Trust backs campaign for ‘Equal Rights of Appeal’

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The John Muir Trust has joined a range of environmental and community organisations to support a campaign for fair decision making in the Scottish planning system.

The campaign group Planning Democracy is calling for Holyrood to introduce ‘Equal Rights of Appeal’ to create a level playing field between developers on the one side, and local communities and environmental groups on the other.

Under the current system, a developer has the right to appeal against a decision by a planning authority – a privilege that is denied to any community group or environmental charity which challenges an application.

After lodging a petition to the Scottish Parliament, Planning Democracy has submitted four powerful case studies from four disparate parts of the country – Shetland, the Borders, the Central Belt and the Highlands ­– to highlight the injustice of the current planning system. The examples cover applications for fracking, wind turbines and construction projects.

Helen McDade, Head of Policy for the John Muir Trust said: “As things stand, the odds are stacked in favour of developers. They have an automatic right of appeal when a decision goes against them, while local people are left powerless to challenge the verdict of a planning authority or a government minister.

She pointed to the example of the Viking Wind Farm, a joint project between SSE and Shetland Council (through the mechanism of the Shetland Charitable Trust). The proposal to build a 103-turbine wind farm was opposed by thousands of local residents and by the government’s own statutory agency, Scottish Natural Heritage.

“As joint developer, Shetland Council had a huge financial stake in this application. Yet because they failed to object to their own proposal, there was no obligation on the Scottish Government to hold a Public Local Inquiry.

“Instead, the Scottish Government approved this application – and the community had no right to appeal. Consequently, the biggest wind farm north of the Central Belt was approved with zero public scrutiny.”

The campaign group, Sustainable Shetland, has taken out a judicial review.

“The huge expense of taking legal advice is unaffordable for most communities,” says Helen McDade. “It is also inadequate as the decision on whether to proceed is further skewed in favour of developers by the fact that the expense incurred is only to challenge the legality of the process, and not the rights or wrongs of the decision itself.”

“The John Muir Trust believes that there can be no social or environmental justice until communities and environmental charities have the same rights as developers.”