Taking the guesswork out of planning policy


By David Caplan, Head of Analytics and Research, CIPFA

Planning policies across the UK vary widely. These variations understandably cause frustration for residents and developers alike, throwing up barriers to effective and sustainable development of housing and infrastructure, and stalling economic growth. 

Provisions to move responsibility for planning large infrastructure projects from the Infrastructure Planning Commission to the Planning Inspectorate will force planning authorities to co-operate when planning developments with sustainability in mind. 

While this shift would empower communities to drive growth in their local areas, such reform will require time and resources to implement – resources that, due to funding pressures local authorities have faced as a result of austerity, can be hard to rally. 

So the question is, how do we create a reformed service that meets public expectations of transparency and equity and also meets the needs of, and doesn’t place undue burden on, the planning authority? 

Answering that question starts with data. While data can sometimes be unfocused and difficult to interpret, for those authorities using it well data analysis provides a much needed evidence base to inform and improve decision making. 

Back in 2018, CIPFA was commissioned by Heads of Planning Scotland (HOPS) to gather data on the cost of delivering planning services across Scottish local planning authorities and provide a tool to make sense of it. This benchmarking exercise compared time recordings of employees to measure the effectiveness of staff time on planning activities and various performance and financial information across 12 local planning authorities.

The work brought to light huge cost discrepancies. While the average cost per householder application was £791, costs ranged from £500 to nearly £1,500 across the 12 authorities. 

By collecting and de-mystifying the evidence provided by the data, HOPS has been able to have informed conversations about planning cost and resources to determine ways forward across the whole Scottish planning service. These results have even gone on to inform broader reform to planning nationally in Scotland, with Holyrood having recently passed the Planning (Scotland) Bill.

Good financial management cannot be based on guesswork, and decisions that stand up to public scrutiny cannot be made without a robust, data-driven, evidence base. As we move into a more digital future, CIPFA stands ready to support the sector in making informed decisions and delivering equitable services.

CIPFA is now offering a planning benchmarking service more widely, please visit: The Planning Benchmarking Service.

This article first appeared in Spreadsheet.

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