Planning Democracy – by Clare Symmonds

The referendum and now the general election have brought greater scrutiny of one of the most historical and influential political systems in the world. In a certain sense, the referendum is holding the Scottish political system to account.  Furthermore, the debates generated have gone into very meaty issues: economics, currency, taxation, nuclear issues, among many others.

The topic of citizen empowerment is very much on the current agenda with land reform and Community Empowerment Bill, where it appears the opinion is that citizens are considered worthy to change the national direction for their country (and affect those beyond the border), surely we can also implement initiatives that enable citizens’ to become involved in local democracy in a meaningful way?

In planning terms, local communities could be given far more autonomy in expressing how their local areas should develop, they need a way of articulating their preferences and generating proposals for public spending using locally generated revenue. We would say that rather than having a planning system where communities are trying to defend themselves from unwanted development, how can we generate something that is proactive and reflects the community’s wishes?

Currently people can get involved and indeed are encouraged to get involved in formulating local development plans. These set out the local authority’s policies and proposals for the development and use of land in their area. The Government is currently encouraging ‘frontloading’ of planning whereby people get engaged in the planning system at this development plan stage. However the problems start when later on in the process developers put in proposals for developments that run contrary to these plans and these are given approval.

The rub is that unlike developers, communities do not have any right to appeal these decisions, despite the fact that they are the ones who are impacted by the developments. On the other hand should the developer be refused an application they are allowed to appeal.

Planning Democracy are currently campaigning for an Equal Right of Appeal that we hope redresses this injustice and we feel will help make the planning system into a far more democratic system. We know that there are other issues with planning however we feel this is one of the most important aspects to campaign for because it will encourage development that fits in with the local development plan. Thus giving communities far more incentive to get involved in development planning, which we would encourage as a means to achieving far better democratic system of place making. We would urge anyone interested in democratic planning to get involved in our Equal Rights of Appeal campaign.

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