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Last Updated: Friday, 9 December 2005, 16:29 GMT
Scotland: Planning concerns
Stephen Low
The Politics Show Scotland

The planning system has a huge effect on daily life

The planning system usually makes an impact on the physical rather than the political landscape.

That is about to change as the Scottish Executive unveil their bill to modernise Scotland's land use planning system.

It goes largely unnoticed by most people most of the time - but the planning system has a huge effect on all of our lives.

Through strategic plans for local areas or the planning permission that must be sought for the building or renovation of virtually any property; planning helps determine the nature of the built environment that surrounds us.

But in recent years almost everyone has come to agree that Scotland's planning system is not up to the job.

Too slow and too complex are some of the most commonly voiced complaints.

Developers complain that from application to construction can take years.

The Politics Show visited one area near Lenzie in East Dumbartonshire which initial permission to build housing on the site of a disused hospital was granted 15 years ago - but conditions put on potential house builders have meant that work still has not started.

And communities also find the system difficult to engage with.

Some of these difficulties might begin to be resolved with the publication of a bill which hopes to make Scotland's planning system fit for the 21st century.

If, as expected, the bill resembles the White Paper on Modernising Planning published in June 2005; procedures will be introduced to speed up dealing with individual planning applications.

The strategic planning system is also to be revamped - Strategic Area Plans - the "Local Plan", have been drawn up by each Planning Authority and cover the whole of Scotland.

But at the moment, whilst drawing up a plan is a statutory duty, keeping it up to date is not.

This means that many local plans are anything up to a decade old.

It is expected that if the Bill passes these Local Plans will have to be drawn up every five years, and be accompanied by regular reviews and implementation strategies to make sure the policies contained within them are being acted on.

Communities are to be involved at a much earlier stage with the aim of having a greater input into the final shape of the plan.

But while most of the bill will receive a wide welcome, few people believe that the bill itself will solve all of our planning problems.

Ken Ross of property development company "The Elpinstone Group" expects that that the Bill will ease some of the difficulties his and other companies face.

However worries that other planning related issues like the provision such as water and sewerage will still remain.

He points to an English example of what the Executive could do: "South of the Border they have an organisation called English Partnerships which assembles land, resolves infrastructure problems and is providing an 'oven ready' product so that development can take place"

Professor David Adam of Glasgow University pointed out to the Politics Show that the White Paper that preceded the Bill was all about process: "About the way decisions are made and whether that is fair and quick and whether everyone is consulted.

"It is not really about the decisions themselves ... it is not really about the substance, the decisions people are worried about in planning terms."

Graham U'ren of the Royal Town Planning Institute in Scotland welcomes many of the changes the Scottish Executive have been talking of making but believes that this will take extra resources.

He hopes that the Bill will enable a "culture change" to help the planning system to be: "better understood and be seen to be working for people"

So it will be all change for the planning system. Faster decisions, a more coherent policy framework, more community involvement, a system fit for the 21st century.

Well, that is the plan.

Politics Show

Tune into Politics Show Scotland, on BBC One on Sunday 15 January 2006 at Noon, with reporter Christine Macleod and presenter David Henderson

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