Builders express concern over rise in decision times for housing applications


TRADE body Homes for Scotland has described the news of an overall increase in decision times for housing applications as ‘hugely frustrating’.

The organisation was responding to official planning performance statistics for 2019/20, which have just been published.

Despite an 11.5% decrease in the number of decisions made on local housing applications for developments comprising less than 50 homes, the time taken to decide on them has increased for the second year in a row.

HfS director of planning Tammy Swift-Adams said, “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.

“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.

“And, of course, we also await 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.”

Swift-Adams highlighted the Scottish Government’s new consultation document proposing changes to Scottish Planning Policy. These include removing the principle that planning applications that will help solve housing shortages should be looked upon favourably by decision-makers. HfS said the paper ‘also seems 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.

“Scottish families and communities don’t need housing land,” Swift-Adams said. “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.”