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RTPI Scotland's Response to the Mandatory training for elected members consultation

An RTPI Scotland consultation response to the Scottish Government's proposals for how to approach the matter of mandatory planning training for elected members.

Please find the consultation document here.

Part 1: What are the specified functions?

1 Should the determination of planning applications be the only specified function elected members are prohibited from doing until training
requirements have been completed?


Please add any comment in support of your answer:

Elected members play a vital role in the policy and decision making processes that are fundamental to the smooth functioning of the Scottish planning system. Elected members’ functions under the planning system are not limited to planning applications. Elected members may also be involved in approval decisions for listed building consents, advertisement consents, consents under Sections 36 and 37 of the Electricity Act 1989, and in the adoption of their Local Development Plan. Elected members may also be approached by their constituents regarding planning-related matters. It is imperative that elected members understand the ramifications of every decision they make, and for those decisions to be impartial and appropriately informed based on an understanding of existing planning legislation and the planning policy framework. For this to occur it is vital that elected members are trained on all aspects of the planning system – including development planning, development management, enforcement, appeals etc. and for there to be clarity on their obligations and responsibilities relating to probity, conduct and navigating potential conflicts of interest. The planning system can only function effectively if all stakeholders in decision making are appropriately informed. RTPI Scotland believes, therefore, that mandatory training should encompass elected member functions relating to the planning system as a whole, not just planning applications.

Part 2: Should there be different training requirements?

2 Should the training requirements vary for elected members depending on whether they participate in a planning committee, Full Council or
Local Review Body?


Please add any comment in support of your answer:

Although we understand the justification given in the consultation paper for varied training requirements, it is our view that the level of training should be based on the impact and outcome of elected members’ decisions, and not on the frequency of those decisions. Although Full Council and Local Review Bodies may only take a decision on planning applications infrequently, those decisions will require the same level of knowledge and skills as those who sit on planning committees to ensure the decisions being taken are informed, impartial and robust to achieve the best possible outcome in accordance with the purpose of planning set out at Section 3ZA of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997.

Part 3: What should the training cover?

3 Should the mandatory training be focused on the key principles and knowledge of the planning system?


Please add any comment in support of your answer:

We agree with the consultation paper that the mandatory training should focus on the key principles and knowledge of the planning system as a whole,
and that any additional training on specialised subjects on local issues should be provided by local authorities at their discretion.

Part 4: What topics should be included?

4 Do you agree with the list of topics to cover?


Please add any comment in support of your answer:

We broadly agree with the proposed topics set out in the consultation paper, subject to the additional topics noted under Question 5 below.

5 Are there any other topics that you think should be covered in the mandatory training?

Are there any other topics that you think should be covered in the mandatory training?:

We agree that the purpose of this training is not to train elected members as planners, but rather to provide elected members with the key principles and knowledge of the planning system as a whole. However, we believe it is important that as part of this training, elected members are given an understanding of the training and skills that are necessary for planning officers to carry out their roles efficiently and proficiently, particularly those officers who are also Chartered members of the RTPI. We believe that giving elected members a broad understanding of the role of the planning officer, including what skills and CPD they are required to demonstrate in order to obtain and retain RTPI membership, will help to foster enhanced mutual understanding and trust between planning officers and elected members.

We recommend, therefore, that in addition to the “Role of elected members” that the training should also cover the role of the planning officer, who will have already undertaken a detailed assessment of the application being considered and provided a recommendation to the elected members. In addition to the above, we note that Policy 1 of National Planning Framework 4 states that “When considering all development proposals significant weight will be given to the global climate and nature crises”. To fulfil this policy and allow it to function as a cornerstone of Scotland’s planning system it is essential that all decision makers, and in this instance elected members, have a full understanding of the climate and nature crises in the context of development and the planning system. As such, there should be a module on climate and nature included within the training, to support reaching Scotland’s legally binding net zero targets and future statutory nature targets.

Finally, we agree that the training should include an overview of the information likely to be contained in committee reports, and also how to identify what is a material consideration. We would expect that these sub-topics would also include a broad overview of accompanying reports that (where relevant) will be referenced within committee reports, including Environmental Impact Assessments and Strategic Environment Assessments.

Part 5: How should the training be delivered?

6 Which would be your preferred option for how the training could be delivered?

None of the above

Please add any comment to support your answer:

We believe Option 1 would allow the Scottish Government to set a consistent training standard, whilst providing local authorities with the flexibility to develop the training programme having regard to matters that may require a greater level of consideration in their respective jurisdictions. However, to ensure that the mandatory training is accessible to all elected members, we believe there needs to be flexibility in how it is delivered – with both in-person and online options available. Elected members are likely to have different learning requirements and preferences and this needs to be acknowledged in the way the training is delivered to achieve maximum uptake by elected members to avoid the scenario identified at paragraph 4.4. of the consultation paper.

