Since 'whenever' planning controls carry the critical power on decisions for any proposed changes to our urban and rural environment. It is therefore perhaps no surprise that the Scottish Executive has focused on ways to "modernise" the planning system since its very inception. Whilst sometimes seeming like a science that only trained planners can understand, in the name of democracy, it is incumbent on us all to play a part in the ongoing consultation exercises.
The Planning White Paper, published June 2005, sets out the proposals that will be included in the forthcoming Planning (Scotland) Bill that is expected to start going through the Scottish Parliament at the close of 2005. As stated on the Scottish Executive website, this Bill "will have a significant impact on the future of the planning system in Scotland".
For development planning, the 2-tier system will be replaced by a single level of development plans with an additional level of strategic plans of the 4 major city regions. A dichotomy appears when you compare the Scottish Executive website statement that the proposed changes "will also improve public involvement in planning, creating a more transparent and accountable system and be fair to everyone" with the Everyone campaign's very informative website www.everyone.org. The latter advises that the Scottish Executive chose to ignore the 86% majority, that they themselves gathered, that voted in favour of including a Third Party Right of Appeal. The excellent Everyone website advises that such countries as Sweden, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia chose to keep the TPRA (yes, it's own acronym!) and did not experience "the myths" that the Scottish Executive would appear to fear.
The White Paper also proposes a National Planning Framework where national strategic decisions on major projects will not be open to public challenge or enquiry. The Everyone website includes an e-petition that calls for the TPRA to be included and the restrictions on the National Planning Framework to be scrapped. On the face of it both aspects point to the development of a dictator state quite at odds with the soothing introductory rhetoric on the Scottish Executive website. The e-petition closes on the 31st October and NEMT members are strongly encouraged to participate!
Thus whilst accepting that we do need to avoid a system that builds in endless delays and appeals before any, possibly badly needed, facilities can get off the ground - we do need to know that democracy is getting more than just lip service. One solution is to actively encourage public involvement at the embryonic stage of any new "major projects". Say a waste disposal facility is required within a defined geographical area in order to incorporate the proximity principal, the public, once aware of the parameters, can be encouraged to participate in choosing an appropriate solution that does not accommodate exclusive nimby-ism. This same approach makes the case for an over-arching Scottish Energy Policy for Scotland that integrates the renewable and non-renewable energy sources. There is a lot at stake here and I often wonder why it is not better covered by the mainstream press.
Jennifer A Cook, October 2005
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