EDINBURGH has been named one of the slowest planning authorities in Scotland when it comes to deciding on major developments.
New statistics published by the Scottish Government set out for the first time how long it takes for councils to make decisions on planning applications.
They show that major developments in the Capital take an average of 106.6 weeks – more than two years – to be decided compared to a national average of 63 weeks.
Major housing developments in Edinburgh took even longer 119.5 weeks, compared to the national average of 76.8 weeks.
But when it came to smaller-scale, local developments Edinburgh planners performed better than the Scottish average, with decisions taking 8.2 weeks as against the national figure of 12.7 weeks.
Some 92.7 per cent of householder developments in the Capital were decided within two months compared with 86.9 per cent across the country and 70 per cent of non-householder developments were decided within two months, compared with 54.8 per cent nationally.
Graham Birse, director of the Edinburgh Institute of Leadership and Management Practice at Napier University, said delays in approving major developments were not just frustrating, but could put at risk much-needed jobs and investment.
He said: “There is an underlying culture, especially strong in Edinburgh, of objecting to developments. Very often the objectors are well-resourced, well-organised and also passionate in their views. The combination of all three can and does prolong the planning process.”
He said a planning concordat had been agreed between the council and potential developers about consulting local communities in advance of applications being submitted in a bid to speed up the process. But he said there had been some “erratic and unpredictable” decisions.
“Local objectors need to be heard and no-one is suggesting that in a historic city like Edinburgh we should not be careful how we proceed with new developments, but we do believe the measures taken should now enable the process to be much quicker,” he said.
Marion Williams, director of heritage watchdog the Cockburn Association, said she was not surprised at the length of time decisions were taking, “We need a system that doesn’t cause extensive delays but does give opportunities for individuals and communities to have some say.
“If the pre-application process was more transparent and genuine I think we would see shorter times,” we said. Edinburgh recorded six major development decisions in the three-month period – April to June this year – covered by the report.
The slowest council for dealing with major developments was Shetland, which had only one decision, but took 256.7 weeks to make it. Similarly, Argyll & Bute council had one decision and took 120 weeks.
The only other authority with a worse record than Edinburgh was South Lanarkshire which had three decisions and an average time of 162.9 weeks.
Planning Minister Derek Mackay said: “The Scottish Government is committed to improving the performance of our planning system. These new statistics are designed to give a more meaningful indication of how planning authorities are doing.”
Edinburgh planning convener Ian Perry said: “Because we have a lot more big developments, we operate a slightly different system of ‘process agreements’ which we negotiate with developers and agree the timescale for major developments.”