Prior to 1947, landowners enjoyed unrestricted freedom to do whatever they wished with their property. But since then, planning legislation has required them to seek permission before undertaking any significant development. Perhaps to soften the blow of what would have been viewed as unwarranted intrusion by the state, a temporary concession was made, giving property owners a right to appeal if planning decisions went against them. Although intended as an interim measure, this developer’s right of appeal has remained in place ever since – an anomaly that has contributed to our planning system becoming such a contested and rancorous sphere of civic life. 70 years ago, the prospect of local people having any rights to determine their community’s future would have seriously jarred with the established order. Now widely accepted as the new normal, it only serves to highlight just how out of step the planning system has become - how loaded it is in favour of developer interests, how diminished planners and planning authorities have become, and how weak the voice of local people is. The forthcoming Planning Bill presents Scottish Government with a real opportunity to introduce genuine balance and fairness to the system. Will they take it?
In the most recent briefing…
16 years ago the idea of local people taking control of important community assets was little more than a twinkle in the land reformer’s eye. In those days, particularly in our cities, the Council ran the show and when they decided to close down a facility, that was the end of the matter. No question of an asset transfer or making a participation request. How things have changed. So it’s hats off to the folk at Govanhill Baths for having the foresight back then (and the fight) just to say no. The sounds of splashing have returned.
The prospect of community councils being asked to play a more active role in local affairs has increased significantly judging by some of the ideas in the planning consultation. A more formal contribution to the local planning process, a right to produce local place plans are all mooted as possibilities. But without the investment of new resources to signal serious government intent, it’s unlikely to come to much. Given the paucity of current investment in our most local tier of local democracy, it’s a minor miracle that so many community councils are thriving.
Football clubs, both large and small, have always played an important part in building community identity and civic pride. Anyone who witnessed the mass celebrations that took place on Leith Links after Hibs' Scottish Cup victory will attest to that. But for too long time this was a one way street, with clubs milking the fans devotion and giving little back beyond the dubious pleasure of watching them on a Saturday afternoon. However, increasingly senior clubs are waking up to their wider civic responsibilities by supporting the establishment of community trusts. Clubs like Falkirk FC.
The gradual erosion of what used to be understood as the exclusive responsibility of the state continues apace. There are now very few areas of public service that have not been encroached upon in some way by private enterprise or, more recently and as a result of austerity cuts, have had to be picked up in some way through community action. To date our roads, that most basic element of our infrastructure, have been wholly retained as a public responsibility. While roads might hold little attraction for the private investor, the community on Kerrera have few alternatives.
The planning system often appears to sit in two parallel universes. In one universe, the theoretical one, a local authority consults widely in drafting its Local Development Plan, developers submit planning applications which accord with the Plan, communities’ views are fully taken into account, and the decisions of the Council’s Planning Committee are an expression of effective local democracy. In the other universe, none of the above applies and anyone, including the First Minister, gets dragged into the ensuing stramash. No doubting which universe the communities around Park of Keir are part of.
Sooner or later, those who are simultaneously threatened and bewildered by the global rise of populism will need to formulate a response. While first instincts might be to pull up the ladder and wait for it all to blow over, a more constructive approach might be to embrace this change, and prise open those systems that have hitherto remained closed shops to all but the established elites. The concept of citizen assemblies has been around for a while. Should our own Scottish Parliament, often praised for its openness and accessibility, take the lead? An event next month explores this prospect.
A degree of opacity has long surrounded Scotland’s Crown Estate (the foreshore, seabed and some other onshore assets) and the organisation that manages these assets on our behalf, the Crown Estate Commissioners. All is about to change with new powers being vested in the Scottish Parliament courtesy of the 2016 Scotland Act. A new agency – Crown Estate Scotland –will begin to consider how these assets should be managed and where control over them should lie. Scottish Government is currently consulting. Writing in the Scottish Review, Brian Wilson has an interesting perspective to share.
It’s five years since the Christie Commission’s report heralded a new direction for public services. The big ideas of co-production and co-designing services with communities at their core were, on one level, easy to sign up for. At another level, these changes have been much harder to make happen on the ground. Nonetheless there has been huge investment in time and money in trying to kick start this process. A new report suggests Scotland could now become a global leader in gathering and using the evidence of what works, and what doesn’t, to inform its policy making.
When in 2003 Newlands Primary School was threatened with closure, a parents group worked to convince the Council to save the school. The group was also concerned for the wellbeing of their rural community: isolation, distance from facilities and services, and a lack of employment opportunities, all impact significantly on the quality of life there. In 2007 the Trust was formed to develop a stronger sense of community and to improve general wellbeing in the area. Funding was secured from The Big Lottery and the Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP) to build a community centre adjacent to the local primary school. The centre opened in 2011, since when the Newlands Activity Centre has been at the heart of the community. In 2013 Scottish Borders Council transferred ownership of the old Newlands Memorial Hall to NCDT to use for the benefit of the community.
Scotland's leading community sector networks have joined together as the Scottish Community Alliance in order to campaign for a strong and independent community sector in Scotland.
The Alliance has two main functions - to promote the work of local people in their communities and to influence national policy development. We email regular briefings to our supporters on both these themes. More about us here...