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Section 11 — Public availability of information as to how planning applications have been dealt with

Planning etc (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 9:15 am on 16th November 2006.

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Photo of George Reid George Reid None 9:15 am, 16th November 2006

We have reached group 16. Amendment 121, in the name of Alex Neil, is grouped with amendments 27 and 28.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

Amendment 121 would close a loophole in the law, whereby all advice given by officials to councillors on a planning committee is on record but additional evidence that is submitted orally at the planning meeting is not recorded.

In a recent case in South Lanarkshire, additional oral evidence that had been provided at the planning meeting could not be used in an appeal to the minister against the planning committee's decision, because there was no record of it. At least two of the statutory consultees challenged the veracity of the oral advice that was given at the meeting, which included an alleged statement of their position. However, because there was no record of the advice, they could not submit their challenge to be considered by the minister as part of the formal review procedure.

When I lodged a similar amendment at stage 2, the Deputy Minister for Communities said that we must be careful not to overload the planning register with every detail of every planning application, however big or small. I have great sympathy with that position. However, in substantive planning applications that the planning committee considers, additional oral evidence or information that is presented at committee meetings should be a matter of public record—just as meetings of the Scottish Parliament are on record—so that there can be no dispute about what was said, either at the late stages of the planning process or at an appeal. Amendment 121 sets out a narrow definition of the additional information that would be required in the planning register and in the public domain. The approach is essential.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

In the interests of effective recording of oral contributions and cost-effective delivery of a record, would it be sufficient to make a tape recording of the meeting, which could be referred to?

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

Yes. Amendment 121 is drafted to allow local authorities to keep

"an electronic or written record of any oral evidence or advice provided".

How the record was made would be a matter for the local authority. It would probably be cheaper to record meetings electronically. My proposal would address the minister's concerns at stage 2 that the cost of keeping a record would be excessive, because it would cost next to nothing to put a tape recorder at the front of the room and record everything that was said at the meeting. If there was a dispute about or a need to check what was said, the record would be available to all participants.

Currently, additional oral information or advice offered at a planning meeting is not subject to scrutiny or challenge, because it is not recorded. By recording the oral evidence, we would strengthen the arm of everyone involved in the planning process, because a dispute about what was said could be resolved without recourse to the courts. Amendment 121 is sensible—as members would expect of an amendment that I lodged—and would provide a cost-effective way of improving and enhancing the democracy and transparency of the planning process.

I move amendment 121.

Photo of Des McNulty Des McNulty Labour

Amendment 121 would require an electronic or written record of oral evidence or advice given in planning authority proceedings on every planning application to be kept on the register. Although the amendment reins in the requirement for a verbatim record that Alex Neil proposed at stage 2, it is not clear what range of oral evidence or advice would be included in the record or in what circumstances.

Section 11 will allow us to specify in subordinate legislation that a report on each planning application be kept on the planning register. Each report will include a description of the proposal, reference to relevant development plan policies, the issues raised by consultees and objectors, the planning authority's decision, any conditions and the reasons for the decision. The aim is to improve transparency by having a clear and accessible explanation of the decision on every planning application.

As I said at stage 2, although it would be possible to press for more and more detail on every application, a balance needs to be struck between producing a reasonable amount of information on each case and adding undue burdens on planning authorities. Our proposals strike that balance. Individuals who want to pursue concerns about particular cases have powerful tools at their disposal under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002, which allows people to obtain more information from local authorities, including minutes of committee meetings. Therefore, I recommend that the Parliament reject amendment 121.

Amendments 27 and 28 relate to planning legislation that we commenced earlier this year to apply the planning acts to the Crown. As I explained yesterday in relation to related amendments 23 to 26 and 29 to 31, in bringing planning controls to bear on the Crown new provisions were needed to accommodate the Crown's particular responsibilities. Amendments 27 and 28 relate to the inclusion of relevant information on planning registers and information on lists of applications. I ask members to support them.

Photo of Dave Petrie Dave Petrie Conservative

I can see where Alex Neil is coming from, but the approach in amendment 121 would be impractical, not just because of the cost and the difficulty of providing a good record of noisy meetings but because amendment 121 would apply to all planning meetings and therefore not just to "substantive" applications as he suggested. A case might be made for keeping a record of meetings at which controversial applications were discussed, but a record should not be kept in every case.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

At stage 2, the minister told the Communities Committee that all issues raised by consultees and objectors should be included in the planning register, as she said again today. However, it is not possible to meet that requirement if there is no record of what the consultees and objectors said at the planning meeting. The requirement can be met only if oral information and evidence given at the meeting is recorded.

How can we have freedom of information if the information is not there to begin with? It goes without saying that an FOI request is redundant if there is no record of what was said at the meeting.

Dave Petrie's comment about cost was nonsense. There is a verbatim record of every full council meeting in the country—sometimes that is unfortunate. Meetings are recorded electronically and sometimes in writing. Every meeting of the Parliament is recorded. The logic of the Tory and Labour position is that the committees in the Parliament should issue only their minutes and we should not have a verbatim record of what is said. Why is having a verbatim record right and good enough for the committees of this Parliament but not right and good enough for planning committees when they take crucial decisions?

If the bill is to have credibility, it must extend the democratic rights of consultees and objectors. My simple, cost-effective, easy-to-understand amendment would do that. I beg members to reject the advice of the minister and the civil servants who wrote her speech.

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

The question is, that amendment 121 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

There will be a division.

As this is the first vote, I suspend the meeting for five minutes while the division bell is rung.

Meeting suspended.

On resuming—

Division number 1

For: Adam, Brian, Baird, Shiona, Ballance, Chris, Ballard, Mark, Byrne, Ms Rosemary, Canavan, Dennis, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Fabiani, Linda, Fox, Colin, Gibson, Rob, Gorrie, Donald, Grahame, Christine, Harper, Robin, Harvie, Patrick, Hyslop, Fiona, Leckie, Carolyn, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, Maxwell, Mr Stewart, McFee, Mr Bruce, Morgan, Alasdair, Neil, Alex, Robison, Shona, Ruskell, Mr Mark, Scott, Eleanor, Sheridan, Tommy, Stevenson, Stewart, Swinburne, John, Swinney, Mr John, Watt, Ms Maureen, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra
Against: Aitken, Bill, Arbuckle, Mr Andrew, Baillie, Jackie, Baker, Richard, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brocklebank, Mr Ted, Brown, Robert, Brownlee, Derek, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Davidson, Mr David, Deacon, Susan, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Finnie, Ross, Fraser, Murdo, Gallie, Phil, Gillon, Karen, Glen, Marlyn, Godman, Trish, Goldie, Miss Annabel, Gordon, Mr Charlie, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Johnstone, Alex, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McLetchie, David, McMahon, Michael, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Milne, Mrs Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Murray, Dr Elaine, Oldfather, Irene, Peattie, Cathy, Petrie, Dave, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Jeremy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Scott, John, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Stone, Mr Jamie, Tosh, Murray, Wallace, Mr Jim, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan
Abstentions: Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

The result of the division is: For 35, Against 74, Abstentions 1.

Amendment 121 disagreed to.

Amendment 27 moved—[Johann Lamont]—and agreed to.