It is vital that, regardless of the format (i.e. online or in-person), the training is delivered to a consistent standard across Scotland and that the training experience of elected members is (insofar as possible) the same regardless of whether it has been delivered online or in-person. To achieve this consistency, it will be necessary for the Scottish Government to allocate suitable funding to the delivery of the training across Scotland. We also believe that consistency can best be achieved in a live training environment to enable proactive engagement and interaction between the trainer and participants in both online and in-person sessions. The planning system is complex and it is important for elected members to have the opportunity to ask questions as part of their mandatory training, regardless of the training format. If the decision is made for online training to be provided by way of a pre-recorded (rather than live) course, it will be important for there to also be a platform where elected members can have their questions answered about the course material.

In addition to the above we also believe that, together with the established training sessions and associated test, it will be important to support elected members’ ongoing learning with an online resource that they can access outside of established training sessions (see our response to Question 7).

7 Do you have any further comments on how the training could be delivered?

Do you have any further comments on the delivery approach?:

In addition to flexible online and in-person live training sessions, we believe it will be important for there to be an online resource available to elected
members to access training material and information as and when required during their term. Particularly for elected members who sit on the Full
Council or Local Review Body who are required to make decisions on planning applications on an infrequent basis, such an online resource would ensure
elected members are able to refresh their knowledge of the planning system as and when required to support them in exercising their functions. This
online resource could include video recordings, a web-based and PDF guide, imaginary scenarios/case studies etc. We note that the Improvement Service
currently provides online guidance and briefings for elected members[1] which could be further developed to align with the mandatory training proposed
in this consultation paper.


Part 6: Should there be a test?

8 Should there be a requirement for elected members to have passed a test before being allowed to undertake a planning decision?


Please add any comment in support of your answer:

RTPI Scotland believes that requiring elected members to take a test is useful to demonstrate they have properly grasped the key concepts of the training and know how to apply them when exercising their functions. However, it will be important that this test is not unduly onerous to the point that it discourages elected members from joining a planning committee. We agree that the test should be multiple choice and that it should ideally be able to be completed (and passed) within a reasonable period of time – e.g. 10 to 15 minutes.

Part 7: How often should the training be taken?

9 How often should elected members be required to retake the training?

Once every election cycle

Please add any comment in support of your answer:

We agree that refresher training should be a requirement for elected members at least once every election cycle, with the potential of providing refresher training midway through an election cycle. We also believe training needs to be made available to members elected or co-opted onto a planning committee during the election cycle.

Refresher training is particularly important for elected members who carry out their planning functions infrequently, helping to ensure their decisions are made with an appropriate level of understanding of the planning system. We note that the timing of training is also critical for this group in particular, as there is a risk that knowledge and understanding gained via the training could be lost over time because planning issues are not part of their regular activities and responsibilities. This will in turn impact on the training’s desired effect on decision-making and associated planning outcomes. To help support elected members’ ongoing learning, it will be important that, in addition to the training session and associated test, elected members also have access to online resources as and when required on a voluntary basis, to support them in exercising their planning functions (as per our response to question 7).

Access to refresher training as well as an online learning resource will also assist in keeping elected members up to date on relevant policy changes that may occur over time.

Part 8: How should the training be monitored?

10 Should elected member’s completion of the training be made available to the public?

Not Answered

Please add any comment in support of your answer:

We have no particular view on this aspect of the consultation other than to say that, should this information be made public, it should not become a public naming and shaming exercise by identifying individual elected members who have not completed the training.

11 If the completion of training is made public, do you think the information being provided within PPF / statutory annual reports and on the Local Authorities website are sufficient?


If no, where should the information also be made available?:

We agree that if the completion of training is made public, this information should be provided within the PPF/statutory annual reports.

Part 9: How should long-term impacts be monitored?

12 Do you have any comments / suggestions on the best ways to monitor the long term effects of the mandatory training of elected

Do you have any comments / suggestions on the best ways to monitor the long term effects of the mandatory training of elected members?:

RTPI Scotland supports the ongoing monitoring of the effects of mandatory training. We believe the best way to do this is through the PPF/statutory annual reports. Monitoring should include both qualitative and quantitative data including the views of elected members and other stakeholders on the effectiveness of the training, as well as the proportion of elected members who have completed the initial/refresher training and the impact that this has had on the number of elected members involved in planning decisions, the number of complaints lodged and investigated, the number of appeals lodged and upheld etc.

Part 10: Impact Assessments

13 Do you have any comments on the impact assessments undertaken as part of the consultation on mandatory training on planning for
elected members?

Do you have any comments on the assessments undertaken for proposals to implement mandatory training consultation?:

No further comment

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