Scotland’s planning laws are a shambles – Aberdour proves it

Planning. The clue’s in the name. It’s a word which suggests rigour, methodology, decisions based on reliable data.

Or so you might think. In Scotland our planning process is descending into a shambles, and we don’t need to look far to see a prime example of why that’s the case. The recent approval of Cala Homes’ development in Aberdour proves without a doubt that the system is fundamentally broken.

The Scottish Reporter’s decision dealt a devastating blow to hundreds of weary Aberdour residents who had campaigned long and hard despite the odds being stacked against them. It wasn’t a case of nimbyism – the community had valid reasons to object.

The 85-house proposal south of Main Street added significant strain to what’s already a known bottle neck for traffic at the village’s north entrance.  Part of the reason the site was originally rejected through FifePlan. The proposal also formed part of a perfect storm of intense developer interest in Aberdour itself.

Three large building firms targeted the village simultaneously with the hope of securing major housing developments – Cala, Campion and Hillside.   Hillside was approved but sadly that did not deter the others and now Cala have also been rewarded for their persistence over the democratic will of local people, and the local authority. 

The scandal, apart from the process, is that the cumulative impact of these decisions will drastically alter the size and character of Aberdour, not to mention place considerable strain on GP services and education. Traffic volumes too will undoubtedly become a very serious concern in an already constrained village route.

Despite Cala’s application and first appeal to a Scottish Government Reporter being rejected, the current shambles in the planning process simply opened the door to yet a further appeal. 

Two major factors led to this planning folly.

One, the Scottish Reporter appears to have completely ignored FifePlan, and ignored their previous colleague’s decision to reject the site. But the absolute stupidity of this decision is that it is based on SESPlan1 – a completely outdated and discredited planning blueprint which recommends a tally of new builds across Fife that bears absolutely no relation to current housing demand figures, which have been corrected, eventually, through SESPlan2.

While serving as Vice Chair of SESPlan, the Committee rejected approval of SESPlan 2 in 2017 because of the lack of credibility in the Transportation Plan to support it.  SESPlan 2 was eventually lodged with the Scottish Government last year and rejected due to concerns on… transportation.

This fact, combined with the reality that current planning legislation affords no power to communities to lodge a final appeal, provides a perfect window of opportunity for determined developers.  And in Aberdour’s case, runs a coach and horses through any aspiration to be a planning approach based on place making.

As a result, as amply demonstrated in the case of Cala, building firms refuse to accept democratic decisions because they know full well they have the option to come back again, and again, until the Scottish Reporter decides in their favour.

Meanwhile, communities are locked in a war of attrition quite simply because the Scottish Parliament continues to allow it to happen.

The Scottish Government’s planning reform bill provided a vital opportunity to set that power imbalance right by introducing community right of appeal, but the current SNP Government have repeatedly rejected Labour’s attempts to bring about democratic balance in the planning bill.

The sad conclusion of all of this is that, unless there is political will to enact change, absurd planning decisions such as that made in Aberdour will continue to happen.