Planning performance and fees: consultation analysis

Analysis of a consultation to obtain the views and opinions of stakeholders on a new approach to how the performance of planning authorities is measured, the role of the National Planning Improvement Co-ordinator (NPIC) and the new structure for the planning fee regime.

2. General Overview

2.1 Introduction

2.1.1 A number of comments were received as part of the consultation which do not relate specifically to a particular question but relate to planning performance and fees in general. These themes were recurring throughout the consultation, but are set out below rather than repeated, by question, in the detailed analysis.

2.2 Planning Performance and Fees

2.2.1 While respondents welcomed the aims and objectives of the consultation document, the responses made clear that the issues of planning fees and planning performance are intrinsically linked.

2.2.2 Resourcing of the planning system has been under severe pressure as the budget cuts faced by local authorities result in a squeeze on unprotected services such as planning. This, and the additional resources required to implement the new Planning Act, has brought authorities to the point where, without appropriate funding, improving performance will be very difficult. The new requirements of the Planning Act require authorities to deliver more which means that they will require additional resources to stand still before improvements in performance can be considered. If increased fees are to result in sustained performance improvement, then all resourcing issues faced by planning authorities should be addressed.

2.2.3 The principle of increasing fees for planning was generally supported but, for the business and development industry groups, there would need to be a tangible improvement in performance by planning authorities. Specific proposals would have to be clear, justified and show there is path in place to achieve demonstrable and corresponding service improvements for applicants. It was suggested that the consultation was rather one-sided with some steep increases in fees proposed on the one hand with somewhat limited information on performance on the other.

2.2.4 It was noted that the new fees would make applications significantly more expensive than equivalent applications in England with little detail on how performance will be improved. Reference was also made to the previous fee increase in 2017 which did not include any performance measures and the impact of the fee increase appears unclear. This raises the question of how good performance should be defined. There was broad support for a move away from simple metrics such as local authority decision times to a more outcome focused and holistic view of the planning system.

2.2.5 It is important that Scotland continues to remain competitive and any increase in fees paid needs to result directly in an injection of additional resources for planning services which can deliver stronger leadership and support appropriate development and investment in the built environment.

2.3 Cost Recovery

2.3.1 There was general support for the aim of planning fees recovering the cost of determining an application, but there were concerns from some policy and planning respondents that alone, the incremental increase in fees is unlikely to alleviate pressure on local authority planning services and it was suggested that a more fundamental reform of the resourcing of planning authorities is necessary to deliver a high-performing, efficient and effective planning service.

2.3.2 Full cost recovery where those using the planning system pay for the full cost of the process was an important issue for all groups. In support of full cost recovery there needs to be information published on the resources and costs that are required to process applications. The need for clear information on processing costs was raised throughout the consultation with concerns raised that the consultation did not provide any evidence on how the proposed fees have been calculated or whether it covered the cost of processing the application.

2.3.3 Against full cost recovery was the issue relating to the public interest purpose of planning controls. The planning system is a regulatory regime, in place because it is deemed to have wider benefits beyond its immediate users and therefore should have public funding. Concerns were also raised about a number of practical implications of full cost recovery including:

  • The ability of some authorities who do not receive many large applications to sustain staff and services on a full cost recovery basis unless there were large increases in fees for smaller developments.
  • The need for much larger fees for householder and small-scale applications which are widely believed to be subsidised by larger applications.

2.4 Ringfencing of Fees

2.4.1 It was suggested (by business and development industry respondents) that the increases to planning fees should have a direct relationship to funding for planning departments in Scotland and that authorities should have the option to ringfence any funding from increased fees. Indeed, these respondents felt it would be very difficult to justify a further increase in fees which are not ringfenced for development management services and which cannot be linked to any clear and measurable performance improvement. It was suggested that any additional investment from applicants should be matched by increased public sector investment.

2.4.2 Policy and planning respondents also suggested that income from planning fees should be reinvested in supporting the delivery of the development management service. Planning Performance Reports (PPR) could play a role in reporting where fee income has been spent as a means of reassuring applicants and users of the planning system that this investment is being made.

2.5 Fee Structure

2.5.1 There is scope to simplify the fee structure including the merging of some categories, a reduction in the number of tiers within categories and more consistency in fee level across categories. This would simplify the system and make it easier and cheaper to collect fees.

2.6 Climate Change Emergency

2.6.1 Reference was made to the 2019 Scottish Government goal of reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045. In order to reach this goal, the effort to limit emissions must be a top priority in all Government policies. From the business perspective, there is a need to ensure that proposed fees do not adversely affect the delivery of a low carbon economy. Civil society also questioned whether fees were sufficiently high to reflect the adverse effects of some activities in contributing to climate change.

2.7 Statutory Consultees

2.7.1 There was concern from the policy and planning group that the proposed increase in fee levels only reflect the input from the planning authority into the application process. They do not reflect the specialist input from other statutory consultees. To sustain specialist input into the planning system, it is important that a mechanism is introduced to enable other statutory consultees to receive their costs. If this is not an option, statutory consultees will have to change how they contribute to the planning system to reflect their resources and priorities.

2.8 Other Matters

2.8.1 A couple of very specific points were made in relation to the proposed fees:

  • All fees should be increased annually in line with inflation.
  • The consultation document appears to use m2 when it is believed to be referring to sq. m.



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