In response to our fairly frequent requests to the Minister responsible for planning (Alex Neil) for a comprehensive review of public participation in planning, we have been told repeatedly;
“There are no plans at present to review implementation of or changes resulting from the planning reforms of 2006”.
So we were somewhat surprised when last month Nicola Sturgeon announced a root and branch planning review. We guessed it would have repercussions for our petition on Equal Rights of Appeal and as predicted, yesterday the Local Government and Regeneration Committee postponed any action on our petition until after the review (despite our requests otherwise).
This makes the review all the more important to us. The main focus of course is on efficiency and the removal of any barriers to the ‘delivery of high quality housing developments’. Our concern is that this will be at the cost of democratic engagement and will preclude any serious consideration of the community involvement element in the review.
A three person panel, chaired by Crawford Beveridge, (a Government economic advisor and industry veteran) has been appointed to provide a strategic perspective and are said to be open to game changing views and ideas.
The panel includes Petra Biberbach of Planning Aid Scotland (PAS) and John Hamilton of the Scottish Property Federation. Notably the RTPI have said they are disappointed by the lack of planners on the panel. We would echo those concerns and feel that the panel is neither impartial nor balanced. The interests of property development are clearly represented but we wonder how such a small panel can feel legitimacy can be achieved with all stakeholders, especially community groups who are not represented at all.
Our first step was to write to the planning review panel before their first meeting on October 12th to ask them to include a review of public participation in planning and to consider looking into appeal rights. We also asked for repeat applications and enforcement to be considered as well. You can read our letter here. The panel has now published their list of questions for people to respond to as part of the review.
What is interesting about the questions is that they are incredibly wide ranging, from general questions such as “How can planning improve the quality and scale of housing delivery?” to specifics “What is the role of the penalty clause in the Regulatory Reform Act?” Some questions seem to be pretty far fetched and quite worrying “Do we need development plans?” and “What are the long term prospects for the planning profession in Scotland?” while others we welcome, particularly as the panel seem to have responded to our requests to include repeat applications and enforcement issues.
As you will see the panel has not included a question specifically about reviewing appeal rights, so presumably they are not particularly open to the question of an Equal Right of Appeal. Well no game changers for communities there then, unless we could interpret the “Do we need to change the system to ensure everyone has a fair hearing in plan and decision making?” as a potential opener. We wonder how open minded the panel would be to any sort of suggestions regarding more equality for communities in terms of power and influence. The final question the panel ask is
“Is it possible to improve public perceptions of planning?”
We think that it is, but the best way to do this is to show clearly that the public matter and that the panel is serious about addressing the current serious inequalities faced by the public and on really improving public participation. Whether the review does this remains to be seen. You can be sure we will be putting in our evidence. We are offering workshops and help to anyone wanting tips or advice on how to respond.
Here is the full timetable for the review