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Jockeying begins for Scottish planning bill

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August 16 2005

Planners have responded to criticisms of the new Planning White Paper in robust fashion. After leaks from the Executive, Friends of the Earth Scotland have suggested in the national press that the new planning document leads to over-centralisation of the planning system, with control of the National Planning Framework in the hands of politicians to too great an extent. “Friends of the Earth are a campaigning organisation, and they’ve got the bit between their teeth, but they’d do well to go back and rethink their support of the third-party right of appeal. They say the new structure will bring more centralisation but a third-party right of appeal would do the same thing. What way do they want it? They’ve got to be careful they don’t contradict themselves,” said Grahahm U’Ren of The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI).
Although the paper insists that, “the aim of improving the levels and quality of public participation in planning has been one of the two major themes of the planning modernisation process since devolution,” environmental campaign groups claim that there is less democratic accountability in the proposed system outlined in the document. “They are giving with one hand and taking with the other. The public is being encouraged into participation on the local plan, but there is no point in public arguing because certain issues have been established in National Planning Framework. There may be more opportunities to participate, but less meaningful opportunities. If you are going to give people rights, give them real rights,” said Siobhan Samson, planning and development officer for Friends of the Earth (FOE) Scotland. The official line of FOE Scotland is to receive a third-party right of appeal, a facility not included in the current legislation governing planning. “This is until we receive more information about exactly what kind of ‘parliamentary scrutiny’ the NPF will receive as suggested in the paper,” she said.
Giving the example of a nuclear power station, Samson suggests that while FOE Scotland would currently be able to appeal against the issue, in the future it will not be able to. “We could challenge need or environmental impact at a local level now. It would have been granted permission but we’d still be able to argue the toss in front of an independent reporter. If this paper becomes law there wouldn’t even be a debate apart from the colour of side-railings,” she said. The RTPI denied that the proposed legislation would lead to centralisation. “They won’t centralise things that need planning permission anyway. It’s only about major projects that need infrastructure development,” said U’Ren, emphasising that the inquiry that questioned the M74 was not for planning purposes but occurred under the Roads Act. He added that Scottish Ministers can call any application in at any time.

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