Scotland’s broken planning system - whistleblower reveals council IT shambles
A council planning officer who has been reading SCN’s articles on Scotland’s Broken Planning System has blown the whistle on the technological barriers facing local authority planning departments.
I work for a local authority planning department and see first-hand the frustration of developers in getting projects through the planning process. A number of your commentators have mentioned working from home as a barrier to collaboration, however, I do not think this is the full picture.
More so now than ever, colleagues are using MS Teams to discuss cases, have meetings and many would argue that they are far more productive at home. However, a balance certainly needs to be struck as graduate planners and new staff greatly benefit from in-person learning and leadership.
I would argue that a much more pressing issue is the technology (or lack of) that the planning authority uses. There is a single programme through which all information is stored and assessed and it is incredibly slow, unintuitive and outdated. I believe most if not all planning departments have to use this same programme and have no alternative options.
It cannot work alongside Microsoft programmes such as Outlook and Word, cannot view DWG files and technical errors are a daily occurrence. Simple tasks that should take five minutes can take up to an hour and this is what planners have to contend with day in and day out. Processes like discharging conditions are also very time-consuming but could be far better streamlined.
I do not think any planner would say they enjoy this part of the job, it is unbelievably frustrating and reduces the time for collaborative working with agents and applicants. There seems to be no urgency in fixing this either at Government level. Although there is a ‘digital planning’ programme being designed, it may be years before it is rolled out. At that point, AI, BIM, GIS etc. will have all taken huge strides forward.
When an architect or engineer amends a plan, we should be able to view that change instantly through something like BIM software. Instead, it has to be uploaded through the eplanning system and at times can take days to arrive with the officer. There is of course a GDPR issue and legal requirement for plans to be available to the public, hence the current system in place.
I would say that around 30-40% of my job could be done by a computer programme. If all planners had 40% more time to do the ‘human’ element of the job, the whole system would benefit. Why is the government not acting urgently on this matter? Better technology could transform the planning system and free up so much time. It is being done elsewhere in Europe, when will Scotland catch up?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.