Planning and Development Reform
UNISON Scotland's response to the Making Development
Plans Deliver and Rights of Appeal in Planning Consultations
* UNISON Scotland welcomes these consultations as the main trade
union representing staff in local government and planning staff
in particular. We have linked our response to these consultations
as the issues are closely connected.
* The key reform to the planning process is establishing a properly
resourced and supported planning service in every local authority.
Staffing levels have remained largely unchanged for a decade despite
a 20% increase in applications and other pressures on the system.
* Development plans need to be properly linked into the community
planning system with a greater emphasis on the participation and
involvement of the community at an early stage. The community
needs feedback to demonstrate how their views impact on the process.
* Business and other public bodies also need to engage earlier
in the system. All too often business relies on using their financial
clout to influence the process at public inquiries.
* National and regional forums should be established to oversee
the development of policies that include all the key stakeholders
and address cross boundary issues.
* There are a number of technical and procedural changes highlighted
in this submission that would assist in speeding up the process.
* In the context of a reformed development plan process UNISON
remains unconvinced of the case for extending appeal rights. We
would support consideration of a more radical approach that would
curtail existing appeals rights as well.
* This approach is based on the principle that planning decisions
should be the preserve of democratically elected local authorities.
This would require local authorities to engage applicants and
objectors in a meaningful way throughout the process.
* External involvement by the Scottish Executive and appeals would
be limited to cases involving strategic national interests and decisions
in which the planning authority has an interest.
UNISON is Scotland's largest trade union representing over 145,000
members working in the public sector. We are the largest trade
union in local government, with over 98,000 members working in
Scottish Local Government. UNISON represents local authority planning
staff. Other members have a direct interest in the system such
as infrastructure providers in water and energy as well as a wider
citizenship interest in promoting economic development and protecting
The Scottish Executive's coalition agreement ‘Partnership for
a Better Scotland ‘ includes a number of commitments to reform
the planning system. Planning delays have also been criticised
by developers and on the reverse side of the coin by objectors
who feel the system is not responsive to local concerns. In response
the Executive has published two consultation papers on development
plans and third party appeals. A Planning Bill is also likely
later in this parliamentary session.
UNISON Scotland believes that these two consultations are linked.
Any consideration of third party rights of appeal has to be viewed
in the context of the planning system as a whole.
Making Development Plans Deliver
This consultation seeks views on the preparation of local development
plans (LDPs) across Scotland and the detailed arrangements for
strategic planning in the four main city regions.
Specifically, it seeks views on:
* Managing the plan process
* Consultation and engagement
* Content of the plans
* Ensuring effective delivery
* Local development plans and city region plans
Response to questions in consultation paper.
Q1 What are the most important factors in the successful management
of development planning?
The paper argues there is a need to reform because development
plans are often out of date. Of 131 local plans 70% were adopted
more than five years ago and 20% are more than 15 years old. There
appear to be a number of reasons for the delay in completing plans,
not least the many objections from developers promoting their
particular schemes. Local authorities are also moving towards
single area plans that are likely to halve the number of development
The most important factors are to ensure that the teams preparing
the development plan are properly resourced, especially if more
community involvement is to be provided. The team preparing the
local development plan and the city region plans should be separate
entities and be separately managed. The idea of a joint board,
if following the Clyde valley or Ayrshire model is to be welcomed.
The planners require to be backed up by admin, clerical, technical
and ICT support.
Despite these workload pressures 83% of applications are decided
within a period of three months against a target of 85%. The reasons
for delay are not always within the control of planning departments.
Poor applications, the need to reconcile differing community views
and the increasing complexity of planning are important factors.
The local development plan should be seen as the lead document
on land use planning. There requires to be more clarity about
what a community plan is (a point highlighted in the recent implementation
report) and how it links into the process. UNISON strongly supports
Community Planning as one way of encouraging greater co-operation
between public authorities on our Public Service Networks model.
Other economic initiatives and other plans all need to link in.
