A New Year – 2021 Lockdown

As we enter into a new year with a vaccine gone into distribution, we would like to offer our best wishes to everyone for a better year ahead.

Whilst we look forward with optimism for a glimpse of normality, we would like to highlight the current circumstances of the service amid current lockdown restrictions.

Whilst a spring/summer lockdown of 2020 was challenging, the longer sunny days and warmth made the daily tasks of home working and home schooling seem bearable. Like many of you, we face these same tasks in the winter months, confined to our homes due to a dark, damp and cold climate, the challenges and strains have been intensified.

As a service, whilst continuing to offer the best customer experience that we can, current restrictions requires the continued closure of our offices and maintained remote working. Managers have recognised the extended challenges of this lockdown on all staff within the service from family life, care of vulnerable family and friends, childcare and home-schooling to those living alone, all in need of support. Consequently, the well-being and mental health of our staff within the service will continue to be prioritised. Approximately 40% of our staff have young children and dependants therefore, we expect elements of the service to experience delays as parents fulfil their daily duties however, we continue to do the best we can to minimise the disruption to the service.

Key elements of the service still continue and these include receiving, processing and assessing planning applications; City Plan 2030; planning enforcement; neighbour notifications; Planning helpdesk; DM sub-committee; and, the Local Review Body. Elements of the service that have been suspended include site visits, and site notices will be available online only. A small plea: if you are submitting an application, any contextual information including photos would be very helpful.

As a planning authority, we rely heavily on the input from colleagues within other services, agents/architects, consultants, stakeholders and communities. We recognise these same challenges will be faced by everyone. We offer our sincere understanding and continued willingness to work with you, optimising new forms of communication and alternative working arrangements.

We will continue to deliver the best possible planning service for our city however, given these challenging times and restrictive working environments, we ask for your continued patience and understanding for our staff.

Thank you.    

A Christmas note

Here we are, Christmas 2020. The markets are closed, we aren’t gathering for our usual Christmas parties and fireworks will not adorn the sky however, we do have the opportunity to reflect on what we have come through this year and lessons learned.

Despite the unexpected challenges we have all faced this year; as a service, as a city, we have continued to press on. I’m sure you will all agree that 2020 has been difficult and such circumstances have forced radical change. As a service, the way in which we work on a daily basis has significantly altered. A service of over 100 people shift from a safe office environment to one which offered no access to that space we’ve been used to; instead we work from our kitchen tables, our studies, our dens, our bedrooms, our garden sheds.

Planning Officer fulfilling duties for the Service

When the announcement back in March was made to pack our desks and take our laptops home, reality struck, and we realised radical change and adaptation was required to deliver the same level of service. New policies and procedures as well as new I.T. systems and software have been implemented to enable the service to continue to function. Our dedicated staff have quickly adapted to new ways of working whilst balancing a very different home life.

Post Covid-19 Planning Office

As highlighted in our time performance blog, we are beginning to see the fruits of our labour. The changes we have implemented and efforts from all of those who engage with the service, are beginning to see improvements. However, the positive results don’t end with improved time performance within the service. We are proud of progress made on major projects which will play their part in building a positive future for the city. Recent updates include the City Plan 2030 and Low Emission Zones.

Quarter Mile development, Edinburgh.

It is only from the dedication of our staff, the patience and support of our customers, stakeholders and communities, that we have managed to continue to deliver and improve the service. Once again, we would like to sincerely thank everyone for their efforts in helping the service through this challenging time and we ask that as we move forward into a new year, you continue to work with us as we continue to implement changes to improve the service for everyone.

To this end, 2020 has been a challenging year, a year of great sadness, frustration and, uncertainty however, let us reflect on the good, focus on our efforts and, recognise our achievements. 2020 has been a year where we have been given the opportunity to appreciate a way of life we took for granted in our 21st century existence however, we have proven to ourselves that we have what it takes to adapt to a new and strange environment, and we have the capacity to succeed!

Whilst we all undergo the necessary Covid-19 restrictions, we hope that as we enter the new year, we all continue to adapt and make the best of this new environment.

Finally, we wish you a very merry Christmas and a happy new year from all of us here in the Planning Service.

A new way of working

In case you missed them, some further updates:

A new way to pay, place briefs, guidance updates, character appraisals, service improvements

Chief Planners of Tomorrow

The City of Edinburgh Council’s Planning Service has Learning Partner status with the Royal Town Planning Institute.  This commits us to a programme of continuous training and development to support planning officers, elected members and community groups. 

In 2019, we won the Learning Partner Award for the best programme in the UK.

It is important to provide learning opportunities for young planners.  For the second successive year, our Chief Planning Officer was shadowed as part of a national initiative.

Lucy Sumner MRTPI, from Perth and Kinross Council writes about her experience:

Lucy is the Development Contributions Officer for Perth and Kinross Council, where she took up post earlier this year following her time with Aberdeen City Council’s Local Development Plan team. Lucy is based in Perth and is also involved with the RTPI East of Scotland Chapter. You can find her on LinkedIn and Twitter, @sumnernotsummer

In what feels like the distant past of 2019, I applied for the Royal Town Planning Institute’s (RTPI) Chief Planners of Tomorrow initiative and I was delighted to be successfully paired with David Leslie at City of Edinburgh Council for the experience in 2020.

The Chief Planners of Tomorrow initiative allows a young planner the opportunity to spend some time shadowing a Chief Planner for the day. Usually this would take place in-person, attending meetings and visiting the Council’s offices, however like most things throughout 2020 David and I had to adapt and find alternative ways to share this experience. We were able to benefit from the virtual platform so many of us have become acquainted with this year; allowing us to tailor the programme more naturally to our schedules.

