Sustainability must be at the heart of Land Use and Planning policies of the next Scottish Government, elected in three weeks time. We continue to see the urban sprawl creep into the countryside, eating up good quality agricultural lands and encouraging car use, and erosion of the remaining green spaces in our towns and cities affecting biodiversity, air quality and wellbeing, yet none of the main political parties have mentioned sustainability in this context.
Further development on the greenbelt around our towns and cities should not be permitted until existing brown-field and derelict urban sites have been regenerated. Systems and incentives are required to ensure that vacant sites are developed, or if not, that the local authority can step in and take the necessary action to develop them, for example to create more social housing.
An example of the current planning system failing to work includes a number of sites in Glasgow’s International Financial Services District which have lain derelict for years, with planning permission in place but no signs of development progressing. On one site, a new luxury hotel is proposed, for which the developers managed to use compulsory purchase powers to force out local businesses, leaving a whole block empty and dilapidated, with resulting detrimental impacts on the surrounding area. Several other sites are being used as car parks. The existing system makes it too easy for developers to get planning permission but does not take action on developers who blight an area and do not follow through with the development. Existing local businesses have been harmed for no overall benefit.
In Aberdeen, it is the city’s green spaces that are under threat by developers – Union Terrace gardens will be built over against the wishes of the majority of locals. This development will deprive the city centre of a much loved green space. The benefits of such places in cities are often undervalued as they do not generate revenue directly. There is a reason that the cities voted as the best cities to live in have ample green space.
My final example of where the planning system already benefits large international developers is Donald Trump’s golf development in Aberdeenshire, the highly publicised David and Goliath case where Donald Trump tried to use compulsory purchase powers under the planning system to force out locals because he didn’t like the look of their back yard. Once planning permission was granted for the development a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) was promptly bull dozed, but he is promising inward investment so we can turn a blind eye.
The types of development encouraged by existing planning policies are often not appropriate for the area, focussed as they are on encouraging large developments with inward investment rather than stimulating diverse mixed use community led developments and they take no consideration of their sustainability.
Proposals by the four largest parties (Scottish National Party, Scottish Labour Party, Scottish Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Conservatives) all focus on making the planning process quicker (not necessarily a bad thing) and most focus on making it easier for big business to get planning permission, coded in various terms such as “We will make economic development a material consideration” or “making the planning system more efficient and seeking to develop export opportunities”. The latter indicating that if a foreign business wants to invest in Scotland, say to build a new Chunghwa Picture Tubes factory, that the planning system would ignore local concerns. Incidentally, Iain Gray was Enterprise Minister at the time of the Chunghwa fiasco.
In conclusion, sustainability must be at the heart of the planning system taking precedence over purely economic factors. We should not be permitting developments purely to create jobs if they will lead to job losses elsewhere, they will be damaging to the environment, will encourage greater car use, divide communities or reduce quality of life.
Economy, Environment and Society must all be considered equally.