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.

Part 1 Working Smarter


20. Planning has never been more important to Scotland’s success. The potential of our places cannot be fully realised without the expertise and enthusiasm of a strong planning profession, working effectively together and respecting and understanding the pressures and challenges of different sectors and organisations. In Scotland the planning community has a long history of working collaboratively together and it is important that we continue to work in a transparent and open manner.

21. A number of established groups help us to make connections across various stakeholders, the Scottish Government is committed to working with local government in a constructive and collaborative way, in the spirit of cooperation and consensus building. The government is committed to the principle of regular and meaningful engagement and respecting local and national governments’ democratic mandate. The New Deal for Business and the Onshore Wind Sector Deal are also excellent platforms for involving and working with business interests. Further collaboration with the private sector to deliver our actions will be essential.

22. The High Level Group, co-chaired by COSLA and the Minister for Local Government Empowerment and Planning, brings together a wide range of public sector interests and is supported by a sub-group comprising applicants from a range of business sectors. The Group has a particularly important role to play in overseeing a future work programme on resourcing.


23. Within the Scottish Government, planning is recognised as a significant vehicle to lead positive change in society and achieve our economic, social and environmental goals. National Planning Framework 4 has given greater recognition of the importance of planning to wider objectives including tackling poverty, and improving health and wellbeing, environment and place. It sets out our shared spatial strategy and aligns existing and future plans, strategies and funding programmes recognising objectives across government portfolios.

24. At a local level, the provisions in the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 for Chief Planning Officers are to be commenced in Spring 2024, making it a statutory requirement for planning authorities to have a Chief Planning Officer. The role is intended to strengthen leadership and raise the profile of planning within local authorities. Guidance will be published alongside commencement setting out further details of the role.

Performance and Improvement

25. The performance of the planning system is an important priority for all stakeholders. Everyone has different ways of judging performance but ultimately, we all want a system which is timely, efficient and delivers the high quality development which we all need. Applicants can reasonably expect a better service if they are paying more for it. However, this is not necessarily a direct relationship, and we are some way behind recovering the full costs of processing applications.

26. Over the last decade, considerable work has gone into reporting on planning authority performance against a set of indicators agreed by the High Level Group. Whilst the preparation of Planning Performance Frameworks has been very beneficial, the approach is now at a level of maturity where the returns on the investment in time to report and monitor are diminishing. The time is right for a refreshed approach to improvement allowing us to move forward in a more action focused way.

27. In September 2023, Scotland’s first National Planning Improvement Champion (NPIC) was appointed and is based within the Improvement Service. The Champion plays a vital role in supporting continual improvement within the planning system. The Champion is piloting a new approach to monitoring performance of the system with the introduction of the National Planning Improvement Framework (NPIF).

28. The key principles of the new framework are:

  • A renewed focus on improvement - The improvement framework aims to use planning authorities’ self-assessment to identify areas of improvement to inform an improvement action plan.
  • Peer Collaborative Review - Marking by Scottish Government will be replaced by peer review involving NPIC, other planning authorities and stakeholders.
  • Measuring quality - NPIF looks to incorporate indicators that better assess impacts, outcomes achieved, and the quality of the service provided.
  • A high performing planning authority - NPIF focusses on assessment against the attributes of a high performing planning authority such as having the tools to do the job; engagement; people; culture and place.
  • Recognising dependencies - NPIF aims to recognise that planning authorities depend on other people and organisations in delivering their service.
  • Resources - NPIF has been designed to be proportionate and not add to the demand on planning authorities’ resources.

29. The NPIF will support a planning authority to assess their performance, identify areas of improvement and ascertain how best to action these to maximise their effectiveness and efficiency. It will support continual improvement and has been developed in the spirit of collaboration. This should assist authorities in identifying practical steps that can be taken to address their specific challenges. The Champion will have a central role in reviewing improvement plans and linking authorities with each other where similar improvement activities or outcomes are identified or highlighting and sharing good practice.

Digital Innovation

30. Digital technology can provide opportunities to improve the planning system through new systems and ways of working that can support efficiencies. The Scottish Government’s Digital Programme was recently paused, as a result of the current challenges for capital budgets. However, significant progress has been made towards introducing new solutions and in the coming year we will use a small budget allocation to establish whether the new solution for payments can still be delivered in the immediate future. The existing e-Development platform will remain a priority for maintenance and upgrading. We will also put together a new, more targeted business case that will mean we are well placed to reopen the work at a future date, should funding become available.

