Places, people and planning: consultation on the future of the Scottish planning system

We are seeking views on proposals to strengthen the planning system.

04 Stronger leadership and smarter resourcing

We want to reduce bureaucracy and improve resources so Scotland's planning system can focus on creating great places.

Proposal 16

Developing skills to deliver outcomes

Proposal 17

Investing in a better service

Proposal 18

A new approach to improving performance

Proposal 19

Making better use of resources - efficient decision making

Proposal 20

Innovation, designing for the future and the digital transformation of the planning service

4.1 - Planners can help to make great places and we see strong examples of this across the country. However, good quality development and efficient service needs to be the norm. We want planning to re-establish itself as a visionary profession, rather than the micro-management of the built environment the panel referred to. We need to avoid planning activities that do not add value. Now, more than ever, we must focus properly on how cost effective the planning service is, and ensure that future changes make processes simpler and more efficient wherever possible.

4.2 - We now have an exceptional opportunity to redesign the planning service to better reflect the principles of public service reform. People, partnership, prevention, performance and place have formed the foundations for the proposals for change we have set out here. Many of the wider changes aim to remove unnecessary procedures, and 'rebalance' the system so that we can focus on achieving outcomes through direct intervention, creativity and imagination.

Proposal 16: Developing skills to deliver outcomes

4.3 - Planning can be recognised as a positive force for change. Like any public service it will be measured by what it delivers. Those outcomes must be the focus for all those involved in planning. By gaining a wider, place-based perspective, the valuable role that planning plays in ensuring that the public good is considered in decisions about the future of our places will be better understood and valued. Planning can provide a long-term perspective, and is therefore particularly well placed to tackle important issues such as development delivery, health, inclusion, environmental quality and climate change.

4.4 - We will continue to work with Heads of Planning Scotland ( HoPS) and the Royal Town Planning Institute ( RTPI) Scotland to look at how planning can improve its reputation as a visionary profession that creates great places for people. Leadership is central to this. Planning needs to better articulate the value that it can contribute to society and the economy and should do more to highlight its achievements. The proposals we have outlined to improve community involvement and better align spatial and community planning are intended to support this.

4.5 - Education is key to this and our proposals for involving children and young people will help to build greater awareness and involvement in place making. We also agree with the independent panel that planning graduates have a vital role to play. It is critical that we make future generations of planners resilient and adaptable to change, and give them the confidence to challenge and inspire others. An understanding of the different cultures and sectors will help with this. We have asked the RTPI Scotland to look into opportunities for a graduate intern scheme.

4.6 - The capacity and resilience of the planning profession in Scotland as a whole needs to be considered in view of the recommendations set out here. The independent panel recommended further work on skills development and shared services.

4.7 - We have asked the RTPI Scotland to undertake an audit of skills, and Heads of Planning Scotland to explore options for shared services. Given the many long established relationships between planners in and across the public and private sectors, we believe we can greatly improve the way we exchange knowledge, skills and experience. However we recognise that there may be a significant need for further training. The immediate priorities include: leadership; project management; mediation and brokerage; development finance and economics; viability; costing and funding solutions; working with communities; and creativity and innovation. The emphasis is on efficiency. Not every authority can be expected to have skills in every area. However, there is a need to ensure that they have access to specialist skills when necessary.

4.8 - There are some challenges - mainly resources. However, much can be done to help authorities to help one another. This willingness to work together needs to be carefully balanced with the pressures on planners. Time away from desks to either assist others or improve personal skills is not always possible in the current climate. This needs to be addressed, and we look forward to seeing the results of the RTPI and Heads of Planning Scotland's work on skills and shared services.

4.9 - It is also essential that the planning profession looks to other built environment professionals. The profession should continue to work with the Royal Town Planning Institute ( RTPI) Scotland, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors ( RICS), Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland ( RIAS), Institution of Civil Engineers ( ICE), the Chartered Institute of Housing and others to lead collaborative approaches to improving places and delivering development.

Royal Town Planning Institute - Future Planners Initiative

This initiative aims to reach out to young people aged 11-18 to raise awareness of and foster their interest in planning. Volunteer RTPI Ambassadors have been appointed to visit schools and discuss the importance of planning. This gives planners an opportunity to help develop a wider understanding of how the built environment affects everyone's lives. More than 100 Ambassadors have been participating in the initiative, visiting schools throughout the UK and Ireland. A short film 'How do we plan our world?' was also developed and posted online to support school visits.

Proposal 17: Investing in a better service

4.10 - The planning service must have the resources it needs to deliver the world-class service our communities deserve and our economy needs.

4.11 - Consultation on proposals to increase in the overall cap in planning fees for most types of development is ongoing. [14] We have been cautious about increasing fees, conscious of the need to align resourcing with performance improvement. It is critical that we continue to ensure that Scotland is an attractive place to do business. However, we are aware that the maximum planning fee in Scotland is currently less than 10% of that in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and that the overall cost of processing planning applications in planning authorities is not currently covered by the application fee for most categories of development. This is not a sustainable approach to resourcing a system that needs to be focused on quality and efficiency.

