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Planning reporters delivered an improved performance during 2019/20

Words: Roger Milne
Scotland debates the planning bill / iStock-146908761

The latest annual review published by the Scottish Government’s Planning and Environmental Appeals Division (DPEA) has highlighted improvements in performance, with 82 per cent of appeals decided within the target period during 2019/20 compared with 74 per cent over the preceding 12 months.

During 2019/20 the DPEA decided 90 per cent of appeals by initial written submissions and a site inspection within the 12-week target. The comparative figures were 82 per cent in 2018/19 and 72 per cent in 2017/18. 

The overall average time of 11 weeks for deciding appeals following this procedure compared with an average time of 11.6 weeks in 2018/19 and 12.6 weeks in 2017/18. 

In more complex appeals in which the reporter asked for further written submissions, the 20-week target was met in 73 per cent of cases with an average time of 20.7 weeks. This was a marked improvement over the two previous years.

A high proportion of complex cases, chiefly road orders, CPOs, section 36 cases and residential appeals contributed to the perennial problem of allocating cases to reporters and the scheduling of hearings.

The DPEA did not meet targets for cases conducted by hearings or inquiries, although the number of these cases was relatively small – 10 cases out of 369.

In respect of the eight local development plan (LDP) examinations completed during 2019/20, the average time taken was 30.5 weeks, well within the target of 39 weeks. That compared with an average time of 41 weeks in 2018/19 and 45 weeks in 2017/18. 

Overall, the DPEA received 109 fewer cases last year than in the previous 12 months, but the caseload was up on both the 2016/17 and 2017/18 periods. There was a slight increase in appeals submitted electronically – 86 per cent were received by this means. 

The webcasting of hearings and inquiries continues to increase. Last year, 45 webcasts covering 14 cases resulted in 13,133 people visiting the DPEA website and collectively watching 2,006 hours of webcasts. A total of 800 people watched live webcasts of hearings and inquiries. 

The DPEA highlighted that it is currently working with the government’s Planning and Architecture Division on how a DPEA feeing regime for appeals would operate if ministers decide to take this course.

The division has taken on a wider remit with examination powers in respect of low emission zone schemes and workplace parking levy schemes.

Over the past year there were several landmarks including the first dismissal of an appeal (using section 48(8) of the 1997 Act) in effect for want of prosecution; the first Court of Session challenge to a decision of a reporter in a high hedge notice appeal; and first reports to ministers in relation to community asset transfer schemes.

Other highlights involved a report to ministers in relation to a controversial golf course development proposed at Coul Links in Caithness, four section 36 wind farm applications and the consideration of proposals affecting the former Royal High School in Edinburgh. 

Decisions or reports were issued in relation to 46 housing appeals (of 10 units or more). DPEA reported to ministers following eight local development plan (LDP) examinations.

The review noted that with reporters workloads scheduled up to six months in advance, it was essential that councils provided accurate timescales of when LDPs would be submitted. Slippage on submission of plans meant delays in examinations starting with a knock-on impact on the time taken to complete the examination.

The report can be found on the Scottish Government website.

Image credit | iStock