A step in the right direction, or a token gesture, community councils in Edinburgh to receive up to £300 to help deal with major planning applications.
Community councillors across Scotland are expected to play an active role in the planning system – influencing development in their area and representing local opinion. This is a mighty task for chronically under-resourced volunteers.
Yesterday, City of Edinburgh Councillors were discussing ways to support community councils, including a new fund that provides grants of up to £300 in the run up to major planning applications (MPAs). This certainly looks like a step in the right direction and we welcome the recognition that communities require more resources than they currently have in dealing with planning issues. But will money alone lead to genuine improvements, or is the Council’s move misplaced?
Last December we posted an article lamenting the loss of Edinburgh’s Old Town Community Council. After years working to represent their community’s interests, OTCC’s members resigned en-masse in protest because despite very proactive work and having tried to engage in the system their efforts were not recognised and they felt ignored.
As they explained, a key issue leading to their resignation was the total lack of support from the council when dealing with MPAs. Sifting through thousand-page documents, with only a few weeks to come up with technical recommendations on complex developments that the community councillors felt would likely be ignored anyway, was placing an increasingly overwhelming burden on members. This is a feeling shared many other community councillors who have spoken to Planning Democracy.
With this in mind, perhaps we should be heartened by the council’s steps to redress this situation, the financial assistance up to the value of £300 is there to help mobilise local communities in the run up to MPAs. Indeed, the money may go some way to helping address the public’s engagement that many CC members see as a major hurdle in achieving community-centred progress. Nonetheless, as anyone who has ever faced a major development in their area can testify – £300 is simply not enough to provide any real benefit. This is especially true if one considers the time, resources, expertise and access to planning officers that developers generally have at their disposal when placing applications.
Ann Coleman (MBE), an active member of Greengairs Community Council and a long term member of PD, expressed her cynicism at the move, which she feels seriously undervalues the scope of the work and efforts of CC members. She gets “angry about what is expected from people who don’t have the relevant expertise, who do it all in their own time with no payment and the difficulties caused by trying to work out details and implications of plans and convey them to the local community to find out their reactions.”
The CEC’s move, although well intentioned, fails to address some fundamental issues. Members of the public face a number of substantial disadvantages when they try to engage with the planning system. A real solution would be to address community’s lack of technical expertise, experience, time, access to information and influence, unfortunately a problem not solved throwing in a few hundred quid.
Are you a community councillor? What support does the Council in your area provide when there is a major planning application in your area? Feel free to add a comment below.