Fears planning process weighted for developers

Conservation groups are claiming that community views are often ignored. Picture: PA
Conservation groups are claiming that community views are often ignored. Picture: PA
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CONSERVATION bodies and outdoor groups have warned ministers that Scotland’s planning system has become a “developers’ charter”.

A host of organisations have expressed concerns about the speed at which new and unsuitable buildings are constructed against the wishes of many people.

Their fears have been outlined in a series of documents submitted to the Scottish Government’s newly established review of planning, which is being chaired by Crawford Beveridge, the successful industrialist who also chairs the Scottish Government’s Council of Economic Advisers.

The proliferation of wind turbines, the construction of dormitory towns and the erosion of green belt land are among the issues raised by organisations as Beveridge and his panel consider around 350 pieces of written evidence.

In its submission, the John Muir Trust, the charity specialising in protecting Scotland’s wild places, claimed the system “does not appear to be 
delivering community engagement and, at its worst, can appear to be a developers’ charter for getting major planning proposals embedded in the system before the communities are fully aware of them.”

The Trust said that pre-plan consultations “often seem to be a ‘box-ticking’ exercise” and added that communities did not have strong enough rights of appeal against controversial decisions made in favour of developers.

It also claimed breaches of planning conditions were going unchecked. The Trust supported a contribution made by Planning Democracy, a voluntary group campaigning for fair planning.

Planning Democracy said it was concerned that “developers can win a war of attrition by repeatedly putting in proposals for the community and local authority to respond to.”

The National Trust for Scotland urged the government to encourage local planners to built on neglected urban sites rather than farmland.

The NTS document said: “We are concerned [at] the erosion of green belt within the Lothians and the implications of this for other parts of Scotland ...This represents both a loss of amenity and of prime agricultural land.”

It also flagged up the “environmental concern” arising from the creation of a “commuter culture” by continuing to build homes which are “disconnected from places of work”.

The environmental pressure group Scottish Environment LINK Planning, which includes the RSPB, said it was concerned that views of ordinary people were being trumped by developers.

“The system is still hugely weighted in favour of the interests of the promoters of development rather than the interests of the public as a whole,” the group said. “The default position is often that a development should happen unless there are overwhelming reasons for it not to progress or it is ‘bad enough to refuse’.”

Last night a Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “There have already been significant improvements to the planning system as a result of previous modernisation, and the current review will deliver a quicker, more accessible and efficient planning process that works for everyone, especially local communities.

“Community engagement is an important part of the planning process and this is reflected in its inclusion as one of the six themes to be addressed by the review.”