Open letter about the Scottish planning process

Public trust in the planning process around major infrastructure developments is at an all-time low.

Sir,

Public trust in the planning process around major infrastructure developments is at an all-time low. And it’s not just about windfarms; a snapshot of letters pages and online media on any given day reveals angst and suspicion stemming from the sacrifice of areas of wild land, natural heritage, historic landscapes and greenbelt to commercial priorities.

It is understood that difficult decisions need to be made for the good of the nation and the planet. Yet, at a time when community empowerment is supposed to be in the ascendant, it ironic to see the honest concerns expressed by local communities, and those united by the desire to conserve our most important natural and cultural assets, swept aside in an unequal battle with powerful commercial interests. As has recently been observed, even the Scottish Government itself has been shown to disregard its expert advisors.

This situation cannot continue and it is in everyone’s interests to find a way forward.

If we are to rebuild public confidence in the planning process and in the objectivity of Scottish Ministers responsible for making such decisions, then we must find a way to demonstrate absolute transparency, impartiality and fairness. Doing so would help those affected by planning outcomes to accept unpalatable choices.

We propose that fresh impetus be given to revisiting the current planning system with a view to improving existing procedures, potentially through the creation of a body or process that is truly  independent of government. The goal would be to ensure clear, neutral adjudication over controversial planning applications where there could be significant impact on important landscapes, natural heritage interests or local communities.

We accept that there are many questions to answer over how any new arrangements would be established, who would oversee them and so forth; but it is a discussion we must have soon if we are to find a way out of the morass of confusion and recrimination that characterises the present system.

Change would obviate the need for ill-funded individuals, communities and charities to take on lavishly-subsidised developers in the courts where they can rely upon the best advocacy money can buy. It would also create a level playing field on which the needs of nature and communities can be weighed alongside other priorities.

We invite the Scottish Government to join with us in an open discussion based on our suggestions.

(Signed)

John Mayhew, Director, the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland
Stuart Brooks, Chief Executive, The John Muir Trust
Brian Linington, President, Mountaineering Council of Scotland
Peter Willimott, President, the Munro Society
Sir Kenneth Calman, Chairman, the National Trust for Scotland
David Thomson, Convener, Ramblers Scotland
Stuart Housden, Chief Executive, RSPB Scotland
George Menzies, Chairman, Scottish Rights of Way and Access Society
John Milne, Co-ordinator, Scottish Wild Land Group