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Submitted by Editor on

Community council calls for collaborative approach

For many people who approach it – occasionally and without previous experience or specialist training – the Scottish planning system is an intimidating mystery.

Certainly, some of its fundamental principles – such as the right of appeal for developers but not for objectors – perpetuate a postwar government bias towards rebuilding over conservation.

Some argue that this is outdated and unfair, favouring the interests of well-resourced corporations and ignoring or undervaluing the opinions of people who must live with the results of development for decades.

Even at a more granular level, the way planning processes are handled by local authorities is poorly explained (if at all), and often leaves communities feeling baffled and excluded from a system which supposedly represents their best interests.

View towards Leith
Need for greater transparency

Against this general background (and two cases in particular, at 48–50 Iona Street and 139 Leith Walk), Leith Central Community Council (LCCC) has this month written to City of Edinburgh Council’s Chief Planning Officer outlining six areas of concern.

It suggests solutions and offers to collaborate on finding ways to make the system more democratic, fair and accountable.

All six areas boil down to the need for greater procedural transparency and an improved platform for citizens’ voices.

  1. Always make all comments (for, against and neutral) publicly available on the Council planning portal:—This would help clarify the context of opinion around any application, and ‘foster a sense of accountability’ (presumably among developers, officials and elected members who vote on cases before them).
  2. Provide clearer (jargon-free) and more accessible information about applications, procedures and deadlines:—This would ‘empower residents to participate more effectively in the process’.
  3. Give greater weight to the recommendations and objections of community councils when making planning decisions:—This would help clarify the concerns and priorities of local people.
  4. Improve Council consultation with the public, especially around major development proposals:—This could involve ‘more public meetings, forums, and surveys to gather community perspectives’.
  5. Be clearer when allowing retrospective ‘non-material variations’ to approved planning applications:—LCCC cites a local example in which the proportion of student housing in a mixed development was later changed without public scrutiny, raising ‘serious questions about the fairness of the planning process’. It calls for such modifications to be made ‘openly and in accordance with established procedures such as notifying the public and allowing comments on the planning portal’.
  6. Provide detailed explanations for planning decisions:—Residents deserve to understand what has happened.

LCCC’s planning convener Pierre Forissier concludes: ‘Enhancing transparency and community involvement in the planning process is not just a matter of good governance but also a means to build trust between local government and the residents it serves.’

Spurtle thinks this is a very useful intervention by LCCC, one which we hope the Council will respond to in similarly constructive terms.

You can read the full letter here.

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