The Scottish Government has been accused of “stripping powers away” from councils after overturning four in ten planning decisions that were rejected by local authorities last year.
Eighty-nine appeals were ruled on by the government’s planning and environmental appeals division (DPEA) in the last financial year, which reversed 42 per cent (37) of council decisions.
The council’s ruling was backed in 58 per cent of cases, according to data obtained by The Ferret under freedom of information (FoI) legislation.
Campaigners said the government’s level of intervention in local planning was neither good for democracy or the public interest, and called for communities to be given the same right to appeal as developers.
The government stressed that local planning authorities decide around 27,000 applications each year, of which around 95 per cent are granted.
The Scottish Conservatives’ shadow cabinet secretary for local government, Miles Briggs MSP, accused the government of having “grown so arrogant that it thinks it knows what’s best for local communities”.
He argued that while the appeals process is part of any planning system, “the fact that so many are being overturned by this SNP-Green government just shows how little the SNP really thinks of local democracy and local decision makers”.
Communities need ‘equal right’ to appeals
Planning Democracy, a Scottish charity which campaigns for an inclusive planning system, said that the high number of appeals suggested developers were “driving our planning system” rather than local councils or communities.
“With a 42 per cent chance of winning, it’s obviously worth developers ignoring local decision-makers and putting in an appeal,” said Clare Symonds, the group’s convener.
“The public isn’t so lucky. If they want to stand up for their communities they need to get to grips with another complex planning process and go up against developers with deep pockets.
“This unequal situation is another example of why we desperately need to level the playing field by giving communities an equal right of appeal”.
The government received 198 planning appeals in 2022-23. At the time of its FoI response on 11 April, 53 appeals had not yet been decided.
Another 56 were unable to progress as DPEA “had no jurisdiction to consider them”. This was either due to developers not appealing a council’s decision in time, their appeal being invalid, or due to having appealed to the government instead of the relevant local review body.
A government spokesperson said: “Independent reporters are required to make decisions on the planning merits of the case having fully considered all the evidence submitted by parties, including members of the local community.”
They added: “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.”
Planning appeals allowed/dismissed by the Scottish Government in 2022/23
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