I thank the minister for advance sight of his statement. The Planning (Scotland) Bill contains some positive steps that we support, but I want to focus on some of the more draconian measures that are being proposed. For example, the proposed infrastructure levy could be retained by Government, not councils. Why, and on what grounds, and why has the Government not decided what sort of levy it wants? The bill would also order councils, which are already cash strapped, to prepare annual performance reports. Will they be given extra money to do that?
Quite separately, there is a power to send in a Scottish Government troubleshooter if a minister decides that a council’s planning department is not performing, and there could be fines for non-co-operation. The Scottish Government would even be able to take over a planning department. That runs a coach and horses through any pretence of localism. Can the minister say under what circumstances he would use that power grab, and on what grounds he has brought forward the proposals? How does he define underperformance? The bill certainly does not do so. What is the problem that he is trying to fix?
Finally, councillors would have to pass an exam to take planning decisions. That affects all councillors, whose right to take those decisions is surely determined by the voters who elected them in the first place. Again, the Scottish Government reserves the right to take over if a council does not play ball. What is the justice in that affront to democracy?