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 resulted in a notable reduction in the number of applications processed and decided during the first two quarters of 2020/21. This impact has continued in the last two quarters of 2020/21.
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 the first two quarters of the year, particularly during quarter one. In quarters three and four authorities have noted a marked increase in the number of applications and enquiries received with some commenting that the number of applications, particularly from householders, was notably greater than would normally have been expected.
Some applications have longer decision times as a result of delays 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.
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 throughout 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 later quarters.
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 Uses of the statistics
The key objective of the statistics is to allow Scottish Government and the planning authorities to monitor the performance of planning authorities in the timeliness of deciding planning applications. The statistics monitor the impact of the development management system, part of the modernising planning agenda, which was implemented on 3rd August 2009. Further details are available at: www.gov.scot/publications/planning-performance-statistics-uses-of-the-data/.
1.4 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 post 3rd August 2009.Analysis of the limited number of decided legacy cases is provided separately in Section 11.
Figures for all applications including legacy cases were reported up to and including 2016/17 and are available in previous publications.
1.5 Detailed tables of results
Detailed excel tables of results as well as a copy of this summary, along with quarterly results and annual results for previous years are available from the Planning Authority Performance Statistics Section on the Planning Publications page of the Scottish Government's website.
1.6 Categories of planning applications
For planning applications, developments are put into one of 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 applications for changes to individual houses and smaller developments for new housing as well as applications covering areas of development such as minerals, business & industry, waste management, electricity generation, freshwater fish farming, marine finfish farming, marine shellfish farming, telecommunications, Approval of Matters Specified in Conditions (AMSCs) and other developments. Most applications 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 therefore average decision times are likely to be volatile.
The sub-category "other developments", used for both major and local developments, includes any developments not falling wholly within any of the specific categories of development for minerals, housing, business & industry, waste management, electricity generation, fish farming and AMSCs. 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. These 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.
1.7 Calculation of decision times
The average decision time in weeks is calculated in days from the date of validation to the date the decision is issued. The average weeks are then calculated by dividing the number of days by seven.
When calculating cut-off dates for local applications meeting two month targets months are measured from a specific day in one month until the day with the preceding date in the following or subsequent months.
Some local authorities use processing agreements where the developer and the local authority agree on timescales for decisions. Applications subject to processing agreements are not included in average decision time calculations.
For further explanation of planning performance methodology please refer to Planning Performance Technical Notes.
1.8 Stopping the clock
In some cases it is appropriate to remove a length of time from the Total decision time. "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 performance statistics that would otherwise have been skewed by extreme cases of delay outwith the planning authority's control.
Details for applications that have had the clock stopped can be found in Section 12.
Clock stops were not used where there was a delay to authority processing as a result of the impact of COVID-19 restrictions.
Stop the clock guidance has been issued to planning authorities to help with decisions for stopping the clock.
The revisions policy for planning performance statistics has been developed in accordance with the UK Statistics Authority Code of practice for Official Statistics.
Revisions to previously published figures made in this bulletin/supporting tables:
- Correction to the number of local review body decisions and corresponding average decision time in 2019/20 for Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park (Table 30).
- Correction to the number of applications subject to planning/legal agreements and corresponding average decision time in 2019/20 for Argyll and Bute (Table 29).