4.12 - Development management is currently subsidised by other local authority service areas. Other organisations, including agencies and the Government's planning functions, are not funded under current arrangements but help to support the effectiveness of the service.

4.13 - In light of our proposed reforms, now is the time to have a wider discussion on resourcing our planning system. We should be prepared to move towards full cost recovery that extends beyond the day-to-day business of processing applications in development management teams and into wider areas. Pre-application discussion, statutory consultees, central government support from brokerage to ePlanning and subsequent approvals of matters such as planning conditions can all contribute to creating investor confidence. This is not simply about increasing revenue. The performance of our planning system needs to be at the centre of any changes we make.

4.14 - We will therefore bring forward further proposals for changes to current resourcing arrangements which are more flexible and will ensure that the costs to applicants are more closely aligned with the service provided. At this stage, we believe the consultation should include proposals for:

  • A revised maximum fee.
  • Higher fees for retrospective planning applications and for applications relating to sites not supported by the adopted local development plan (as described in section 1).
  • Charging for appeals and reviews of decisions (see section 2).
  • Agencies, who have a critical role to play in the development management process, having the ability to charge for services.
  • Discretionary charging, including for pre-application discussions.
  • Discretionary charging for establishing Simplified Planning Zones (see section 3).
  • Removing the developer's right to submit a revised or repeat application at no cost (see section 2).
  • Removing provisions for recovering advertising costs and including these within a revised planning fee.
  • Arrangements for funding of relevant central government functions such as front line service delivery in the eDevelopment programme and other elements supporting operation of the planning service in Scotland provided by the Planning and Architecture Division.
  • Improving clarity and ensuring the fees structure is proportionate and reflects the types of development coming forward, for example by providing a fixed rate fee for polytunnels.
  • Enhanced service standards or fast tracked applications where a higher fee is paid and accompanied by a processing agreement.

4.15 - Our aim would be to fully recover the costs of a high performing development management process, and those other parts of public services that directly support it.

4.16 - In recognition of the diversity of the planning service across Scotland, we will look at the extent to which authorities can opt out of charging fees where they believe this will support wider objectives, such as regeneration and reversing depopulation of remote island and rural areas. We should not look at a planning application as an opportunity to extract gain - these proposals are designed to meet processing costs, helping Scotland to be the best place to deliver the planning service and to do business.

Proposal 18: A new approach to improving performance

4.17 - Higher fees must be accompanied by a much improved service. Whilst planning authorities' performance has improved in recent years, we fully understand the concerns of the development industry that fee increases need to be accompanied by strong performance in every authority. We agree with the independent panel that monitoring is important and that we need to provide better support for authorities to help them improve and learn from each other.

4.18 - We already have a High Level Group to support improving performance and will continue to pursue delivery of an improved performance agenda.

4.19 - It is the planning authorities' responsibility to improve their own performance and they have made significant progress since the introduction of their Planning Performance Framework ( PPF). It is also important that all parties play their part in supporting the planning service through early engagement, provision of appropriate supporting information and striving to meet timescales. We think the time is right to improve the PPF monitoring system and suggest that Heads of Planning Scotland lead further consideration of the following improvements:

  • A stronger focus on customers' experience of the planning service within service improvement plans.
  • '360 degree' feedback from service users for all authorities in Scotland.
  • Continued support from the Improvement Service.
  • Improved peer review.
  • Identifying a national performance co-ordinator who champions improvement across all planning authorities and leads the sharing of expertise and experience.

4.20 - Given that planning should be measured by its outcomes, we will also explore the scope for measuring performance on the basis of the quality of places. To some extent, this is achieved by the Scottish Awards for Quality in Planning and the RTPI's annual Awards for Planning Excellence. Wider work to promote the role of the planning profession could be supported if we can show the level, type and quality of change which has been achieved. This would not only demonstrate success but also help to identify priorities for future action. We could achieve this, for example where the Place Standard is used to evaluate places 'before and after' development, and communities could also play a role by giving feedback. We will commission research to explore the scope to develop a practical plan to achieve this.

4.21 - Our proposals to increase resourcing must be accompanied by a stronger assurance that performance will improve to a high standard in every authority. Whilst we have no current plans to implement the penalty clause in the Regulatory Reform Act, we have no plans to remove it. We believe it remains essential to have this option in place as an assurance that action can be taken where it is demonstrated that performance is consistently poor and actions are not being taken to improve. However, we strongly favour a more positive supportive approach, rather than a sanction, and we very much recognise the impact that applicant behaviour can have on planning authority performance. We are committed to continuing our work with the High Level Group on performance to ensure we provide a supportive and fair improvement agenda.

Proposal 19: Making better use of resources: efficient decision making

4.22 - We want to simplify, streamline and clarify procedures so that planners can focus on activities that add most value.

