Trust responds to Scottish Government's Planning Bill

Trust calls for planning amendments to meet public demand for equal right of appeal

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The John Muir Trust is calling for the Scottish Government’s Planning Bill, published 5 December 2017, to be amended to reflect public demand for a fairer planning system which adequately recognises environmental and social concerns, as well as economic aims. 

Helen McDade, Head of Policy at the John Muir Trust said, “The Bill appears to move Scottish planning regulation even further away from providing adequate landscape and environmental protection. Despite strong public support for protection of Wild Land Areas from inappropriate and damaging large-scale infrastructure, the Bill as stands gives Scottish Ministers almost carte blanche in making the final planning decisions on industrial-scale developments, rather than clarifying the detail of how public concerns about their landscape will be properly reflected.

“Public opinion, often expressed through community group submissions, clearly favoured a rebalancing to give fair weight to local communities’ concerns as opposed to developers’ wishes.  In particular, an Equal Right of Appeal for communities had very significant support and the Trust is disappointed to see that this Bill seems to bring in a further centralising of control over planning. The Bill does have an ambition to improve local involvement with a new layer of public engagement, called “Local Place Plans” (LPP).  Unfortunately, as the Bill is written, these will have little official status and so members of the public may spend time and effort developing Local Place Plans only for a Local Development Plan, signed off by the Minister, to enshrine plans which are at odds on significant matters with the Local Place Plan.  If the Local Place Plan responses do not get properly considered, it is likely that people may feel powerless and angry at planning decisions.

“Another centralising move in the Bill removes the Local Authorities’ right to produce Supplementary Guidance.  Supplementary Guidance has, in the past, often clarified what local councillors, planners and the public feel are their areas’ special environmental factors, which should be taken into account when planning applications are being considered.  The removal of such guidance significantly decreases Local Authority involvement and input into their area.

“In a previous planning policy revision, the Scottish Government consolidated all the individual planning policy documents which applied to particular areas of interest, for instance natural heritage, into one Scottish Planning Policy.  This removed planning process detail which was useful to both Applicants and interested members of the public.  Subsequent Supplementary Guidance was a way of addressing such detail but now that is also gone.  All this risks adding up to further, unaccountable Ministerial decisions on issues better decided at a more local level.  Developers’ assertions of economic gain should not be allowed to override the environmental and social factors.

There will now be a period of debate and amendments, before the legislation comes into force. The Trust will work with politicians across the parties and other organisations to raise awareness of the urgent need to improve protection for wild land and highlight the strength of public support for this. The Scottish Government will need to demonstrate that it cares about protection of the environment and is listening to communities.”

Find out about about our campaign to Keep it Wild

Planning (Scotland) Bill: see the Bill and associated documents on the Scottish Parliament's website