Edinburgh councillors have voted unanimously to give local communities more power to appeal planning decisions – a move campaigners argue would level the playing field between developers and residents.
The motion, put forward by independent councillor Ross McKenzie, was in response to an official complaint made by campaigners to a UN body tasked with upholding international environmental rights.
Campaigners claimed Scotland was in breach of the Aarhus Convention – an international law – because of the lack of planning appeal rights for members of the public, even if it impacts their health or environment.
Council leader Cammy Day will now raise appeal rights with the Scottish Government’s planning minister, Joe Fitzpatrick MSP, and ask him to implement them.
In September, the Environmental Rights Centre Scotland (ERCS), Planning Democracy, RSPB Scotland and Friends of the Earth Scotland, complained to the UN’s Compliance Committee of the Aarhus Convention (ACCC), which is investigating and has asked the Scottish Government to respond by 21 July.
Conversely, developers have a right to appeal council refusals, and can apply to have the government reconsider. In April, we revealed that the government overturned four in ten planning decisions that were rejected by local authorities last year.
Communities can only challenge such decisions in the Court of Session, which the council motion deemed “prohibitively expensive”. This puts developers in ”a privileged position” compared to communities, it added.
Communities want a ‘level playing field’ for planning
Clare Symonds, founder and chair of Planning Democracy, said councillors had “recognised the importance of a just and fair planning system” and called on the government to follow suit.
“If the Scottish Government profess that equality, inclusion and human rights are at the centre of everything they do, they can no longer ignore this blatant inequality,” she added.
Angus Hardie, the director of Scottish Community Alliance, branded the current rules “an affront to natural justice”. “It is high time that communities were able to engage in the planning system without both hands tied behind their backs,” he argued. “All they ask for is a level playing field – why is the Scottish Government denying them that?”.
Shivali Fifield, chief officer at ERCS, said: “Despite all the new measures introduced by the Scottish Government which are intended to front-load community engagement in the planning process, and regardless of how vigilant we in the community council try to be in monitoring applications as they affect our area, we feel completely disempowered by the planning system.
“To have a right of appeal that is on a par with the developers would be a major step forward for community empowerment and local democracy more generally”.
Council leader Cammy Day said he was “pleased” that the council backed the motion unanimously, and confirmed he would be asking the government for a review of the rights of appeal.
“As per an amendment from the Labour group I will also be requesting that consideration be given to extending the current time periods for the determination of applications, specifically in circumstances where applications have been continued for a hearing by council committees,” he added.
The government last month told The Ferret that Scotland’s new planning act “is increasing opportunities for local people to have a say and influence development in their areas.
“That includes a new right introduced last year for communities to prepare their own local place plans, which will enable them to influence local planning authorities’ development plans.”
This article was updated at 16:40 on 5 May to include a comment from council leader Cammy Day.
Header image credit: © Rob Farrow (cc-by-sa/2.0)