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This blog is an update on (some of!) what we have been up to recently and a review of progress of the Planning Review. You can also find out about Clare’s marathon achievement.

  • A successful event and a thoughtful discussion with MSPs in Holyrood


Geraint Ellis, Clare Symonds and Mike Adams at our Progressive Planning Parliamentary Event

 Planning is a complex subject. It affects almost everyone in Scotland and can be one of the most important, meaningful and stressful things the public engages in.”

These were the words of Mike Adams from Aberdeenshire as he spoke to MSPs at our Parliamentary Event in October. Mike was one of three speakers (along with our own Clare Symonds and Professor Geraint Ellis from Northern Ireland). The audience was a mixture of MSPs and their staff from every single party at Holyrood, and they had come to hear alternative perspectives on Scotland’s Planning System.

Mike spoke eloquently of his experiences of his community’s active engagement with the planning system during the most recent Local Development Plan process. He described the huge toll in terms of time, energy, money and emotional stress that was wreaked upon him and others. He also spoke of the problems associated with repeat applications and the damaging effect that this has on public trust in the system.

All three speakers spoke about the deep imbalance of power in the Planning System. Developers not only have access to enormous resources which are way out of reach of impacted communities, they also have access to legislative instruments which are denied to the very communities the planning system is set up to support. Time and again developers can put forward sites for planning permission knowing that, if they get knocked back, they have a right to appeal – just “another weapon in their arsenal”.

These aren’t concerns that are new to us. We have heard them from communities all across Scotland and we did all we could to ensure these concerns were front and centre in the Planning Review Process. At this event, these concerns were being voiced directly to the very people who will vote on the proposed reforms of the Planning System.

In total, twelve MSPs attended the event and several others sent representatives. They are listed below, so if they cover your constituency or region, please do write to them, thanking them for coming to hear about a progressive alternative to the current planning system, and urging them to support Equal Rights of Appeal.

We had a very fruitful discussion, and were pleased that all of the MSPs present expressed a real interest in our points and many voiced their support for our campaign for greater fairness and equality in planning.

With the White Paper due to be published in the near future, it would be helpful if you could contact your MSPs and tell them that you support Equal Rights of Appeal. Please scroll down to ‘Take Action’


  • Participation in Planning Review Working Groups


As part of our contribution to the Government’s ‘inclusive’ process of planning reform, we participated in the Planning Review Working Groups. This involved attending a workshop over two days.  The results of the process should feed into the White Paper early next year. Two representatives from Planning Democracy went along to our specifically assigned topic groups on ‘Community Involvement’ and ‘Development Planning’. The facilitators seemed well briefed and experienced in their field and there was a definite welcoming air as we arrived. However, with the wide range of stakeholders, the amount of information and complexity of the topic matter to be discussed it was clear it would be a challenging two days.

The key issue for us was that we were barred from speaking about appeal rights for communities. It is curious just how strenuously this message was conveyed to everyone at the start of the process. Indeed, Equal Rights of Appeal was the only topic that was off agenda. This was stressed, not only by the Chief Planner, but also by the Planning Minister, with a few official eyes turning pointedly in our direction as the instructions were plainly laid out.

It was not the best start, but over the next two days, we participated in discussion about how to carry forward the recommendations of the review panel (even if you didn’t agree with them!).  It was noted in our group (not just by ourselves) that there was less representation of the community sector than might be expected of a working group on community involvement. Thankfully there were some pretty sympathetic professionals attending and we had some good discussions.

Of 107 people attending the working groups, only ten represented communities.  Contrast this with the nine representatives from Homes for Scotland, five from the Scottish Property Federation, and the remainder from the planning professions.

Some of the recommendations of the review concern Community Councils, but it seemed that little effort had been made to include them. There were four apparently randomly chosen individual Community Councils (one of whom had actually tried to find out why they were selected and failed). We wonder why no representatives from Federations of Community Councils were invited, or indeed why other Community Councils that had responded to the review were not invited. The list of invitees included no other community groups apart from one Community Development Trust. Considering that, of the 391 responses to the Planning Review written consultation, 163 were from the community sector this doesn’t seem smack of particularly proportional representation. It does make you wonder how the invitation list was drawn up. You can find the full attendee list here.

