Better understanding of performance and costs of planning system needed
Posted: 15 September 2011
An Audit Scotland report published today, Modernising the planning system, assesses whether recent reform of the planning system is making it more economic, efficient and effective.
The report finds that, while public bodies involved in planning are now working better together, the time councils take to decide planning applications has not reduced and there is a widening gap between the costs of processing applications and the income councils receive from fees. The report says that more detailed information on performance and costs is needed to identify efficiencies.
The number of planning applications has fallen by 29 per cent over the past six years, with income from planning application fees also dropping. However, expenditure on processing planning applications has risen by 17 per cent in real terms between 2004/05 and 2009/10. Over this period, the gap between income and expenditure on processing planning applications increased in real terms from £6.7 million to £20.8 million. This gap has to be met from councils’ central budgets, which are already under pressure.
John Baillie, Chair of the Accounts Commission, said:
“Our planning system plays a key role in sustaining and growing our economy and shaping our communities. The time taken to decide planning applications is not reducing and the gap between income and expenditure is widening and becoming increasingly unsustainable. Councils lack detailed information on the costs of handling planning applications. Understanding these costs and why they have increased is a necessary first step in identifying where efficiencies can be made. Councils need to make progress on this as a matter of urgency.”
The report says that there have been significant changes at national, regional and local levels and a survey shows that users are generally satisfied with the planning application process. Progress has been slower than expected in developing some strategic and local development plans and in introducing householder permitted development rights, which will set out when planning permission for small developments is no longer needed.
Robert Black, Auditor General for Scotland, said:
”The Scottish Government has led other public bodies in making major changes and there is now better working between the public bodies involved. The Scottish Government should ensure its reform programme is completed and that a new framework is put in place for measuring performance and linking planning activities with outcomes.”