Investing in planning - resourcing Scotland's planning system: consultation

This consultation sets out a range of options which have the potential to improve the capacity of the Scottish planning system, in particular in planning authorities, in the coming years.

An Efficient, Effective and Well-Resourced Planning System

1. The Scottish Government is committed to working with all stakeholders to ensure that the planning system is better equipped to deal with current and future challenges. We must build capacity and skills to enable good quality development that improves places, benefits our quality of life, and helps us grow a wellbeing economy and transition to net zero.

2. This consultation sets out a range of options which have the potential to improve the capacity of the Scottish planning system, in particular in planning authorities, in the coming years.

3. There is no simple answer to the challenge of resourcing planning – we live in financially constrained times and even if money was to be found, there is a complex set of circumstances to address. This consultation responds to current and future challenges, with a view to identifying actions that could improve the capacity of the planning system by helping build resilience and by strengthening cross sector collaboration.

4. Although money is not the sole solution, we need to ensure that planning authorities are financially resourced to deliver on our ambitions. Our Scottish Budget 2024/25 sets out our spending plans to deliver against our three central missions of equality, opportunity and community. The economic conditions remain challenging as inflationary pressures continue on households, businesses and public services.

5. Working within this context, this consultation sets out a number of proposals which aim to increase the financial resources available to authorities.

6. We recognise that changes to planning application fees and the potential introduction of additional charges comes at a time when applicants have been affected by other increases to development costs due to the impacts of Brexit, the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the cost of living crisis. National and local government have also been impacted by these events, and this adds to the case for urgently addressing a significant shortfall in funding to cover the costs of services provided.

Current Challenges

7. Work to improve resourcing in planning has been underway for some time. However, the planning system is now operating within a very different and challenging set of circumstances. Specific issues are covered in more detail in later sections, but a number of overarching issues frame the discussion.

8. Local authorities continue to face financial pressure and planning services have not been immune to this, with reductions in budgets leading to reductions in staff. Research by RTPI Scotland has shown that planning has experienced the largest reduction in expenditure out of every local authority service in Scotland since 2010/11 (expenditure has reduced by 28.6%). Planning departments have also seen a 16% reduction in their workforce, and it is now at its lowest level in 5 years – a total of 1205 members of staff in local authorities. The latest rise in fees has had a varying impact on planning authorities throughout Scotland. In many cases this has simply allowed existing posts to be retained rather than lost in response to budgetary constraints. Some planning authorities have seen reinvestment back into the service, and improved access to specialist skills, but the situation remains challenging. In 2020 Skills Development Scotland undertook research which identified that 550-600 planners would be required to meet replacement demand due to retirements and that an additional 130 planners would be required to cover a projected 11% growth in the planning sector up to 2030.

9. There are growing demographic challenges for the planning workforce. The RTPI Research shows that 39.6% of the planning workforce is reported to be older than 50 with reductions in the numbers of planners in younger age bands. Current trends show that those entering the sector will not meet the demand required. Negative headlines will have done little to help encourage new entrants to the system and are likely to be accelerating the loss of experienced staff from planning authorities. Staff retention in the public sector is a widely reported challenge (and in particular beyond the major cities), with a combination of ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors ranging from planners having to deal with public criticism, often fuelled by social media, to better offers arising in the private sector. It should be noted that skills shortages are reported to extend beyond councils to include consultancies and the development sector.

10. The wider jobs market for planning professionals is also challenging, with similar shortages in other parts of the UK and Ireland. National data compiled by the RTPI suggests planners are increasingly employed in the private sector (50%), and that the number of planners working in the public sector across the UK reduced by a quarter between 2009 and 2020. Renumeration of professional planners has also not kept pace with inflation and is in sharp decline.

11. Compounding these challenges, the development sector, business and industry are facing significant challenges arising from the economic context. The construction sector has been particularly impacted by inflation, affecting the cost of materials, as well as a challenging labour market. The cost of living crisis has further exacerbated resourcing challenges, not least in terms of the impact it has had on day to day running costs. Business organisations have called for work to be done to accelerate the planning process to ensure there is a supportive context for development proposals, and to minimise delays and associated costs. Whilst in many cases planning authorities work positively with applicants, there is a recognition that resourcing remains the most significant barrier to progress in improving performance. Even if views and concerns are not necessarily borne out by statistical information which shows some improvement, perceptions have a direct influence on investor confidence.

