Fife Council call for change to Scottish planning system

Fife Council has called for change to the Scottish planning system to empower communities and manage the development industry’s aspirations.

The council has already stated in Written Evidence submitted to the Government’s ongoing Planning Review, that there is need for “‘a more co-ordinated and streamlined engagement of communities and other stakeholders in the development and community planning process”.

The call follows a Scottish Government Reporter’s recent decision to grant an application for 295 houses on a greenfield site at Spencerfield, Inverkeithing, despite resistance from both Fife Council and the local community.

Fife Council’s Cllr Lesley Laird, depute leader and spokesperson for Economy and Planning, has written to Alex Neil MSP, the cabinet secretary for Social Justice, Communities and Pensioners’ Rights, and the Scottish Government’s chief planner, John McNairney, about development decisions made in advance of the conclusion of Fife’s proposed Local Development Plan.

Cllr Laird, said, “A modern planning system must empower local communities to shape the development of the places they live in. Placemaking needs to be put at the centre of planning. Despite the supposed primacy of the Development Plan, which is at the core of the Scottish planning system, the controversial Spencerfield appeal has been allowed while we are still at the examination stage of the proposed FIFEplan.

“Fife Council’s position in the proposed FIFEplan is that this site should not be allocated for housing, and the actions taken appear to be wholly inconsistent with the Scottish Government’s purported approach.

“This case is further confused by Reporters dealing with the Local Development Plan examination asking some local people for their comments about this site, despite the fact that another Scottish Government Reporter has recently already granted planning permission for it on appeal. This raises hope and expectations that there is still an opportunity to overturn the appeal decision, when this is not the case.

“These inconsistencies send out the wrong signals to our communities, and I am concerned that the individuals and communities who have contributed to FIFEplan will question the value of their participation in the process.”

A council spokesperson said, “Fife Council has also put in place regular four weekly updates with the Scottish Government’s Planning and Environmental Appeals Division (DPEA) to provide them with details of planning applications, planning advice notes or appeals that are live during the examination period.”

Cllr Laird added, “This case gets to the heart of why the planning system in Scotland needs an overhaul. Despite the development being resisted by the local community, community groups and local members this development is set to go ahead. To truly deliver what local people want, there’s a clear need to further devolve planning powers to local authorities.

“The views of local communities and local democratic decisions are being overruled by the Scottish Government, and our communities believe that industry uses a ‘back door’ or ‘loopholes’ in the system to fulfil its development aspirations.

“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 is undermining that whole premise.”