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Improvements to Planning Services – but "more still needs to be done"

Improvements to Planning Services – but

Tuesday 09 January 2024

Improvements to Planning Services – but "more still needs to be done"

Tuesday 09 January 2024


The publication of a document which will set out how developers, businesses, community organisations and the Planning Department can work together has been delayed until February.

A fourth quarter update of the Planning Services Improvement Plan, published this week, has revealed that 49 out of 64 “key actions” have been implemented, with 15 still to be implemented – three of which have been delayed.

Meanwhile, an independent planning inspector who carried out a scathing review of the island's Planning Services will be "welcomed back" in February to review progress made over the last year.

Environment Minister Jonathan Renouf first published the Improvement Plan in July 2023 after Jim MacKinnon CBE, a former Chief Planner to the Scottish Government, wrote a review which found that the processes seeking planning permission were "seriously dysfunctional" and required "radical improvements".

Deputy Renouf's latest update, published this week, showed "improvement in several areas of Planning Services" with most of the recommendations from the MacKinnon Report implemented on time or even ahead of schedule.

However, he added that "a lot more still needs to be done, particularly to speed up the processing of applications".

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Pictured: The proposed Les Sablons plans, which took several years to approve.

Le Masurier managing director Brian McCarthy recently criticised what he called island's "flawed" and "broken" planning system in which the 2½-acre Les Sablons development was caught for two years.

The plans for 238 apartments and a 103-room aparthotel between Broad Street and Commercial Street were finally given the go-ahead in December when then Infrastructure Minister Tom Binet signed a ministerial decision.

Deputy Renouf refuted that the planning system was "broken". However, he recognised that the speed of processing applications was still a "significant issue" but stressed that there had been recent improvements.

"More still needs to be done"

Improvements and completed targets are the focus of the latest update, but Deputy Renouf acknowledged there was as "ambitious timescale for the transformation of Planning Services" which has led to some delays.

A 'Development Industry Concordat' will be made public in February 2024, two months after schedule, allowing time for the 'Development Industry Partnership Board' to review the draft version.

This "working document" is inspired by the Edinburgh Development Concordat and sets out how developers and businesses, representative community organisations and the Council's development functions can work together.

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Pictured: Environment Minister Jonathan Renouf.

It works toward agreement between the public, private and community sectors from pre-application discussions through to post decision engagement, to ensure expectations are managed and met.

The document would deliver on the Environment Minister's priority to align business, community, and planning interests through a responsive and effective planning service.

It has been prepared using feedback from the development industry received at an Engagement Event held in November – the decision to postpone publication is "a direct result of the feedback received" at the event.

The first meeting of an Industry Partnership Board has also been delayed from December until this month.

This new board would meet quarterly with Planning Services to improve relationships with industry and planners to discuss key issues and changes. Members of the board still need to be approved before it meets at the end of January.

The third delay is the Development and Land Compliance Strategy, which was due to be released last month – and is now due to be available to islanders this month.

The Strategy, an important step towards a more transparent and accessible service, sets out the approach for enforcing planning control various powers contained within the island's legislation.

During December, the draft was internally reviewed.

"Considerable improvement"

Officers used the last three months of 2023 to build relationships with the industry, the Environment Minister said.

In November, an Industry Engagement Event was held with over 90 stakeholders, focusing on how Planning Services will work better with the development sector.

A customer charter has also been drafted which means islanders submitting applications will soon be able to get a clearer understanding of what to expect when interacting with Planning Services.

The planning and building duty officer service at Customer and Local Services (CLS) has enabled islanders to get face-to-face pre-planning application advice.

Since its launch in June, it has attracted around 50 visits per month.

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Pictured: The latest update showed that there was only one planning application awaiting validation and requiring action from Planning Services at the end of 2023.

The latest update further showed that there was only one planning application awaiting validation and requiring action from Planning Services at the end of 2023, representing a "considerable improvement" since the MacKinnon Report highlighted significant problems with validation and registration of planning applications.

And a 'validation matrix' has been published which includes guidelines on what information needs to be submitted for each type of application. This aims to speed up the process at the start of applications, reducing the need for it to go back to the applicant for further information.

Deputy Renouf, reflecting on the positives, said: "The final quarterly update of 2023 shows improvement in several areas of Planning Services.

"Most of the recommendations in the MacKinnon Report have been implemented on time, or even ahead of schedule, reflecting our commitment to promote flexibility, responsiveness, and collaboration in the planning system.

"Over this last quarter, we have been particularly focusing on building relationships with the industry to ensure a collaborative approach, as outlined in the Improvement Plan.

"Additionally, a combined effort by Technical Support Officers and Planning Officers meant the teams were able to clear the backlog of applications awaiting validation.

"The recruitment for more Technical Support Officers in Planning Services over the next couple months will help to consolidate better performance in validation and registration."

"Welcoming Jim MacKinnon back"

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Pictured: Jim MacKinnon CBE, a former Chief Planner to the Scottish Government, wrote a review which found that the processes seeking planning permission were "seriously dysfunctional" and required "radical improvements".

In May, a total of 16 recommendations were made by Jim MacKinnon CBE, a former Chief Planner to the Scottish Government – all of which were accepted by Environment Minister Jonathan Renouf.

Mr McKinnon criticised the democratic nature of the Planning Committee process, the IT systems, and the lack of a manned reception desk for the Planning Service.

Deputy Renouf has now said: "As part of my commitment to continuous improvement, and to ensure full transparency, I will be welcoming Jim Mackinnon back in February to review progress over the last year.

"It is important to have independent analysis to ensure that islanders can see where we are making progress, and where progress is still needed."

Key figures from 2023

  • 1,164 planning applications were determined, of which 75% were approved
  • 81% of minor planning applications were determined within Planning Services' target of 8 weeks or an alternatively agreed period
  • 62% major planning applications were determined within Planning Services' target of 13 weeks or an alternatively agreed period
  • 79% of live applications referred to the Planning Committee for a decision agreed with Planning Services recommendation

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