Champions of Scotland!

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championIf you keep in touch with Planning Democracy through our facebook page you may be aware that we have been going around the country giving talks and meeting people to discuss their planning experiences. We have been to Midlothian, Aberdeen, South Lanarkshire, Ayrshire, Glasgow and the Cairngorms. Our talks have mostly been organised by our Planning Democracy Champions and I want to thank them for their help in enabling us to speak to over 200 people as a result. It is clear that there are a lot of people with very similar concerns as was made clear in our conference a year ago. The trick is to unite all the voices around the country to create a call for change that is hard to ignore. An isolated individual who raises concerns is easily dismissed, a few more voices can pump up the volume, but a united chant of people demanding fairness and equality from every part of the country is hard for politicians to ignore especially right now at election time and undoubtedly increases our leverage.

Our network of PD Champions is beginning to grow and soon we will be taking on paid staff to help us develop this area of our work as a result of some funding support from the Network for Social Change and LUSH as well as some very generous donations. We think the network is crucial to getting the changes we are demanding by creating waves of community action all over Scotland.

So what does a PD Champion actually do?

One of our incredibly active champions has been doing some strategic national campaigning using  his own local planning issue as an example. The community in and around Scolty in Aberdeenshire are particularly vexed (as many of you are) by the problem of repeat applications and aggressive developer tactics. These are two aspects of the current model of planning that we think are certainly NOT acceptable. The community near Banchory have been subject to a developer openly boasting of his ability to wear them down by using every advantage that the planning system offers. The developer, in this case Sandlaw Farming, have made use of their ability to appeal the Council’s locally popular decision to reject their application for 400 houses (the development has received the highest number of objections that an application has ever received in Aberdeenshire according to a recent FoI). The high number of objections is testament to the organised nature of this community who have set up an extremely effective website that is very enlightening for those who want to respond, but don’t have the time to figure out all the complicated aspects of the planning system and application before they do so (for example the varying amount of housing proposed in the different applications, proposals and masterplans for this site).

The developer then pulled out of the appeal last minute to make use of their right to put in a free, almost identical application for the same site.

Why does a developer get another free go when his application has already been rejected unanimously by the local authority?

The local authority does have powers to refuse to determine repeat applications, but only if more than one similar application has been made in the previous 2 years.  This does not apply to this case….yet, but as the developer has threatened to continue to repeatedly apply for permission until he gets what he wants, it may be only a matter of time.

There are other examples of repeat applications in South Lanarkshire where Patersons of Greenoakhill lodged an appeal against refusal on a planning consent for a sand and gravel quarry on the Clyde flood plain at Overburns Farm, Lamington. Two versions of the plan had already been rejected by South Lanarkshire Council, and the Reporter had rejected Paterson’s appeal against the council’s decisions. In her submission to the planning review (which was based on a survey of her South Lanarkshire constituents) the local MSP Aileen Campbell (who was, for a brief period, the Planning Minister) referred to this site when suggesting repeat applications needed looking at as part of the planning review.  This is also an example of aggressive developer tactics where disturbingly in a letter apparently obtained by the Lanark Gazette, Patersons wrote to the Council threatening to withdraw funding from community projects unless the council dances to their tune. Happily the council on this occasion refused to be swayed by this type of pressure.

Anyway, back to Mike our community champion in Aberdeenshire, who has taken on these issues by contacting his MSP candidates to get their stance on planning reform, aggressive developer behaviour, repeat applications as well as Equal Rights of Appeal. He is planning to send out 800 letters to his campaign address list letting everyone know where the candidates stand. This is an excellent example of what all PD supporters can do to make planning an election issue and to raise awareness amongst MSPs of the anger and disquiet amongst Scotland’s communities around the inequalities and unfairness of planning in Scotland.

Not only that, Mike has had a meeting with his MP who submitted information on the community’s behalf to Alex Neil  (the Scottish Minister responsible for planning matters) asking him for a response on why there are loopholes in the repeat application rules, what he will do to tackle aggressive development behaviour and create Equal Rights of Appeal. Imagine if the Minister (who has stated he has concerns about repeat applications) receives a whole host of letters from MSPs and MPs on behalf of their constituents. Those of you, who are not yet too cynical about our current political system, might believe this will lead to some form of change.

Some communities are less well-resourced to take on the issues at this kind of level, not everyone has Mike’s campaigning zeal or time to understand how planning works and the wider policy implications. Our aim, however, is for the PD champions to assist others, to provide encouragement to others, be it practical help, a layman’s explanation or possibly just reassurance and emotional support to those going through a tough time. We do not under estimate the impact that planning has on people’s lives and recognise that this kind of personal support is often needed. How often have I listened to people talking about their planning problems only to be thanked at the end for the much needed counselling session? We currently provide help on a fairly informal basis by putting people in touch with each other. We have tried out other ways to see how best one community can help another by putting in requests for information and help to our online forum. But thanks to folk like Mike, who has already assisted other communities to understand and engage with the development plan process we may just build up a coherent and more formalised supportive community network of champions, especially now that we will have a new network officer.

You can see Mike talk at our meeting in Aberdeen about being a community champion. (video link). If you are willing to put your name forward as a community champion, please do contact us or fill in our form.  You may be willing to organise a talk on planning and Equal Rights of Appeal, you may be able to visit your MSP and ask them for help in getting change or you may be willing to support communities who are finding it hard to grapple with planning problems but lack the expertise and specialist help that other communities have within their midst. Together we can make a difference.

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