Homes for Scotland ‘frustrated’ by poor performance on crucial planning decisions

Trade body Homes for Scotland (HFS) has described another overall increase in decision times for housing applications as “hugely frustrating”.

Homes for Scotland 'frustrated' by poor performance on crucial planning decisions

Tammy Swift-Adams

Official planning performance statistics for 2019/20 revealed that the average decision time for local development applications was 9.1 weeks, slower by less than a day compared to the previous year. Local housing developments were decided in 12.4 weeks on average.

Decisions for major developments also saw an increase with the average time for applications not subject to processing agreements reaching 33.5 weeks, also a week slower than in 2018/19. For major housing developments, the average decision time was 37.5 weeks.

Director of planning at HFS, Tammy Swift-Adams, said: “Despite an 11.5% drop in the number of decisions made on local housing applications (defined as being for less than 50 homes), the time taken to make those decisions crept up for the second year running.

“This is concerning given that these small developments are, by nature, the lifeblood of SME home building businesses – a sector supported by Scottish Government loan funding during the crisis, but also needing local government support if it is to thrive.

“Things are no more positive for major housing applications (those for 50 or more homes), decisions on which were two weeks slower than the previous year at 37.5 weeks – more than double the 16-week statutory timescale.

“With all of the consultation and discussion time that has gone into improving the planning system, it is extremely frustrating to see this evidence that improvements are just not emerging on the ground.

“And, of course, we also await the Scottish Government’s decision on whether planning application fees will be increased again. This decision, and the timing of its implementation, must be made in the context of this performance – with home builders currently receiving some of the poorest service across the system whilst already paying the lion’s share of fees.”

Ms Swift-Adams also points to the Scottish Government’s new consultation document proposing changes to Scottish Planning Policy. These include removing the principle that planning applications that will help solve housing shortages should be looked upon favourably by decision-makers.

The paper also seems to suggest that planning authorities should focus more singly on allocating their preferred sites and pay less regard to whether or not the homes that are needed are actually going to be built.

She added: “Scottish families and communities don’t need housing land. They want real homes to live in, and more of them. That requires a better functioning system and policy that encourages local planning authorities to ensure the sites they choose for housing development can and will be delivered. With the housing market showing encouraging signs post-lockdown, now is the time for local authorities to work closely with home builders to deliver the homes required.”

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