First step towards Equal Rights Achieved
This week we are celebrating the fact that the Petitions Committee heeded our request to refer our petition to the Local Government and Regeneration Committee. The LGR committee has a busy workplan ahead including finishing up the Community Empowerment Bill. We hope that they will find time to read the all the many submissions to our petition and realise that the issue of appeal rights merits consideration.
A year ago the committee scrutinised the National Planning Framework and Scottish Planning Policy, a process in which we gave evidence. The committee may not, therefore, feel inclined to carry out further discussions on planning issues that they may think have been discussed. But we would disagree strongly if this is the case. There seems to be an assumption from Government, HOPS and the property industry that the current planning system is achieving a proper and effective balance and that the planning reforms have fulfilled its promise to offer communities more influence over planning decisions. Our case studies and all the research we have done indicate that these claims are not the case.
We would highlight to the committee that there has been no attempt to review whether the changes introduced by the 2006 Planning Act to improve the public’s influence have been successful.
The time has come for this to change.
We would also draw the committees attention (as did the Scottish Community Alliance in their submission) the mismatch between the aims of the Bill and the lack of a community right of appeal. The Community Empowerment Bill aims to empower community bodies through the ownership of land and buildings strengthening their voices in the decisions that matter to them. If the Government are really serious about strengthening people’s voices then they need to give them proper channels to affect decision making. The case studies of Viking Shetland, Craighouse, and An Camas Mor all clearly illustrate that people’s attempts to influence planning decisions are clearly frustrated by a number of issues. They highlight the challenges that confront individuals and communities seeking to engage with a complex system. Each case study shows that important public interest concerns were not fully addressed within existing procedures. These are not simply the frustrations of parties who did not get what they wanted from the system. The case studies provide examples of three valid and important concerns: the process is extremely complex for all parties involved; failure to fully explore key issues, particularly those raised by communities; and the lack of opportunities for scrutiny of issues and/or decisions.
That this situation persists despite nearly fifty years of experience of engaging the public in planning matters suggests that there are serious problems with the existing framework and approach. We believe that this reflects a fundamental inequality between different participants in the process. ERA would be a significant step towards remedying this inequality.
The committee will be deciding what its workplan will look like after the February recess next week.
- We request that they initiate an independent inquiry into experiences of the planning system from a community perspective.
- We ask that the Committee ask the Scottish Government for further information on what information the Government holds on the experience of third parties who participate in the planning system, and how the planning system contributes to delivering the National Outcome: “We have strong, resilient and supportive communities where people take responsibility for their own actions and how they affect others”.
- We ask that the Committee agree to inviting witnesses with experience of planning systems in other jurisdictions with equal rights of appeal to provide evidence to the committee.
If you want to help get Equal Rights of Appeal you can write to any of the committee asking them to act on our recommendations.
The committee MSPs include
Kevin Stewart convenor SNP Aberdeen Central
John Wilson deputy convenor Independent Central Scotland
Alex Rowley Labour Cowdenbeath
Cameron Buchanan Conservative Lothian
Cara Hilton Labour Dunfermline
Clare Adamson SNP Central Scotland
Willie Coffey SNP Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley