Strengthening planning performance
I’ve been in listening mode since becoming Planning Minister last December, getting a fuller understanding of the links between the planning system and our broader Economic Strategy.
Of course planning must support our overarching purpose of increasing sustainable economic growth. It’s clear from those discussions that while the legislation and the planning system is generally working, we can do more. Getting attitudes and actions right will be key.
Our Business Rates Incentivisation Scheme, coming into force in April, provides one example of progress that has been made already. That councils will now be able to keep a portion of their new business rates revenue will encourage them to use planning to attract new economic growth.
This week I met all the heads of planning departments in Scotland’s councils to discuss performance, and what else we can do to improve the contribution planning makes.
A new framework that improves performance and overall service quality by our planning authorities is one tangible outcome from that work. Speed absolutely does matter in decision-making, particularly to potential investors. But good performance is also about delivering a better service and better places to live and work.
Councils make a fair case to increase planning fees in order to support a better service. Developers and applicants tell me they don’t object to an increase in fees, as long as it is tied to greater certainty on timescales, processes and service. I agree with that. Any increase in fees needs clear guarantees on improved performance.
The performance framework will come into use in April but is already securing some important private sector endorsement – and that’s good to see. By working within the culture the framework will set, with a clear commitment to quality service, certainty and delivery, the perception and reputation of planning can be much improved. And that can only be good for investor confidence.
Leadership and a supportive culture within departments, alongside resources, will be critical in delivering that commitment. For my part, I am clear that we need a reliable and proportionate service that is focused on delivery and is able to develop, share and adopt good practice for continuous improvement.
I will set out our priorities for further improvement to planning processes later this month.