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DPEA down on its decision-time targets

Words: Laura Edgar
Scotland / iStock

The Scottish Government has published a report on the time taken to decide planning appeals and plans, with local development plans decided outside the target of 39 weeks.

Planning and Environmental Appeals Division: Annual Review 2016-17 states that the examination of local development plans formed a “significant” part of the work of the Planning and Environmental Appeals Division (DPEA), with reporters spending around half their time on plans.

Thirteen local development plan examinations were completed in 2016-17, with hearing sessions held for the majority of them, generally on the topic of housing.

The review notes that the examinations were completed in an average of 44 weeks, which is outside the target of 39 weeks.

Examinations will continue to form a substantial part of the division’s work, with four plans due to be submitted for examination before the end of 2017 and 13 in 2018, according to the review.

Fifty-one per cent of planning appeals were decided within the 12-week target. The review states: “There is no hiding from the fact that 2016/17 has been a difficult year for DPEA.”

It notes that the loss of a high number of experience reporters over the past three years alongside the complexity of local development plan examinations, the high number of reports to ministers and a steady stream of complex appeal work has “resulted in a level of performance against our targets that is down from previous years”.

But “an overall average time of 14 weeks for deciding these appeals would suggest that with the additional reporters now recruited we should be able to improve on this performance once reporters are in post”.

For complex appeals when further written submissions were required, the 20-week target was met in 62 per cent of cases. An average of 22 weeks was taken to determine such appeals.

The review also highlights that the DPEA has not met its target for cases conducted by hearing session – 26 weeks – or inquiry session – 32 weeks. “The number of these cases is small: 13 cases out of 373.”

Three reports were submitted relating to Compulsory Purchase Orders.

  • The building of new residential development, retail student accommodation and a new campus school, the erection of a new road bridge over the railway and associated development at Sighthill, Glasgow.
  • To enable road improvements at Berriedale Village, Caithness.
  • To enable a regeneration scheme at Mill O’Mains, Dundee.

The review states that the DPEA will focus on continuing to improve its services, the quality of its decision-making, and take steps to reduce the backlog of cases and improve efficiency in meeting targets for making decisions on appeals and other cases.

Kate Houghton policy and practice officer at RTPI Scotland, said: "As with other aspects of the planning system DPEA needs the resources required to undertake its work effectively and efficiently. This means financial resources, but also the capacity, skills and knowledge to make decisions on complex issues. Change is on the horizon for the Scottish planning system as a result of the planning review, and given the proposed introduction of local development plan ‘gatechecks’ and subsequent simplification of examinations, this includes the DPEA. Research into how these changes will impact on DPEA workload will be valuable for helping to ensure that the Reporters’ Unit has the resources it needs to operate well."

Planning and Environmental Appeals Division: Annual Review 2016-17 can be found on the Scottish Government website (pdf).

Image credit | iStock