31. Work on digital skills and innovation will be completed by the end of March and will be shared with a view to supporting planning authorities and others involved in the planning system. The Scottish Government and RTPI Digital Skills Portal provides a Scottish ‘one stop’ online platform designed to improve the confidence in digital skills amongst all planners, in their everyday roles. It allows individuals to start by assessing their skills and gives access to a range of digital learning and training resources relevant to development planning, development management and general operating.

32. We remain keen to make use of technology to improve efficiency within the system and future-proof our processes. Sharing of good practice between planning authorities, agencies and the private sector is encouraged.

System Changes

33. Planning reform has been ongoing since 2015, when an independent panel was convened to identify improvements in the system. The Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 took forward many of the recommendations identified by the panel, and National Planning Framework 4, adopted in 2023, provides a robust and consistent policy framework setting clear direction for decision making across Scotland. It is supported by a Delivery Programme which forms the basis of many of our ongoing reforms.

34. We continue to reform the system to improve processes and maximise efficiency, recognising that to achieve this, investment of time and energy upfront will still be required, including:

  • New style local development plans have been introduced, including a longer maximum review cycle of 10 years to allow more time to focus on delivery of the plan. We know that significant resource is required by planning authorities and stakeholders, including community bodies, to introduce new plans and will continue to work with authorities and others to promote a proportionate approach for the first round of plans adopted in line with the changes introduced by the 2019 Act. Once those plans are in place, we fully expect that more time and resource will be available to support their delivery or wider services. New regulations on amendments to NPF and local development plans will provide more flexibility in the future.
  • We have consulted on draft guidance about effective community engagement in local development planning, which can assist all involved in understanding where in the local development plan preparation process engagement can be most influential, and assist in prioritising resources appropriately.
  • We have significantly extended permitted development rights, to remove certain applications from the planning system providing certainty for developers, and reducing processing for authorities and key agencies.
  • Regulations and guidance on masterplan consent areas will assist authorities to front-load scrutiny and alignment of consents providing scope for developers to come forward with greater certainty of consent allowing them to raise necessary finance and get on site earlier.
  • We recently re-commenced work to implement a new infrastructure levy under powers in the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019, which would provide authorities with an additional mechanism – alongside planning obligations – for seeking financial contributions towards infrastructure.
  • Work on Compulsory Purchase Reform is also progressing, with the recent appointment of a Practitioner Group to advise on issues and potential solutions.


35. Stakeholders have raised concerns about the level of information required to support planning applications. Whilst NPF4 is still bedding down, a drive to improve proportionality at this stage could help to implement policies in an efficient, as well as more consistent and predictable way. We have heard from applicants that requirements can vary significantly between authorities and in some cases a precautionary approach can be taken which has the potential to generate additional time and costs for applicants, authorities and communities in providing and evaluating the evidence.

36. We therefore propose identifying and sharing best practice in proportionate approaches to information requirements. Key areas could include, but may not be limited to, examples of proportionate environmental, flood risk, transport and socio-economic benefit assessments and appraisals. The Onshore Wind Sector deal also sets out a commitment to collaborative working on proportionate Environment Impact Assessment Reports for wind farms.

37. The Chief Planner would be interested in hearing from practitioners with an interest in this area of work, with a view to convening a short life working group to contribute expertise and share examples of proportionate approaches. Experience from both planning authorities and applicants would be welcome. This work will be taken forward from summer 2024.

Question 1: Which assessments might benefit most from improved proportionality?


38. We understand the critical importance of certainty to businesses and investors. Up to date, robust development plans, and streamlined systems and processes have a key role in providing some of that certainty.

39. In development management, applicants often cite certainty of decision making timescales to be more important than speed of decision making and processing agreements can be a useful project management tool. They create a shared understanding between all parties, supporting applicants, authorities and agencies to agree an appropriate and realistic application processing timetable.

40. We know that not all authorities offer this to applicants, and we are keen to gather views from all parties on the effectiveness of processing agreements in creating certainty.

Question 2: To what extent do you agree that processing agreements are an effective tool for creating certainty in planning decision making timescales?

Strongly agree | Partially agree | No view | Partially disagree | Strongly disagree

Please explain your view

Question 3: Do you consider that current resourcing issues are impacting on the use of processing agreements?

Strongly agree | Partially agree | No view | Partially disagree | Strongly disagree

Please explain your view

Question 4: Would you be prepared to pay a discretionary fee to enter into a processing agreement?

Yes | No view | No

Please explain your view

Question 5: What additional actions can we take to improve certainty in the planning process?

