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  6. Scottish spending watchdog highlights planning problems

Scottish spending watchdog highlights planning problems

Difficulties with Scotland’s planning system have left a big dent in council finances, the country’s spending watchdog has warned.

Audit Scotland said the shortfall had risen from £6.7m to £20.8m in the last six years during a period which had seen a 29 per cent drop in the number of planning applications north of the Border.

An Audit Scotland report just published has questioned whether recent reform of the planning system has made it more economic, efficient or effective.

The report said that although public bodies involved in planning were now working better together, the time councils take to decide planning applications had not reduced and there was a widening gap between the costs of processing applications and the income councils receive from fees.

The report highlighted that more detailed information on performance and costs was needed to identify efficiencies.

The watchdog noted that the number of planning applications has fallen by 29 per cent over the past six years, with income from planning application fees also dropping.

However, expenditure on processing planning applications has risen by 17 per cent in real terms between 2004/05 and 2009/10. Over this period, the gap between income and expenditure on processing planning applications increased in real terms from £6.7m to £20.8m.

Watchdog chair John Baillie said: “Our planning system plays a key role in sustaining and growing our economy and shaping our communities. The time taken to decide planning applications is not reducing and the gap between income and expenditure is widening and becoming increasingly unsustainable.

“Councils lack detailed information on the costs of handling planning applications. Understanding these costs and why they have increased is a necessary first step in identifying where efficiencies can be made. Councils need to make progress on this as a matter of urgency.”

Scottish Planning Minister Aileen Campbell, said: "Scotland's planning system has been through its most fundamental reform in 60 years.

"We are now concentrating on sharpening our focus on performance and delivery to make sure the planning system does all it can to support sustainable economic growth for Scotland.”

Read the Audit Scotland media release.

 

Roger Milne

22 September 2011