Permitted development rights

4.23 - Heads of Planning Scotland are looking at the scope to extend permitted development rights and remove the need to apply for planning permission for more development types. This could also be supported by making changes to the Use Classes Order. At this stage, the types of development where we think there is scope to remove certain applications from the system are:

  • Digital telecommunications infrastructure.
  • Development which helps to meet our wider commitment to reducing emissions that cause climate change. These could be wide-ranging and include different types of microgeneration equipment; installations supporting renewable heat networks; cycle networks, parking and storage; and facilities to support low carbon and electric vehicles.
  • Development which supports the resilience of the farming sector. This includes polytunnels and changes of use from agricultural buildings to housing.
  • Allotments and community growing schemes.
  • Changes to the use of premises within town centres to stimulate vitality.
  • Elements of development within the aquaculture sector

Handling applications

4.24 - Where an application for planning permission is required, we agree with the independent panel that a more consistent approach to setting requirements for the validation of planning applications should help to overcome some of the delays and time spent on casework. Recent work undertaken by Heads of Planning Scotland, in collaboration with industry, will provide fuller guidance on this that can be used by all planning authorities, applicants and key agencies. In addition, we will strengthen planning advice to clarify the grounds upon which an application can be refused where the applicant has not provided the information required to reach a decision.

4.25 - As recommended by the independent panel, we will commission research on aligning consents procedures. Based on advice from stakeholders, this work will particularly focus on scope to bring together the handling of applications which are administered by local authorities and will make recommendations which read across to the work of the digital task force. Effective brokerage of applications, such as the arrangements we introduced to support Enterprise Areas, can also have significant benefits for applicants and the Programme for Government confirms our commitment to develop this further.

Procedural improvements - development management

4.26 - More generally, we would welcome views on whether targeted improvements can be made to further streamline development management procedures as a whole.

4.27 - In particular, we believe there is scope to simplify and clarify procedures for approving the detail of proposals that are granted planning permission in principle. To provide greater flexibility, we would welcome views on whether a new provision should be introduced to amend the duration of a planning permission in principle, after permission has been granted. Annex H of Circular 3/2013 [15] sets out current procedures on this.

4.28 - We would also like to hear views on whether there is scope to make requirements for pre-determination hearings and determination of applications by 'full council' more flexible. For example, pre-determination hearings could be required for proposals which do not need a decision by full council, and we could allow planning authorities to choose whether pre-determination hearings should be in front of a committee or the full council.

Proposal 20: Innovation, designing for the future and the digital transformation of the planning service

4.29 - There are many benefits to be gained from digitally enabling transformation of our public services. We have already achieved much through the success of our eDevelopment programme over the past decade. It has led to the use of online applications and redesigning business practices around the user needs. However, in planning we are only now coming into line with the minimum capability of current and developing technology, and have yet to realise the full potential of the fast-moving information age.

4.30 - As an example, we recently commissioned research on the potential of three-dimensional visualisations in planning. This is just one way in which technology might transform the way people become involved with, appreciate and get excited about the future of their places. We will continue to explore and promote new visualisation technology by taking forward the research recommendations in a new programme of work.

4.31 - We will appoint a digital task force to look at opportunities to develop and integrate new information technology solutions in support of the continued digital transformation and improvement of the planning service. We expect the task force will explore a range of opportunities, including data sharing, mobile technology, the use of drones, and expanding online applications to wider development-related consenting regimes. is a business transformation programme, delivering digital planning and building standards services across Scotland. We have developed online application portals to support and enable the modernisation of these services. The planning and building standards application services have historically involved large volumes of paper documents and large-scale plans and architectural drawings. These days, most documents and plans supporting development-related applications are routinely created digitally. Now they can be submitted digitally too, which is much more convenient and cheaper for customers. The end result is less paper to handle, postage and the removal of all unnecessary practices and associated excess costs, radically changing public service processes to fit. Electronic delivery also saves time, with days being cut every time correspondence or documents transfer between applicant and authority. The eDevelopment services deliver what the customer wants - open, accessible online services, available 24/7.

Stronger leadership and smarter resourcing - Consultation questions:

Key question

D: Do you agree the measures set out here will improve the way that the planning service is resourced? Please explain your answer.

Optional technical questions

26. What measures can we take to improve leadership of the Scottish planning profession?

27. What are the priorities for developing skills in the planning profession?

28. Are there ways in which we can support stronger multidisciplinary working between built environment professions?

29. How can we better support planning authorities to improve their performance as well as the performance of others involved in the process?

30. Do you agree that we should focus more on monitoring outcomes from planning (e.g. how places have changed)?

30(a) Do you have any ideas on how this could be achieved?

31. Do you have any comments on our early proposals for restructuring of planning fees?

32. What types of development would be suitable for extended permitted development rights?

33. What targeted improvements should be made to further simplify and clarify development management procedures?

33(a) Should we make provisions on the duration of planning permission in principle more flexible by introducing powers to amend the duration after permission has been granted? How can existing provisions be simplified?

33(b) Currently developers can apply for a new planning permission with different conditions to those attached to an existing permission for the same development. Can these procedures be improved?

33(c) What changes, if any, would you like to see to arrangements for public consultation of applications for approvals of detail required by a condition on a planning permission in principle?

33(d) Do you have any views on the requirements for pre-determination hearings and determination of applications by full council?

34. What scope is there for digitally enabling the transformation of the planning service around the user need?


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