Clare Symonds: Planning power balance must change

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Planning is the kind of issue that unless it affects you it may well not interest you.

But perhaps you might be one of many people from all over Edinburgh who come to enjoy the superb landscape and stunning views across the city from Craighouse and who have found their much-loved greenspace is about to be built on. Or perhaps you are an Old Town resident horrified at Caltongate, plans for a huge development in the heart of the Old Town that you fear will “tear apart the fabric of the city centre”. Situations such as these are the ones where people suddenly find themselves getting interested in planning.

You will probably find yourself on a pretty steep learning curve and as many folk increasingly find, you may well struggle to get your concerns heard and have any influence over proposed developments. During the consultation stage you will have the opportunity to write a representation and if you are lucky get to speak at the planning committee, but there are no guarantees that your views will be taken into account. At the end of the consultation process a decision is made by local authorities, and it is likely the development will be granted planning permission (93 per cent of applications were approved last year). From this point, should the application be approved, there is nothing people can do to challenge the decision. They have to live with it.

Now here’s the rub, if the planning application is refused it isn’t all over for the developers, they are able to appeal the decision.

Planning Democracy is an organisation that represents the public voice in planning. As chair of the organisation I have listened to hundreds of people from Shetland to Galloway who feel angry and frustrated at being unable to influence what happens in their own areas. They frequently tell me they feel that developers interests are all too often prioritised over community interests. Growing numbers are convinced the system should give locals an equal right of appeal. Planning Democracy is calling for politicians to introduce Equal Rights of Appeal into the Scottish system.

We feel the lack of appeal is a blatant injustice and the government has a moral imperative to give communities a right of redress as well as developers.

If you would like to help us change the law, you can sign-up to support our campaign for Equal Rights of Appeal on our website at http://www.planningdemocracy.org.uk

• Clare Symonds is convenor of the charity Planning Democracy which campaigns for reform of the Scottish planning system