Planning decisions should be made with local input, says charity

Members of charity Planning Democracy are set to give evidence on a petition they lodged at Holyrood to change planning laws so that ordinary Scottish people get a fair say over planners’ decisions.

The group’s Equal Rights of Appeal petition is a response to growing concerns from ordinary people from all over Scotland, who have found that much touted reform of Scotland’s planning laws, implemented in 2009, has made little difference to their ability to influence the planning process.

Planning Democracy has found that thousands of people from Shetland to Galloway feel disempowered, and unable to influence what happens in their own areas, after the charity consulted with over 100 Scottish communities on the issue.

Growing numbers are convinced that the system permits bad planning decisions to be made because it fails to give locals an equal right of appeal.

To redress this problem, Planning Democracy is calling for Holyrood politicians to introduce Equal Rights of Appeal into the Scottish planning system as soon as possible.

In advance of the Scottish Parliament Petitions Committee where the Equal Rights of Appeal petition will be considered by MSP’s, Clare Symonds, Planning Democracy Chair, said ,”The current situation leads to development being strongly dictated by market forces. This can lead to bad planning decisions being made.

“We know of many appalling cases where local people have been ignored, or have not had the opportunity to have their say at all, even when the decision-makers - their local authority or the government – have a vested interest in an approval.

“Sadly, there is little evidence that the new planning system has improved the quality of planning decisions being made or brought more balance towards social or environmental justice, as was hoped.

“Instead, all too often the regulations become a box ticking exercise which consists of the developers commissioning hundreds of pages of technical information and holding a few “consultation” meetings which may do nothing to improve a fundamentally unacceptable development.

“People don’t want to be “consulted” and then ignored – they want local views and any good evidence they bring forward to make a difference for the better. Equal Rights of Appeal could be a major step forward.”

Currently, the planning system only allows the developer a right to appeal a decision when their application is turned down.

But if a development is approved by planners, people who may be very severely affected by the development have no similar right of appeal, even if hundreds or even thousands of people object to a planning application.

Often the only way for ordinary people to challenge unpopular planning decisions is to take legal action. This can be prohibitively expensive, lengthy and stressful for ordinary people. Even when more organised groups manage to challenge a decision in court the process can take months to resolve the dispute.

This is why Planning Democracy is campaigning alongside local community groups to fix the system and have this injustice addressed.

Helen McDade, a Planning Democracy member, added, “Sometimes business organisations suggest such an Equal Right of Appeal, would slow down planning consents and development. We have reviewed the evidence from other countries such as Eire, where ordinary people already have similar rights and we have concluded the evidence does not support these claims.

“And actually, since legal action, Judicial Review, is the only recourse for groups excluded from the appeal process, there are a growing number of cases which show that this brings more uncertainty, delay and cost than a fairer, more speedy appeal system would entail.

“At the end of the day, I’m sure what everyone wants is good planning decisions taken, not just fast ones which everyone can regret at leisure.”

When this issue was last addressed, in a consultation on third party right of appeal in 2004 by the Scottish Government of the day, as many as 86% of respondents were supportive.

However, the Communities Minister at that time, Malcolm Chisholm MSP, said that the Scottish Executive did not intend to introduce a third party right of appeal on the grounds that the revisions being undertaken in the Planning (Scotland) Act 2006 would address the unfairness. (He stated that the: ...white Paper does not propose a third party right of appeal. Our aim is to strengthen the participation of local people from the outset of the process in order to make the system fairer and more balanced; to avoid building new delays and unpredictability into the system, which could add costs to development and act as a deterrent to investment in sustainable growth; and to strengthen rather than undermine local authority decision making.)