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Scottish planning minister digs in over appeal reforms

Words: Roger Milne
Kevin Stewart / Scottish Parliament

Scottish planning minister Kevin Stewart has this week faced a barrage of calls for changes to the appeal system with some form of third party or community right of challenge.

Stewart though, insisted the government had no intention of amending its proposed planning legislation.

During a debate on the Planning [Scotland] Bill in the Scottish Parliament, opposition MSPs lined up to call for the reform of the appeals system.

To coincide with the debate more than 80 community and environmental groups wrote to the Scottish Government asking for equal rights of appeal in planning, arguing that communities should be able to challenge planning decisions.

Signatories include community councils, local activists, and groups such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Scottish Wildlife Trust.

“There is a significant lack of public confidence in planning,” the letter says. “It is therefore imperative that amendments are introduced to the Planning Bill to give communities a greater say and better rights over how Scotland is developed in future and to restore our trust in the planning system.”

The planning minister was unmoved. He told MSPs: "I have made the Scottish Government’s position on appeals very clear and I agree entirely with the independent panel’s views that stronger engagement at the outset will be much more constructive than adding adversarial appeals at the end. There is already too much conflict and mistrust in the system and a third party or equal right of appeal can only add to that, which would run entirely counter to the positive collaboration that is pursued through the bill.

Scottish Conservative housing spokesman Graham Simpson said the bill was "all about power".

He complained: "This bill only pleases the SNP government. Housebuilders say it doesn't deliver for them, environmentalists say it doesn't deliver for them, and communities are equally unimpressed.

"People feel planning is not working for them and that's something we have to change. That's why this bill needs ripping apart so we can produce an act that delivers."

Labour MSP Monica Lennon commented: “Previous attempts to front load the system and to improve community engagement at the beginning of the process have not been successful.
“I agree that we need to strengthen the plan-led system. However, if we are to do that, it is necessary to equalise appeal rights. That would afford communities a limited right of appeal for situations in which an application that is not in accordance with the development plan is approved.”

Green MSP Andy Wightman said public trust in the planning system had been "eroded", and said "serious changes" needed to be made if the bill was to pass.

He said the bill as it stands "concentrates further power in the hands of ministers, pays lip-service to genuine public engagement and removes valuable strategic planning powers".

Image credit | Scottish Parliament