The role of a Chief Planner is very diverse, and David was keen to try and show me as much as possible from his day-to-day tasks over the course of the experience. David and I initially discussed our expectations of the opportunity, and he was then able to prepare a programme covering these key learning areas. These included; Strategic Management Issues, Political Awareness, and Service Planning.

Strategic Management Issues

David introduced me to service managers for Development Management and Development Planning, David Givan and Iain McFarlane. We discussed their roles, their career pathways and some of the key responsibilities involved with their roles. I learned about their experience as managers during a global pandemic, including some of the challenges with working remotely and how this affects day-to-day tasks, performance, and morale.

Political Awareness

After watching one of the Council’s publicly webcast Development Management Sub-Committee meetings, David extended an opportunity to attend the weekly meeting between service managers and the Convenor and Vice-Convenor. I therefore had the pleasure of meeting the Councillors Neil Gardiner and Maureen Child.

As a Planner I have held roles in private sector with a housebuilder and as a consultant, and in public sector as a Council officer, so my interaction with Elected Members has usually revolved around Planning Committees, so this was a hugely valuable experience in seeing how Committee meetings are briefed and prepared for … something like a backstage pass! Observing this meeting helped me understand my own role better too; for example, how certain actions arise ahead of Committees, or why briefing notes are requested. This gave some context as to how things progress and the relationship between management and the Convenors.

Service Planning

David arranged for a discussion about the Service Improvement Plan. Again, as an officer, this was really beneficial to learn about as sometimes you feel as though your role is your job title – but being part of a team, a service, an organisation means you are always part of a wider picture too. It can be quite motivating to work toward an overarching goal in this way and uphold the organisation’s objectives through your own work. I really enjoyed hearing about how the Service nurtures leadership and skills, and the ‘bottom up’ approach in service planning.

The experience has been an interesting insight into the varied duties and responsibilities of a Chief Planner. When David and I met for our concluding meeting at the end of the experience he asked me if I ever wanted to be a Chief Planner – I won’t share my answer here – but we went on to have a nice discussion about our choices in life and reflecting on opportunities and where they’ve led us, which is really encouraging. 

In summary, I feel lucky to have been able to take advantage of the RTPI’s Chief Planners of Tomorrow initiative. I feel it is pertinent to me as a young planner progressing in my career, and I don’t think it could have come at a better time during the unprecedented events of 2020; reflecting on other local authority practices and sharing skills and opportunities at a time like this really embodies the spirit of the RTPI, and what I feel we should continue to be promoting as a planning profession.

I hope that the initiative proves equally rewarding to Chief Planners; understanding the needs of young planners within their service right now, or in future, and cultivating leadership potential from their team.

I would like to thank all those I had the opportunity to meet with during this experience for their time and insight. Finally, I extend my sincerest thanks to David Leslie for making this possible, I greatly appreciate your enthusiasm and mentorship through this time.

Edinburgh’s Low Emission Zone: Update

Edinburgh’s low emission zone (LEZ) proposal aims to improve air quality for people across the city by tackling pollution from vehicles and has been developed in partnership with the Scottish Environment Protection agency and Transport Scotland.

The LEZ will involve removing the most polluting vehicles from the network and will only allow the cleanest vehicles into the LEZ. Visit LowEmissionZone.Scot to find out if your vehicle complies.

The Scottish Government is committed to introducing LEZs to Edinburgh. The original commitment was to have these in place by the end of 2020. However, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, timescales have changed, with a new indicative timescale for LEZs to be introduced between February and May 2022. For more information of LEZ timelines and more please visit Transport.gov.scot.

There are a number of funding opportunities that have been made available. These offer to help those who are most impacted by the LEZ, with grants available for people and businesses to enable them to upgrade their vehicle/vehicles to a cleaner, more environmentally friendly, LEZ compliant vehicle or public transport vouchers.

The £2 million mobility fund launched by Scottish government offers cash incentives for non-compliant vehicles to be removed from the road. Administered by the Energy Savings Trust, the programme is means tested to help those who would struggle the most to upgrade their vehicle and provides support for both people and businesses to travel more sustainably.

The mobility fund provides households with a grant of £2,000 as an incentive to remove a non-compliant vehicle from the road and replace it with a cleaner compliant vehicle or invest in alternative transport modes.

The mobility fund also provides help for businesses, with a £2,500 cash grant to help upgrade their fleet to cleaner, more efficient vehicles.

£1 million of funding is also being made available to support the retrofitting of Light Goods Vehicles (LGV) and Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGV) as well as Taxis through the LEZ Retrofitting Fund for micro-businesses.

Find out more about the Edinburgh project and how to get in touch with us at: https://www.lowemissionzones.scot/about/local-zones/edinburgh

Planning Time Performance Review

Following on from our ‘Looking Back Over Lockdown Blog’, we have been continuing to implement changes within the service to improve our performance.

We would like to take this opportunity to share with you the results from our quarterly time performance review. Despite the challenges 2020 has encompassed, the service’s response to the restrictions enforced to protect us from Covid-19 has been positive.

The charts below show the average decision times taken to complete Major, Local and Householder applications. From the beginning of the year, there has been a general improvement in decision times across the service. In quarter two the service is delivering decisions at the national average, and we’re aiming to be even faster than that as we move forward.

Householder Average Decision Times
Local Average Decision Time
Major Developments Average Decision Times

This is great news! Whilst working hard to continue to deliver a planning service over the course of the year, our efforts to improve the service are beginning to show positive results. Once again, we would like to thank you for your patience and understanding when engaging with the service and we offer our thanks to the staff within the service who have made this achievement possible. Further information is available here.

Moving forward, we are continuing to develop new ways of working and strategies to ensure the planning service delivers high quality outcomes more efficiently.