With the John Muir Trust having joined a range of planning and environmental community organisations to campaign (under the group Planning Democracy) for the introduction of a third party right of appeal with respect to planning law decisions, there is scope for the re-emergence of controversial debate on the issue. More can be read here.
At present, applicants for planning permission can appeal against a planning refusal or planning conditions they are unhappy with but there is no right of appeal for disgruntled objectors in respect of planning applications which are granted, hence Planning Democracy are campaigning for what they call"Equal Rights of Appeal" in order to create a"level playing field".
Proponents of third party appeals argue that they would raise standards in planning authorities and redress an existing imbalance by making planning authorities as accountable for their approvals as they are for their refusals. The argument is that many"weak approvals" may be sustained as the only remedy open to third parties is to challenge such approvals in the courts through judicial review which can be prohibitively expensive and offers limited grounds of challenge on procedural grounds.
Detractors of third party appeals stress the potential impact which their introduction could have by introducing delay and uncertainty into a system which is already criticised as being slow and unresponsive. There is a concern that such a right might deter inward investment, especially if a more objector-friendly regime was introduced in Scotland to that in England and Wales.
Third party rights of appeal were considered in some detail by the Scottish Government in the consultation which preceded the enactment of the Planning etc. (Scotland) Act 2006 (a variety of different models were considered). However, it was decided not to introduce even a limited right of third party appeal, the Government opting instead for"focussing public involvement in planning at the front end of the process" by introducing a range of new measures including mandatory pre-application consultations for larger or more environmentally sensitive developments, greater use of less formal planning hearings and allowing more time for planning objections to be lodged. According to Planning Democracy these measures are not working in practice.
Those in favour of third party rights of appeal argue that their absence is not in keeping with the spate of land reform and community empowerment legislation emanating from the Scottish Parliament – it seems that controversy is set to continue and Planning for Democracy has asked the Public Petitions Committee of the Scottish Government to take further action.