Monitoring the outcomes of planning: a research study

Discusses issues related to performance management and informs future work on developing new approaches to assessing performance in the planning system.

3. Context: the planning review

3.1 This study is one of the strands of the Review of the Scottish Planning System, which was launched in 2015, when Ministers appointed an independent review panel. The panel submitted its report in 2016 (Independent Review Panel, 2016) and its findings were cited in the study brief, which noted that the panel had:

"…recognised that the speed of decision making is an important part of performance monitoring…[but] a quality service relies on a wide range of factors…[T]he independent panel recommended…a move towards monitoring outcomes from planning, rather than focusing only on procedure".

3.2 This theme was pursued in the January 2017 consultation paper, Places, People and Planning (Scottish Government, 2017a). In his introduction, the Minister for Local Government and Housing highlighted the economic, societal and environmental value of planning:

"The places where we live, work and play can have a major impact on our health, wellbeing, sense of identity and prosperity. Planning can nurture our places, our environment and our communities and guide future change so that it benefits everyone.

"Planning can co-ordinate and support investment, ensure that future growth reflects the needs of communities and is sustainable. Planning has a key role to play in delivering Scotland's Economic Strategy. The efficiency and reputation of the system has an important role to play in making Scotland an attractive place to invest."

3.3 In order to fulfil its potential, the planning system needs to change. Too often perceived as "bureaucratic and dull", planning needs to be "dynamic [and] focused on outcomes", playing a more active role in "making development happen in the right places". The consultation document proposed a number of key changes, including a "new approach to improving performance. We will continue to strengthen the way in which performance is monitored, reported and improved".

3.4 The consultation document set out proposals for improving the existing Planning Performance Framework (which focuses primarily on process) but it also discusses the case for "measuring performance on the basis of quality of places". Such assessments might build on the Scottish Awards for Quality in Planning or the RTPI's Awards for Planning Excellence; using the Place Standard might enable "before and after" comparisons, and communities could be invited to give feedback. These recommendations provide the immediate context for the present study, although, as we have seen, they focus on inherently complex impact evaluation, with an emphasis on wider policy impacts, rather than more readily available (and reliably quantified) outcome measures.

3.5 The June 2017 report on the results of the consultation exercise found that there was general agreement among policy makers and planners that "planning performance needs to move beyond quantitative targets to focus on outcomes" (KMA, 2017). This is somewhat confusing: in fact, all the planning outcomes discussed in this study are quantifiable, while the longer-term impacts of planning (both direct and indirect) will require more subjective qualitative judgements. In practice, a comprehensive performance management framework for planning would require elements of both.

3.6 In recording broad support for a shift towards outcomes-based performance measurement, the KMA report noted that some developers had expressed concern about the time and resource required to monitor performance outcomes, which should not be "at the expense of delivering primary services".

3.7 The June 2017 position statement (Scottish Government, 2017b) also recorded the welcome for proposals to focus on outcomes, citing health and wellbeing, climate change and carbon emissions as potential performance measures. A further round of consultations on the Position Statement confirmed "support for monitoring outcomes rather than performance". [1] The consultation process revealed a clear consensus among policymakers, planners and third sector organisations that a new approach to performance management is required.

3.8 The Policy Memorandum that accompanied the Planning (Scotland) Bill (Scottish Government, 2017c) reaffirmed the importance of "a high-performing planning service…Planning authorities hold the primary responsibility for effective management and efficient delivery…" The Bill will increase scrutiny of the performance of planning authorities through three broad measures:

  • a statutory requirement to produce annual performance reports
  • appointment of a national planning performance coordinator, and
  • powers to assess planning authorities' performance and to pursue improvements.

3.9 The Memorandum specifically noted the "strong support for a focus on monitoring quality of decisions and outcomes, as well as time-based performance standards. There was also support for 360° feedback from service users, provided there would be implementation of lessons learned".

3.10 The planning review has revealed some confusion about the purpose and scope of performance management in the Scottish planning system, but the broad message is clear. We need to have a better understanding of the outcomes delivered by planning, its impact in terms of making better places, and its wider contribution to the National Performance Framework. We should note that many of our consultees argued that better performance management involves more than the "scrutiny" of planning authorities mentioned in the Policy Memorandum: it should examine the performance of the Scottish planning system in totality and the roles of all the principal actors.


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