UNISON Scotland's evidence to the Communities Committee
on the Planning (Scotland) Bill
UNISON is Scotland's largest trade union representing
over 150,000 members working primarily in the public sector. We
are the largest trade union in local government and represent 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 environment
UNISON Scotland broadly welcomes the proposals in
the Planning Bill. Our detailed approach to planning reform is set
out in our submission to the original consultation. This can be
viewed on our website (http://www.unison-scotland.org.uk/response/plandev.html).
UNSON Scotland broadly supports the proposed hierarchy
Further clarification is needed on how applications
will be classified under this system to avoid the centralisation
of planning and a loss of local participation. Even strategic national
developments have local implications. There is also a need for a
clearer criterion for calling in major developments. It is not the
role of the Scottish Executive to ‘supervise' decisions taken by
democratically elected councils except when the authority has a
significant vested interest. We are concerned over the centralisation
of planning as highlighted in the financial memorandum to the Bill.
The National Planning Framework has to be about more
than land use. It must incorporate wider public policy issues and
reflect the need for long term development - beyond the normal political
We welcome parliamentary consideration of the National
Planning Framework. However, we are concerned over the absence of
detail on how parliamentary scrutiny will be undertaken on the National
Planning Framework. It is essential that proposals be robustly tested
given the implications for local communities. There should be clear
statutory procedures for the involvement of local planning authorities.
UNISON Scotland welcomes the primacy given to development
plans in the Bill. We also support the statutory requirement to
update development plans to a fixed timescale. However, this and
many other aspects of the Bill will be meaningless unless planning
departments are properly resourced.
We support Strategic Development Planning Authorities
as a good example of local authorities working as public service
networks. Whilst we recognise the need for powers of direction,
these should only be used in extremis. It would be entirely inappropriate
for ministers to name individual officers as such appointments are
a matter for their employer, the local authority.
Simpler plans and model policies are also welcome
although these should still enable plans to reflect local needs
and aspirations and not impose a ‘one size fits all' approach across
Scotland. They must be flexible and more clearly link in with community
planning and other local policies. It has to be recognised that
simpler plans may create more scope for conflict and involve planners
in significant workload.
The arrangements for the examination of a local development
plan grant powers to an appointed person (Civil Servant) over the
decisions of a democratically elected local authority are a matter
of concern. Examination powers should be restricted to a check on
the consultation process, other procedural matters and those aspects
of the plan in which the local authority has a financial interest.
UNISON Scotland welcomes the strengthening of development
management arrangements in the Bill.
UNISON Scotland supports the Bill's aims of widening
public involvement at an earlier stage in the process without the
introduction of Third Party Right of Appeal (TPRA).
Equality of access will only be achieved if scrutiny
is properly resourced. This includes the role of community councils.
It has to be recognised that development plans, particularly simplified
versions, will always be viewed as more abstract than specific developments.
We welcome the provisions for schemes of delegation
and new appeal arrangements including local review of local developments.
Schemes of delegation are already widely used with just under 80%
of planning applications determined in this way. Whilst promoting
best practice is desirable we would not support a standard scheme
that might not suit individual local authorities. Local government
officers and members are experienced in managing any potential conflict.
In addition we would urge a more radical step to limit the right
of appeal to un-elected Reporters of decisions taken by elected
We agree that more householder developments could
be covered by permitted developments and excluded from the requirement
for planning permission. However, it has to be recognised that many
of these issues are the cause of neighbour disputes and inappropriate
deregulation could cause problems for other agencies.
We also support the strengthening of enforcement powers
including temporary stop notices and fixed penalty notices that
we understand are likely to be added to the Bill. All too often
the powers and penalties are insufficient to deter developers and
appeal mechanisms are used to delay enforcement action.
Business Improvement Districts
UNISON is concerned that the proposals for Business
Improvement Districts will potentially divide communities and create
greater social exclusion, rather than promoting communities and
social inclusion. Businesses will only be interested in developing
a BID in an area which is attractive, successful and worthwhile
investing in. In the more run down, deprived areas the private sector
will see no interest in investing and working with what little community
The arrangements are fundamentally undemocratic with
voting being based on aggregate rateable value and a right of appeal
to Scottish Ministers on what is essentially a local matter. UNISON
believes that we should move away from this piece meal approach
to community development, and focus on the existing democratic,
transparent and representative structures we have to build and develop
UNISON Scotland believes that the best way to involve
the business community in improving communities and in working with
local authorities is to return the powers to set local business
rates to local authorities. Local businesses should have a stake
in local communities and services, and the most transparent and
democratic means to do this is to enable local authorities to set
business rates. We believe this is a positive way to revitalise
local government finance, enable local authorities to have greater
control over the finances they are able to raise, and to give local
businesses a stake in the communities in which they are based.
Supporting Planning Authorities
Whilst UNISON welcomes the allocation of resources
to the Planning Development Budget this does not address the need
to adequately fund the core functions of planning departments that
are already under funded before the Bill's provisions are considered.
The key to modernising the planning system is a properly
resourced and well-trained planning service that has political support
at national and local level. Staffing numbers have remained largely
unchanged for a decade despite a 20+% increase in the number of
planning applications and many departments are reporting staffing
shortages. There has been a shift away from working on plans to
cope with this increase in planning applications and in response
to performance targets. Local authorities are not the only employer
of planners and many have been attracted to the private sector by
better pay and conditions together with other factors including
a concern over the confrontational way of working in the current
planning system. Better workforce planning and liaison with universities
has been a productive approach in other local authority professions
(e.g. social work) and we would support a similar approach covering
all staff working in the planning function.
Local authority planning functions regularly review
their organisation including skill mix. This will continue but it
will not release savings at the level required to fund the provisions
of the Bill. There may well be a case for examining the level and
structure of fees to reflect the true costs involved.
The Bill will place significant new demands on planning
authorities. Neighbour notification, tree preservation orders, hearings,
pre-application consultation, assessment and broader public involvement
all have significant resource implications. The Bill is strong on
demands placed on planning authorities but noticeably weak on supporting
change with real resources. The assumptions in the financial memorandum
to the Bill appear to be overly optimistic both in terms of claimed
savings and in the cost of additional duties. There will also be
additional costs on other public bodies particular those who will
have a duty to cooperate under the Bill.
Whilst we welcome audit and assessment as a way of
spreading and developing good practice the Bill's provisions imply
something more. An inordinate amount of time is currently spent
by local government officers in preparing and responding to the
burgeoning inspection arrangements across local government. Authorities
already have Best Value arrangements in place together with audit
and other processes.
Whilst it is the responsibility of the Scottish Executive
to oversee the effective functioning of the planning system it is
not their role to interfere with the decisions of democratically
elected local authorities. Powers of intervention must genuinely
be powers of last resort.
Planners welcomed the recognition in the White Paper
that their role is primarily visionary and enabling. Unfortunately
the pressure on under resourced departments means that many are
forced to concentrate on their regulatory role. We were disappointed
that the White Paper concentrated its comments on culture change
almost exclusively on planners and local authorities. If culture
change is to succeed applicants, particularly those in the commercial
sector also need to respond to the need for culture change.
For further information please contact:
Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX
Tel 0141-332 0006 Fax 0141 342 2835
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