12. The pace of change is also a significant factor. Particularly as a result of net zero commitments, planners are increasingly having to develop an understanding of new technologies and their impacts. Whilst the introduction of National Planning Framework 4 and its firm commitments to net zero may have accelerated this further during 2023, positive work is ongoing to develop a shared understanding of the policies which in turn will help to improve consistency as familiarity grows. The housing sector is also increasingly experiencing change and significant difficulties as a result of a wide range of factors, and this is adding to the pressure on planning authorities.

Moving Forward – A Shared Commitment to Change

13. There is consensus that action is now required. Whilst we have previously taken forward a number of initiatives to improve resourcing in the planning system, the time is right to develop this into a stronger and more coherent programme of work to tackle these challenges. This needs to include a range of solutions, from skills, recruitment and retention, to improved financial arrangements.

14. The Verity House Agreement and the New Deal for Business set out how the Scottish Government intends to work collaboratively with others to tackle: poverty; deliver a just transition to net zero; and provide sustainable public services. Each of these priorities encompasses a breadth of existing activity and flexibility will be required to maximise impact.

15. In the spirit of this commitment to collaborative working, on 20 November 2023 we hosted a cross sector workshop to identify practical solutions to support efficient and effective operation of the planning system. The workshop outputs include a series of actions and proposals which will help to address short term issues and build in longer term resilience. Some proposals can be taken forward collaboratively, and others are expanded on throughout this consultation. We are very grateful for the positive and collaborative approach and contributions to date, and will look to build on this as we move forward from this consultation to set out commitments and actions.

16. There will remain occasions where the Scottish Government’s legitimate policy interests and those of local government or the business community (or parts of it) remain at odds. It is not realistic to think we will always be perfectly aligned, nor that stakeholders will always speak with one voice. However, we want to work together to identify solutions for the benefit of everyone, whether that be getting more skilled planners working in authorities, providing more certainty and better service to business and building trust in the decisions that are being taken.

17. Planning fees and additional charging can play an important role in ensuring the system is appropriately resourced. However, these are intended to cover the cost of delivering the service. We are keen to understand how additional resources can be brought into the system in order to support skills development and invest in longer term capacity.

18. The focus of this consultation is on the development management process. Local Development Plans set out how places will change into the future, including the long term vision for where development should and shouldn’t happen. Development plans show where new homes and workplaces will be built, how services and facilities such as schools and travel will be provided, and identify the places and buildings we value and want to protect. They are produced for the benefit of all those who live, work, visit or want to invest in the area and it is the Scottish Government’s view that for this reason preparation of development plans should be funded through the local government financial settlement.

Opportunities to Improve Planning Resourcing in Scotland

19. Part 1 of this document considers the potential to do things differently or ‘work smarter’. Part 2 then explores options for levering in additional financial resources to better support the system and move towards full cost recovery. The proposals are options. We have invited comment on prioritisation and potential cumulative impact of such options. We are also very keen to hear further ideas for resourcing the planning system.

Figure 1: An Overview of Proposals within this Consultation

Ongoing Action

  • Introduction of Chief Planning Officers
  • Continued collaboration through High Level Group on Planning Performance, Applicant Stakeholder Group and Key Agency Group
  • Embed role of the National Planning Improvement Champion
  • Revamp performance monitoring through the introduction of the National Planning Improvement Framework
  • Digital innovation
  • Move to longer development plan review period
  • Extending permitted development rights
  • Introducing masterplan consent areas
  • Provision of student bursaries
  • Toolkit to encourage people into planning
  • Consider a graduate apprenticeship scheme
  • Encouraging practice based planning degrees
  • Developing a skills strategy for planning
  • Promotion of planning in schools
  • Training for elected members

New Proposals

  • A central planning hub to support authorities
  • Short term working group to look at proportionality of assessments
  • Taking stock of the use of processing agreements
  • Improved cross council working to better align consents
  • Developing templates for Section 75 agreements
  • Devolving power to authorities to locally set planning fees
  • Introducing an annual inflationary increase in planning fees
  • Increasing discretionary charging including processing agreements, sites not allocated in the development plan and masterplan consent areas
  • Introducing fees for appeals
  • Service charge for submitting applications online
  • Considering the potential to alter the threshold for applications under the Electricity Act
  • Introducing a fee category for hydrogen projects
  • Increased fees for prior notification and approval categories.
  • Consistent approach to fees for shellfish farming.



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