Environmental NGOs urge MSPs to support bold changes for a fairer Scottish planning system, ahead of critical debate in Parliament

29 May 2018

Ahead of the Stage 1 debate on the Planning (Scotland) Bill (Tuesday 29 May, 14.20), Scottish Environment LINK members welcomed interventions by MSPs in support of reforming our planning system so that it empowers communities and delivers for our environment.

“At a time when the Government’s own research concluded that there is ‘a lack of trust, respect and confidence in the system’ and that ‘the system is not considered to be fair and equitable’, a business as usual approach is not an option. We can’t afford to just tinker around the edges of planning.

“We are thankful to the Local Government and Communities Committee which did an extraordinary job in highlighting concerns and areas of improvement in the Bill. They have heard environmental NGOs, community groups and over 1,200 Scots who wrote to their MSPs asking them for real changes in planning for a more sustainable and fairer Scotland”, said Aedán Smith MRTPI, Convener of LINK’s Planning Group and Head of Planning and Development at RSPB Scotland.

“Planning is how we test our commitment to policy goals on the ground. Planning regulates the spatial manifestation of those ambitions across our country. Scotland was one of the first countries to sign up to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, we cherish aspirations expressed in the National Performance Framework about wellbeing, community empowerment and environmental protection, and are proud of our natural environment and its importance because of its intrinsic value, as highlighted by the First Minister in a recent speech. If we are serious about making Scotland a fairer, more sustainable and more inclusive society, we need to legislate for it in planning”, added Aedán.

“Scotland’s communities have been more active than ever before asking politicians for an equal say in planning. A lot of the debate has focused on the absence of community voices when it comes to appeals, largely because there was little opportunity to air those issues when the Bill was being developed. We are encouraged by the Committee’s conclusions that ‘the availability of appeals to applicants undermines confidence in a plan-led system’ and believe that our proposals for a limited right of appeal with practical and enforceable criteria can address these issues”, said Clare Symonds Deputy Convenor of LINK’s Planning Group and Chair of Planning Democracy.

“We do not accept that equalising appeals will make Scotland less competitive – it will simply promote the right kind of development. Arguing that x amount of houses or other infrastructure went ahead via appeal when planning authorities had ruled them out is not an argument in favour of appeal rights for applicants, it is simply an illustration of how the appeals system today is compromising our shared commitment to planning on the basis of agreed plans – a principle supported by Scottish Government – and disenfranchising those communities participating in planning decisions in the process”, added Clare.

Prior to the Stage 1 debate, over 85 community councils, environmental charities and academics wrote to Minister for Local Government and Housing Kevin Stewart asking him to reconsider the Scottish Government position on appeal rights.

A week earlier, community groups, led by Planning Democracy, gathered in front of the Scottish Parliament and raised their own development to showcase how important it is to have a say over their local places.

Community groups calling for an equal right of appeal reflected on the planning bill and their experiences engaging with Scottish planning:

Ann Coleman from Greengairs in North Lanarkshire said:

“Our local, adjoining 5 community groups including Community Councils participated fully in the previous review of the Planning and Development system.  We did everything that was asked of us and succeeded in influencing the Structure and Local Development Plan Land use Designation for our area.  We were told that early engagement would give us influence over our environment – it didn’t – a developer who didn’t engage in the early stages still had their development approved despite the fact that by that time it was contrary to the emerging Development Plans and land use designation. We were ignored and told that there would be no Public Inquiry.  We had done as the system asked of us and still we had no voice. There is no change in the current review that will resolve the inequalities in the system or make the public voice accountable without the inclusion of an equal right of appeal.

The Basics haven’t changed, Culture Change based on developing “mutual respect and understanding” hasn’t been delivered nor is it mentioned in the present review as relevant to change despite the fact that communities that are still being disrespectfully called “Nimbies”. The Language still isn’t public friendly nor are the processes or the resources, the review falls short of what is needed to deliver effective public involvement and influence.”

A spokesperson for the Save Bishopbriggs Canal Greenspace Campaign n East Dunbartonshire said:

“Thousands of people oppose the Jellyhill development because it is inappropriate and too dense for the setting of the Forth and Clyde Canal. The planned over-development of the area will have major implications on local amenities and traffic. Despite being unanimously refused by East Dunbartonshire Council’s Planning Board, the developer appealed to the Scottish Government and won their appeal. The local community remains concerned about issues of subsidence. Unfortunately, local knowledge of the area was discarded in favour of the developer’s plans. Astonishingly the developer’s plans do not fully conform with local plans and policies, yet currently planning policy does not allow the local community the opportunity to appeal. How are communities supposed to trust and have confidence in a planning system that disregards concerns of communities that are inflicted by unsuitable developments? This is planning by imposition not consensus, and it’s not democratic. We ask the Scottish Government to rebalance the current unfair system in favour of communities.”

For more information, about the Planning Bill please contact:

Aedán Smith MRTPI, Convenor of Scottish Environment LINK Planning Group, RSPB Scotland Head of Planning and Development | E-mail aedan.smith@rspb.org.uk | Tel 0131 317 4100

Daphne Vlastari, Scottish Environment LINK Advocacy Manager | E-mail: daphne@scotlink.org | Tel 0131 225 43 45 / 0757 211 33 79

For more information, about community engagement with the Planning Bill and photos of the recent demonstration, please contact:

Clare Symonds Deputy Convenor of LINK’s Planning Group and Chair of Planning Democracy | E-mail: info@planningdemocracy.org.uk | Tel 0781 387 48 05

To download the full press release click here. 


Editors’ Notes

(1) Scottish Environment LINK is the forum for Scotland’s voluntary environment community, with over 35 member-bodies representing a broad spectrum of environmental interests with the common goal of contributing to a more environmentally sustainable society.

LINK is a Scottish Charity (SC000296) and a Scottish Company Limited by guarantee (SC250899). LINK is core funded by Membership Subscriptions and by grants from Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Government and Charitable Trusts.



(2) Research conducted by Scottish Government on “Barriers to Community Engagement” revealed that

“there is a lack of trust, respect and confidence in the system”; “the system is not considered to be fair and equitable”; “there is a gap between the rhetoric of community empowerment and communities’ experience of trying to influence the planning system” and that “experience suggests that engagement rarely changes planning outcomes”. To view the research document: https://beta.gov.scot/publications/barriers-to-community-engagement-in-planning-research/

A survey by the National Trust for Scotland found that 90% of those asked wanted local communities “to have the same rights of appeal in the planning system as enjoyed by developers”. The survey further found that less than half of people asked felt their local greenspaces and natural heritage was being protected by the planning system, while the research found that “there is a lack of clarity about the purpose of engagement”.

The NTS survey results are available here: https://www.nts.org.uk/stories/planning-without-the-people.

(3) In March 2018, Scottish Environment LINK issues an e-action calling on members of the public to write to their MSPs in support of fairer planning system that protects our environment and empowers communities. For more information and up-to-date figures visit: https://act.foe.scot/help-plan-better-scotland

(4) The open letter supported by 87 community groups, environmental charities, academics and other organisations can be found here: https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/4486408/Open-Letter-to-the-Minister.pdf

It was publicised in The Sunday Herald and The Ferret:



 (5) Scottish Environment LINK’s briefing ahead of the Stage 1 debate can be found here: http://www.scotlink.org/files/Scottish-Environment-LINK-Planning-Bill-Stage-1-Debate-Briefing_25May2018.pdf

Among other things, LINK members are calling for a limited right of appeal for communities (of place and interest) on the basis of straight-forward and practical criteria, focusing on the provisions of the Development Plan.

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