The Planning Bill, currently before the Scottish Parliament, aims to support economic development by streamlining the system. Unfortunately this laudable objective in the Bill is not balanced by anything about protecting the environment. NEMT attended a discussion session in Stonehaven hosted by the MSP chairing the Holyrood committee scrutinising the Bill; we also wrote to all North East list MSPs and local constituency MSPs about the following which are absent from the Bill and which should be included:
MSPs Bill Bowman, Jenny Marra, Mark McDonald and Tom Mason didn't bother to reply to the letter, which, despite being some distance away, means that they need to check their job descriptions.
Replies which were received were generally along party lines with SNP politicians wanting to see development at almost any cost. They were clear that 'wild land status should not impose a blanket ban on development', which translates as 'wild land is good for the tourist brochures but wind farms are better'. There was no need to worry about using independent contractors as the planning application reviewers, i.e. our over-stretched local authority planning officers, would make sure that the evidence was presented impartially. In the vein of seeing more development, equal right of appeal was seen as disruptive and unhelpful. Lewis Macdonald, our lonely Labour MSP, largely agreed with this view. The Conservative MSPs were more helpful, with Alexander Burnett supporting statutory protection for Wild Land Areas, urging us to submit our views to the Planning Committee. They were less clear about requirements to use independent contractors but supported re-examining some form of limited equal right of appeal. Finally, Mike Rumbles, our Liberal MSP, who has been very helpful in the past, was generally positive but not committing to anything other than support for some form of limited equal right of appeal.
There's nothing too surprising in these replies. However, the main purpose of these letters is to 'sensitise' politicians to the fact that the conservation groups, representing quite a few voters, have strong views which need to be considered. Although the Government is set against equal right of appeal, the Holyrood Committee is giving this particular attention.
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