As part of the debate surrounding the Scottish Government’s 2019 Planning Bill Kevin Stewart MSP, the Local Government Minister, said:
“I want people to be much more actively involved in the planning of their areas than ever before, to say what they think and to know they have been listened to.”
This is exactly what happened with the “Boatel” application for a canal-side site at Boroughmuir High School. Local residents and the school community worked together to raise awareness of the risks they felt the development posed.
A total of 376 representations were lodged with regard to the planning application, of which 374 were OBJECTIONS, including those from Tollcross Community Council, the Gilmore Place and Lochrin Residents’ Association, local residents, school parents and boat owners.
Before his committee unanimously rejected the application, Edinburgh’s Planning Convener was clear:
“We went on a site visit and I didn’t appreciate that the front door of Boroughmuir High School is onto the canal – I assumed it was onto Fountainbridge. I can see how vital this space is to the school. Active schools is a big consideration and this is an opportunity for the school to use that space.”
This was a great example of Edinburgh’s Councillors listening to the public and taking a stand against over-tourism – in short, it was democracy in action. As Kevin Stewart MSP put it during the progress of the Planning Bill:
“…developers don’t elect councillors, communities do elect councillors, and they’re the ones who take democratic decisions”.
So why is the development now going ahead? Simple – the developer side-stepped local government and successfully appealed to Kevin Stewart’s Scottish Government.
This is unfair. It’s not unfair that the developer appealed, but it is unfair that local communities also do not have a similar right where they oppose a planning decision.
As part of the debate surround the Planning Bill, there was a move by the Greens, Lib-Dems and Labour to introduce “Third Party Right of Appeal”. This would have given community groups limited powers to appeal bad planning decisions. However, Kevin Stewart MSP rejected this as the SNP and Conservatives pushed through the legislation. Either the SNP or Conservatives could have turned the vote and empowered communities by joining the Greens, Lib-Dems and Labour, but chose not to. Indeed, when supporting the SNP legislation the Conservative spokesperson Graham Simpson MSP declared:
“I commend this Tory-style bill to the chamber.”
The ramifications of this don’t stop with the Boatels. In my Ward I have developers sniffing around the Green Belt and the Redford Barracks site. They know that if their plans are rejected they have the right to appeal. If their plans are accepted, however, the local community has no right to appeal irrespective of how damaging the plans are.
“…the current planning system is unfairly weighted in favour of the developer. Several measures are needed to create a balanced, democratic system that defends our right to enjoy a healthy natural environment.”
Holyrood had a chance to change this, but instead decided to let developers retain the upper hand.