Richard Phillips, Planning Director at WYG in Edinburgh, gives a private sector perspective on the rise of the use of ‘stopping the clock’ by planning authorities as seen through the recent planning performance statistics.
Recently published performance statistics on Scottish local planning authority decision-making reveal an increased use of ‘stopping the clock’. Developers need to be aware of this process whereby Scottish planning authorities can remove a period from the total determination time for an application.
For the year 2014/15, 32 Scottish local authorities reported that they had stopped the clock for 955 applications. This compares with 766 applications in the previous year.
Currently, some Scottish planning authorities stop the clock more than others with certain types of applications more badly affected. For 2014/15, Local housing developments applications were hit the hardest, with 47.8 weeks on average removed from decision times. This represents six per cent of all applications for Local housing developments.
So when does the clock stop? The Scottish Government considers that valid reasons for a planning authority to stop the clock include (but are not limited to):
- Inactivity while the land transaction is on hold;
- Applicant failed to provide amended drawings on time despite repeated requests and meetings –presumably this could include the failure to provide further information;
- Site survey required for European Protected Species that must await a particular season; and
- Delay in consultation response from an external consultee.
So what does this mean? Significantly, this process eases the pressure on planning authorities to address any delay in dealing with an application since their performance figures will not be affected. But it could unnecessarily delay the decision on an application. There also needs to be transparency. Applicants should be notified by the planning authority when the assessment clock has stopped and why, and also when the clock has restarted. In doing so, there needs to be confirmation of whether this alters the time period in which the applicant can lodge an appeal against the non-determination of the application.
More than ever, stopping the clock on applications emphasizes the importance of the applicant (or their agent) to project manage the planning application process – including through the use of processing agreements. Ultimately, the collection of planning performance statistics should not be used to delay the delivery of development – otherwise this is a case of the tail wagging the dog. Nor perhaps, as W.H Auden put it in ‘Stop all the Clocks’, ‘prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone..’?