There is a plan fatigue around and a lack of understanding amongst
the general public about how everything links together. There
needs to be clear indications of the area to be covered by the
city region plans and the Scottish Executive should be involved
in this discussion, especially within an area where only two authorities
are involved. There is a danger of not taking proper account of
the pull of other areas. Even in the central belt can Glasgow
really be considered without Edinburgh?
Q2 Should development plan schemes indicate timetables for
plan preparation to provide some certainty for stakeholders?
There is a need for a timetable, but it requires to be realistic,
open and deliverable. It should be agreed through negotiation
with the local community and should not be influenced by performance
indicators or the desires of big business. Although there is a
role for guidance from the Scottish Executive.
Each plan making process should follow an agreed project plan
that identifies the staff requirements and whether outside support
is to be bought in. The timetable should include adequate time
for realistic public consultation and this should include innovative
and new methods as well as the more traditional methods. Part
of the current plan process problems are that it sees public consultation
as difficult and time consuming and therefore some authorities
only give it lip service. If as we will argue later democratic
accountability should be a key planning principle it is vital
that local authorities embrace real participation and involvement
of the community in the planning process.
Q3 What are the most effective ways to ensure quick preparation
and review of development plans
Ensure that the team preparing and reviewing the plan is properly
resourced with adequate technical, admin and ICT support. A statutory
duty to update plans will only work if these are in place and
Engage early with the local community and stay engaged with them.
Ensure that national planning policies are up to date and can
be incorporated easily into the plan and that the public consultation
stage is not dominated by lawyers with their own agenda.
Consider introducing mediation sessions instead of a full blown
public local inquiry that can put developers back on an equal
footing with the community. If a consultative draft is to be removed
then the notification process to affected landowners needs to
be clear and transparent and the method of community engagement
needs to be understood and agreed by the community.
Q4 Do you agree that early-targeted consultation on the key
issues should replace consultation on draft policies and proposals?
This would certainly speed up the process, but would need to
ensure that Planners were involved in these early key consultations.
In some authorities Planners are currently not fully involved
with the community planning process. It is critical that Councils
have an ongoing method of community involvement that continues
to feed into the development plan process on a regular basis.
It also then becomes critical that the community can see how their
comments are impacting on the plan process and that they get adequate
feedback. Other stakeholders and planning processes including
utility infrastructure plans could be included.
Q5 Should other bodies have a duty to engage in development
planning placed upon them?
This is critical as some of these bodies tend to react to the
planning process rather than being a proactive contributor. In
particular local enterprise companies. The wider involvement of
public bodies in the community planning process should be extended
to land use including health boards.
Q6 Do you have any suggestions for improving the involvement
of businesses in the development plan process?
Businesses require to be engaged in the process and required
to work with communities and Planners at an early stage. Currently
they all too often wait until the process reaches PLI and then
use their financial clout to employ counsel to disrupt and change
the direction of the process.
Providing plan information in a form that engages the business
community at the earliest opportunity and keeps them engaged is
a challenge. There is a need to change the business perception
of Planning as a profession. This requires an Executive led change
in attitudes along similar lines to that currently given to Social
Q7 Do you agree that the certified copy of the plan should
remain a paper copy?
Words on paper have been around for over 500 years and the new
ICT world has not swept it away. Paper copies are accessible to
all, not with standing the implications of disability for some.
Copies of the plans need to be available in a number of different
formats including paper, electronic, recorded and Braille or other
languages as appropriate.
Q8 Do you agree that a development plan forum should be formed
to support plan making?
The sharing of information is vital. There should be a forum
at a national level to oversee the development of national policies.
This should have representation from local authorities and other
stakeholders including the STUC, individual unions and business
interests as well as the professional through the RTPI.
Regional forums covering say the north, south and central should
also be established to encourage greater co-operation between
Q9 Do you agree that action planning is a continual process
with formal publication of an action plan every two years?
