FMB: Scotland’s small building firms stymied by planning ‘lottery’

FMB: Scotland’s small building firms stymied by planning ‘lottery’

Gordon Nelson

The Scotland director of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) has called for a streamlined planning system to help small building firms avoid the “lottery of the planning process”.

Gordon Nelson was responding to the results of an SCN survey which found that 96.3% of the country’s architects, housebuilders, developers and planning consultants believe that their businesses had suffered because of local authority planning delays, with the same percentage stating that the delays have increased since the Covid pandemic. Almost all of the respondents (99.3%) do not believe that the situation will improve.

FMB members have echoed these concerns and highlighted an unwillingness to cooperate and an increased level of complexity to planning applications.

Mr Nelson said: “The lottery of the planning process and the interminable delays within the planning system are a big bane for small-scale housebuilders. The results of SCN’s survey aren’t surprising as these echo the feedback I receive from FMB members based in Scotland who are SMEs.

“There is a general awareness that planning departments are under-resourced but our members bemoan the lack of a genuine willingness to collaborate with them by planning authorities. It is the case that during some of our meetings with members, frustrations are aired about the perceived lack of accountability of planners and the difficulties in getting hold of them.

“The typical information requirements demanded of any given application appear to have expanded significantly over time. While these requirements may be justified for larger developments, they can impose unnecessary and hugely disproportionate costs on smaller developments.

“Now it’s important to remember that resources are a constraint for small-scale housebuilders too. Small firms, such as FMB members, typically will not have the in-house staff able to work on all of the requirements and processes of planning applications and will therefore contract with agents and consultants to undertake this work.

“These represent significant, and often personal, investments for small firms for whom access to finance typically remains difficult. The fact that these costs are incurred upfront and in the face of uncertain outcomes, greatly increases the risk of bringing forward applications to an extent which is prohibitive for many small firms.

“At a time when we need to be building more homes we are moving in the opposite direction and building fewer. Streamlining the planning system and fostering a more positive attitude to smaller sites, will cumulatively help to deliver more high-quality energy efficient homes across Scotland.”

SCN is still keen to hear your experiences of Scotland’s planning system. Please send any correspondence, in confidence, to SCN editor Kieran Findlay via

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