Streamlining, Alignment and Standardisation

41. Some efficiencies can be made by standardising approaches and using agreed templates, however it is important to balance the benefits of a consistent approach with our commitment to respecting local circumstances and enabling flexibility.

42. Better alignment of planning and other consenting regimes has long been an aspiration, but this can be difficult to achieve in practice due to the different legislative regimes and processes involved. Delegates at the November workshop noted that for one development an applicant may need a number of consents which all have different gateways into the Council. The idea was to provide improved cross council working to collectively ‘say yes to good development quicker’. SOLACE, COSLA and HOPS have committed to consider this proposal further – identifying and promoting good practice with the potential to carry out pilot projects with volunteer authorities/applicants.

43. Schemes of Delegation set out planning authorities’ approach to determining planning applications. They establish when certain decisions can be taken by officials instead of being considered by elected members of the authority at committee. Stakeholders have reported inconsistency across authorities and noted that they felt that in some cases Committee were dealing with very minor cases rather than those with more complex or controversial issues. It is a matter for individual authorities to set out a Scheme of Delegation that suits their circumstances, but Heads of Planning Scotland will raise the issue with authorities.

44. Applications involving section 75 planning obligations have significantly longer processing timescales and can be a major source of delay within the planning system. The majority of a section 75 legal agreement contains standard information. In order to provide more consistency and reduce the time involved in preparing Section 75 agreements stakeholders suggested that a standard template could be developed. Heads of Planning Scotland and SOLAR have committed to working with the Applicant Stakeholder Group to agree and roll out a Section 75 template.

45. The Enterprise Area Protocol has been recognised as providing tangible benefits and this has subsequently been adopted to support the emerging Green Free Ports. There is scope to consider expanding this approach to other areas. The protocol provides clarity and a shared understanding about the process and expectations of those involved in bringing forward development including authorities, agencies and applicants.

46. Work is underway to deliver the commitments in the Onshore Wind Sector deal relating to the standardisation of templates, such as Environmental Impact Assessment Reports, including reviewing baseline information requirements for the Environmental Impact Assessment for repowering wind farms and Section 36 consents and deemed planning permission, including conditions imposed on consents.

Question 6: Do you have further ideas on opportunities for streamlining, alignment or standardisation?

Skills, Recruitment and Retention

47. In order to deliver an effective, high-performing public sector planning service, there is a need to ensure that the planning workforce is equipped to meet the future demands that will be placed upon the sector. At present there are a number of interconnected pressures on the Scottish planning system including the increased complexity in planning applications and infrastructure delivery, resourcing pressures within authorities, and the challenges of recruitment and retention of staff at a time of increased demand for experienced planners, including in other sectors, such as renewable energy.

48. In 2020, Skills Development Scotland published research on Skills in Planning. The report identified that, over a period of 10 to 15 years, 550-600 planners would be required to meet replacement demand, largely due to retirements, and that an additional 130 planners would be required to cover a projected 11% growth in the planning sector.

49. These challenges cannot be solved with one simple solution. Recognising the need for a multi-dimensional approach, in 2021 the High Level Group commissioned HOPS and RTPI to undertake a project to explore the options available to increase the number of people entering the planning profession in Scotland.

50. The Future Planners report, published July 2022, sets out a series of short, medium and longer term recommendations to increase the number of new entrants into planning authorities and other parts of the planning sector. The report's recommendations cover diverse areas of action including support for funded postgraduate opportunities to increase the number of people gaining planning qualifications; extending opportunities for students to gain relevant work experience; enabling universities to maintain the viability of RTPI-accredited planning courses and increase the number of home students where possible; as well as exploring possibilities to retain more international students in the workforce.

51. The Scottish Government has been working with HOPS, RTPI and other partners to progress the recommendations. Action taken to date includes:

