Scottish local authorities increased the efficiency with which they handled planning applications in 2015-16, but the Government minister in charge of planning has called for further improvements.

Figures from the chief statistician show that the average decision time for major developments in 2015-16 was 30.5 weeks, down more than six weeks from the average of 36.6 weeks in the previous year and the lowest annual figure since such data were first collected in 2012-13. Major housing applications still took an average of 40.0 weeks, a one week gain on the previous year.

For local developments, the average decision time in 2015-16 was 9.8 weeks, down by almost three days on the previous year, and also a new low since such data collection began in 2012-13. Local housing applications were decided in an average of 13.7 weeks, again a saving of one week on the previous year's performance.

Major developments include applications for developments of 50 or more homes, as well as certain waste, water, transport and energy-related developments, and larger retail developments.

The averages exclude applications concluded through the use of a processing agreement between the developer and the local authority, where an agreement on timescales for decisions can be made either at the beginning of the application process or at a later stage. In 2015-16, 83 major development applications (24% of the total) and 514 local development applications (2% of the total) were concluded by the use of a processing agreement, with 69% of the former and 79% of the latter being processed within agreed timescales.

However the total number of planning decisions was also down, by 10% with major applications (there were fewer housing, industry and energy applications) and by 3% with local applications.

Planning Minister Kevin Stewart welcomed the statistics, but said more must be done to improve planning performance. “These statistics are very encouraging, particularly at a time where we are looking at the best ways to reform and improve our planning system", he commented. "The reduction in decision making timescales can only be a good thing – it means we are open for business and helping create certainty within the building sector.

“It is clear many authorities have worked hard to achieve these improvements and these results form a strong base from which to move forward with planning reform.

“We have just announced 10 immediate actions we will take to help deliver more homes and businesses through an improved planning system. This includes extending permitted development rights, meaning local authorities will have fewer minor applications to deal with. These changes will allow them to ensure they are able to allocate the resources needed to focus on dealing with larger more complex developments.”

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