We have now received the write up of the working groups from the facilitators. Most of it relies on the post-it notes and, as such, much is open to interpretation and fails to capture the essence of the rich debate in our groups. It was also interesting to note that, presumably for reasons of speed and efficiency, we were not allowed to comment on the report, even for accuracy, once we received it. The report is time-consuming to read, and it is pretty difficult to see what is going to come out of the whole process.

One example is the question of community-led plans and how they might be incorporated into Local Development Plans successfully. The recommendation of the Review Panel was that communities should be empowered to bring forward their own ‘place plans’ which should form part of the Local Development Plan. This is a laudable aim and one that Planning Democracy supports.

For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of local place plans a recent report from the Scottish Community Alliance may help to familiarise you and give some insight into the different types of community-led plans and their various successes.

How these community-led plans or Local Place Plans, will be developed and how relationships between Community Planning Partnerships, communities and planners will change to allow true co-production of plans is not addressed. Call me a cynic but the suggested protocols and gate checking procedures will do nothing to transform our planning system and deliver the cultural shift required to truly empower communities to define their own places.

Meanwhile the ‘Barriers to Community Engagement’ research is in full flow with Yellow Book carrying out the research.  Our hope is that the team will look deep into the issues including the current inequalities and provide more than the superficial study of ‘how to engage hard to reach groups’ which the tender outline proposes. The consultants are asking a series of questions and will be conducting interviews and discussion sessions from 14th to 17th November.


  • Marathon Success!


Clare running the Glencoe Marathon

Clare completed the Glencoe Marathon on the 2nd October. Despite having sustained a hamstring injury the week before, not wanting to let any of her generous sponsors down, Clare managed to complete one of Scotland’s most gruelling off-road mountain marathons in 6 hours 12 minutes. She came 74th out of 131 ladies, not bad for an old gal (sorry Clare!!) She has raised just short of £3000 for Planning Democracy which is fantastic, but if anyone wants to top it up to the round figure we would be really grateful. You can still donate here

Take Action

  •  Take part in the Barriers to Engagement events
  • Sponsor Clare’s successful marathon here
  • Tweet the SG @ScotGovplanning asking them to consider an Equal Right of Appeal or to tell them what you think about any other aspect of the planning reforms (NB The Scottish Government have said that they will also use Twitter polls to inform their thinking on the Planning Review). For more information about what we think on the Planning Review recommendations see our briefing
  • Write to your MSP’s (List and Regional) asking them to support an Equal Right of Appeal for communities (see here for a pro-forma-letter-to-msps-on-era and here to find out who your MSP is)
  • Thank the MSPs below for coming to our progressive planning event in parliament and encourage them to stay involved. If your MSP is on the list below, amazing! If not, please get in touch and let them know that you care about the Planning Review, and you think Equal Rights of Appeal are an essential safeguard to the role of the planning system in ensuring development is in the public interest.

You could also send your own copies of Mike, Clare and Geraint’s speeches if they couldn’t attend.




List of MSPs Who Attended ‘Progressive Planning for People and Places’ on September 29th

Alison Johnstone, Scottish Green Party, Lothian Region


Andy Wightman, Scottish Green Party, Lothian Region


Elaine Smith, Scottish Labour Party, Central Scotland Region


Monica Lennon, Scottish Labour Party, Central Scotland Region


Claudia Beamish (representative), Scottish Labour Party, South Scotland Region


Graham Simpson, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Central Region


Ross Thompson, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, North East Region


Gordon Lindhurst, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Lothian Region


Brian Whittle, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, South Scotland Region


Adam Tomkins (representative), Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Glasgow Region


Gordon MacDonald, Scottish National Party, Edinburgh Pentland


Sandra White, Scottish National Party, Glasgow Kelvin


Richard Leonard, Scottish Labour Party, Central Scotland Region


Willie Rennie, Scottish Liberal Democrats, North East Fife




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