Scotland's Planning System: RTPI Scotland Highlights Fee Increases Alone Won't Fix Issues

Jun, 4 2024

RTPI Scotland's Stance on Fixing Scotland's Planning System

The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) Scotland recently issued a detailed response to the Investing in Planning consultation, emphasizing that merely increasing planning fees will not be enough to rectify the issues plaguing Scotland’s planning system. According to RTPI Scotland, fee increases should only be a part of a broader strategy to address the underfunding and under-resourcing of planning departments across the nation. They stressed that the current planning fees, which account for only 66% of the processing costs, fall significantly short of meeting the actual financial demands.

The comprehensive feedback from RTPI Scotland's members made it clear that the consultation failed to address critical areas such as plan-making and enforcement, both of which have been suffering from chronic underinvestment for years. Overloading the system with fee increases without targeting these essential areas could lead to unintended consequences, further hampering the effectiveness of planning services. Scotland’s planning system is the lowest-funded local authority department, which is a significant concern as it has experienced a successive decline in funding.

Drastic Decline in Funding and Workforce

To put the funding issues into perspective, from 2010 to 2011, the budget for planning departments saw a 28.6% reduction, and from 2020 to 2021 to 2021 to 2022, there was an additional 2.4% decline. This progressive reduction in funds has left the planning system in a state of severe fragility, unable to keep up with the growing demands for its services. Moreover, the workforce has also been affected, reaching its lowest level in five years, with only 1,205 staff employed in local authorities for planning purposes between 2022 and 2023. This staffing shortage has exacerbated the challenges faced by the system, further stretching already thin resources.

Caroline Brown, director of RTPI Scotland, called for a more targeted approach, stating that any increases in planning fees must be specifically allocated for planning purposes and ring-fenced to prevent the misallocation of funds. Brown highlighted that historical patterns of ineffective change have rendered Scotland’s planning departments unable to meet the demands of modern planning processes. Ensuring that the financial resources are directly invested in improving the planning system would help in restructuring and revitalizing the services offered.

Underinvestment in Plan-Making and Enforcement

Underinvestment in Plan-Making and Enforcement

The RTPI Scotland emphasized that the consultation ignored the crucial aspects of plan-making and enforcement, both pivotal elements of a robust planning system. Plan-making involves developing frameworks that guide future developments within local areas, ensuring they align with broader economic, social, and environmental objectives. Effective enforcement ensures that developments adhere to the approved plans and regulations, preventing illegal or inappropriate constructions. Both these aspects are fundamental to maintaining the integrity and efficacy of the planning system.

Due to persistent underinvestment, plan-making and enforcement activities have been stifled, undermining the planning system's potential to contribute positively to the community’s growth and sustainability. The gap in resources has led to delays in processing planning applications, inconsistencies in enforcement, and a general erosion of the public’s trust in the planning system. Without dedicated funding and strategic investments in these areas, the planning system will continue to fall short of its objectives.

Addressing the Challenges with Comprehensive Solutions

RTPI Scotland's response to the consultation underscores the need for a multi-faceted approach to address the systemic issues. They advocate for not just increasing fees but also implementing reforms that ensure efficient use of resources, adequate staffing, and investment in technology to streamline processes. Additionally, there should be a focus on capacity building within local authorities, equipping staff with the necessary skills and tools to handle the complexities of modern planning demands. Ensuring robust training and professional development programs can help enhance the capabilities and morale of planning staff.

Moreover, there should be a collaborative effort involving stakeholders from various sectors, including government bodies, private sector developers, community representatives, and planning professionals. Such a collaborative approach can help in identifying and addressing the root causes of the challenges faced by the planning system. Engaging with the community and considering their needs and concerns can also lead to more inclusive and sustainable planning outcomes.

The Path Forward for Scotland’s Planning System

The Path Forward for Scotland’s Planning System

Ultimately, the path forward for Scotland’s planning system lies in adopting a comprehensive and well-coordinated strategy. This involves not just relying on fee increases but ensuring that the increased revenues are effectively utilized to enhance the planning process. Addressing the funding gaps, investing in plan-making and enforcement, and building the capacity of the workforce are crucial steps towards revitalizing the planning system.

The role of planning in shaping the future of Scotland’s towns and cities cannot be overstated. A well-funded and efficiently managed planning system can drive sustainable development, protect the environment, and contribute to the overall well-being of communities. Therefore, it is imperative that the concerns raised by RTPI Scotland are given due consideration, and concrete actions are taken to address the issues in the planning system. By doing so, Scotland can ensure that its planning system is not only fit for purpose but also capable of meeting the challenges and opportunities of the future.