Scottish planning system ‘trailing behind rest of UK’

BIM stockA new report into Scotland’s planning system has found that planning decisions in major cities are lagging behind the rest of the UK in terms of both speed and volume.

An annual planning survey published by the Scottish Property Federation and GL Hearn is the first time data taken from the Scottish planning system has been reviewed and published by the two organisations.

The report entitled ‘A blueprint for the future of planning’ revealed that Scotland’s planning system is only delivering half as many major application decisions per resident in Edinburgh and Glasgow compared to Greater London or the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ cities of Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle.

According to the report, decision times in both cities are not meeting targets, with major planning decisions taking an average of 47 weeks in Edinburgh and 39 weeks in Glasgow; over twice the target of four months. There were 49 major planning applications determined by Glasgow and Edinburgh in 2015-16.

The figures also show a strong disparity in approval rates between the two Scottish cities. Glasgow approved 100 per cent of major applications in the last year, well above the UK-wide average of 87 per cent. Conversely, Edinburgh was one of the hardest local planning authorities in the study in which to gain planning permission; with only 72 per cent of planning applications gaining permission.

However, despite these findings the report also paints an optimistic picture as 44 major applications were successfully granted in the last financial year across Glasgow and Edinburgh and planning professionals in both the public and private sector highlight the successes of the National Planning Framework and Scottish Planning Policy at driving increased development activity.

Local Planning Authority professionals appeared ‘buoyed’ that the potential housing crisis can be tackled effectively with 37 per cent stating that the Scottish Government’s approach to planning is making housing delivery better. However, applicants are not convinced with nearly half believing it’s getting worse.

“Some of the causes of lengthy decisions are due to the complex nature of applications, especially in Edinburgh and Glasgow. However, there are also other factors at play. At a time of reducing public sector financing there is no doubt that planning authorities are becoming more stretched,” said Steve McGavin, planning and development director at GL Hearn.

“The industry must therefore look to itself for the answers to solve the challenges of modern-day planning and development. We must all take responsibility for driving progress and maximising the productivity of the resources at our disposal.

“Some measures which may speed up decision making include changing the requirements for major development decisions by Planning Committee to enable delegated decisions where applications aren’t called in by Members. An allocation of a site in a Local Development Plan for a particular land use could also give in-principle approval of that use.”

David Melhuish, director of the Scottish Property Federation, added: “’While speed is not everything we must be aware of the need for an efficient and effective decision making system if we are to attract and retain global capital to support local jobs and investment. To encourage this ‘can do’ culture, planning authorities must be resourced adequately and show strong leadership to aid investment. This survey takes stock of our planning system in Scotland and provides a hugely influential benchmark with which to understand how government and industry can work collaboratively to make development happen.”

The fifth annual planning survey has been published by the Scottish Property Federation and GL Hearn. It combines data on major planning application decisions from 74 local planning authorities and survey data from 385 developers and local authority planning officers across the country.

Councillor Ian Perry, convener of the planning committee at Edinburgh Council, said: “Edinburgh has performed better then the Scottish average for local and major planning applications since 2012. This is despite the volume of our work significantly increasing in the last few years.”

A spokesman for Glasgow City Council said that there were “particular complexities” that influence the speed of the planning application process.

He said: “While the application process is longer than recommended for major applications at present, the 100 per cent success rate in their approval highlights how taking the necessary time to work with the planning authority will very often prove fruitful for the applicant.”

Share icon
Share this article: