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August 10, 2016

Existing anomalies need resolved

Scottish Government assures us that subsidiarity, the idea that we should be taking decisions as close to the point of impact as possible, is central to its thinking. The content of the forthcoming Decentralisation Bill will be a measure of that commitment  But while new legislation may go some way to encouraging a new culture of localisation, there are many anomalies within the existing system which will need to adapt to a more explicitly decentralised ethos. Last week, community campaigners gathered at Holyrood to urge MSPs to take more account of widespread concerns about perceived injustices in the planning system.

Planning Democracy

Last week community campaigners from across Scotland gathered in Edinburgh, urging MSPs to challenge the Government’s approach to planning reform. Many community groups say their views have been ignored in a recent high-level review of the Scottish planning system. The community network spearheaded byPlanning Democracy is now urging the Scottish Government to involve community groups in deliberations as well as rethink its position on Equal Rights of Appeal.

Planning campaigners backing the calls are meeting and represent the interests of communities from across Scotland including Ayrshire, Aberdeenshire and the Highlands and Islands. The campaigners have all challenged planning issues in their areas, relating to fracking, an incinerator proposal and developments on greenfield sites. They are urging the Scottish Government to engage them directly in newly-established working groups and consider more deeply the case for Equal Rights of Appeal.

A Government-appointed review panel recently dismissed the calls to reform the planning appeals process, but analysis by Planning Democracy reveals that the majority of the respondents who expressed a view on Equal Rights of Appeal, supported the reform measure. Despite this, the review panel reporting to the Scottish Government sought to close the door on it, by giving disproportionate weight to developer concerns, who are fearful of the policy’s implications.

The campaigners argue that an Equal Right of Appeal is an approach widely adopted in other countries to check corporate influence and help ensure that communities are not side-lined during the planning process. An equal right of appeal would give communities the option to challenge bad planning decisions, but as the law stands, only developers who make an application have a right to challenge the substance of a planning decision. Communities can only challenge local authorities on a technicality in a costly process known as Judicial Review.

Community network coordinator Daya Feldwick said: “There is still a groundswell of discontent about the planning system and commitments to more ‘community engagement’ – as welcome as they are – are not enough. A good way to start this would be for the Scottish Government to invite community representatives onto the working groups to learn first-hand how Scotland’s planning system can be improved.”

Planning Democracy convenor Clare Symonds said: “The history of Scotland is littered with examples of planning injustice: Trump’s development at Menie estate, Craighouse – many of which have only been exposed and challenged by the efforts of local communities. Sadly Scotland’s villages, town centres and cities are now saddled with bad planning decisions, which go against the wishes of local people who have to live with the consequences, often for generations to come. Equal Rights of Appeal would help to address this.  We urge the relevant Committees in the Scottish Parliament to consider commissioning a comprehensive cost benefit analysis on the introduction of an Equal Right of Appeal in Scotland.”