  • Publication of a campaign toolkit to give young people an insight into planning as a career option, encourage them to find out more about planning and increase interest and uptake of planning qualifications. The pack contains:
    • Links to promotional videos including YouTube shorts for use with social media
    • Social Media Graphics
    • A downloadable leaflet for use at careers fairs
    • Copy for social media channels
  • SG funding for 10 x £2,000 RTPI bursaries for students undertaking post graduate planning degrees in Scottish planning schools in 2023/24. We intend to continue support for bursaries and will confirm arrangements as soon as possible.
  • RTPI and the Scottish Government have promoted the case for a planning apprenticeship or practice-based planning degree and will continue to support delivery of such routes into the profession. At present there is only one undergraduate planning degree in Scotland, at Dundee University. The planning school at Dundee University and Fife Council have successfully piloted a model of practice-based study which has enabled a small number of individuals to complete an undergraduate degree while working part time within the planning authority. The university is taking forward plans to establish this model as a practice-based degree programme. The University of the West of Scotland is also actively seeking to start a new planning degree programme. We understand this course would be designed to facilitate individuals training as planners while working part time within the planning sector. We believe such practice-based models enabling employers to ‘grow their own’ future planners can add significant value and have the potential to achieve very similar positive outcomes to an apprenticeship. We will also continue to explore the benefits and potential of a graduate apprenticeship scheme in the future.
  • There are three planning schools offering RTPI accredited degree courses in Scotland – Dundee, Heriot Watt and Glasgow. However, Dundee is the only university currently offering an undergraduate planning degree. The Minister for Local Government Empowerment and Planning wrote to planning schools in October 2023 to encourage their continued support for higher education in this discipline.
  • We are also working with Partners in Planning to develop a skills strategy which will identify the specialist skills required to address the requirements of NPF4, and the wider skills required to ensure we have planners with the expertise to deliver on our ambitions for Scotland. In doing so, we are drawing on experience from the approach taken to developing a strategy for building standards. The new National Planning Improvement Framework will help collate data on workforce and skills requirements which will help inform the strategy for Scotland as a whole. We believe there would be benefit in working with partners to co-ordinate and promote skills development more proactively, bringing together and sharing the many sources of learning to support continuing improvement of skills and knowledge within the planning service.

52. Similar workforce challenges are being faced in other parts of the UK and we note that in England a Pathways into Planning graduate programme, funded by the Department for Levelling-Up, Housing and Communities and delivered by the Local Government Association with support from the Planning Advisory Service, has recently been set up. The programme aims to market planning as a career to graduates from all degree backgrounds and identify talented graduates to work in local government. Local authorities are able to employ graduates from this pool, offering a contract of at least 3 years in the first instance. Councils benefit from an educational bursary for each graduate, which can be used towards the cost of putting them through an RTPI-accredited apprenticeship or part time Master’s degree. While this programme is currently unique to England, we are exploring the lessons that can be applied in the Scottish context.

53. Other ongoing and longer-term Future Planners report actions which are being taken forward by key partners include:

  • continued work to extend opportunities for students at all levels to gain practical experience within a planning environment and embed work placements into university courses;
  • further promotion of planning in secondary schools and further education colleges, and at universities and career fairs, and raising awareness of planning amongst students on related degree courses;
  • making use of existing careers and skills platforms to promote planning careers;
  • understanding how young people can be assisted with job applications and interview preparation;
  • further research on how to retain more international students in the UK and making the case for Planning to be included in the UK list of ‘shortage occupations’ which qualify for a skilled worker visa, linking with wider Scottish Government work on talent attraction and student retention; and
  • considering how career structures can be improved within public sector planning and looking at the interchangeability of roles and careers within local authorities.

54. The Scottish Government believes momentum on these actions must be maintained to help ensure more people are aware of planning and can choose planning as a rewarding career. Public sector partners and higher education institutions along with industry partners will need to continue to work together to maximise the impact of their respective roles in fostering collective solutions.

Question 7: Are there any skills actions which you think should be prioritised?

Question 8: Are there any skills actions not identified which you think would make a significant impact?

55. We recognise that elected members also have a crucial role in the decision-making process within the planning system, being a vital part of our democratic process by carrying out specific planning functions. It is essential that they have the knowledge and understanding to help them make decisions that are robust and sound in planning reason.

56. We have recently consulted on the introduction of mandatory training for elected members who will be involved in planning. We expect that the introduction of training will build confidence and trust in the decisions which are taken in planning. The consultation closed on 26 October, and we are currently considering the responses.

A Planning Hub

57. A recurring suggestion from stakeholders is the establishment of a central pool of staff or specialists that would be accessible to authorities to use as and when required to assist them with their planning functions. This idea was discussed at the resourcing workshop in November, with stakeholders highlighting the Building Standards Hub (BSH) as an example of good practice that could be transferable to planning. The Building Standards Hub pilot was hosted within a local authority (Fife Council). The Hub is intended to play a key role in supporting transformation and quality in building standards services across Scotland. The Building Standards Hub objectives are to:

  • Increase consistency in the delivery of the verification service across all local authorities.
  • Increase capacity to deliver across all types of construction work across Scotland.
  • Provide resilience by providing access to additional resources, training and forward planning to ensure continuation of the service.
  • Drive efficiencies and so response times to applications and the use of similar processes.
  • Ensure investment in skills and new technology to drive innovation in service delivery.

