Scottish Government told to fix unpopular planning laws

Housing and Local Government Minister Kevin Stewart
Housing and Local Government Minister Kevin Stewart
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The Scottish Government must improve proposed new planning legalisation or risk defeat, opposition parties have warned.

MSPs backed the general principles of the Planning (Scotland) Bill by 107 to four in an initial vote at Holyrood but significant reservations were expressed across the chamber – with Liberal Democrats voting against the Bill.

Local Government Minister Kevin Stewart was urged to alter the legislation as it 
continues its passage through the Scottish Parliament.

Concern focused on who should be allowed to appeal decisions and how much control the legislation gives to ministers.

Tory MSP Graeme Simpson described the Bill as a”power grab” warning it was “very centralising”.

He said: “There’s little in this Bill that we like, it pleases no-one but the Scottish Government.

“House builders say it doesn’t deliver for them, environmentalists say it doesn’t deliver for them, communities are unimpressed, it’s centralising, it’s all about the minister.”

He said that the opportunity existed to “rip this Bill apart and produce a planning act that delivers”.

Labour’s Monica Lennon said the Bill was “a missed opportunity”, citing concerns including “a centralising tendency throughout” and “half-baked” plans for an infrastructure levy.

“We are clear the Bill will require significant amendment at stage two to make it fit for purpose,” she said.

Andy Wightman, for the Greens, said: “Many people submitted evidence to Parliament arguing that the Bill should be bold and transformative. The Bill fails to deliver any of these aspirations, it concentrates further power in the hands of ministers, pays lip service to genuine public engagement and removes valuable strategic planning powers. Substantial amendment is required.”

Lib Dem Alex Cole-Hamilton said the Bill “relegates local authorities to consultees” and “fundamentally undermines autonomy and accountability”.

Holyrood’s Local Government and Communities Committee has said the planning shake-up does not go far enough to tackle community frustrations with the system, but did not take an explicit view on giving communities an equal right of appeal on decisions.

Convener Bob Doris said he was not personally in favour of such a move, but added: 
“Our committee was not persuaded that the Bill improved enough on previous attempts to 
front-load the planning 
system and was not convinced that proposals in the Bill go far enough to address that.

“We want people to feel involved in the planning system at all stages and we urge the Scottish Government to look at these issues before stage two.”

Mr Stewart said: “It’s clear that people sometimes feel frustrated by the planning system and that is why the Bill seeks to ensure members of our communities can have greater and earlier influence in how their areas will develop. Stronger engagement at the outset will be much more constructive than adding adversarial appeals at the end. There’s already too much conflict and mistrust in the system.

“A third party or equal right of appeal can only add to that and that would run entirely counter to the positive collaboration pursued through the Bill.”