Scots planning bill criticised for putting developers before communities

The new Scottish planning bill, hailed by the Executive as "the most fundamental and comprehensive reform of the planning system" since it was created in 1948, has been attacked by campaigners for being unfairly biased.

Communities Minister Malcolm Chisholm has said the Bill was a once in a lifetime opportunity for reform that will be more efficient and inclusive. Campaigners, such as Friends of the Earth, however, said the Bill was imbalanced and gave more rights to developers than to local people and communities.

Mr Chisholm said the new bill was a key tool for supporting the economy and growing Scotland in a sustainable way.

"These reforms will encourage engagement and openness; not confrontation or imposition. They will support investment in jobs, in essential infrastructure such as housing, schools and hospitals; and in the regeneration of our communities," he said.

Under the new Bill, local authorities will be required to maintain up to date, relevant and accessible development plans, that, the Executive says, will have been drawn up with the full participation of local people and with a full assessment of their environmental impact.

"This is a whole new approach that will work in the interests of our communities and our environment and ensure that we do not miss out on much needed investment," Mr Chisholm said.

He added that there had been extensive consultation since publication of the White Paper 'Modernising the Planning System' in June and, as a result, the Executive will introduce a range of additional proposals, including:
  • new obligations for the planning system to contribute to sustainable development;
  • a formal role for the Parliament in drawing up the National Planning Framework;
  • new measures to ensure greater transparency in the handling of local authority interest cases;
  • additional proposals on enforcement of planning control.

    Friends of the Earth Scotland's Chief Executive, Duncan McLaren said he welcomed the ambition of the proposals but that for communities to have the confidence that the system will genuinely meet their needs, they need not just rights of consultation, but genuine rights of participation.

    "Without even limited Third Party Rights of Appeal they cannot enjoy that confidence," Mr McLaren said. "These proposals sadly suggest the Executive has still not been listening to communities - which simply reinforces their legitimate concerns that rights to be consulted are not enough to guarantee that their views are properly taken into account."

    Mr McLaren conceded that with the resources to make it work, the bill could be a step in the right direction, however, he said: "We believe the addition of Third Party Rights would make it work even better by creating a real incentive for effective consultation and quality development. That in turn would mean that only a handful of cases would ever need to be appealed by communities."

    "The National Planning Framework still lacks genuine opportunities for public involvement and scrutiny, enabling Ministers to bulldoze through controversial developments."

    "Overall the proposals in the Bill are very complex, and despite some welcome changes, they do involve the removal of some existing community rights in the planning system. There remains a very real risk that these reforms could be a planning disaster for many communities. Our fight for a fairer planning system is only just beginning."

    David Hopkins

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