We agree that plan making requires to stay up to date. However
there is a danger that if we continually engage in plan making,
we may never actually implement any of the actions within the
plan. There is also the fear that if a Planner is continually
plan making but never seeing the implications or having to implement
anything they may loose touch with the real world.
The plan making process requires to be grounded in what the communities
want and there needs to be a clear understanding of the implications
of the decisions that are made. Plan making can not be carried
out in a bubble where policy development is seen as a desk exercise.
Time needs to be allowed for Planners to get out on the ground
and engage fully with the community.
Action planning seems to be a good way around this as it includes
both policy preparation and action planning. This will only work
though if there are an adequate number of staff to carry out the
process and that other bodies and parts of the council are linked
into the process.
Q10 Outside the city regions, do you support the provision
for an area wide local development plan to set the overall context
in areas where there continues to be a mosaic of local development
This is to be welcomed and will provide a good way forward that
is more understandable to the local communities. More guidance
would be required on what constitutes supplementary guidance and
the resources that will be required to provide this. There is
a fear that Councils reduce their planning staff preparing policy
plans to the bare minimum and then outsource the supplementary
guidance preparation to consultants. There needs to be proper
guidance on how supplementary guidance will be consulted on and
how it fits into the process. There needs to be clear guidance
on what should be included within the plan.
Q11 Do you agree that, where it can be demonstrated that there
has been community and stakeholder consultation, supplementary
guidance should have statutory backing?
Yes, but we need to be careful about what is removed from plans.
Q12 Do you support greater consistency in the style of plans,
particularly proposals maps?
Yes, as this removes one area of objections that sometimes delays
plan process. This should be part of the role of the national
Q13 Under what circumstances should local authorities be allowed
to depart from the reporter's recommendations on the local development
Under the current arrangements never, otherwise the process of
involving reporters looses all credibility. If a plan requires
to be changed after a reporter has made a ruling it should go
through the normal processes.
Q14 Do you agree with the proposed content of city region
The focus on strategic spatial issues is important. There requires
to be a proper understanding of where a cities sphere of influence
is and a recognition that this does not adhere to traditional
council boundaries. City region plans by their very nature are
going to be cross boundary.
Q15a Should there be equal representation of local authorities
on the joint committees?
In principle representation on the joint committees should be
on an equal basis. This could not be limited to two in smaller
joint committees. The joint committees need to have some method
of meeting with and sharing information with each other, possibly
through the regional forums discussed above, specifically where
the sphere's of influence of each city overlap. It could be argued
that Glasgow and Edinburgh's sphere of influence covers the whole
of Scotland and there are certainly areas of overlap between Dundee
Q15b How should costs be divided among local authorities on
the joint committee?
Should be equally proportioned. Each council should directly
employ members of the joint planning team with appropriate management
arrangements. Adequate resources should be provided so that the
city region plan can be prepared properly and that the local development
plans are also resourced.
Q16 Do you consider the proposed approval process will be
quick and transparent?
Its difficult to say until the first plan is prepared. The trust
in the system will fall at the first hurdle if the process does
not stick to its timetable. It would be useful to see this process
as a timeline to provide better clarity and understanding. Good
Information Technology systems would help.
Q17 Are the proposed transitional arrangements appropriate?
They would appear to be satisfactory.
The key to a reformed development plan process is a properly
resourced and well trained planning service that has political
support and presented in a positive light. There are also increasing
pressures on planning departments due to a 20% increase in the
number of planning applications. Staffing numbers have remained
largely unchanged for a decade and many departments are reporting
staffing shortages. Many councils have run down their planning
services and focus on the bare minimum provision.
Planners come under equal pressure from developers who complain
about a negative anti-development culture and objectors seeking
to block development ‘in their backyard'. As always public servants
are caught in the middle!
Government has to recognise that there needs to better community
involvement and that the planning profession needs to be at the
cutting edge of the changes to the environment. What we do today
impacts on the world that we live in tomorrow.
