Photo of Dave Sutton

Goodbye Dave and thanks

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On 26th May, Scotland’s planning world lost one of its greatest advocates; Planning Democracy lost one of its most energetic and helpful advisors; and I lost someone I have come to regard as a friend. Dave Sutton, one of our mentors and planning advisors, passed away in hospital suddenly on Tuesday 26th May leaving a wife Nancy and daughter Jessica. 

I have only known Dave since 2017 when he contacted Planning Democracy about our Equal Rights of Appeal campaign. I immediately recognised him as someone with energy and enthusiasm for all things planning.  Without hesitation, I emailed our campaign group to say we have someone here who is clearly committed to the cause.  Over the time that I got to know Dave, I appreciated more and more just how dedicated he was.  We all, at Planning Democracy, experienced his strong sense of justice, equality and decency.  He was a true ‘people’s friend’. 

Dave qualified as an Architect in Sheffield and worked later as a Strategic Planning Manager with North Lanarkshire Council.  His knowledge and experience was wide-ranging. He had done so much – from running housing co-operatives to chairing his local branch of Unison.  All this was put to good use when he helped people with their situations.  I don’t know exactly how many people he did actually help, but it was a lot, mainly in Lanarkshire and Glasgow as well as in England. Certainly, he played a big part with Community Council’s in Cambuslang and he will be very much missed there in his own community.  He mentored a number of local individuals, helping them navigate the planning and local authority processes, enabling some to go on and be active community councillors. It seemed that wherever and whenever you met him, Dave was always talking about someone, somewhere, that he was assisting with a planning problem! 

It was logical, therefore, that he would sign up to our peer mentoring project, which he did saying “I’d be very happy to try and pass on what I can from my experience”.  And indeed, he did, in buckets.  He gave people insight into how planning departments ran, what to look for, and how to drill down to the detail.  He always told us to check the planning application form, saying that in all his years as a planner, he never came across one that didn’t have a mistake in it, and that sometimes such mistakes were quite deliberate and worth following up. 

I felt that Dave had found his ‘crew’ in the peer mentors, a group of people who shared his passion and interest in justice and planning, and who were all willing to share their experience to help others.  My main memory of our peer mentor meetings was trying to get everyone out of the door at the end whilst they animatedly talked about planning together.  Dave was always the last to leave and he was always at the heart of these discussions, mainly I think because people were grilling him for advice, information and tactics. 

Dave was very generous with his time, often making the effort to visit people and see the area where developments were proposed. One group of residents told me how he was instrumental in all sorts of ways – from advising them on how to get information from their Council by using Freedom of Information Requests to helping them out with housing numbers on their Local Development Plan. On one occasion he personally came down to their Council and read the planners the ‘riot act’ about failings in the presentation of details about a particular application.

Indeed, with his help, that application had to be withdrawn and resubmitted.  It has been said, by a number of folk, that with Dave no longer here, planners will rest more easily. This is likely to be true! Dave was not frightened to make himself unpopular if he felt something was wrong or unjust. Perhaps the union man in him gave him his dogged determination for fairness. 

If you got Dave onto one of the following topics it was likely you would be in conversation for some time! But he was right about the failure to adopt new roads and about minimum densities and standards of housing and he would make his arguments at any available opportunity and in any way possible. This included his position on Equal Rights of Appeal.  

So incensed was he about the RTPI (the planner’s professional body)’s lack of consultation with members before it made its public stance against Equal Rights of Appeal, that he froze his membership, saying they were in bed with the developers. Thereafter, he signed off his emails as Dave Sutton RTPI, RIAS, RIBA, IHBC!

Dave was an active campaigner through and through. One of our favourite PD moments was watching him slowly and surreptitiously unfurling a hand written placard saying ‘Scottish Planning RIP’ whilst we were giving evidence to the Local Government and Communities Committee on the Planning Bill in 2018. You can still see him do it on the Parliament TV footage. He had travelled along with other PD campaigners in horrendous weather conditions amid the worst of the Beast from the East, to be at that committee meeting and to make his point. It seems appropriate, therefore, to post this picture of him that day inside the Lobby with his placard. 

Dave, we thank you for your kindnesses, your sense of fun and your generosity of spirit. May you, not Scottish Planning, Rest in Peace. 

– Clare Symonds

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