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Warning for recovery

Builders ‘frustrated’ by ongoing planning delays

Tammy Swift Adams

Tammy Swift-Adams: decision times are creeping up

Property leaders say new data revealing a slowdown in planning decisions are “a warning sign” for attempts to rebuild the economy.

Only 13 major developments were settled in 2019-20 across the whole of Scotland, while further delays in deciding housing applications have been described as “hugely frustrating”.

The figures show an increase in average decision time for local developments and in average decision time for major developments since the previous year.

In 2019/20 the average decision time for major development applications was 33.5 weeks, just under a week slower than the 32.6 weeks for the previous year.

The Scottish Property Federation tweeted: “Pre-COVID-19 planning performance stats published today show only 13 business and industry major developments determined in Scotland in 2019/20. This is a warning sign for the wider economy as we seek to rebuild after COVID-19.”

Housebuilders’ trade body Homes for Scotland (HFS) described another overall increase in decision times for housing applications as “hugely frustrating”.

Director of planning Tammy Swift-Adams said: “Despite an 11.5% drop in the number of decisions made on local housing applications (defined as being for less than 50 homes), the time taken to make those decisions crept up for the second year running.

“This is concerning given that these small developments are, by nature, the lifeblood of SME home building businesses – a sector supported by Scottish Government loan funding during the crisis, but also needing local government support if it is to thrive.

“Things are no more positive for major housing applications (those for 50 or more homes), decisions on which were two weeks slower than the previous year at 37.5 weeks – more than double the 16 week statutory timescale.”

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“With all of the consultation and discussion time that has gone into improving the planning system, it is extremely frustrating to see this evidence that improvements are just not emerging on the ground.”

An added issue is the Scottish Government’s decision on whether planning application fees will be increased again.

“This decision, and the timing of its implementation, must be made in the context of this performance – with home builders currently receiving some of the poorest service across the system whilst already paying the lion’s share of fees.”

Ms Swift-Adams also pointed to the Scottish Government’s new consultation document proposing changes to Scottish Planning Policy.

Scottish families and communities don’t need housing land. They want real homes to live in

– Tammy Swift-Adams

These include removing the principle that planning applications that will help solve housing shortages should be looked upon favourably by decision-makers.

The paper also thought to suggest that planning authorities should focus more singly on allocating their preferred sites and pay less regard to whether or not the homes that are needed are actually going to be built.

Ms Swift-Adams added: “Scottish families and communities don’t need housing land. They want real homes to live in, and more of them.

“That requires a better functioning system and policy that encourages local planning authorities to ensure the sites they choose for housing development can and will be delivered.

“With the housing market showing encouraging signs post-lockdown, now is the time for local authorities to work closely with home builders to deliver the homes required.”

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