Dissenting Voices Left Out in the Cold?

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The Government responded to the planning review with their planned programme of action yesterday. They  announced their intention to move swiftly and bring about reforms fast. It listed 10 key actions to be taken forward as priority and said they will be consulting on a White Paper in the Autumn with a view to new legislation in 2017.

 

Meanwhile over the course of the summer there is to be more detailed work done with some of the other recommendations. The Government state in their paragraph entitled  ‘Our commitment to ambitious and inclusive planning reform’

 

“We are encouraged by the supportive feedback from stakeholders [our emphasis] following publication of the panel’s report. We also recognise that others may dis agree with some of the panel’s recommendations.

 

Our view is that this report is a significant and positive step in enabling planning to better support our communities and economy. As the panel have thoroughly considered the evidence, we do not intend to re-open the debate on what should be done, but to focus instead on how improvements could be delivered. We want to move forward constructively and swiftly  building on the recommendations to develop improvements for the benefit of future generations”.

 

Government responses are usually pretty well thought through, which leaves us wondering whether they really mean to imply that anyone who disagrees with them will NOT be recognised as a stakeholder?  Maybe we can expect to be tossed onto a rubbish heap of bothersome people who bring up irritating issues of equality and try to raise the issue that planning is progressively being reshaped in the interests of a powerful group of development lobbies that it was designed to regulate. Does this suggest that those who are calling for real change to the system and a review that explores the competing interests and identifies the real barriers and inequalities will be left out of the discussions?

 

We certainly hope not.

 

But having said that we’re also aware that since 31st May when the review panel published its report, there have been plenty of closed doors discussions and ‘breakfast seminars’ where those in the inner circle (Homes for Scotland, Scottish Property Federation and the like) have discussed the review and shaped perceptions. Such elite discussions are one of many informal ways in which well-paid professionals get together to influence policy change before the great unwashed are allowed in on it.

For communities and Planning Democracy supporters of most significance of the 10 key actions is point 9

“(we) confirm that, in line with the panel’s recommendation, we do not intend to introduce a third party or equal right of appeal”.

The Government’s banishment of ERA isn’t overly surprising for anyone who followed the planning review and are familiar with the panel’s recommendation 46 that dismisses an Equal Right of Appeal. However PD think it is poignant that they think it is sufficient an issue to include the statement as one of their 10 “key actions” (and the longest bullet point at that). This could either mean that they know it is a big issue for the public and are trying to pre-empt a backlash…or that lobbyists are pushing the government to make a statement agreeing with the recommendations to hammer home that it is a non-starter.

The rest of the Government’s Action Point 9 states “we do not intend to introduce a third party or equal right of appeal. We will instead focus on more effective methods of engaging people, including the use of innovative techniques such as 3D visualisation”

As one of our supporters wrote and said to us “I am not sure on what planet 3D visualisation would help to counter the injustices that so many are facing in this system. But it is more than a little insulting that they have addressed it in such a blasé fashion”.

Another supporter said “do the Government seriously think that a gimmick like 3D visualisation is the answer to effective community engagement?”

 

We will certainly attempt to engage positively in the Government’s proposed collaborations. But we are worried that this response sends a thinly veiled message that this will only be possible on Government’s own terms and it remains to be seen whether we will be allowed into the party. In the interests of fairness we hope they will allow us to continue putting forward our well thought through, well researched evidence and give it the consideration it deserves. Perhaps if they allowed us to enter the debating arena and give our arguments the same sort of air-time that the development lobby is allowed, they would find that the Planning Democracy community has much to offer a collaborative debate.

 

Certainly we have plenty of positive things to say about some of the planning review’s propositions such as recommendation 44

“Communities should be empowered to bring forward their own local place plans, and these should form part of the development plan”

and recommendation 15

‘Mechanisms for planning authorities to take action to assemble land and provide infrastructure upfront should be established as soon as possible’

and Recommendation 47

‘A working group should be established to identify barriers to greater involvement in planning, taking account of measures contained in the Community Empowerment Act and the Land Reform Act.’

 

In particular, we believe that it is vitally important, that the membership of such a working group includes the voices of communities and works in a truly inclusive and deliberative fashion. We would recommend that some form of a ‘citizens’ jury’ set up is allowed so that evidence can be taken from all sides and cross examined. We would also ask that there is a commitment to a full government response and debate in parliament on their findings.

 

It is clear, PD supporters, that we need to work together to make sure YOUR voice is heard. We need you to help us in this collaboration, to work with us, your MSPs, your local authorities (who are increasingly becoming a marginalised voice in the planning world) and we will very shortly provide information that spells out clearly what our PD priorities are in this post review period, with briefings to help you speak with your elected representatives.

We have been gathering some key supporters recently with Daya, our newly appointed Community Network Officer, please contact her if you can help us (you may not think you have the time or expertise, but we can make it as speedy and easy as we can for you to help us).

 

 

 

 


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Clare Symonds

Clare Symonds is the Chair of Planning Democracy.

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