Fairer Scotland

Collaboration over conflict – the only way for a modern Scottish planning system

October 30, 2018 by 9 Comments | Category Uncategorized

As stage 2 of the Planning Bill continues, the Local Government and Communities Committee will soon be looking at rights of appeal in planning.  This is about whether any person should have a right to have the decision reviewed, in the same way that the applicant can.

This might sound simple, but it is not.

Proposals to change rights of appeal in planning are not new; nor are the arguments for and against. There were calls for a third party right of appeal – now sometimes called an equal right of appeal – during the last Planning Bill back in 2006.  There had been a detailed consultation prior to that, and Parliament decided against it.

When talking about equal rights, we need to remember that the planning system was devised to have elected bodies – local authorities and Ministers, and the officials who work for them – balance the broad public interest against the private interests of applicants.  The right for applicants to appeal has been, and remains, a vital element of that balance in the planning system; and it has proven its value in ensuring much-needed development of homes, facilities and other places our society values can proceed.  Appeals are decided by Government reporters working independently. Their professional decisions look afresh at all the circumstances of each case.

I can see why people might be attracted to the idea of adding a new round of appeals for objectors.  But we need to be careful not to conflate what is essentially an extra procedural step with some means to stop unpopular planning decisions.

The community view in planning is often portrayed as being the opinions of those who, for whatever reason, object to new development in their neighbourhoods.  But there are plenty of people within our communities who want development to happen; in places where homes and jobs are badly needed.  Places right across Scotland.

As we might expect, the construction sector is strongly opposed to an equal right of appeal.  They take investment risks and have much to gain or lose from planning.  They are also best placed to highlight the scale of impact on the construction sector and investment in Scotland.  But many planning professionals also oppose it.  Planners are trained to be objective, using rational judgement and evidence to inform decisions about development and use of land that are in the long term public interest.

The case for an ‘equal’ right of appeal is often made around ‘big business’ with substantial resources being too strong for communities to resist.  But people, businesses and organisations of all sizes apply for planning permission every day, and they all would be directly affected by the delays that a further appeal against an approval would introduce.  Impacts that put essential investment in Scotland’s communities at risk.

Many of us benefit every day from past development, in almost everything we do.  I want planning to lead the delivery of quality development and good placemaking that makes a positive contribution to society for many years to come, so that our future generations can also benefit.  That’s what our package of planning reforms is all about.

I am aware of scepticism among some about early engagement in development planning.  I am convinced though that this is the key to achieving positive change in the planning system.  This early stage of planning is where there is a real and meaningful opportunity for constructive collaboration, and for capturing people’s aspirations about the future of their places.

The Planning Bill, including amendments that the Committee has already agreed, will strengthen community engagement at all stages in the process.  This means a stronger focus on engagement in working up national planning policies and local development plans; including with older people and disabled people, with children and young people, with Gypsy/Travellers and with access panels.  New statutory guidance on effective community engagement will be produced.  And there will be stronger development plan schemes and enhanced local pre-application consultation about major development proposals.

Perhaps most significantly, people will be able to prepare plans for their own places.  The Bill will ensure that these are taken seriously by planning authorities, who will encourage and support communities in preparing their plans, maintain a register of them and take them into account in their local development plans.

Planners, and planning authorities, have a tough job to do – but it is a vital job.  Planning is charged with ensuring the development our communities need can be made to happen, and that sometimes means making difficult decisions.    The coming changes to the planning system will do much more than ever before to ensure that people get involved in decisions about the future of their places; to be, and feel, properly empowered to influence the development plans and decisions.  People can be much more confident that those views will have been listened to.

The Committee is about to consider amendments to the Planning Bill which could add conflict between some local people, developers and local authorities.  Instead, I hope that the Parliament will work with me to ensure that the opportunity we all have to work together in the long-term public interest will not be lost.


Comments

  • Jacqueline Bell says:

    Very disappointed in today’s committee meeting. So many examples of our local community being ridden roughshod over by developers who can appeal whilst we cannot. We engaged with the Local Development Planning process but saw a Reporter add in a controversial development at the request of the developer.. we found out from the local paper as there was no dialogue with the Community Council or residents. So often Reporters have allowed developments that have created problems that the community has to live with.. e.g. lack of infrastructure. People woll not engage in planning if they feel that t will go through anyway. The system is skewed to developers. We are losing agricultural land to housing. Perhaps the Minister might like to visit East Lothian and view some of the planning disasters.

  • Daphne Vlastari says:

    Dear Minister,

    I am reading this with interest having followed the Planning Bill debates. I note that this blog post appears on the Scottish Government’s ‘Fairer Scotland’ section and yet your post makes no reference to fairness. The word does not appear once.

    Scotland’s recently revised National Performance Framework says: “We live in communities that are inclusive, empowered, resilient and safe”. I wonder what meaning this actually has when you refuse to consider granting one of the key tools that will make communities feel empowered – empowered to help shape the places they love and live in.

    It continues to baffle me how when studies done for the Scottish Government confirm the lack of confidence in the system by local communities (‘Barriers to community engagement in planning’), your views as presented here do not touch on the issue. You do not mention the appeals by communities to you personally, to the Government at large or MSPs. I note however you mention the views of the construction sector. So much for fairness.

