Alastair Shields: Alex Neil undermines democracy

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The decision to call in a number of housing developments by Cabinet Secretary Alex Neil is a worrying one for those of us who value the green belt. This is especially so in light of informed speculation that this means developments in areas like Cammo will go ahead against the strong wishes of local residents and local democratically elected representatives.

The “presumption in favour of development” makes a mockery of the public’s involvement in the planning system, a system where the cards are already heavily stacked in favour of the developer no matter how hideous or out-of-place a planning application is.

Take the Cammo development as an example. The proposed site at Cammo sits in an area between two of the busiest roads in Scotland and local residents there and in East Craigs have real concerns that building on the scale proposed will result in further heavy congestion making it very much more difficult for them to get to and from their homes.

The west side of the city has seen massive expansion over the last 40 years with massive increases in traffic and we have come to a point where there is little more that the local area can take. That is why last year I objected to the proposals and why local residents are, rightly, so concerned about them.

Local accountability and decision making on planning matters is a mainstay of our local democracy. Alex Neil, in calling in this decision is riding roughshod over decisions taken by planning committees and this isn’t the first time the SNP has chosen to emasculate local government.

Remember the debacle of police centralisation, with the imposition of Strathclyde policing on the rest of Scotland; the centralising of the fire service; the arrangements the nationalist have imposed to ensure that there is a council tax freeze which penalises councils should they choose to exercise their democratic rights to alter the rate. That’s just for starters.

It should come as no surprise that the shamelessly pro-private sector SNP has no concept of conservation, of protection of green belt and green space and would seek to build anywhere in spite of existing protections and local opinion. That this is to be directed from St Andrew’s House with scant regard for residents’ wishes fundamentally undermines local democracy.

Alastair Shields is Lib Dem councillor for Almond