Charge could boost property sector

Mackay calls for ‘accelerator’ fee to aid planning


Derek Mackay

Derek Mackay admits his proposal may not prove popular with everyone

Finance Minister Derek Mackay has called for an ‘accelerator fee’ to be applied to commercial planning proposals to help speed up the approval process.

The length of time authorities take to reach a decision on planning in Scotland has been a thorn in the side of the sector for years.

However, speaking at the Scottish Property Federation annual conference in Edinburgh, Mr Mackay suggested the innovative charge could assist in processing paperwork much more swiftly with the associated knock-on benefit to the economy.

“There is a planning bill which will be working its way through parliament and we want to ensure the planning system is effective and proportionate,” he said.

“More time in planning should be spent on the delivery of plans rather than the constant re-writing of plans. We want to be very focused on delivery.

“If there is any doubt about the intention of the bill, it is to enable sustainable development, to make the system work better and address a number of the concerns which have been raised over a period of time.

“That will only provide legislation. Delivery is about leadership, culture and practise. That doesn’t need legislation but it just so happens there is room for legislative improvement.

“I give you one innovation which you may disagree with but I am particularly keen to see it happen. Resourcing planning is one issue and I want to see local planning departments well-resourced so they are able to take effective and fair decisions in a timely fashion.

“I know there have been changes to planning fees but a further intervention might be an accelerate process; it wouldn’t guarantee consent but what if there was a discretionary payment that allowed a planning decision to be taken quickly within a certain timescale? And what if that applied to Scottish Government reporters as well?

“Some may say ‘I don’t want to pay any more’ and I understand that. Some may have a view around the perceptions of that but I think it could be a helpful innovation which would ensure the resource is there to get decisions taken in a more timely fashion.”

The planning process remains a bugbear for many in the industry, according to SPF chairman Andrew Sutherland.

Speaking exclusively to the Daily Business at the annual conference, the joint managing director of Miller Developments, said he hoped that continuing ‘healthy interaction’ with the government would help ease the problem and bring more investment closer to home.

“Planning still takes a long time and because we operate throughout the UK, we see different approaches being adopted elsewhere,” he said.

“In England through the Midlands and the north-west, we get planning consents through much, much faster and it’s always thus. At the end of the day, from an investment stand point, money isn’t emotional and will go where the easiest markets are. If there is demand and it is easier to do it in England, then they will go there first instead of Scotland.

“Across all our dealings with the government the approach has been about creating the environment to attract investment to Scotland so people stop thinking they’ll go to England as they’ll get an easier ride.

Andrew Sutherland
Andrew Sutherland: healthy interaction

“We want them to come to Scotland as they see the added value, the opportunity and they get supported across political fronts as well.

“There is a recognition from the government that if people are not building they are not getting economic activity through the construction sector. I’d like to see us constantly working with the government to change and flex policy so we don’t become hamstrung in one particular policy because it was right a few years ago.

“We need to be flexible as frankly the world we operate in with occupiers and particularly investors, they want flexibility and their needs are constantly changing.”

The conference, hosted by Gavin Esler, was attended by more than 200 delegates who heard the findings of a comprehensive report by the University of Strathclyde’s Fraser of Allander Institute, commissioned by the SPF.

Professor Graeme Roy, director of the Institute, was another of the keynote speakers and he told the Daily Business that economic opportunities may well lie further afield.

“As much as we worry about uncertainty with Brexit, the global economy is driving on. It is very robust and there are big new markets out there,” he said.

“The largest countries in the world by economic size in the next 10-15 years will be places like China, India, Indonesia, Mexico and Brazil. These countries are all growing up and that provides opportunities for a small economy like Scotland to take advantage as there is big growth there.

“We’re still dealing with some of the legacy of the financial crisis but looking ahead I think the sector will continue to grow as long as the economy is growing.

“It might look different to what they are investing in such as technological change, demand in student accommodation, changes in the way we work, etc, so the type of commercial property building might look different.”

See also: 

Property sector publishes first impact report

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