The Planning Service has recently published its Annual Report, its sixth such report prepared under the planning performance framework (PPF). The PPF captures key elements of a high-performing planning service, such as: the speed of decision-making; certainty of timescales, process and advice; delivery of good quality development; and an overall ‘open for business’ attitude.
The PPF gives a balanced measurement of the overall quality of the planning service and contributes towards driving a culture of continuous improvement. Improvement has been a key focus of the Planning Service during the past 12 months. In December last year the Council’s Environment and Housing Committee approved our ‘Planning Service Improvement Plan’ – a three-year work programme aimed at improving decision making timescales, providing consistently high quality customer handling and focusing resources on key strategic priorities, such as the Stirling City Region Deal projects.
A critical review of the planning service’s performance, as evidenced in last year’s Annual Report report, along with stakeholder engagement and a desire to ensure the service is fit for purpose to meet the challenges of the City Deal and the emerging planning review led to the development of the Improvement Plan.
This year’s PPF is divided into three main parts: Part A looks back on the feedback provided by the Scottish Government on last year’s PPF and the progress we have made in the subsequent 12 months within development management; development planning; maintaining an effective supply of development land; and enforcement. Part B looks at our proposed service improvements; and Part C reports on a series of ‘National Headline Indicators’.
This year, the PPF illustrates that while the number of planning application determined across Scotland in the period April 2016 – March 2017 fell by 7%, the number of planning applications determined by Stirling Council in this period increased by 7%, from 736 to 790. The number of planning applications that Stirling Council processes and determines remains relatively high compared to comparable sized (by population) planning authorities.
In terms of decision-making timescales, average timescales for major application increased from 51.6 to 62.1 weeks but timescales for householder applications fell, from 8.3 to 7.5 weeks. Local (non-householder) applications remained the same at 12.4 weeks.
Reducing decision-making timescales, particularly for major development, is a key focus of the Improvement Plan. This programme of improvement and modernisation commenced mid-way through 2016-17 and has particularly impacted on the work of Development Management. Overall, the direction of change is about ‘front-loading’ planning applications towards providing clear and consistent advice before a planning application is received and managing planning application processing to provide a quicker and smoother process to benefit all customers: applicants, partners and the local community.
Progress has been made with implementing the Improvement Plan and some improvements have been made to key performance indicators, however there remains considerable scope for further performance improvement to be made. For example, processing agreements and project management arrangements are now required for all major developments and have already been seen to deliver key projects on time, for example the application for the next phase of regeneration in Raploch.
The Annual Report highlights that we are on course to replace the adopted Local Development Plan well within the five year timeframe, with a Proposed Plan currently at Examination. It is anticipated the new plan will be adopted in December 2017, just over three years from the adoption of the current Stirling Local Development Plan. Meanwhile, work is ongoing to consolidate and update the Council’s suite of 36 Supplementary Guidance documents in order that they can be re-adopted alongside Local Development Plan 2, where required.
Progress has also been made in improving the supply of effective housing land with an increase from 3.9 years to 4.9 years, albeit this is still below the target of a five year supply. The report outlines how the planning service continues to support housing growth and work proactively with developers and landowners to bring forward sites for development, including through the preparation of a Site Delivery Document to accompany the annual Housing Land Audit. There was also an increase in the take-up of land for employment uses reported during 2016/17.
With regard to Planning Enforcement, there was a big increase in the number of cases resolved and an updated Enforcement Charter has been published which explains the role of Stirling Council’s Planning Enforcement Service, outlines the procedures and sets out the standards of service to be expected.
The PPF sets out the progress made against service improvements laid out 2015-16, many of which were ‘core business’. The most substantive improvements introduced in the last 12 months, however, were not those identified in previous PPFs but through the Improvement Plan. These are also outlined in the report in addition to the improvement actions identified for 2017-18, which are largely those identified in the Improvement Plan.
Both the PPF and the Improvement Plan recognise that that improvement requires to be continuous; with 360° feedback and monitoring driving improvements for subsequent years. This year we have sought the views of stakeholders – councillors, architects, developer and the community – on how we are performing as a Planning Service, bringing about a new culture of performance management with our customers at the heart of driving our improvements. This year we will explore further how to achieve stakeholder feedback.
The PPF was submitted to the Scottish Government who will provide feedback on the report and the Council’s performance towards the end of the year.
You can view the Stirling Council Planning Service Annual Report 2016/17 here: https://hopscotland.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/stirling-ppf6.pdf