Planning performance statistics 2020/2021: quarterly (April 2020 to September 2020)

This report presents summary statistics on planning application decision-making timescales for April to September 2020, as well as historic data back to 2016/17. It is based on data collected from Local and Planning Authorities as part of the Planning Performance Framework (introduced in 2012).

This document is part of a collection

1. Introduction

1.1 Background to data collection

Planning authority performance data is a statistical collection undertaken to establish the number of planning applications determined by Scottish planning authorities, and their performance in processing them. The Scottish Government Communities Analysis Division collects quarterly data from all 32 Local Authorities and the two Planning Authorities (Cairngorms National Park and Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park) on the detail of planning decisions and timescales.

1.2 Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic

From mid-March 2020 planning application processing was impacted by the move to home working, restrictions on travel and site access, reduced availability of agents and consultees, and staffing and resourcing issues due to the impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic. This has resulted in a reduction in the number of applications processed and decided during the first two quarters of 2020/21. Some applications will have longer decision times as a result of delays specifically resulting from the impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Clock stops were not used where there was a delay to authority processing as a result of the impact of COVID-19 restrictions. 

Planning Performance Statistics report on decided applications therefore the number of applications received by an authority in a particular quarter does not form part of the data collection and so is not reported here. However, a number of authorities commented that there had been a notable reduction in the number of applications they received over this period, particularly during quarter one. This reduction in applications submitted will be reflected in the number of decided applications in subsequent quarters.

For some applications where there was potential for COVID-19 related delays authorities used processing agreements to agree timescales for decisions with developers. This resulted in increased use of processing agreements in the first two quarters of 2020/21.

There was also an initial impact on the ability of planning committees and review boards to meet as a result of the lockdown restrictions, the impact was greater in quarter one. Many authorities have set up options for remote meetings which allowed more committees and review boards to meet during quarter two.

This impact on the number and decision times of applications should be considered when making any comparisons with figures for previous years.

Restrictions impacted authorities differently with varying degrees and duration of impact. This should be noted if making comparisons between figures for individual authorities in the accompanying excel tables.

1.3 Legacy cases

On 3rd August 2009 substantial changes to the statutory development management system, relating to the handling of planning applications, came into effect across the whole of Scotland. A few legacy cases that were validated pre 3rd August 2009 can badly skew results and therefore the analysis in Sections 2 to 5 covers applications validated in the current planning system, those validated on or after 3rd August 2009. Analysis of the limited number of decided legacy cases is provided separately in Section 10.  Figures including legacy cases have previously been reported for years up to and including 2016/17 and are available in previous publications.

1.4 Detailed tables of results

Detailed excel tables of results as well as a copy of this summary, along with results for previous quarters and annual results for previous years are available in the Planning Authority Performance Statistics Section on the Planning Publications page of the Scottish Government's website.

1.5 Categories of planning applications

For the purpose of planning applications, developments are put into three categories: local, major or national. The different types allow councils to treat developments in a way which is suited to their size, complexity and the issues they are likely to raise. 

Local developments include changes to individual houses and smaller developments for new housing as well as applications covering minerals, business and industry, waste management, electricity generation, freshwater fish farming, marine finfish farming, marine shellfish farming, telecommunications, Approval of Matters Specified in Conditions (AMSCs[1]) and other developments. Most applications for planning permission will be for local developments.

Major developments include applications for 50 or more homes, as well as certain waste, water, transport and energy-related developments, larger retail developments, and other types of major developments. 

Classification between local and major developments depends on the particular development type. For example, housing developments are classed as major when the application is for 50 or more dwellings or for a site that exceeds two hectares, whereas electricity generation is classed as major when the capacity of the generating station is or exceeds 20 megawatts. Typically there are only a small number of decisions made for major developments each quarter and so decision times for major developments are volatile.

The sub category "other developments", used for both major and local developments, includes any developments not falling wholly within any of the other specific categories. It includes, but is not limited to, retail, leisure and entertainment, education, healthcare, community facilities, transport interchanges, water and drainage developments and projects. It can also include mixed use projects.

National developments are mainly large public works (for example, the regeneration of the former Ravenscraig steelworks and the redevelopment of the Dundee Waterfront) and are identified in the National Planning Framework

National Developments are not included in the planning performance statistics analysed in this publication.

Details for the classification of all development types can be found in the Hierarchy of Developments planning series circular.  

1.6 Calculation of decision times

The average decision time in weeks is calculated in days from the date of validation[2] to the date the decision is issued. The average weeks are then calculated by dividing the number of days by seven.

Some local authorities use processing agreements where the developer and the local authority agree on timescales for decisions. Applications subject to a processing agreement are not included in average decision time calculations and are reported separately. 

For further explanation of planning performance methodology please refer to Planning Performance Technical Notes.

Some of the changes over time seen in the decision times may be partly due to improvements in recording of periods of inaction by the applicant. This is referred to as "stopping the clock". See Section 9 for further details. 

1.7 Stopping the Clock

In some cases it is appropriate to remove a length of time from the total decision time. We have called this process of removing a specific length of time "stopping the clock". Stopping the clock is used where there has been a lengthy delay caused by the applicant or external consultees, outwith the planning authority's control that has halted progress with an application. It is for individual authorities to decide what they consider 'lengthy' on a case by case basis. This should not be used for every application; it is about recording the data in a way which produces more accurate and relevant performance statistics that would otherwise have been skewed by extreme cases of delay outwith the planning authority's control. 

Details of clock stops can be seen in Section 9.    

Clock stops were not used where there was a delay to authority processing as a result of the impact of COVID-19 restrictions. 

1.8 Revisions

The revisions policy for planning performance statistics has been developed in accordance with the UK Statistics Authority Code of practice for Official Statistics.



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