6. Processing Agreements
The Use of Agreements
6.1 A processing agreement is an agreed framework for processing a planning application or related group of applications. The Scottish Government's expectation is that planning authorities and statutory consultees should actively promote and encourage the use of processing agreements associated with major or national developments and also substantial or complex local developments.
6.2 The Scottish Government has published a template for processing agreements: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Built-Environment/planning/National-Planning-Policy/themes/dev-man/Processing-Agreement
6.3 Processing agreements can deliver a number of benefits:
- More effective and earlier engagement of key stakeholders.
- Clarity early in the process about information requirements and any matters to be addressed by legal agreement;
- Clearer lines of communication;
- Greater predictability and certainty over the timing of key stages;
- Greater transparency in decision making for everyone involved in the process; and
- Faster decision making through effective project management with a focus on delivery;
6.4 A processing agreement does not guarantee the grant of planning consent. Associated planning applications will be considered on their merits and against the terms of the development plan and other material considerations. The agreement should be based on a shared understanding of the key stages in the process and involve key statutory consultees as appropriate at the outset.
6.5 The prescribed 'period allowed for the determination of the application' (see paragraphs 4.79- 4.86) is not appropriate in every instance. Where the parties agree that the proposal will take longer to determine than the prescribed period, they should agree in writing to extend this period (provided for under sections 43A(8)(c) and 47(2) of the 1997 Act). This extended period has implications for when the applicant can appeal to Scottish Ministers or seek a local review on the grounds of non-determination. Where a processing agreement incorporates such an agreed extended period there will be no right to appeal or seek a review against non-determination of the application until the expiry of the agreed extended period in the agreement.
Preparing an Agreement
6.6 Processing agreements should be discussed as early as possible (this will often be prior to pre-application consultation with the community). It is important that applicants are informed at the outset about the level of information required to support an application. Discussions around a processing agreement provide an opportunity to ensure expectations for supporting information are both proportionate and clearly understood. The detail of the agreement may be concluded during the pre-application consultation stage, which is likely to help front-load the planning system and see efficiency savings later in the process.
6.7 While an agreement should be put in place early in the process, it should be seen as a "live document", which is kept under review and which can be altered with the consent of the principal parties to accommodate change that may not have been anticipated at the outset. They should be promoted as a project management technique, not as lengthy complex legal contracts.
6.8 Processing agreements can cover applications for planning permission (including planning permission in principle) and any resulting agreement or approvals required by conditions imposed on permissions for national or major developments, or more substantial or complex local developments. Where appropriate, the parties may also incorporate the consideration of other consents, such as listed building consent, in the processing agreement to enable a more integrated approach to be taken. The agreement should cover all stages up to issue of the decision notice, including the signing of any related planning obligation.
6.9 The elements for inclusion in the processing agreement should be discussed at the outset. It will be for the parties involved to agree a bespoke approach to each processing agreement.
Form and Content of Processing Agreements
6.10 The Scottish Government expects processing agreements to be as concise, clear and simple as possible. The link in paragraph 6.2 includes a suggested template for such agreements, which can act as a starting point. A processing agreement should not create an additional layer of bureaucracy or be an excessively time consuming process in itself. The key objective is to establish a realistic timescale for processing which takes account of the amount of the information which needs to be considered and the process required to determine the application. The processing agreement should therefore contain any written agreement to extend the 'period allowed for the determination of the application'. The parties may decide who drafts the agreement, though in most cases this will be the planning authority.
6.11 Some likely components are set out below; however different approaches may be taken depending on the circumstances of each case.
Roles and responsibilities
The agreement should set out the roles and responsibilities of all the parties in delivering the determination to timescale, including the planning authority, applicant and statutory consultees.
Parties should agree in advance, taking into account comments from statutory
consultees, the additional information beyond the validation requirements needed to determine the application. Agencies are committed to ensuring that the level of information they request is clear and proportionate. This information may be listed in the agreement to offer applicants certainty about what they need to provide and to aid efficient processing by the planning authority.
The agreement may set out the management process and forum for decision-making. This could involve a project team which can agree direction and sign off completed tasks, as well as related working groups or task groups, and whether and when the application will be determined under delegated powers or by elected members.
Project Plan / Key Milestones
A project plan should be included setting out a realistic overall timetable for
handling the application and for the key stages or milestones. Timescales for individual stages could also be included. The views of statutory consultees should inform this. Milestones would provide a basis for monitoring progress. Review stages may also be built into the project plan. A Gantt chart may be a useful way to illustrate this.
Where the parties agree that the proposal will take longer than the statutory period to determine they should agree to extend the period after which an appeal may be made to Scottish Ministers or review sought from the planning authority against non-determination of the application, in accordance with section 47(2) or 43A(8)(c) as the case may be, and record it in the agreement. It will not be possible to appeal against non-determination in advance of that agreed timescale.
Email: Scottish Government Planning, firstname.lastname@example.org