Two very different planning decisions made the headlines recently, but they share a common factor – the decision was made by politicians, who did not follow the recommendation from the planners.
In Glasgow, the planning committee decided 12-6 to refuse permission for a student housing development adjoining Glasgow School of Art. The officer’s report commented in detail on how the proposed design is acceptable, but the committee disagreed.
Near Edinburgh, permission was granted by the Scottish Ministers for a film studio development. The reporter concluded that the prejudice to the emerging Local Development Plan, and the consequent threat to the delivery of its proposed A701 relief road and the strategic development allocations, in combination with the other negative effects of the proposal, outweighed the socio-economic benefits it would deliver. The Ministers disagreed – they considered that the anticipated significant socio-economic benefits outweighed any potential negative consequences; and that the relief road could be dealt with by a Grampian condition.
Depending on your viewpoint, this either illustrates the flexibility, or lack of certainty, inherent in our planning system. Although developers want certainty, they also like flexibility if it results in a grant of permission.
The issue of who makes the decision was touched on in the recent Scottish Government consultation Places, people and planning. The question was whether politicians should decide more of the appeals, rather than reporters, with increased jurisdiction for local review bodies and Ministers deciding more appeals. Does democratic accountability mean that planners should make fewer decisions?