There is always scepticism of how much real influence people have over political processes. After all, unequal access to power is nothing new. But perhaps the Scottish Government is picking up on the what Jeremy Corbyn said, following his stunning first round victory in the Labour leadership contest, that people are “fed up with the injustice and the inequality” of Britain.
Creating a Fairer Scotland is a new initiative from the Scottish Government that invites people to join in a conversation about what Scotland needs to do to address the current inequalities. We applaud this approach and hope that it leads to some really innovative and meaningful solutions to our current crisis in democracy and fairness.
Of course we at Planning Democracy think that planning issues are relevant to these discussions. When people are invited to take part in decision making it helps to shift the balance of power away from the big players such as corporates and large scale developers towards the communities who are affected by these decisions. After all planning affects all of our lives, and it is often the less well off and those who don’t have access to resources who find it hard to influence planning decisions that will have a negative impact on their lives. When those decisions are questionable it is currently only the brave and well off who stand any chance of being able to challenge that decision. Currently the odds are stacked heavily against anyone who wants to go to court.
The Fairer Scotland document puts Access to Justice as one of the core areas (see page 5 of this link). They state that by 2030 they would like to see “access to justice at quick and reasonable cost”.
The potential costs and implications of taking court action to challenge controversial planning decisions is a huge issue that recurs again and again. Not only is taking court action an intimidating and complex process that takes a huge toll on people’s personal lives, it is for most people prohibitively expensive and legal aid is increasingly hard to obtain. Despite Protective Cost Orders designed to limit court costs groups (such as John Muir Trust) and communities (eg in Edinburgh) have considerable difficulty in accessing them.
Furthermore, crucially, court action does not allow people to look at the substance of a planning decision. It does not allow that decision to be overturned. Legal action can only examine how the decision was made, it cannot reverse that decision.
We are therefore asking the Scottish Government to look at Equal Rights of Appeal as part of their Fairness Agenda.
An equal right of appeal would give members of the public an alternative route for a planning decision to be examined and, if necessary, changed. It would also address the problem of excessive costs of Judicial Review (court action) – the only current action available to the public –. Perhaps, most importantly, it would provide a means whereby the quality and merits of a planning decision can be considered.
Please help us to get Equal Rights of Appeal onto the Fairer Scotland agenda by engaging in the conversation and asking for equality in planning. To find out more about ERA go to this link https://www.planningdemocracy.org.uk/2014/equal-rights-of-appeal/
You can go to any of the planned events coming up in October and November http://fairer.scot/events/
Ask for them to put Equal Rights of Appeal on the agenda. It was raised on the agenda at the Fairer Scotland Community Council event earlier this month, scoring highly on the ballot of most important issues raised during the day. However we need far more voices to get it seriously considered by Holyrood.
Want to know more about ERA and our campaigns? Planning Democracy will come and talk to community councils about planning and Equal Rights of Appeal contact us here.