Builders ‘depressed’ by latest planning statistics

Allan Lundmark
Allan Lundmark

Latest official planning statistics showing long periods taken to reach housing planning decisions have been branded “depressing” by home building industry body Homes for Scotland.

Statistics published this week show that between July and September 2014 the highest quarterly number of local housing developments were processed, although the time taken to decide major housing developments has increased by six weeks to over 41 weeks.

Calling for a new approach to help address the country’s housing crisis and increase the supply of much needed homes of all tenures, the Homes for Scotland’s director of planning Allan Lundmark said: “These figures demonstrate that insufficient priority and resource are being allocated to the delivery of new homes at local authority level and highlight a system which falls far short of the standards of customer service, speed and efficiency that Scotland needs if we are to build more homes and stimulate economic growth. It is all the more frustrating given the recent increase in planning fees of more than twice the rate of inflation.”

Lundmark, who is preparing to leave Homes for Scotland after 13 years heading up its planning function, added: “It is hugely disappointing that after so many years of positive industry engagement and supposed planning reform, we are still battling the same old challenges and fighting for a system which encourages and facilitates housing investment rather than one which frustrates and delays it.

“The only way to get the increase in housing supply that Scotland so desperately needs is for local authorities to work in partnership with the industry and for national government to use the powers it has at its disposal to step in where intervention is required.

“With the First Minister having made clear that improving opportunity for all is her personal mission, ensuring we have enough warm, sustainable homes to properly house our population and provide the safety and security necessary for people to develop their potential is fundamental to achieving this goal.”

The Scottish Property Federation (SPF) said fewer planning decisions on major proposals were made in the third quarter of this year than last year.

And the industry group said there is a big increase in the number of applications where the local council has “stopped the clock” while seeking to reach an agreement with developers.

That was up from 200 to 253, while the SPF said the average length of time to reach a legal agreement with councils rose to 46 weeks.

The Federation conceded that the average length of time to take decisions while the clock is running has come down significantly, from 17.9 weeks to 11.5.

But it called for urgent moves to improve the pace of the planning system, suggesting that it could be contracted out by council planners.

SPF director David Melhuish said: “Major development is a long and risky process and it is important that we have the right leadership in both the private and public sector as well as robust processes within planning authorities to deliver decisions quickly, properly and effectively in order to provide certainty to investors and communities alike.

“It is important that all aspects of the planning system - the private sector, public agencies and planning authorities - realise this challenge. Otherwise, we risk losing the potential to attract major investment in our built environment across Scotland.”

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