Driving Improved Performance
As a result of the changed economic conditions in the past few years, the number of planning applications has declined significantly. While the percentage of decisions on minor applications taken timeously has improved, the percentage of decisions for major applications remains poor. This has attracted public criticism, although many in the development industry have indicated that clarity on process and certainty on timescale for decision is as important, if not more important, than speed. We recognise that a high quality planning service extends beyond speed of decision making but efficient handling of planning applications remains a fundamental indicator of a high quality planning service.
Audit Scotland's review concluded that although there was a poor understanding of costs, the gap between income and expenditure was becoming unsustainable. The Scottish Government has already indicated that it is minded to increase planning fees but there must be an inextricable link to performance improvement and any increase in fees without firm assurances on improved performance is not an option.
Today we are publishing a consultation paper on a new fee regime. The key features of the consultation paper are:-
- Ensuring that fee levels more accurately reflect the resource employed in processing planning applications
- Moving towards one fee covering all aspects of processing including advertising and providing pre-application advice
- Reducing the fee for the most straightforward classes of application
- Establishing a link between performance and fees.
We are also publishing a new performance framework for planning today. This has been developed by the Heads of Planning in Scotland ( HOPS). The Scottish Government commends this framework which is also supported by Homes for Scotland, Scottish Property Federation, Confederation of British Industry, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Royal Town Planning Institute. The framework captures the elements of a high performing planning service and embraces issues such as efficiency, customer relations and quality of outcomes.
While some planning authorities understand the pressures faced by businesses and individuals in the current economic climate and exemplify an "open for business" culture, there are still examples of unnecessary delays. These are often associated with requests for additional information or extended periods for concluding planning agreements. Some of the challenges lie outwith the planning service, in other council departments, but they impact on experiences of the planning service. There are also some suggestions that council committee cycles and decisions to 'continue' consideration to future meetings has an influence on planning delays.
We believe that greater use of processing agreements should be made. Processing agreements are project management tools. They should not be complex or become an end in themselves. We will work with HOPS and the development industry to produce a model template by June 2012. COSLA, Scottish Government, key agencies and authorities in proposed Enterprise Areas are supporting a protocol based on a processing agreement approach. Whilst we will promote the benefits of this approach outwith Enterprise Areas we will also consider making the offer of these agreements mandatory for major applications.
Key Agencies have responded to the challenge of delivering planning reform. Each has sought to improve performance and culture. They will continue to support the Government's agenda to modernise planning and improve performance of the system.
We are particularly keen that those entering the profession should have strong support to gain the experience and opportunities necessary to enable them to contribute positively and to develop as planning practitioners. The Scottish Government will look for new opportunities to work with Young Planners, Key Agencies, the Royal Town Planning Institute, planning authorities, developers and the Improvement Service to support the further development of skills and training for planning practitioners.