The Fife Planning Authority (FPA} has published this review of the improvements that have been made to the planning service in meeting some of the Scottish Government’s national performance indicators. It highlights the need, however, for an objective independent examination of the ‘evidence’ that is presented to justify the high performance scores that the FPA has awarded itself. It also begs questions about what has not been achieved and the attention that has really been paid to complaints and local feedback.
The FPA’s assessment is based on the findings of 7 case studies which demonstrate the progress that has been made in addressing 4 service achievement objectives which were neither very ambitious or1 challenging:
- Exploring opportunities for shared service delivery with other local authorities,
- Progress in preparing to meet the requirements of the 2019 Planning Bill,
- Exploring ways to develop and use new technologies to communicate with our customers, and
- Identifying the learning lessons and need for reform which arise from the Covid-19 pandemic.
It is difficult to understand why the findings of Case Study 7 (Working and Learning from Customers), which noted the 100 % rapid movement of staff to home and virtual working, are cited as evidence of the progress made in respect of objective D.
The document also provides some interesting statistics on the number, qualifications, age profile and deployment of the planning staff. These constitute an alternative yardstick for evaluating the quality of the planning service delivered by the FPA. For example, 8 of the h 16 appeals to Scottish Ministers were upheld. The improved speed of decision making was to be expected, bearing in mind that the number of planning applications had fallen. Whilst the number of complaints rose from 594 to 636 no action was taken in respect of the 202 breaches of control that were investigated. Before evaluating this performance is important to establish whether only 1 member of staff was responsible for the enforcement of planning control over the whole of Fife, or the 3.4 FTE listed in the Planning Staff Structure on page 43. The review of the Effective Land Supply explains that Fife does not have an overall housing land requirement because this is covered in 2 strategic plans (footnote 2). It then states that these strategic plans did not make any such provision because they were not required to do so when they were prepared (footnote 4).
FPA WORKFORCE INFORMATION
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Some readers and local organisations may have different views about the quality, transparency and accountability of the current Fife planning service. I doubt whether next year’s PPF will include reference to the FPA’s failure to undertake comprehensive public consultation exercises before deciding to adopt a number of road traffic and vehicle parking proposals funded by Sustrans, which entail the closure of streets in St Andrews town centre, the closure of streets in Crail, and the Lade Braes public walkway improvement scheme which will/may be linked to the National Cycle Route.
Professor M P Collins