Evidence to the Local Government Committee on the proposed Planning Bill

thumbnail of evidence local government cmt Planning Bill January 2018The government states that: “The planning system supports the Scottish government’s purpose of creating a more successful country with opportunities for all to flourish through increasing sustainable economic growth.”

UNISON is concerned that this suggests that planning must focus on economic development rather than community development. While the two are linked it should be made clearer that planning is about making lives better for people not businesses.

UNISON has been concerned about the Scottish government’s whole regulatory reform programme since its inception. It has been clear from the beginning that the programme was aiming for less regulation in response to complaints from businesses. There is no evidence that regulation is harming businesses. Despite this lack of evidence the Scottish government is undertaking a second radical reform of the planning system despite doing so as recently as 2009. Delays in the system are caused by severe cuts to planning budgets and staff shortages. It is resources they need not reorganisation.

Planners tell us that they are overwhelmed by the volume and complexity of their workloads. They are also extremely stressed by the personal interaction that they often experience with clients. Well-financed big companies use their resources to badger teams about developments. They experience a lot of personal abuse from members of the public. This adds more stress to their working lives. Large developers are able to use their substantial resources to resubmit plans over and over again to under-resourced planning departments. Teams feel overwhelmed. Community groups who object to plans often struggle to find the resources to mount or maintain their campaigns. Good planning doesn’t require yet another reform programme. Improvement will come through adequate funding and staffing levels and empowering staff and giving them the time to do their work , reflect, learn and implement change.

Planning is not a straight forward tick box exercise. It is a complex activity where staff are required to balance often conflicting demands and interest groups alongside the policies and strategic plans in their area. They are balancing economic development with individual’s rights and environmental, safety and health concerns. They use their technical expertise on a range of subjects ensuring that communities are able to control the future of places where they live and balance those needs with both business’ and individual’s plans. This is why setting planning policy and strategic plans is so vital. The plans allow fair and open decision making to be made. They allow people and businesses to understand where they stand at the start of any plans they wish to apply for permission for. The planning system is complex because it needs to be.