Fresh twist in Fife Council’s dispute with ‘undemocratic’ planning system

Lesley Laird
Lesley Laird

Fife Council is once again squaring up for another battle against a planning appeals system that it says is “undermining local democracy”.

A proposed development at Milldeans Farm, Glenrothes, for approximately 300 houses was rejected by the local authority through the Local Development Plan process (FIFEplan) in 2014, and through a further planning application, considered by the council’s Central Planning Committee on 18 November 2015.

The objections to the non-inclusion of the site in FIFEplan and the appeal by the developer about the refusal of planning consent are currently before Scottish Government reporters.

In a further twist to the process, Scottish Ministers have ruled that the planning appeal should be taken out of the reporter’s hands and that they will decide whether the controversial development should go ahead.

In a letter received by Fife Council, the Scottish Government has stated that Scottish Ministers will now recall appeals for all proposals of 100 houses or more to monitor how national policy is being implemented.

This is the first appeal that has been recalled in Fife, and comes on the back of repeated calls from Fife Council for greater local democracy as part of the current review into the planning system in Scotland.

The council wrote to the Scottish Government last month after a reporter allowed 295 houses to be built on a greenfield site at Spencerfield in Inverkeithing despite the development being resisted by both Fife Council and the local community.

Cllr Lesley Laird, Fife Council’s depute leader and spokesperson for economy and planning, said further centralised control for planning decisions around contentious developments risks eroding local democracy.

Cllr Laird said: “The Scottish Minister’s call-in of the proposal for 300 houses at Milldeans, Glenrothes is completely undemocratic. This case, like the recent Scottish Government Spencerfield decision to allow 295 houses on a greenfield site in Inverkeithing, gets to the heart of why the planning system in Scotland needs an overhaul.

“Fife Council robustly defends the decision taken to refuse consent for this development. Residents, community groups and elected members have already clearly rejected this major expansion in west Glenrothes. The decisions already made after extensive consideration by councillors, as well as the numerous concerns expressed by the public are being ignored by the developer, and, now potentially, by the Scottish Government.

“To truly deliver what local people want, there’s a clear need to further devolve planning powers to local authorities. The ministerial decision to further centralise control by Scottish Ministers, which was not consulted upon, further erodes local democracy and devolved powers. It also makes a mockery of the consultation exercise on the planning review, which has yet to report its recommendations to the Scottish Government.

“While the Scottish Government requires and encourages engagement with communities, it equally allows for a system that can thwart community views and undermine their efforts to engage in the planning process.

“Many Fife communities contribute considerable time and effort to working with Fife Council and responding to our requests for their views on a range of issues. It is essential that we are able to show that their involvement is valued, given appropriate consideration and, ultimately, makes a difference in shaping our places. The present planning system and the decision to call in appeals of 100 houses or more to Scottish Ministers is further undermining that whole premise.

“Fife Council will continue to raise these concerns with the Scottish Government.”

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