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UNISON Scotland's response to the White Paper: Modernising the Planning System

Modernising the Planning System

September 2005


UNISON is Scotland's largest trade union representing over 150,000 members working 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 White Paper: Modernising the Planning System. 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) together with our initial briefing on the Planning White Paper http://www.unison-scotland.org.uk/briefings/planningbrf.html.

This response is therefore limited to specific proposals in the White Paper.

Making the Planning System Fit for Purpose

UNSON Scotland broadly supports the proposed hierarchy of planning.

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.

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 time scales.

We welcome the new appeal arrangements including local review of local developments. We would however urge a more radical step to limit the right of appeal to un-elected Reporters of decisions taken by elected local authorities as set out in our submission to the original consultation.

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.


UNISON Scotland welcomes the primacy given to development plans in the White Paper. We also support the statutory requirement to update development plans every five years. However, this and many other aspects of the proposals will be meaningless unless planning departments are properly resourced.

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.

Whilst a single tier of development plans is welcome these still require considerable cross boundary working even outwith the city regions.

Planners will welcome the recognition 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 are disappointed that the White Paper concentrates 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.

Widening Inclusion

UNISON Scotland supports the White Paper's aims of widening public involvement at an earlier stage in the process without the introduction of Third Party Right of Appeal (TPRA).

We are however 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.

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 support the strengthening of enforcement powers. All too often the powers and penalties are insufficient to deter developers and appeal mechanisms are used to delay enforcement action.

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.

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.

The White Paper proposals will place significant new demands on planning authorities. Neighbour notification, tree preservation orders, hearings, pre-application consultation and broader public involvement all have significant resource implications. The White Paper is strong on demands placed on planning authorities but noticeably weak on supporting change with real resources.

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.

For further information please contact:

Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary

UNISON Scotland
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX
Tel 0141-332 0006 Fax 0141 342 2835

e-mail matt.smith@unison.co.uk

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