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Planning (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 (Day 2)

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 19th June 2019.

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Photo of Monica Lennon Monica Lennon Labour

I refer members to my entry in the register of interests: I am a member of the Royal Town Planning Institute Scotland.

At stage 2, I argued strongly that planning has a unique role in protecting and improving public health, and I presented a number of ideas to maximise the potential of the Planning (Scotland) Bill to make a real difference. I successfully amended the bill to allow an assessment of the “likely health effects” of “national ... or major” developments to be considered

“before planning permission ... is granted”.

That is a requirement on Scottish ministers to make regulations, and amendment 198 is an add-on that would strengthen that.

Amendment 198 sets out what the regulations should take account of. I will run through that as briefly as I can. I stress that the amendment is about making sure that public health is central to the planning system. It would add to the requirements on major and national developments, and is not about small-scale or household applications.

Amendment 198 includes consideration of “walking and cycling routes”, “access to ... greenspace” and “play and recreation facilities”. I have lodged the amendment because the health of people in Scotland must be to the fore when we are planning our communities. I think that we would all agree that that must include physical health and mental health, and that it has to be done in a way that also tackles health inequalities.

What would the assessment do? It would look at things such as the provision of “infrastructure, including housing quality”. All colleagues will know from their case work that poor-quality housing, in which people are living in homes that are cold and hard to heat, that are damp or cramped or that have little outdoor space, can have a negative impact on health. Respiratory problems come up a lot, so that needs to be taken into account in large-scale developments.

On transportation, the requirement would be to consider active travel, “public transport provision” and “car dependency”. Members will recognise that the benefits of active travel go far beyond the positive physical impacts. Walking and cycling are good for our mental health, better for the environment and reduce transport costs.

Members might be wondering why we need amendment 198. It is because we cannot take for granted that those matters are being properly addressed under the current system. Last year,

Scottish Housing News covered a report entitled “Progress on low car neighbourhoods in Scotland”. It found that housing developers are locking people into unhealthy and expensive car dependency by failing to provide infrastructure and failing to enable access to healthier travel options including walking, cycling and car sharing.

Access to healthcare came up a lot at stage 2; I know that it is important to members. When I was working as a planner and we talked about infrastructure, that often concerned drainage and roads, for example, and was not so much about healthcare. However, I know, from speaking to colleagues from across the chamber, that, increasingly, people in new housing find that they cannot get general practitioner appointments and that GPs are closing their waiting lists. That is why consultation of the national health service and the chief medical officer, which we discussed yesterday, is really important. We are not joining up systems.

Amendment 198 is about healthcare services and the opportunities that we need to provide in communities. We talk about building units—as house builders do—or houses, but what we actually need to build are communities. The amendment is about how we can build strong, resilient and cohesive communities that bring people together and create opportunities for participation, so that we do not see an increase in the social isolation and loneliness that exist at the moment.

Another healthcare issue that came up at stage 2 was access to public toilets, which some colleagues thought was not for the planning system to consider in great detail. Many members have raised the issue. Because of poor and limited access to public toilets, some people with disabilities are not able to get out and participate in our communities, and there are particular issues for women and older people. We want that to be looked at.

Amendment 198 would also require that regulations consider green space and children’s play areas. We know that access to green space has a positive impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing, and that play is vital for children’s development and wellbeing. The aim is, therefore, to put such matters at the heart of decision making in planning. We must give people the right opportunities to live healthy lifestyles, including making choices to cycle, walk, access green space, play and be active in their communities. Planning has the power to do that.

Amendment 198 has the potential to contribute positively to public health and to improve the health and wellbeing of all our communities.