Nikola Miller, Planning Policy and Practice Officer in RTPI Scotland, discusses the Scottish Parliament report on the planning clauses of the Regulatory Reform Bill
The title of the Regulatory Reform Bill may mean that it doesn’t quite grab the headlines, however it does contain some important issues for planners, planning and the planning system across Scotland. The Bill contains a ‘penalty clause’ that will enable Scottish Ministers to alter planning fees for those planning authorities that they consider are not, or have not, performed satisfactorily. RTPI Scotland Convenor Alistair MacDonald gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Economy, Energy and Tourism (EET) Committee on this in June on this, pointing out we are of the view that a consistently excellent planning system can only be delivered through continuous improvement which, amongst other things, involves support for poorer performing planning authorities to learn from those that are performing well and that, given this, RTPI Scotland does not think that the proposal will work.
The EET Committee has recently published its report on this. It has welcomes the commitment from the Minister for Local Government and Planning to consider including a definition of satisfactory performance in the guidance or in a future statutory instrument which will provide necessary clarity for planning authorities and stakeholders. The Committee outlined how it feels that is essential to collect reliable qualitative and quantitative data to measure planning authority performance to understand the reasons for delays and to accurately determine when there is an undue delay. They also welcomed clarification that performance measurement will include qualitative measures. Given this, the Committee has recommended that the Scottish Government clarify what measures it will undertake to improve the performance of agencies accountable to the Scottish Government, to avoid any undue delays in the planning process.
In looking to resources, the Committee has recommended that Audit Scotland undertake an analysis of the cost of processing planning applications for planning authorities to gain an understanding of the impact of a lack of current resources on performance and to assist in measuring unsatisfactory performance.
The Committee recognised that a high quality and effective planning service should benefit the economy, businesses, the environment and our communities and is the aspiration of both the Scottish Government and stakeholders It stated that some of the witnesses they heard from raised concerns that reducing fees could adversely affect the performance of a planning authority and the range of services that it could provide. However, they have also been reassured by the Minister for Local Government and Planning that linking planning fees to performance, as well as undertaking other measures in the first instance, should provide the necessary incentive and support to improve planning authority performance and that the measure to reduce fees will not be necessary. On this basis, they have said that they are content that the Bill remains as drafted but recommend that the Scottish Government monitor performance and reports back to the Committee a year after policy implementation.
The Committee welcomes the agreed performance markers as a qualitative and quantitative method of assessing the performance of a planning authority. However, they also noted the conflicting views received from the Minister for Local Government and Planning and COSLA on the use of the agreed performance markers as the basis of reducing planning authority fees and recommend that the Scottish Government continue to work with COSLA to resolve this issue and report back to the Committee, preferably before the conclusion of the Bill’s parliamentary passage.
And finally the Committee has welcomed the Minister’s confirmation that the Scottish Government would provide assistance to improve the performance of a planning authority before resources are removed. They do, however, want clarity on the type of measures that it will undertake, and in the cases where fees are reduced, the proposed level and duration of any reduction.
At the time of writing Scottish Government has not responded to the report’s recommendations.