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Shakeup of Scottish planning system proposes linking fees to authority performance improvements

Plans to improve efficiency and streamline the Scottish planning system include proposals to link fee increases to improved performance by local authorities, the Scottish Government has announced.29 Mar 2012

In a statement to Parliament, Planning Minister Derek Mackay announced the introduction of one single, proportionate fee to cover all aspects of a developer's application. A consultation, one of five published alongside the statement, made it clear that local authorities would not be able to raise separate costs for providing certain services, particularly "the provision of advice for prospective applicants".

The consultation also proposes the introduction of a new performance framework for planners, developed by the Heads of Planning Scotland and local authority representatives COSLA. Authorities who fail to show "sustained improvements in performance", measured against this framework, will not be able to introduce fee increases. In addition, the consultation said that ministers were prepared to "ultimately take steps to reduce" fees where an authority does not maintain improved levels of performance.

Other proposals include reviewing planning agreements and obligations to remove unnecessary obstacles to delivering projects and a further consultation on new approaches to delivering development. In addition, the Scottish Government has proposed extending permitted development rights to some areas of non-householder development. Permitted development rights grant automatic planning permission to certain defined 'classes' of development.

Mackay also announced that the Scottish Government would begin work on a third 'national planning framework' in the autumn. A previous National Planning Framework, setting out a 20-25 year development programme for the country as well as identifying necessary infrastructure investment, was published in 2009.

In its report Modernising the Planning System (40-page / 3.1MB PDF), published last September, public auditors Audit Scotland said that the funding model for the planning system was "becoming unsustainable as the gap between fees and expenditure increases". Expenditure on processing applications rose 17% between 2004/05 and 2009/10, the body found - which, taken with lower numbers of planning applications, had led to a gap between income and expenditure of £20.8 million.

The 2006 Planning Act introduced major changes to the Scottish planning system, but Mackay said that more needed to be done now that the reforms had "bedded down".

"What I am publishing is a comprehensive package of measures to drive improved performance, simplify and streamline the planning process, deliver development and promote a plan-led system," he said. "I do not want to dispense with essential procedures or appraisals but ensure that those in place are an aid, not a barrier, to better informed discussions – with individuals, developers and communities."

Increasing fees for the projects which take "the greatest resources" was necessary to ensure planning fees were "proportionate and effective", he added.

Bob Reid, Convenor for the Royal Town Planning Institute Scotland, said that with a "commitment to continuous improvement" from authorities and developers, an improved planning system could be delivered "without the need for major legislation". "It also requires these interests to develop new approaches collaboratively," he added.

Industry body the Scottish Property Federation "cautiously welcomed" the proposals, particularly the Government's pledge to simplify the pre-application process so that minor amendments could be made to an application without triggering a further twelve week statutory approval process. However, it warned that the increased fees proposed in the consultation were "significant", particularly for retail developers.

"It is crucial, therefore, that other aspects of the reforms such as controlling the demands and costs of up-front appraisals and reports are streamlined in order to ensure our planning application system is competitive as well as performing its purpose as a facilitator of sustainable economic growth," the body added in a statement.

The consultation proposes raising the maximum application fee to £100,000 for "large, complicated" developments.