58. Introducing such a hub for planning could provide much needed support and resilience for authorities in the coming years. Individual authorities would have differing needs at varying times, but a ‘Planning Hub’ could aim to act as a means for authorities to access skilled staff at short notice to help them to respond to a variety of pressures.

59. A central resource or hub could allow authorities to quickly and easily access a variety of specialist and technical skills to bolster and support their staff. The hub could play a variety of roles, providing flexibility to suit the individual circumstances and needs of authorities. It would be co-designed with planning authorities rather than centrally defined. We would expect that, in the short term, the hub would focus on providing support to help ensure the timely and informed determination of planning applications. Key priorities could include:

  • Providing technical expertise and advice in new or evolving areas, such as energy, heat, biodiversity or climate adaptation.
  • Providing technical support/advice on a topic where the Council has lost expertise.
  • Providing additional support to process large or complex applications.
  • Helping to provide some additional ‘surge’ capacity during a period of unexpected staff absence.
  • Helping to embed good practice.
  • Helping to build confidence and resilience within authorities by providing training, skills sharing and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) opportunities.

60. Once operational, the hub could have the potential to expand to further areas of performance and improvement support.

61. The idea of a having additional resource and/or training was also included as a commitment in the Scottish Onshore Wind Sector Deal. The Onshore Wind sector and the Scottish Government have agreed to set out proposals for how additional resources and/or training can be accessed by statutory consultees when they are responding to onshore wind applications, and by decision makers when discharging pre-commencement planning conditions.

Question 9: Do you think that the concept of a ‘planning hub’, modelled on the Building Standards Hub would support authorities and deliver improvement in the system?

Strongly agree | Partially agree | No view | Partially disagree | Strongly disagree

Please explain your view

Question 10: Are there other ways a hub could add value and provide support in the short and longer term?

Hosting a Planning Hub

62. There are a number of options for hosting the hub:

i. Within the Scottish Government.

This could provide a central position for the hub, ensuring that it has the support of Ministers and is recognised as a national resource for all authorities. Central positioning would also ensure that support is focussed on delivery of national priorities such as net zero, is impartial and maintains trust and the reputation of the planning system. Given Scottish Ministers’ potential role in planning applications that are called in or recalled through the appeal process, however, it would be difficult to avoid conflicts of interest arising.

ii. Within a public organisation.

A variety of public sector organisations could provide a host function for the hub. This would provide impartiality and there are less likely to be conflicts of interest. The host organisation may also be able to make connections and links with other similar work across other services and in related fields.

iii. Within a host authority.

A volunteer authority could host the hub within their Council. This has worked successfully for the Building Standards Hub based within Fife Council. Hosting within a council gives benefits of the hub being delivered by an organisation which is closer to those involved in frontline services, adding value by allowing access to existing technology such as the Uniform case handling system. This will ensure those working within the hub can more easily support authorities effectively by identifying the right type of support and having direct access to the relevant information and an understanding of local authority processes and procedures.

Question 11: Which of the options do you think is most suitable, and why?

i. Within Scottish Government

ii. Within public organisation

iii. Within a host authority

iv. Other

v. No view

Financing the Hub

63. The Scottish Government Budget 2024/25 does not include any budget for establishing such a hub and authorities are not in a position to finance this from their current budgets. Therefore, should there be support for this proposal, an alternative means of financing would need to be identified. Some private sector stakeholders have stated that they would be willing to pay more to provide support for authorities. Private sector funding of the hub could be an option, but in practice may be hard to secure funds in a fair way.

64. Until we bottom out the specific role and demand for any potential hub, it is hard to estimate operational costs. Should there be support for this proposal, we will consider the likely levels of demand in more detail with Heads of Planning Scotland. As a benchmark, the estimated cost of the Building Standards Hub (as currently proposed) is approximately £1.2 million per annum with 10.5 FTE staff. The estimated total net cost over the three years 2024/25 to 2026/27 is £3.35 million. The funding for the new hub has been built into the design of the new fee structure for building verification work to be introduced from April 2024 that will run for three years. As this funding is generated by an increase in fees it will be paid for by all building warrant applicants.

65. The simplest and fairest method to fund the operation of the hub may be to increase each planning application fee to reflect the cost of the hub. Further work with COSLA and Heads of Planning would be required to consider this in detail, looking at how finance would be collected and administered and how much the cost would be.

Question 12: How do you think a Planning Hub could be resourced?



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