Planning Decisions – Recent Outcomes

BEFS Director Euan Leitch asks, should politicians be influencing the final outcome of planning decisions?

Two recent planning decisions by Scottish Ministers are of note.

Ministers accepted the advice of their Reporter and refused consent for a large scale leisure and tourism development which included over 1000 houses and the consolidation of Loudon Castle, East Ayrshire. Permission was refused on the following grounds:

  • There is no certainty that the scale of proposed housing development is the minimum level required as enabling development.
  • The scale of the proposed enabling housing development would have an adverse impact on the Loudoun Castle Historic Garden and Designed Landscape.
  • The separation of the proposed tourism leisure proposals from the proposed housing for enabling funding purposes is not acceptable.
  • Furthermore, the scale of the proposed enabling housing development, and lack of suitable masterplanning mean that, in their present form, the proposals would not result in a well-planned sustainable community.

There is not an infrequent assumption that economics and housing numbers trump other planning matters such as heritage and sustainability, but in this case it is the converse. The full report, while lengthy, is worthy of further examination.

The other decision is in relation to the proposed expansion of Hyndford Quarry into the buffer zone of the New Lanark World Heritage Site. This has been a long running case and the Scottish Government Reporter found the western and southern expansion of quarry to be in line with policy and recommended that the proposals would:

  • Contribute to overcoming an identified shortfall in the minerals reserve (landbank);
  • Protect and preserve the character, integrity and quality of the New Lanark World Heritage Site, its setting and Outstanding Universal Value;
  • Avoid compromise to the integrity of the Falls of Clyde Designed Landscape, its character and the objectives of its designation;
  • Safeguard listed buildings, their settings, and any features of special interest they possess;
  • Preserve or enhance the character or appearance of the New Lanark and Falls of Clyde Conservation Area;
  • Protect scheduled ancient monuments and their settings;
  • Not adversely affect the overall quality of special landscape areas;
  • Not harm nature conservation interests;
  • Support sustainable economic development; and
  • Provide an acceptable restoration scheme.

For the western extension of the quarry Ministers found the opposite to be the case, that it contravened a range of regional and local planning policy, and are therefore only minded to grant permission for the southern extension of the quarry. The full report is again worth reading but raises similar questions as before around why East Ayrshire Council , Historic Environment Scotland and the Scottish Government Reporter are interpreting planning policy and heritage values so differently from Scottish Ministers?

As the Planning (Scotland) Bill has been progressing through parliamentary scrutiny, one repeated refrain has been on the topic of Ministerial intervention in the planning process, and the refrain is usually that it should be resisted. But is that wholly desirable? The thousands of people who objected to the Hyndford Quarry extension will be grateful for Ministerial intervention, but when Ministerial decisions go the other way there is usually disquiet expressed about their role. Perhaps we have to accept, or embrace, that planning is fundamentally political.