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Scottish Parliament Speech: Planning Law (Enforcement) (September 2008)

See this speech in context on They Work For You.

Fife, which both Iain Smith and I, in our various ways, represent, was the place in which, with Patrick Geddes's famous proposals for the redevelopment of Dunfermline, submitted in 1896, modern town planning originated. Geddes had the enormous virtue of having his bright ideas just when a millionaire with a guilt complex turned up.

Andrew Carnegie bankrolled the redevelopment. Scotland has a planning tradition of which we are very proud. Yet, as Iain Smith has pointed out, that tradition has, in certain respects, a tendency to fall victim to Parkinson's law, in that we become obsessed with details and allow great infringements of our planning structures to pass by before we have the opportunity to intervene. An example of Parkinson's law is the committee that is studying a plan for a nuclear power station but spends most of its time discussing a bicycle shed. The nuclear power station is put through on the nod. Something like that is rather a tendency of Scottish planning.

In a previous members' business debate, I raised the issue of supermarkets. Some applications for supermarkets can go through because they have planning permission from long before as part of a land-bank strategy, but then the supermarket can open and alter totally the structures of the local economy and the way in which local businesses develop.

You and I, Presiding Officer, will have received solicitous letters inquiring about our views on the closures of post offices throughout the country. We may give those views, and may insist that the post offices in villages are not closed down. The village post office will often carry the village store with it, so its closure will infringe the county planning acts that were created to enable villages to be sustained and to survive. Nonetheless, as sure as fate, a decision will come back from the minions of the postal service to say that, regardless of what has been said - about Pathhead, or Earlston, or Greenlaw - the closures are going ahead.

I raise these questions not in order to consider bizarre areas of earlier planning law, but to make this point: if the planning structure is more often observed by negation than by actual development to keep abreast with modern society, the dodgy entrepreneur - the person with motives often on the edges of legality - is able to get past the planning structure.

I do not know whether other members remember a case from about two years ago when a small village in Lanarkshire found itself hosting a fireworks dump that actually had more explosives in it than the one that nearly wiped out the Dutch town of Enschede about four years ago. Somehow, the dump had managed to gravitate through the planning system. Iain Smith's points are valid enough, but how are we to combat such things?

We must not only ask for sharpness in local authority responses, but invigorate a much greater degree of local involvement in the way in which societies operate in communities and villages. Members will find in the evidence of anyone from Fife that the number of protests from Iain Smith's region - the 12 miles or so around St Andrews - is greater than the number from almost anywhere else.

If this sort of thing can happen in Iain Smith's area, what possibility of redress is there in other areas of Scotland?

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