How to measure quality planning – Audit Scotland

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Did you hear of Audit Scotland’s report on the planning system in a passing news story? A little over a month after it was published I’ve got round to reading.  What does it it means for those of us championing a more inclusive planning system?

The report was an assessment of the 2006 reforms and modernisation of the planning system. To do this assessment Audit Scotland had their work cut out for them, the planning system is many things to many people and a complex beast.

When you are assessing something the initial job is normally to work out some ‘performance indicators’, in other words, get an idea of what good performance looks like.

As it turns out one of the main conclusions of the report was that there is no effective ‘performance framework’ for measuring the quality of planning, and one of their main recommendations was that one should be created:

“Many aspects of development management are not currently monitored, assessed or reported, for example pre-application activities, community engagement and the local appeals process. Performance should be assessed across a broader range of measures that gives a more comprehensive view of how the planning system is performing.”

Audit Scotland go on to suggest a possible draft framework which in includes a “mix of quantitative and qualitative measures” including:

“Extent of, and quality of community engagement – to what extent were communities involved in contributing to applications affecting their local area and what effect did this have on the final outcome?”

The last clause “what effect did [community engagement] have on the final outcome?” is key.  You can have all the public engagement in the world but if it is not affecting the final decision it boils down to just a tick-box exercise.

It’s heartening to see Audit Scotland promoting meaningful participation.

Another recommendation that kept cropping up was for councils to “ensure processes are in place to enable and support better and more creative engagement with community councils and the wider community”.

Its inclusion suggests there was concern within Audit Scotland that councils (and by extension developers) are not adequately engaging the public in decision-making.  Our recent case studies chime a similar chord.

You can read the report, and Audit Scotland’s other recommendations, on their website.

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