17 May 2006

S2M-4270 Planning etc (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 17 May 2006

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:00]

... ... ...

Planning etc (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-4270, in the name of Malcolm Chisholm, on the general principles of the Planning etc (Scotland) Bill.


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I apologise to my erstwhile colleagues on the Communities Committee that my party removed me from the committee precisely at the point that it started to engage in planning issues. However, I see that the deputy minister's enthusiasm for that move was substantial.

The last time this subject was considered and Mr Chisholm's card was stuck in the console and the request-to-speak button was pressed, some very fine words were said:

"My point is about the failure to recommend a third-party right of appeal."

They were said on 29 October 2005. As the Deputy Presiding Officer, Murray Tosh, may recall, he advised the speaker:

"I ... see which MSP's name attaches to the cards that you have been given. George Butler has the card for Malcolm Chisholm".

Thus, when Malcolm Chisholm's card was last used to speak on this subject in the chamber, the speaker in question took a rather different line. That is somewhat ironic.

At that event, which was an excellent innovation by the Communities Committee, my constituent, Mr James Buchan, spoke about a planning error in Peterhead: a fish store refrigeration plant had been built 5m higher than it should have been. That example illustrates perfectly the very real effect that planning can have on people's lives. In the case of Mr Buchan and his neighbours, the effect was quite substantial. Therefore, I am pleased to see that paragraph 127 of the committee's report states:

"The Committee is content with Part 6 - Correction of Errors."

However, correcting errors in planning often involves much more substantial work than correcting errors in paperwork.

In the limited time available, I want to turn my attention to the second motion before us today, which is the financial resolution. I remind members that, under the resolution, the Scottish Parliament

"agrees to any expenditure or increase in expenditure ... arising in consequence of the Act."

We do not take financial memoranda as seriously as we might. This is and needs to be a complicated bill. The Finance Committee has made substantial criticisms of it and the Executive has produced additional information that shows that its initial estimates of the costs associated with the bill were not sufficiently developed. The bill will be changed substantially at stage 2 and, as a consequence, its costs will change substantially. It would, therefore, be entirely precipitate of us to give our support to the financial resolution today—whatever we think, on the balance of argument, about the bill. The financial resolution is a kind of blank cheque.

There is a more general issue in respect of financial resolutions and complex bills, which extends beyond the bill that is before us today. A range of bodies and individuals have commented on the financial provisions of the bill. When asked about the financial implications of the bill, the Cairngorms National Park Authority pointed out that it is funded by the Executive and that

"Higher fees will not cover cost of neighbour notification as we only receive 50% of fee from local authority."

In its calculation, the City of Edinburgh Council suggests that neighbour notification will cost £93.57 per application, which is outwith the range that is provided elsewhere. In commenting on the financial implications of the bill, COSLA states that it

"cannot begin to achieve the culture change proposed by the Planning Etc. (Scotland) Bill, unless the resources identified in the Financial Memorandum, at the very least, are made available"

to it. History suggests that we should be sceptical on that front.

In the Finance Committee's report, Bruce Crawford suggested that we should not support part 9 of the bill, which relates to BID, because the financial side of that has not been sorted out. In paragraph 23 of its report, the Finance Committee stated:

"the Committee is seriously concerned that the existing shortage of qualified staff will stifle the effective implementation of the Bill, requiring a longer transition period than anticipated and higher costs (including contracting increasing numbers of private sector planners)."

Going to the private sector is not a panacea. The Communities Committee says that

"some of the figures contained in the Financial Memorandum are inadequate"

and that

"there are other costs that have not been included."

When we look at the financial side of the bill, we must exercise considerable caution.

It is strange that, although across Scotland people are finding that applications for planning permission for houses are being turned back because we cannot dispose of our sewage, there is nothing in the bill that will mean that we can refuse nuclear power stations because they cannot dispose of their waste. That issue should perplex us all for some time to come.


Stewart Stevenson
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fios ZS is a name registered in Scotland for Stewart Stevenson

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