Our planning system is undemocratic

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Petra Biberbach of PAS (formerly Planning Aid for Scotland) praises our influence on planning proposals (Friends of The Scotsman, 5 May).

The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill may help, but current processes undoubtedly favour council executives over the public – and ordinary councillors who must maintain a Trappist silence, maybe for years, before councils vote, particularly when councils are both developer/applicants and regulators. This prevents proper two-way discussions of facts and preferences between us and our councillors. It prevents councillors from disputing council assertions, canvassing or even assessing public opinion, and correcting manifest errors, misleading statements or partiality.

It prevents experienced independent groups from debating well-founded arguments in public or even private with councillors.

It can allow false or misleading statements, or opinion masquerading as fact, to gain traction among the public, leaving vital questions unanswered or answered in a manner favourable only to councils’ own proposals.

It can deny councillors full timely information, allowing insufficient time to absorb vast documentation packs before voting.

“Take-it-or-leave-it” exercises can be portrayed as “public consultation”, real concerns ruled “out of order”, and costs ignored as “not a planning matter”, unless (mis)represented to favour councils’ proposals.

Even on major long-term projects impacting other critical council policies, there may be no like-for-like comprehensive assessment of two options (an obvious prerequisite for any valid evaluation) in a fit-for-purpose professional process, with high levels of robust evidence objectively applied early enough to correct flaws before being set in stone, and subject to rigorous quality control review at each stage.

It induces frustrated disillusion among the knowledgeable or concerned public over the quality, objectivity and equity of the decision-making process. Others are fatalistic about changing any council decision or assume “the council must know what it’s doing”.

While applicant/developers have rights of appeal against planning refusals, objectors have none against approvals, with expensive court action their only remedy.

Sauce for councils’ geese is not sauce for our ganders! Planning democracy is long overdue.

John Birkett

Horseleys Park

St Andrews