Restoring local democracy

Saturday April 9th 2016

Article by Bill Kerr-Smith, Eskbank Community Council

When it comes to designing the places where we live, learn, work and play, there is a serious democratic deficit in how planning decisions are made.

The problem is that the concerns of the people most affected are not being valued, or are mostly ignored. The Scottish government knows this, Voluntary Organisations the length and breadth of the country know this and even the people making most of the decisions – our local authorities – know this. Most of all, the Community Councils representing local residents know this, as month after month they encounter examples of how badly things can go wrong and how little can be done to rectify poor decisions.

In Midlothian we have examples, such as the approval of development at the former Arniston Gas Works, against the recommendations of planning officers and the agreed Local Plan, because the Local Review Body (LRB) considered the site to be “a dump”.

Similarly, at Broomieknowe, the LRB approved development on a site that has not yet been approved for development within the Midlothian Local Development Plan.

Community Councils do their best to persuade the authorities that there is real value in preserving the identity of local communities threatened by coalescence (merging of Towns or Villages), or that more houses won’t improve a locality where the clinics are already closed to new patients and the schools are overflowing, while children are less safe crossing ever-busier streets. Sadly, the vast majority of developer applications are approved and communities have no equal right of appeal.

The Midlothian Federation of Community Councils is supporting our local Community Councils in trying to restore democracy to the local planning process, starting with the LRB.

So far Midlothian Council administration has refused to engage in a conversation about what kind of reform might be possible and how we might progress this agenda. The last word from the Council Leader was to suggest that we complain to the Ombudsman. We think we need to do better than that.

Our first step is to become better informed, so we have organised a workshop on the topic of Making Planning Work for Communities, to take place on 16th April, at the McSence Conference facility in Mayfield.

Representatives from all of Midlothian’s Community Councils will be attending, but we have reserved some places for Midlothian residents who are interested.

If you want to attend, reserve your place HERE or call Bill Kerr-Smith on 0771 935 9201.

If you are interested in working with, or joining, your local Community Council, you will find contact details on the Community Council pages of Midlothian View HERE

Bill Kerr-Smith
Eskbank & Newbattle Community council

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