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The impact of wider rights of appeal in planning would depend on the details of any new system. Our objective will be to modernise the planning system so that communities can properly participate and Scotland's long-term economic needs are met.
Will the First Minister say whether he believes that the current 13-stage planning process is too long, discourages individuals and communities from effective participation, has been the subject of criticism from community groups and organisations such as the Scottish Retail Consortium, the Confederation of British Industry, the Federation of Small Businesses and others, can damage business and leads to a sense of frustration and unfairness? Further, will he share with the chamber any initial conclusions that he has drawn from the current review relating to ways to shorten the process, increase public participation and trust and accelerate sustainable economic and infrastructure development?
There are two important sides to this debate and both have been reflected in the consultation that has taken place. Businesses and others who are affected have lobbied strongly in support of significant improvements being made with regard to the efficiency of the planning system. Quite rightly, communities have lobbied strongly for improvements in relation to fairness in the planning system and their ability to participate in that system. We need to ensure that we adopt a balanced approach to the proposals that are made.
When the Executive announces its proposals, which I believe will be early next year, we will ensure not only that we improve the way in which communities and individuals participate in the planning system but, significantly, that we improve the efficiency of the system, speed up the system, improve enforcement and ensure a much more effective delivery for those who are making applications and objecting to them.
Does the First Minister accept that the most significant application that many communities can face is one for opencast mining? Although the Scottish Executive's consultation on new guidance for opencast mining is welcome, does he share my concern that, in the period between now and the introduction of that guidance, a number of applications might go through that would otherwise be refused? Will the Scottish Executive therefore consider placing a moratorium on opencast mining applications until the new guidance is in place?
We must be careful about announcing moratoriums on planning applications while consultation takes place on new guidance. It is important that planning authorities are able to implement the current guidance consistently. If there is a problem with the current system, it is the perception that local communities sometimes have that the guidance is not implemented consistently and effectively. We must ensure that the current guidance is implemented consistently, but where that guidance requires to be updated—as we believe that it does in relation to opencast mining—we will move speedily to update it. However, we will ensure that the views of local communities and others are taken on board in the process.
In considering the new planning legislation, will the First Minister give a guarantee that he will make provision for communities that are blighted by sewage being dumped on their doorsteps and by landfill where no planning permission is needed because of the past history of those sites? There is no communication with or democracy in those communities. Will he guarantee that things will be changed?
As I said earlier in response to Christine May, in modernising and improving the planning system, it is important that we should have a regime that works more efficiently and which is enforced more effectively, so that the conditions in respect of any successful application are made clear and that such conditions are properly applied and enforced. That is our objective and I hope that it will be clear that we have achieved that objective when the minister announces our plans.
I welcome what the First Minister says about having a balanced response. However, does he agree that local communities currently feel alienated in the planning process and that introducing a third-party right of appeal in the coming legislation would go some way towards tackling that feeling of alienation? Will he say whether a third-party right of appeal will be included in the new planning legislation?
I recognise the support on the SNP's front bench for a full third-party right of appeal. However, we believe that we must take a balanced approach to the matter and that we must ensure that local communities have improved rights, as well as ensuring that there is a more efficient and effective system. When we bring forward our proposals, members will see that our approach can be welcomed both by people who need to ensure that development takes place in their community and by people who wish to stop development.
I strongly welcome the First Minister's open mind while we consider our approach to a community right of appeal. It appears that he recognises not only the strong views of many communities that are frustrated by the unfairness of the system, but that we should go beyond the issue of modernising participation. Does he therefore agree that key to any proposal for a community right of appeal is ensuring that the system deals with applications speedily and on clear and defined grounds that do not impose undue delays? Does he further agree that if such a proposal is on the table, it should be seriously considered by the Scottish Executive?
As I said, the proposals that come forward must have a balance that ensures that communities and individuals not only have, but feel that they have, more opportunities to influence decisions that are made, particularly by local planning authorities, and that local planning authorities operate a system that is more efficient from beginning to end and more effectively enforced afterwards. That is the challenge in modernising Scotland's planning system. Doing so is not an easy task. Strong views have been expressed about the lack of participation by some local communities in the system and their frustration with planning authorities. People who support development and wish to see development where it can be justified and meets local plans have also expressed strong views. Ensuring that we have an improved system that can meet those two objectives is a challenge. The minister will outline our plans in the new year.