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Scottish planning authorities need support to deliver economic transformation

Words: Laura Edgar
Scotland / iStock-146908761

The Scottish Property Federation (SPF) has called for additional resources for the planning system to support economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The SPF believes that a lack of resourcing within the planning system means there are delays in the processing of applications. This has a series of knock-on consequences for projects reaching the construction phase and the delivery of much-needed new residential and commercial buildings.

Acknowledging that a lack of resources is not a new issue, the trade body for the real estate industry in Scotland says this has been compounded by the restrictions in 2020 and 2021 imposed to combat the pandemic, as well as the burdens placed on the planning system by the 2019 planning reforms, as identified by RTPI Scotland.

Last week, David Melhuish, director of the SPF, gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Finance and Public Administration Committee on the Resource Spending Review Framework. He stressed the need to ensure that the country’s built environment is put in a better position to support its recovery from the pandemic, to boost employment and meet its net-zero ambitions.

Melhuish told the committee the planning system is “a key driver” of growth and urged MSPs to support greater resourcing for stretched planning departments.

Kevin Robertson, chair of the SPF, said: "The Scottish Parliament voted for a major system of reforms to our planning services but did not support these new requirements with the resources necessary to deliver them. As we go through a period of economic transformation, we cannot lose sight of the planning system’s critical role in attracting investment and meeting the challenge of decarbonising our built environment.

“As a developer, we work closely with planning authorities to bring forward productive proposals to support our economy and wider built environment. But we see a planning service struggling to cope with repeatedly cut budgets and ever-increasing regulatory demands.

“Planning fees have recently been increased to better resource the planning service, and the SPF has always said that we would support increased fees for a better service. But this can only ever be part of the answer. We feel that if new burdens are placed on the planning service, then these demands should come with the resource necessary to deliver a modern, proactive planning service that can grasp the opportunities out there.”

The SPF’s call for more resources for the Scottish planning system follows the publication by the Scottish Government of its National Strategy for Economic Transformation on 1 March.

The government said the strategy, underpinned by analysis of Scotland’s economic strengths and weaknesses, sets out more than 70 actions across five key priority programmes, such as new market opportunities, which includes a just transition to net zero. According to the government, the five programmes “have the greatest potential to deliver economic growth that significantly outperforms the last decade within the current constitutional arrangements”.

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