Row after SNP blocks planning equality bid

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Campaigners want to see redress in a planning system which they see as unfairly weighted in favour of developers

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12th November 2018 by Graham Martin 0 Comments

The SNP has been accused of selling out Scotland’s communities by blocking a bid to give them the same right as developers to appeal planning decisions.

Charities, environmental and grassroots groups have been campaigning for the equal right of appeal to be built into new legislation – but this has been blocked by nationalist MSPs.

Campaigners want to see redress in a planning system which they see as unfairly weighted in favour of developers.

Currently, a developer can appeal a planning decision if they are refused permission but a community has no right to appeal against approval of a planning application.

However, at a recent meeting of Holyrood’s Local Government and Communities Committee, SNP MSPs voted against amendments to the planning bill from Scottish Greens’ Andy Wightman MSP.

His amendments, which would have given communities the right to appeal, were supported by the Labour MSP on the committee but voted down by the three SNP MSPs. The Tories abstained.

Wightman, housing spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, said: “Planning is meant to reflect the needs and interests of communities and provide a process for democratic decision making about how land is allocated to different uses.

“This vote was an opportunity to generate real public engagement and establish trust in the planning system. Instead we are back to square one where those who have to live with the consequences of planning decisions have no right to appeal.

"The system has been besmirched by a lack of parity and I will seek to re-introduce my amendments at Stage 3 so that the wider parliament can decide whether or not communities can have an equal say.”

Among those campaigning for reform and planning parity are community councils, RSPB Scotland and the Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT).

Bruce Wilson, public affairs manager at the SWT, said: "Along with other members of Scottish Environment Link we believe the current planning system is unfairly weighted in favour of the developer. Several measures are needed to create a balanced, democratic system that defends our right to enjoy a healthy natural environment.

"These measures include creating a limited right to appeal the approval of developments in certain circumstances, particularly where there is a significant negative impact on the natural environment. We are also keen to see a move to biodiversity policies that encourage developers to incorporate space for wildlife.”

Clare Symonds of campaign group Planning Democracy added: “The lack of an equal right to appeal is seen by communities as one of the most unjust aspects of the current planning system, but when the Scottish Government introduced the planning bill late last year there was no attempt to redress the obvious injustice where a developer can appeal a planning decision if they are refused permission but a community has no right to appeal against approval of a planning application – even if it runs contrary to democratically agreed local authority plans and policies.”

Antony Vitrano, of Kilmacolm Residents Association, which has been campaigning for reform, said: “Without equality of appeals, developers will continue to ride roughshod over us. Those who voted against equal rights of appeal appear to be happy with that.”

This government cannot support changes that would fuel conflict and mistrust

However, planning charity PAS has warned about the “unintended consequences” of allowing “third party” or equal right of appeal on planning decisions.

In a paper on the planning bill, it states: “Third Party Right of Appeal would further widen inequality within our communities by disproportionately favouring those with the money, time and resources to pursue such a route. In particular, seldom-heard voices are likely to be further marginalised.

“It would exacerbate divisions, potentially pitting one part of a community against another, particularly where one part of the community itself is the applicant. A Third Party Right of Appeal has the potential to prevent or slow much needed social development.”

The charity also warns that it may be abused by private companies for ends which are contrary to the public good.

SNP local government minister Kevin Stewart said: “I want people to be much more actively involved in the planning of their areas than ever before, to say what they think and to know they have been listened to. 

“Much more meaningful local engagement and influence needs to happen at the earliest stages of the planning process to capture people’s aspirations for their futures. That is what our planning bill will, and must, do. 

“This government cannot support changes that would fuel conflict and mistrust by tagging more appeals onto the end of the planning system and acting as a disincentive to the investment our communities need.”