Rights of Appeal in Planning
This consultation seeks views on whether new rights of appeal
should be created for third parties. At present only applicants
can appeal. And if so, how they might operate in practice. In
particular, it seeks views on: The support for widening rights
of appeal, extending rights to third parties, the role of Scottish
ministers and the impact on the workload of planning authorities.
In addition to this consultation, Sandra White MSP has a private
members bill on the same issue. Other parliamentary activity includes
motions from Donald Gorrie MSP on vetting developers and providing
a right of appeal for local authorities against a Reporter's decision.
The supporters of third party appeals argue that the current
system is unbalanced in favour of developers allowing no recourse
for communities campaigning against unjust planning decisions.
The focus of the planning system is the relationship between local
authorities and developers rather than community groups and individuals.
They point to the experience of Ireland where only 2.6% of applications
have been appealed, many only seeking a design change.
Those against third party appeals argue that it would add further
delays to the planning system, blocking essential economic development.
The objectors would in the main be the NIMBY groups, unrepresentative
of their local communities. It would also be undemocratic because
councillors make these decisions as the elected representatives
of the community. It would significantly add to the costs of development
and place a further administrative burden on planning departments.
Response to questions in the consultation
Q1 Does the consultation report accurately reflect the arguments
for and against third party rights of appeal?
Q2 Does the report accurately reflect what supporters are seeking
in a new appeal process?
The arguments are fairly set out although more research could
have been included on the experiences of those involved in the
current process and greater linkage with the development plan
consultation. In our view the two issues are closely linked.
If significant improvements are made in the development plan
process as set out above then much of the case for third party
appeals can be addressed. However, the same could also be said
for appeals against a decision of a local authority. Reforming
those current arrangements are not properly addressed.
In UNISON's view the paper could have placed more emphasis on
the case for recognising the role of local authorities as the
democratically elected representatives of the local community.
In this context the need for local authorities to be open and
transparent and to extend democratic accountability through meaningful
participation and involvement of all stakeholders is essential.
Recent reform including changes to the voting system and widening
access to councils may contribute to this.
Q3 Should any third party rights of appeal be restricted to
some or all of the categories subject to consultation
There is clearly a technical argument in support of the second
category (approvals contrary to the development plan) because
these result in approvals on a basis that has not been the subject
of impartial review through the development plan process. A key
element is of course the need to have updated development plans
as discussed above. However, the paper should have asked if there
is a case to remove all rights of appeal in cases where the decision
is in accordance with an up to date development plan.
For UNISON the key point is recognition that local authorities
represent communities and their decisions should be respected
subject to due legal process and meaningful involvement of all
stakeholders in the development plan. We question if an appeal
to an unelected official (The Reporter) is compatible with democratic
Developments in the first category (developments in which the
planning authority has an interest) are already subject to supervision
by the Scottish Executive who may and do call them in for determination.
In these cases the system should ensure that all stakeholders
have equal right of appeal.
Council members do overturn recommendation of officers (the third
category) and we are not convinced that this is a justification
for appeal by any party. It is the task of officers to advise
and recommend. Councillors take the decision and are rightly accountable
to the electorate for those decisions through the ballot box.
The introduction of appeal rights in these circumstances would
undermine the trust between officials and members which is essential
for the effective functioning of local government.
We are also unconvinced that the case for rights of appeal in
relation to EIAs (category 4)is made. The concerns of all stakeholders
about these matters should be addressed through greater consultation
and public information on environmental risks, not through the
Q4 Which planning decisions should be capable of appeal?
UNISON believes that a reasonable case can be made for abolition
of most rights of appeal. The case for third party rights is strengthened
by the apparent imbalance in rights. The question should address
the need for any appeals in a reformed development plan system.
Q5 Who should have a right of appeal
One of the strengths of the current system is the extent to which
objections and the views of developers are taken into account
in reaching decisions. Whilst there is no statutory requirement
most planning authorities give detailed reasons for granting consent,
often including minor applications, particularly when objections
Any right of appeal should be limited to those who lodged a formal
objection prior to a decision being taken. Anything short of this
would undermine the democratic process.
