Holyrood committee votes against planning appeal amendments

Proposals to introduce new rights for communities to appeal planning decisions have failed to pass a key stage of the parliamentary legislative process.

MSPs on the Scottish Parliament’s local government and communities committee voted against a series of amendments to the Scottish Government’s Planning (Scotland) Bill at yesterday’s Stage 2 debate.

The Planning Bill amendments below did not pass include:

  • Amendment 51 Third party right of appeal
  • Amendment 59, Right to appeal against planning decisions
  • Amendment 60 Community right to appeal against certain planning decisions also
  • Amendment 143 Community right of appeal against certain planning decisions not in accordance with local development plan
  • Amendment 319 Determination of appeals

During yesterday’s debate, minister for local government, housing and planning Kevin Stewart MSP said the added third party right of appeal “adds confusion”, could “damage” the planning system, cause more conflict and block development.

Scottish Labour, which put forward the amendments, said it attempted to “level the playing field” and make the planning system fairer.

A new community right of appeal along with restrictions on developer appeals would improve public confidence in the planning system and address concerns that “lip service” is paid to communities, the party argued.

However the proposals were challenged in an open letter signed by a number of high profile organisations which argued that a third party or ‘equal’ right of appeal will not these support these ambitions.

The signatories, which included representatives from the Royal Town Planning Institute Scotland, Homes for Scotland, the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, RICS Scotland and the Scottish Property Federation, said the amendments would lead to more local decisions being made by government and further widen inequality in communities by disproportionally favouring those with the capacity, time and resources to pursue an appeal.

Director of planning at Home for Scotland, Tammy Swift-Adams, gave a cautious welcome to yesterday’s outcome.

She said: “Scotland’s planning and development communities have been on tenterhooks, waiting to see whether populism or pragmatism would win out in the debate on planning appeal rights.

“Whilst the amendments which concerned us most have been voted down for now, uncertainty remains as to what will happen at Stage 3 when the Bill is debated by the full parliament. Much work remains to be done as the Bill’s progress continues.

“Homes for Scotland will continue to work with MSPs and other stakeholders to help shape a planning system that delivers what the country needs, including what the review set out to facilitate:  significantly more homes. Politicians of all parties have agreed this is a top priority. Changing appeal rights would have the opposite effect, cutting off a small but vital source of housing supply.

“Substantial evidence has already been submitted on why this is the case and why it would not only exacerbate the housing crisis but also damage the Scottish economy and risk jobs.

“Fairness in planning doesn’t hinge on who has access to appeal rights, but on what the planning system succeeds in delivering. It is clear, however, that more constructive and trust-building ways of positively engaging people in planning must be found.”

RTPI Scotland convenor Fraser Carlin added: “The Planning Bill is a great opportunity to put communities at the heart of deciding how places will change. We believe the way to do this is through supporting people to engage early and meaningfully in plans and decision making. The proposals considered by the Committee would have entrenched confrontation when we need collaboration between everyone with an interest in our built and natural environment. They would have led to more local decisions being made by central government at a time when we want to give communities more say over the places where they live. And they would have allowed competing commercial interests to frustrate development and potentially pit one part of a community against another.

“The proposals would also have put immense strain on planning departments who are already under severe resourcing pressures. When the Bill moves to Stage 3, we want to see further amendments to make sure that the tools and resources are in place to support proactive and positive public involvement in planning.”

Scottish Labour MSP Monica Lennon accused the SNP MSPs voting against the proposals of backing big developers over local communities.

She said: “It’s deeply unfair that communities have zero rights to challenge planning decisions about the future of their areas, yet developers have a direct line to the Scottish Government, as I’ve seen with the Whitehill incinerator in my own area.

“Scottish Labour wants to level the playing field and our plan would have given communities more rights, in line with the government’s own community empowerment agenda, so it is deeply disappointing that the SNP has voted down measures to make the planning system fairer.”

Clare Symonds, founder and chair of Planning Democracy, added: “Clearly we are deeply disappointed that the amendments calling for equal rights of appeal put forward by Scottish Labour and the Green Party haven’t been supported.

“It is a sad day for democracy, not to mention the many communities all over Scotland who been campaigning for so long to bring about a fairer planning system. As it stands there is little for communities to celebrate in this Bill.

“We hope that as it progresses to the final stages of the legislative process, politicians will show more support for Equal Rights of Appeal and help deliver a more progressive and inclusive planning system than is currently proposed.”