A good plan?
Planning, planners and the planning system get a bad rap.
For most people, their only interaction with planning is when they try to make modifications to their property or when a company tries to build something too close to their house. In these cases, the process is long, arduous and frankly, at times, incomprehensible. However, the real story is far bigger and far more worrying. Planning is hugely important and has a serious effect on the lives of every one of us.
At one level, planning decides where new schools are built, how new housing estates are designed and where new roads go.
At another, it has a huge impact on health and wellbeing, on anti-social behaviour, the environment and even mental health. Exactly how and where our homes, schools, offices, parks and roads are laid out cannot be underestimated.
With something so fundamental to our lives, it’s important that planning has the resources it needs. Sadly, this is not the case.
A recent report by local government spending watchdog the Accounts Commission found that frontline services have borne the brunt of funding reductions and planning departments have especially suffered.
Planning staff numbers have been cut by more than 20 per cent in the last decade.
At Holyrood, new planning laws are currently moving through parliament and one of the aims of this planning bill is to “allow communities to have a greater say in their neighbourhoods and areas”.
However, when it was discussed in the chamber at Stage 1 last week, opposition MSPs said the new laws would need major amendments if they are to avoid a centralising of power in Edinburgh.
Local Government Minister Kevin Stewart said the Scottish Government will consider proposals from other parties before Stage 2.
The Local Government Committee had already recommended the legislation will require widespread changes if it is to proceed.
Green MSP Andy Wightman said the bill as it stands “concentrates further power in the hands of ministers, pays lip-service to genuine public engagement and removes valuable strategic planning powers”.
Scottish Conservative housing spokesman Graham Simpson said “all roads lead to Edinburgh” in the bill, while Labour’s Monica Lennon, a former town planner, said the SNP was “defending the status quo”.
MSPs from all sides questioned why the bill did not include a requirement to establish a purpose for planning.
Stewart said: “I recognise parliament’s desire for the bill to have a clear overarching purpose, and I will explore how we can bring forward appropriate wording.”
I doubt these are the comments the Scottish Government would have wished for, but at least they’ve been highlighted now, at Stage 1, when there is still time to make changes.
The ambition to bring planning power closer to communities is admirable and exactly what we should be seeing.
However, everything costs money and as the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) Scotland said: “RTPI Scotland remains very concerned that the ambitious reforms set out in the Planning Bill are unfunded.”
The institute said it welcomed the government’s ambition but added: “The institute estimates that planning services are on average allocated just 0.44 per cent of local authority budgets.
“These figures illustrate the crisis of resourcing that planning services in Scotland face.”
Local government has been squeezed for many years and every department has suffered.
However, let’s hope the Scottish Government takes on board the concerns raised about the Planning Bill and makes the changes needed to give planning the attention it deserves