improvements rather than improvements to reporting.

Planning Review

The independent planning review panel recommended improvements to existing peer review, which could include a requirement to take forward independent solutions or reinstatement of auditing by Scottish Government or another party.

In Places, People and Planning, the Scottish Government stated that as part of a package of improvements, HOPS should consider improved peer review.

Current Position

  • Heads of Planning Scotland co-ordinate peer review of planning authority PPF’s, benchmarking groups and feedback sessions, and other ad hoc updates.
  • Peer review involve pairing authorities and supporting exchange of views on PPF’s.
  • Success has been mixed from relatively light touch approaches to more formal assessments and reviews. e.g. Edinburgh City Council take part in full day exchanges/office/site visits with their peer partner to assist in staff development/staff exchanges as well as PPF review work.


  • Need for standardised and more challenging peer review assessments?
  • External peer review?

Meeting outcomes

Actions from meeting:

  • 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.
  • Authorities to maximise the opportunities to learn from each other through secondments and staff exchanges.

Paper 7 - Skills and performance co-ordinator

Meeting objective

  • To consider merit in creation of such a post.
  • To consider potential funding and host partner.

Planning Review

There was extremely strong support through the review working groups for the creation of a skills and performance co-ordinator role.

In Places, People and Planning, the Scottish Government stated that HOPS should consider identifying a national co-ordinator to champion improvement across all authorities and lead sharing expertise and experience.

Current Position

  • No such co-ordinator role exists currently but there is strong support for their provision.
  • Heads of Planning Scotland takes a pro-active role in assisting authorities in the preparation of PPF’s. They also co-ordinate peer review of PPF’s, benchmarking groups and worskhops.
  • SG Planning and Architecture Division provide red, amber, green feedback to authorities on PPF’s.
  • SG publish quarterly planning statistics.
  • Improvement Service supports the learning and development needs of the planning authorities through their Planning Skills Programme.

Potential Role

  • Co-ordinator to have a remit covering all sectors.
  • The High Level Group could have a role in setting the remit and appointing the person.
  • Roles and responsibilities could include: overseeing performance monitoring, supporting the 360 stakeholder feedback process, identify skills gaps and assist in solutions whether training, shared services etc; sharing of good practice and identification of opportunities for shared services or peer review.

  • Issues to consider:

    • Who would host such a role?
    • How would it be resourced (SG funding, top slicing of planning fees, subscriptions)?
    • Priorities – a large list of potential roles, which would need to be prioritised to ensure the postholder could deliver change.

Meeting outcomes

Actions from meeting

  • It was agreed that further details need to be confirmed around the role, remit and resourcing of such a post.

Paper 8 - Key agency reporting

Meeting objective

  • To agree a new Key Agency approach to Performance Reporting.
  • To agree new Performance Markers for monitoring the Key Agencies

Key Agency Reporting

The Key Agencies each submit a Planning Performance Framework Report to the Scottish Government every year. This follows the Planning Performance Framework Template set by HOPS. During the course of the Planning Review, however, it was identified that this Planning Performance Framework template does not reflect the distinct roles played by the Key Agencies within the planning system.

On 1 June 2017 the Chief Planner invited the Key Agencies to propose a new performance monitoring framework for 2017/18. The below new approach to monitoring Key Agency performance was therefore developed jointly by the Key Agencies as part of a collaborative workshop occurring on 11th July 2017.

Proposed Approach

A new approach to monitoring Key Agency Performance Reporting was developed with the following aims:

  • to better reflect each role played by the Key Agencies in the planning system.
  • to meet the requirements of a reformed planning system in Scotland.
  • to provide opportunities for peer review and 360 degree feedback.

In support of the new approach it is proposed that the current Performance Markers are updated to more accurately monitor the functions of each Key Agency. The below markers were therefore identified during the workshop.

Place making

  • Contribution to strategic Planning
  • Local Development Plan Engagement
  • Pre-application engagement

Capacity Building

  • Commitment to sharing good practice, skills and knowledge base
  • Accessibility to evidence and sharing data


  • efficient decision making timescales
  • customer satisfaction
  • performance against service statements and joint working arrangements
  • performance against areas of identified improvement.

It is also proposed that Key Agency Planning Performance Framework Reports should be prepared according to the following stepped approach:

  1. Key Agency Joint Evidence-Gathering

The Key Agencies should work together to draw together evidence in support of Planning Performance Framework Reports. Subject to the discussions and findings in Paper 4, this should involve undertaking a joint Customer Experience Survey and developing Case Study examples demonstrating where the Key Agencies have worked collaboratively to meet the Improvement Priorities for the planning system.

  1. Key Agency Peer Review and Statement

Prior to submission of the Key Agency Planning Performance Framework Reports, the Key Agencies should meet to peer review draft Reports and discuss emerging issues within the planning system. A joint ‘Key Agency Statement’ should then be prepared to provide a clear overview of Key Agency performance over the reporting year and also to identify and define future priorities for the Planning System.

  1. Key Agencies Meeting with Scottish Government

The Key Agency Statement should also form the basis of an annual meeting with Scottish Government around the subject of Key Agency Performance and Improvement.

It is also proposed that individual Key Agency Planning Performance Framework Reports should be prepared to the below template:

1. Introduction
2. A Description of Our Service

This Section should clearly explain the Key Agency’s individual role within the Planning System, as well as giving some description of its wider responsibilities. This Section should also clearly explain how the Agency is resourced and structured to meet its role in the Planning System.

3. Performance Markers

This Section should demonstrate how the Agency has performed against the identified Performance Markers. There should also be opportunity to provide context for this. 


a. Strategic Planning
b. Development Plan Engagement
c. Pre-Application Collaboration

**Capacity Building**

d. Sharing Good Practice, Skills and Knowledge
e. Evidence and Data-Sharing


f. Decision Making Timescales
g. Service Statements and JWAs
h. Engagement with Service Users

4. Changes to Meet this Year’s Improvement Priorities

This Section should use case studies and other information to demonstrate where it has met key improvement priorities identified by the Scottish Government during the Reporting Year.

5. Service Improvements

This Section should clearly identify 4/5 individual Service Improvements for the Agency for the forthcoming year

Meeting outcome

Action from meeting:

  • 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.

Fees and resources

The Minister for Local Government and Housing updated the group on fees. The Minister was clear that any further fee increases would only be made when it was clear that performance had improved and this wasn’t just about timescales, similarly he was keen that the higher fees were seen to be invested in the planning service. There was an appreciation that planning statistics were a blunt tool and that the factors which were influencing decision times on applications should be clearer. The increase in the uptake of processing agreements was welcomed. However no decision on an increase in fees would be made before the Bill had received royal assent.


Email: Suzanne.Stephen@gov.scot

Back to top