    I wonder have you talked to the construction sector in countries where there are equal rights of appeal? Do they feel jobs and development have been put at risk? If you look at the evidence, in terms of how many decisions are appealed via a community right of appeal, you will see that it is not the case. Indeed, I don’t think anyone would think that Ireland or Australia lack development (or growth or jobs!). I would also urge you to look at opinion polls carried out by the National Trust for Scotland which show overwhelming support for introducing an equal right of appeal.

    You talk about ‘collaboration over conflict’ – but are not appeal rights for developers a source of conflict? They appear when local planning authorities and/or their Councillors have rejected a planning application and the applicant seeks a second chance (for free) to see whether the Scottish Government’s reporter will decide in their favour or against. Is it not a source of conflict when a planning application is approved on appeal even though it goes against the local development plan (enhanced as it may be through the new Planning Bill provisions in terms of community engagement)? What will you say to communities then? Indeed, what are you telling them now?

    Is this part of your vision for a ‘Fairer Scotland’?

    Indeed, was this the SNP vision when a member’s bill was brought on this very issue by one of your MSPs only a few years ago? Was equal rights for communities a good thing back then but not now?

    You make reference to the historical context of appeal rights. May I remind you that appeal rights for developers were only introduced as a way to sugarcoat the fact that landowners would need to get permission to build on their land? At the time the idea was to have this as an interim measure. This was back in the 1940’s.

    Dear Minister, if this article reflects your views and those of this Government, I fear that your minds are also stuck in the 1940’s. This is deeply worrying when the SNP Government wishes to build a fairer and more inclusive Scotland. For what can be fairer and more inclusive than giving our communities an equal say about the future of the places they live and work in?

  • Kathleen Weetman says:

    Fairer Scotland. There is no fairness in not printing a calm quiet answer to the Ministers blog. So last chance before tomorrow. If not complaint to Parliament….

  • Kathleen Weetman says:

    Fairer Scotland. Where is my comment which should be seen before Committee on Planning sits tomorrow ?

  • Kathleen Weetman says:

    I left a comment.Where is it please?

  • Kathleen Weetman says:

    Dear Minister,
    Sadly you are incorrect in several of the statements you make here. Those who ask for Equal Right of Appeal are not “anti development”. In fact in my area and others I know well ,we are in fact very “pro-development.” We wish planners to develop our area in a way that communities are part of the system and have equality with those who wish to develop it. Locals know the area better than anyone else. They know what development will enhance their lives and keep them happy and healthy. They know all about the failing centres which will improve with proper regeneration of brownfield and gap sites.
    You are minister now, because people voted for you to be their MSP and represent their views in parliament. Then you earned this role. We ask you to do what all Scotland’s communities need …i.e. equality before the law in planning matters. It is immoral AND UNFAIR, that the developer has more rights than the individual or community in planning .If we truly live in a democratic country, then everyone should have a level playing field in cases such as this.
    MSPs…..I call on you to see it as a matter of Conscience that a vote for ERA is another vote towards democracy for every person…. and not affected by pursuit of developer’s needs, over individual people’s rights. Calling for ALL PARTY votes to carry this amendment.

  • Lesley Gibson-Eaglesham says:

    This is an absolute disgrace! Local communities have to live with the results of these decisions. Not the people on the relevant local planning committee or the Scottish Government Reporters. All we want is a level playing field- the same right of appeal as the developers are given. I think that our human rights are being denied. Perhaps we, as the local communities, should be looking for a HR lawyer to investigate this for us!

  • Lynn Watson says:

    “The development our communities need” – well, I think that sums it up really. You’re telling us we’re too wee and too stupid to know what’s good for us! That’s a bit ironic…

    Having been through the appeals process, no-one in their right mind would want to do it. It takes a ridiculous quantity of time and energy – and the developers roll out their consultants – and slag you off personally in their response. The DPEA Reporter refused the appeal. Why? Because it was contrary to the Local Development Plan. Something we’d been saying for nearly 4 years, but no-one listened to us.
    And that’s as an (alleged) statutory consultee – which has been ‘engaged’ (and ignored!) from the word go.
    As for ‘holding up’ developments – we’re the one’s pointing out that this speculative have-as-many-shots-as-you-like approach is encouraging rich developers to keep pursuing sites which communities value, while allocated housing sites lie derelict for a decade. That’s what’s holding up house building in Dundee.

    Having jumped through all the hoops of the Planning Committee & appeal, our big developer is now throwing its cash at the Court of Session. And this is for a site which was promised to the community as open space – we have that in writing, but apparently that counts for nothing in the planning system.

  • Ann Coleman says:

    Early engagement doesn’t work as there is no accountability for how it is assessed or not in the decision making process. Representatives from 5 adjacent community groups in my area came together, put together proposals for the future of our local environment. We were successful in influencing both structure and local plans and the land use designation was changed to reflect our participation. However, a developer came along with another bad neighbour development contrary to the structure and emerging local plans and it was approved – with no mention of our involvement by either planning officials or planning committee. The Minister refused us a Public Inquiry as he felt decisions should be made by locally. So don’t be fooled by the empty promises of early engagement – unless we also have an equal right of appeal.

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