Planning & Environment

The Audit Scotland report is fascinating. There is a real sense that much more could have been said, but wasn’t. A toe being dipped in the water, perhaps?

The headline is the widening gap between planning authority fee income and expenditure. There will inevitably be a call to increase fees, especially since the maximum fees in Scotland are much lower than in England. However, there are considerable differences between authorities: in Clackmannanshire, only 26% of expenditure was covered by fees, compared to 119% in Perth & Kinross. Audit Scotland say more information is required about the cost of processing applications.

Throughout the report there are case studies noting examples of good practice. That’s been the approach – individual authorities are left to do their own thing, with innovative practices being picked out and recommended to the others. But is that sustainable or does there need to be more guidance from Scottish Government on processing applications?

Few councils are performing well against timescales set for processing planning applications. Audit Scotland recommend that performance should be assessed across a broader range of measures. Hard to disagree with that, but it raises difficult questions about the objectives of the planning system. For example, Audit Scotland suggest measuring the extent of contribution to the community and place (how?) and public satisfaction with built environment (but you can’t keep everyone happy all the time). Don’t envy the person in Scottish Government who gets the job of drawing up the broader range of measures.

The audit recommends that planning authority schemes of delegation be reviewed. But there is no reference to monitoring the amount of decisions that are made contrary to officer recommendation, or to using appeal decisions to measure the quality of decision-making of each planning authority.


Neil Collar