RTPI welcomes move to introduce statutory chief planning officers

A decision by the Scottish Parliament’s local government and communities committee to introduce statutory chief planning officers in councils has been welcomed by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI).

The provision was agreed yesterday during the committee’s scrutiny of the Planning (Scotland) Bill.

The RTPI has been campaigning on the need for chief planning officers across the UK and Ireland given that the head of planning is a member of the top management team in only 17% of councils across the UK, despite the fact that planning is, like social services and education, a statutory function.

RTPI chief executive Victoria Hills said: “I am delighted to see that the Scottish Parliament has recognised the value of good planning by introducing statutory Chief Planning Officers. This means that Scotland is leading the way in putting planners front and centre to help deliver sustainable development, inclusive growth and social justice. This can only benefit communities across the country so I hope that other administrations across the UK follow this example.”

The Institute’s director for Scotland, Craig McLaren, added: “Our thanks go to Scottish Government for taking on board our arguments on the need for Chief Planning Officers and for subsequently tabling the amendment to the Bill which was passed today. We will continue to work with them to ensure this is taken forward into the Act and to shape the regulations which will provide the detail.”

As part of its work aiming to influence the Planning Bill, RTPI Scotland published a think piece on the need for statutory chief planning officers in March 2017, which outlines how a chief planning officer in every local authority would support and improve decision making on strategic policy and investment. The paper argues that recognition of the importance of chief planning officers would result in a better - planned approach to service delivery and development.

RTPI published research in June this year showing that planning is absent from top table in 83% of councils in the UK.

Earlier this week, RTPI Scotland urged cabinet secretary Derek Mackay to allow local authorities in Scotland to raise planning fees to cover the entire costs of the planning application function.

The Institute said it also fears that amendments to the upcoming Planning (Scotland) Bill will introduce many more duties for planning departments and that the resource need of these has not been considered.

In a letter to Mr Mackay ahead of the forthcoming budget, RTPI Scotland sets out a five-point plan for resourcing planning in the budget:

  • Increase planning fees to ensure they meet their costs, or introduce a subsidy for planning authorities to overcome this shortfall
  • Provide financial investment to support skills development and culture change programmes
  • Introduce a ring-fence that ensures that planning fees can only be used for planning purposes
  • Provide resources to support the implementation of new digital platforms and initiatives that can make Scottish planning a world leading service
  • Commit to funding any new costs or resource needs generated through new duties introduced in the forthcoming Planning Act
  • Fraser Carlin, RTPI Scotland convenor, said: “The government’s Economic Action Plan recognises the important role of the planning system in supporting sustainable and inclusive growth. It must now match these ambitions with appropriate resources, without which the plan would fail.

    “We need planners working strategically and creatively across the government’s agenda, not weak, under-resourced planning departments struggling so much with budgetary pressures that they can only provide the most basic statutory functions.”

    RTPI Scotland said planning departments across Scotland have suffered disproportionately from budget cuts over the last few years. There has been a 23% decrease in planning staff between 2009 and 2016, while over the same period their planning service budgets were cut by 32.5%.

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