Keith Geddes discusses the Planning Bill and the potential for the community right to appeal being introduced and slowing up house building in Scotland even further.
Now known as an Equal – or Community – Right of Appeal, supporters are now campaigning for its inclusion in the Planning Bill, now at Stage 1 in the Scottish Parliament. Amendments in support of equalisation will be tabled, as the Bill makes its way through Parliament.
And campaigners are not short of political support. Monica Lennon, Scottish Labour’s new planning spokesperson, has said that: “The planning system needs rebalanced: the Scottish government is wrong to dismiss equal rights for communities”. Both the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats also support the “equalisation” agenda while Conservative MSP’s have expressed similar views. For example Alison Harris MSP argued: “Where is the fairness in applicants’ being able to appeal against a local authority’s refusal to grant planning consent when the same right is not given to objectors when planning consent is granted?
And SNP MSP, Gil Paterson asked: “We are all aware that, when it comes to developments, the developer has much more power than the community…. Does the minister envisage that, following the consultation the balance of power might change somewhat?”
Those who support the Equal Right of Appeal, also have media support. The Sunday Herald editorial (10/9/17) argued: “Crucially, communities should be given equal rights of appeal, so that they have the same recourse as property developers. The system needs to be fairer – so let’s level the playing field.”
What does the Community Right of Appeal mean for housebuilders in Scotland? It would potentially:
- Extend the development process even further
- Make many small developments unviable and increase the cost of new homes to first time buyers
- Require more planning officers at a time when planning staff are being reduced
- Push developers to invest in building homes outside Scotland, where a Community Right of Appeal was not in place, and
- Delay further the building of much-needed new homes – 10 years after the crash Scotland is still not building enough homes.
The practical mechanics of triggering an appeal are not clear. Who would be able to appeal? Anyone whom objected? A local community council or community group? People who live within a certain distance of the proposed development?
And perhaps of greater importance, who would stand up for those families looking for a suitable home? How would their voice be heard?
And equality does not apparently apply to investment by communities and developers. Developers will typically commit many thousands of pounds on a variety of technical reports, before their application even comes before committee.
The Scottish Government’s view is that a Community Right of Appeal is unnecessary. Their Places, People and Planning Position Statement argues: “We are convinced that stronger, early engagement …..would be much more constructive. We will build on the existing strong provisions to involve people early in the planning process rather than at the end, and ensure that our system works for all, including those who want to invest in the quality of our places and our economy.”
Consultation on the Bill closes on February 2. If your organisation or company has not yet responded to the Scottish Parliament’s Local Government and Communities Committee call for evidence, now is the time to do so.
- Keith is a past president of CoSLA and former leader of the City of Edinburgh Council. He has also served on a number of public bodies, including Scottish Enterprise, the Accounts Commission, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Scottish Arts Council, and is chair of the Central Scotland Green Network Trust. He has extensive experience in local government, planning, housing and education.