Q6 Do you support in principle the introduction of a wider
right of appeal?
We are not convinced of the merits of most grounds of appeal
for the reasons set out above. The case might be stronger if the
development plan process is not reformed.
Q7 How would the planning service at both planning authorities
and the Scottish Executive be placed to manage the likely increase
Q8 Would there be any implications for the attractiveness of planning
as a career?
This would be a major concern to staff in planning departments
if third party appeals were introduced. As described above staffing
levels have remained largely unchanged in a decade despite a 20%
increase in planning applications. Many departments are struggling
to fill existing vacancies and some planning work is being undertaken
by unqualified staff.
We need to move away from the adversarial aspects of all planning
appeals and inquiries towards a more democratic and participative
system that properly uses the professional skills of planning
officers. At present they are all too often attacked from all
sides making the profession less attractive to graduates.
An increase in appeal workload will inevitably result in a transfer
of staff from development planning and other planning functions
where the priority ought be. This will undermine efforts to promote
more involvement at an early stage of the process with all the
Q9 Should a fee be payable by objectors (Model 1)
There does not appear to be any reasonable argument that a fee
would deter the current level of objectors and therefore any new
right of appeal. A frivolous and vexatious provision may be justified
together with procedural requirements such as a full statement
of case and time limits..
Q10 Should Scottish Ministers retain their role in deciding
particular appeals, or should SEIRU decide all appeals? (Model
Referring more decisions to appointed Reporters would further
undermine democratic accountability. The Scottish Executive's
focus should be on supporting planning guidance through new forums
(see above) and genuine issues of strategic national interest
e.g. energy policy.
Q11 Would the introduction of mandatory public hearings in
defined circumstances increase public confidence in planning authorities'
decisions? (Model 3)
When conducted well hearings held by local authorities greatly
improve transparency in decision taking. Submissions by objectors
can and do result in planning committees modifying the recommendations
of professional officers. This may well increase public confidence
in the planning system, although it is important that they do
not turn into another legalistic forum.
Q12 Would extending the circumstances in which Scottish Ministers
are notified to include all development plan departures sufficiently
address concerns about decisions contrary to plan departures?
Notification of departures should not be extended, for the reasons
set out in the consultation paper. Notification is to enable the
Scottish Executive to ‘call in' decisions which could affect genuine
national strategic interests. It is not an appropriate function
of the Scottish Executive to supervise another democratically
elected body with the possible exception of developments undertaken
by the planning authority.
Q13 Would it be appropriate to introduce a screening process
for planning appeals ? (Model 4)
It is difficult to see how a screening process would work although
this model does at least address the possibility that the current
right of appeal could be limited.
Q14 Are there circumstances in which any right of appeal should
As argued above we believe that there is merit in withdrawing
the right of appeal current available to applicants. However,
if appeal rights were extended there is a risk that any geographical
restriction would restrict legitimate objections. These could
include national bodies and pressure groups or even individuals
with a legitimate interest in the geographical area.
Q15 Views on each of the models outlined - or alternative
UNISON remains unconvinced that extending appeal rights is appropriate
to what should be a democratic process. However, that argument
applies to the existing appeal rights of applicants as much as
it does to objectors.
An alternative approach is to reform the development plan process
as described above together with a revitalised approach to genuine
democratic involvement of all stakeholders by local authorities.
This can only be achieved through properly resourced and supported
planning services. Better training for elected members would be
an important element of this reform.
The only exceptions to this democratic principle would be applications
where the local authority has an interest or when the Scottish
Executive has to intervene for strategic reasons or when local
authorities with a genuine interest differ. There is no appeal
against decisions of the Scottish Parliament (except by judicial
review) so why should democratically elected local authorities
be treated differently.
This radical approach does of course require many local authorities
to raise their game in terms of public involvement and support
their planning services. Properly delivered it would ensure that
the collective interests of the community are put first. Not the
private (often financial) interest of many objectors or the interests
of commercial developers who may have little interest in the community
other than financial gain.