Scottish planning decisions lagging behind rest of UK

Ryan Fowler

November 1, 2016

Planning decisions in key Scottish cities are slower than in London and cities in the north of England with the majority of applicants not satisfied with the length of time involved, the latest Annual Planning Survey for Scotland shows.

Overall local planning authorities in Scotland make fewer planning decisions per resident and major planning applications take an average of 47 and 39 weeks in Edinburgh and Glasgow, over twice the target of four months.

The details published by GL Hearn and the Scottish Property Federation also show that eight in 10 applicants in Scotland are dissatisfied with the time it takes to get a planning decision.

It also reveals 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.

And there is a strong disparity in approval rates between the two Scottish cities. Glasgow approved 100% of major applications in the last year, well above the UK wide average of 87%. Conversely, Edinburgh was one of the hardest local planning authorities in the study in which to gain planning permission; with only 72% 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% stating that the government’s approach to planning is making housing delivery better. However, applicants are not convinced with nearly half believing it’s getting worse,

Steve McGavin, planning and development director of GL Hearn, said: “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.

“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.”

According to David Melhuish, director of the Scottish Property Federation, while speed is not everything there is a need for an efficient and effective decision making system to attract and retain global capital to support local jobs and investment.

He said: “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.”

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