People Powered Planning Conference Report

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On the 11th May 2019 Planning Democracy’s People Powered Planning: Putting Communities on the Front Foot Conference was held in Glasgow’s Trades Hall.

Here is a report of what happened with links to some of the presentations.

But first a huge thanks to all who came and took part and for their engagement and input. It was an impressive show of commitment and interest in the topic matter that so many people came on a sunny Saturday and stayed until the very end. The feedback and comments made to politicians show Planning Democracy are on message with the public voice in planning. MSPs working on the planning bill really should be listening to us and giving people equal rights of appeal.

The collective message of the day was that the planning system is not working, it is not delivering the right developments in the right place, it is not protecting our environment, it is not enhancing our places, it is not inclusive, it is weighted towards people with money and developers with large pockets, it is not fit for purpose and it needs to be radically changed.

Many delegates agreed that the Scottish Government needs to radically transform the planning Bill if it is to convince people  that they are genuine when they say they want a Fairer Scotland for all that values and protects our environment for the future.

A total of 100 delegates came to the conference. We received 40 feedback forms, all of which gave very positive comments. Every aspect of the conference received good feedback and seemed to have been appreciated from the speakers to the speed dating and workshops.

“Very worthwhile, All the topics in the workshops were highly relevant”

“Good choice of speakers and workshop leaders. I liked Andy Inch’s presentation a lot.”

“Of course.  Thank you all so much for all the work everyone has put in to make this possible”

“Yes, interesting, informative and well run”

“Very much so! Unfortunately, I have been ill and just not well enough to have made the most of it, but so glad I came all the same”

The conference was attended by people from a wide geographical range including Isle of Lewis, but generally most people came from the central belt. We had representatives from a number of cities including Dundee, Glasgow, Edinburgh, but also rural locations. They mostly represented the community voice, however, we also had a number of legal and planning professionals.

Report of Proceedings

The conference included community speakers from different campaigns in Scotland telling the audience of their experiences with planning.

Val Crookston from Kilmacolm speaking on behalf of the Kilmacolm Residents’ Association.

Val graduated as a teacher, just as the education department discovered they needed fewer teachers than they’d trained! She began working in Glasgow Parks Department, designing nature trails on pieces of ground next to schools and conducting primary school children around these trails. The rest of her working life was spent supporting people with disabilities, running her own training and consultancy business and 3 years ago she retired (early ?) from a charity which relieves isolation for older people. Val has always had a passion for natural history and conservation and is a is a keen gardener and photographer. She has lived in Kilmacolm for 32 years and over the years has been instrumental in preventing development on several wildlife sites in the village.

Val shared Kilmacolm resident’s story of fighting for their Greenbelt, countryside, and village identity, against private developers. It was a story about land banking and developers waging a war of attrition. The story included many of the developer tactics to try and gain approval from putting in applications for housing just below the threshold of 50 houses to avoid requirements on major housing developments repeat applications and multiple appeals. Another set back was when officers recommended their greenbelt be released for development. This was confirmed when the local development plan was published. However, the residents organised themselves using facebook groups, petitions and advising residents how to put in responses, drafting an extremely well written dossier and speaking with councillors, which resulted in having their greenbelt reinstated in the LDP. The group have received assistance from Planning Democracy peer mentor volunteers and this has been invaluable. However, despite all their work their greenbelt remains under threat from multiple applications. We wish them well and will continue to work with them.

Bill Fraser from Pollokshields Community Council  and Pollokshields Development Trust

Bill has been a community activist since opposing unwanted development through the ‘Save Pollok Park’ campaign. As Chair of Pollokshields Community Council, Bill and Niall Murphy undertook the first community-led charrette in Scotland which resulted in a draft Local Plan for the Pollokshields area in 2016. Unfortunately it has never been adopted by the local authority. He strongly believes planning decisions should only be taken within an agreed local context . Bill is also active at a national level on Participatory Budgeting and reformation of Local Democracy.

