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January 24, 2018

Beleaguered system

No one would disagree that the planning system is a beleaguered area of public policy and one that divides opinion. Developers complain that the system fails to deliver sufficient opportunities for development. Communities complain that regardless of how hard they try to engage with the system, their views are routinely ignored. In fact, it is a pretty rare thing to hear anything of a positive nature about planning. Perhaps someone should seek out some good news stories (if they exist at all) to balance things up a bit.  They’ll have to be good if it’s to compensate for this sorry tale from Dundee.

Lynn Watson, Kirkton Community & Safety Partnership

5 days ago, I’d just discovered that all of our community group’s representations to Dundee City Council’s Local Development Plan (LDP2) consultation had been shoved into a ‘Schedule 4 document’.  This appears to be the resting place for ‘unresolved issues’ – that’ll be the comments that the council said it wanted on the LDP2…  I had no idea if this was supposed to happen – so I fired out a scattergun email to anyone I thought might be able to help.

Since then I’ve had quite a few responses & done a lot of reading.  I’m still confused, but it’s heartening to know I seem to be in good company!

We were told, in writing, that ALL comments on the LDP2 are contained in the Schedule 4 document.  Last night, at the City Development Committee, the Executive Director of City Development stated that not all comments were added to the Schedule 4.  Who knows?

All these comments get the council response:

‘No modification is proposed to the Plan’

So this ‘consultation’ was to obtain responses which will automatically be dismissed by the council and chucked to the Scottish Government Reporter.  Is this a good thing?  According to our Convener of City Development, yes, as it means that they are

“being presented to a body that council officers do not influence” – and she thinks “That’s what we all want”

So much for ‘local’ ‘community’ planning!

Unlike the Convenor, I have actually read the Scot Gov Planning Circular 6/2013.  The Reporter’s job is not to consider each point for its merit – it is to plug gaps in The LDP to bring it up to minimum standard.  The Reporter will have access to the responses made by companies, groups & individuals – and the council planner’s reasons for dismissing them.  There are mistakes and inaccuracies.  Can we point these out? Nope.

My partner, Stephen, went to work early & dashed back from Glasgow so he could appear as a deputation to the Committee.  (of course the email from the council regarding out contribution didn’t even tell us of this as an option, but luckily we’re wise to these things!)  I was up in the (very cramped & uncomfortable) public gallery, frantically scribbling who said what – as there is NO public record of this at any council meetings, only the bare outline of amendments & who voted which way.

Stephen appeared on behalf of our community group, Kirkton Community & Safety Partnership; and also Dundee Cycling Forum.  He outlined some of the problems we faced with the council’s approach to planning – for example, a site in our area mysteriously appeared in the LDP2, though not mentioned in any previous plan documents, and  we’d never been consulted.  Our concern was rejected as we had ‘not proposed any alternative uses’  That would be because we hadn’t been asked to! 

Another local site has a significant flood risk – details of which had been withheld by both the council planners and the developer.   We requested changes in the LDP2 to improve & update flood information.  How is the Reporter supposed to follow this as we cant even give a reference number to this site as it doesn’t exist on either the LDP2 or current LDP??

Stephen had asked that an amendment be made – to allow contributors the chance to add information before the Schedule 4s go to the Reporter.  This was denied as the Director of City Development stated that there had already been opportunity for dialogue, and that any significant change would mean re-starting the consultation process (note that there’s been no definition of ‘significant’ and the Scottish Government appears to allow for modification of the LDP in response to consultee submissions)

 Stephen quoted the  Scottish Government’s Development Plan Examinations: Practical Guidance for Planning Authorities

(because you’d think they’d know what they were talking about & councils might listen…)

‘Note: Feedback from some authorities, who agreed their summary of the representations with the respondents prior to submission for examination found it a useful task and commended this practice. It provides assurance that the representation has been appropriately summarised.’

Nope – having none of that.  He-who-must-be-obeyed decreed the planners had gone ‘above and beyond’ in all respects of community engagement, consultation and everything else.  Anything that anyone had doubts about would be resolved with the new Planning Bill.

The councillors unanimously passed the Proposed LDP2.

This highlights another important concern.  “Don’t worry, there’s a new Planning Bill coming soon and it will improve these things” seems to be getting bandied about quite a lot.  Is this actually useful to anybody?  Well, except our councillors who can do their standard  ‘We were advised by council officers – our hands are tied’ shrug.

I really don’t think so, because:

a)  Communities will be affected for a very long time by decisions made NOW.  The fact that things might be better for other folk some time in the future is not much consolation.

b)  This ‘Golden Age’ where communities are well-informed and sit around making Place Plans, which will be taken seriously by the Planning Authority and Scottish Government.  How exactly do we get there from here?  The way things are going, magic forces will need to be involved.

For anybody currently attempting to put in representations to a LDP2 consultation, there is this handy guide.  Maybe your local authority told you about it.  Ours didn’t.

When you’re at the hitting-your-head-off-a-brick-wall stage, get in touch with Planning Democracy.  They’re in touch with many of us fellow head-bangers & we can all give you a shoulder to cry on.