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Scottish Government’s New Planning Fees: Will this Improve the Planning Service?

Thu, May 18, 2017

Planning Permission

The 2013 Court of Session case of Archid Architecture and Interior Design v Dundee City Council highlights the inadequacies in the service currently being provided by planning authorities in Scotland at a time when the Scottish Government has recently announced it is raising planning fees with a new maximum fee of £125,000 for major applications.   

In Archid, the planning authority issued a decision notice stating that planning permission had been granted subject to conditions, no conditions were outlined and the reason for the decision set out was clearly a reason for refusal. Six months later the planning authority decided the decision was wrong and sent out a fresh decision notice stating that planning permission was refused. 

The developer judicially reviewed the latter decision notice from the planning authority and the court held that the first decision notice was valid unless and until the court had determined otherwise and the planning authority had had no power to issue a further decision notice. 

On three occasions in the last 12 months we have been consulted by developers who have been issued with planning permission to later be issued with a fresh decision notice purportedly refusing the same application with the explanation that the original decision notice had been issued in error.  This is despite the clear decision in the Archid case.  These examples, in our view, emphasise the lack of resources and poor service being provided by planning authorities. 

On one view, therefore, the Scottish Governments decision to increase planning fees should be welcomed but only if there is a guarantee that those fees were being used to meet inadequacies in resourcing within planning authorities and in order to lead to an improvement in the services currently provided by planning authorities in Scotland. 

Unfortunately, whilst the Scottish Government’s rationale for a substantial fee increase for major developments is to ensure that planning departments can move towards full cost recovery and to “better reflect the level of resources” major applications require, we remain sceptical that these increased fees will see any correlated improvement in the planning service they receive.  Certainly, to date, there has been no open commitment from the Scottish Government that these increased planning fees will be “ring fenced” to ensure they are used to deliver a more efficient and speedier service, despite suggestions being made during the consultation period.

As such, it is our view that incidences of planning permissions being granted “in error” by planning authorities are likely to continue and developers should be aware of their rights to rely upon the original decision notice even where the planning authority purports to issue a subsequent refusal unless and until the original decision notice is overturned by the court.

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