Bill Fraser from Pollokshields Community Council and The Pollokshields Trust spoke about how their community seized the initiative in response to local authority apathy towards their local area. They formed the Pollokshields Trust with ‘Nothing about us without us’ as their strapline as a community organisation able to implement charette findings . Bill described the neighbourhood of Pollokshields as having two distinct areas. The more historical west side with its villa developments, and the area that their project focussed on in the tenemented east side where there are issues with contaminated and vacant land as well as the area being dominated by heavy traffic. It is an area which has a mixed population and is high on indices of multiple deprivation. In 2015 the community council conducted a community-led charette, (the first in Scotland following the Community Empowerment Act). Despite a written commitment from the planning authority to consider the findings the document itself was unadopted by the Council and still lies gathering dust on a shelf. However the process helped the community to submit a detailed submission to the draft local development plan. The charette showed what they wanted for the area and also gave them some influence over subsequent housing and other developments. The Trust later also took the initiative by submitting a planning application for abandoned greenspace despite the fact the land was in private ownership. Consent was granted for five years because it was already designated as greenspace in the City Plan. This is one to keep an eye on.

Nick Kempe from ParkswatchScotland

Nick Kempe is a social worker by trade who has campaigned on access and conservation issues for over 20 years.  As President of the Mountaineering Council of Scotland he helped negotiate the agreements with landowners which led to our access legislation and with other voluntary organisations which paved the way for the creation of Scotland’s National Parks.  He went on to serve on the Board Member of Scottish Natural Heritage when it was developing the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.   He is co-editor of Hostile Habitats, Director of Paths for All and a member of the Executive Committee of the Scottish Campaign for National Parks. Three years ago, in response to concerns about what was happening in Scotland’s two National Parks, he set up a blog parkwatchscotland.  He has been campaigning on planning issues within our National Parks ever since, from hill tracks and hydro schemes to the Cononish goldmine and Flamingo Land.  

Nick talked about campaign to oppose  Flamingoland. He explained how different the political context is nowadays from when the planning system was first enacted in 1947 in a post war ERA when there was the creation of NHS and welfare state. However, we are in the neoliberal era, where business and its supposed trickle down benefits affects all decisions, making it hard to change things. However, we are currently going through further changes of climate and species devastation awareness and perhaps the response to Flamingoland shows how people do care and how things need to change. Nick explained the point of having national parks is to be different from other areas, otherwise he asked what is the point of having them? However he showed a few slides of current land use in the parks which are not in keeping with the ethos of the national parks.  He showed some of the industrial uses, the proliferation of hilltracks and hydro schemes that are put in for profit with no regard for landscape and wildlife. He also explained that lack of transparency and enforcement are key issues in planning with the national parks.

Nick explained in detail the proposal for Flamingoland which has now raised 53,000 objections. When application was lodged the narrative was that the application would be good for Balloch, where the landscape was post industrial and would bring jobs. He explained how a huge resort would detrimentally affect a small local business which will be lost of Flamingoland goes ahead. Other concerning aspects are the height of the development and a lot of built development all along the shore.

Other concerns he voiced that raise issues for how planning is done are that LLTNPA is far too close to Flamingo Land, having sat on the interview panel which appointed them as preferred developer, and allowing them to submit a revised Planning Application which is far below what we should expect in a National Park. He said that the Main Issues Report consultation received very little attention in contrast to the huge number of objections to the application itself, which demonstrates where people find it easiest and most appropriate to get involved. Drumkinnon Woods were not earmarked for ANY development in the Local Development Plan.  But Scottish Enterprise tried to smuggle Drumkinnon Woods into the plan at a very late stage. Yet Flamingo Land is still trying to claim that all this application is in accord with the Local Development Plan including the large number of holiday chalets in the woods. But the point is that the aims of the NP are about conservation and sustainable development, but Flamingoland doesn’t fit it at all. He also found that the charette process was somewhat farcical when in this case decisions had already been made before consulting the community. For more information about Parkswatch and Flamingoland check out the parkswatch website.

Clare Symonds chair of Planning Democracy spoke about the planning bill.

