Blog: 14 December 2015What is wrong with Scottish Planning?

The Scottish Planning System is soon to be reviewed with the aim of achieving a quicker, more accessible and efficient planning process in order to build investor and community confidence in the system.

Amidst all the raised eyebrows about no planners being on the panel and the many emerging and eminent contributions on the shape of ‘your latest Scottish planning system’, has anyone stopped to ask whether it’s the system that’s the problem or something much deeper in our culture, in the importance we give to town planning and even the country’s attitudes to growth and development?

On Tuesday 1st December Barton Willmore submitted a formal response to a request for evidence. Before submitting our response, we ran a client/contact survey which asked two questions and in no more than five words asked; (1) What is wrong with Scottish Planning; and (2) What should Scottish Planning be like in the future?

The response clearly suggests that the Scottish Planning Review should focus less on the system and more on its application. 80% of our responses focused upon the operation of our planning system, the impact of local politics and / or the culture within planning authorities. These are partial views of course but they very clearly point to the possibility that changes to the system will struggle to make a fundamental difference without addressing other aspects like resources, the broader role / value of planning and critically, culture.

The reality is that more planners are needed within Local Authorities – particularly as the economy improves and more development is coming forward. Statutory consultees are often a bottleneck in the process because of the time it takes for them to return responses. Planning Authorities are under skilled and continually at risk of losing their best staff.

More effort / explanation is needed so that the public understand the purpose of planning and why planners are making decisions, be they be about infrastructure or housing. Local politicians also have a critical role in explaining the purpose of planning to their local constituents as opposed to simply supporting the community view.

Planning as a section of government has fallen too far down the Scottish Government and Local Government agenda, now sitting at third or fourth tier. Yet, Planning shapes every aspect of the built environment and the decisions made by planners will have repercussions for many future generations.


And all of this fundamentally affects the culture surrounding planning.

Local people object to change. Local Politicians at best fail to convince their constituents of the merits of change, and at worst simply jump on the bandwagon. There is a culture of keeping your head down within many Planning Authorities. Add to that a lack of resources and influence and our planners have become incredibly demoralised. No wonder the plan led system never really got off the starting blocks.

Planning could make a genuine difference to Scotland and its long term sustainable economic growth. But Planning can only do that if the resources, the culture and the will exists to use our system (whatever shape and form it takes) as a genuine driver in shaping visionary and ambitious change.

While we are strongly supportive of creating a more streamlined, effective planning system, it is important to recognise that funding of the planning system is a key concern that will need to be addressed. Local planning authorities in Scotland have lost 20% of their staff since 2010 and this has impacted significantly on the performance and levels of service we have experienced from working with them. Streamlining the system and removing unnecessary bureaucracy will help ease the burden on planning authorities, but further cuts to these service areas is not sustainable when striving to improve the system as a whole. There are instances in Scotland where a sole Planner produces the Local Development Plan for an authority. This is inherently unsustainable and places a significant burden on individuals and allows limited flexibility in the system.

To read our formal response, please click here.

If you have any comments, do tweet us @bartonwillmore using #SGplanningreview.

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Scottish Planning Review, Scotland, Town Planning