The planning review started in 2015.  We and many others were taken aback when Alex Neil the then planning minister announced a review as it was not long since the 2006 act which was still bedding in. It is generally agreed that this was in response to pressure from the volume house builders. Nicola Sturgeon declared that there was to be a root and branch review. Developers saw this as an opportunity to streamline the system, making it easier for them to use. We saw it as an opportunity for a holistic review.  However, when the Bill was published in 2017 following the consultation and review process, it was clear that the narrative was very much about making the planning system more efficient, there was little in it for communities. The much vaunted local place plans were a mere distraction rather than an opportunity for communities and in fact opportunities to engage in development plans were being reduced rather than enhanced. However, due to the pressure from our campaign and the make up of the Local Government and Communities Committee who were overseeing the Bill (which comprised 4 opposition party member but only 3 from the SNP) there was a change in the narrative to favour communities and looking at ways to improve development. The result was a very much amended bill, in fact the most amended bill since Holyrood began. We are now awaiting stage 3 which is possibly taking place in mid June.

We urge people to continue to fight for ERA to be included at this stage and to contact their MSPs to vote for ERA at stage 3 which will take place mid June.

Andy Inch from Sheffield University

Andy Inch is a lecturer in the Department of Town and Regional Planning at the University of Sheffield. His research focuses on the politics of planning and urban development, including issues around public participation and planning reform in Scotland. He is currently interested in exploring how we imagine and shape the futures of our cities and how participatory research can contribute to more equitable and sustainable planning. He is a comment and reviews editor for the journal Planning Theory and Practice and European editor of International Planning Studies. He is a trustee and valued advisor at Planning Democracy.

Andy’s talk will be posted as an online blog post very soon.

Daya Feldwick Planning Democracy’s Community Networker

Daya spoke about Planning Democracy’s community network and the new mentoring programme. Presentation is here.

Daya explained that PD have a network of 200 or more very active people. The network is not one where people just ‘like’ us on facebook, but we have a very active membership all of whom are doing something with us either on campaigns or as part of our new peer support network. Initially some people get in touch with planning inquiries and then get further involved. Others get in touch wanting to help with lobbying MSPs on the planning bill. In addition, we have collected over 70 case studies of communities of campaigns and communities who have planning issues.

PD have recently got 1 year funding to develop a peer support network. We started our Peer support network because we saw the value of people helping each other out. This is now being formalised as part of the project funded by the People’s Postcode Trust. For more information go here.

Following a Q&A session we all went for a much needed lunch.

This was followed by an energising networking session or speed dating, where people were given a few minutes each to talk to each other and then move onto the next person. The session worked extremely well and gave people an opportunity to identify people they could speak to later on, who shared experiences or could provide help.

The final two sessions were workshops that lasted 50 minutes each. Here are details of the workshops.

  1. Community Empowerment Act and Asset Transfer for Communities: Linda Gillespie Community Ownership Support Service. This workshop covered the sustainable transfer of public assets into community ownership.  It highlighted the community rights provided under Part 5 of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 and focussed on the characteristics of successful asset transfer.

You can access the powerpoint presentation here

  1. Development Plans and Appeals Process: An overview of the development planning process, the application appeal process and some practical tips. Dan Jackman Senior Reporter Department of Planning and Environmental Appeals.

Notes for the workshop can be found here

3. An Introduction to Judicial Review and Environmental Impact Assessments: Dr Ben Christman and Ian Cowan.

Notes on EIA’s can be found here and the judicial review guide can be found here

4. Planning at sea: rising to the challenges of marine planning in Scotland: Nick Underdown Open Seas and David Fairlie Coastal Trust

The marine workshop presentation is here

5. Wildlife and planning: Aedan Smith RSPB and Arina Nagy-Vizitiu Woodland Trust.

The presentation can be found here

6. Is Planning for Profit or People? Have Planners been able to resist neoliberalism or have they been a tool of the markets? Matthew Crighton Friends of the Earth Scotland. Workshop notes can be found here

Many thanks also go to our terrific band Steve and Antony from ‘Clouds Above’ who came to play and added a little extra to our conference. Planning Rocks!

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