Council votes to give power to dissenting neighbours

SCOTTISH Borders Council has agreed to amend a key policy which sees all householder planning applications determined by non-elected officials, regardless of the number of neighbour objections, writes Andrew Keddie.

Councillors voted 19-6 at their last meeting to amend the so-called scheme of delegation which was introduced in 2009 to speed up the planning process in line with Scottish Government legislation.

As a result of the vote, any planning application relating to householder developments – such as conservatories, garages, extensions and window replacements – will now be referred to SBC’s main 13-member planning committee if it attracts five objections or more from neighbours.

The council has endorsed the recommendation of its watchdog scrutiny panel which, after hearing representations from community councils, deemed the current practice “deeply undemocratic”.

Scrutiny member Councillor Gavin Logan (Tweeddale East) claimed SBC was one of only two planning authorities in Scotland which operated in this way. He said changing the current scheme, which was “patently unfair”, would not cause a bottleneck in the planning department because the vast majority of householder applications would be unaffected.

Scrutiny had also recommended that, if a member of the planning committee declares an interest in an application, another councillor from that ward, though not on the committee, should be allowed to express a view.

But that proposal was unanimously thrown out by SBC’s executive.

Backbench Lib Dem Councillor John Paton-Day told us: “The council vote was just a scratch in an unfair and undemocratic planning system which only allows the applicant the right to appeal, but still does not allow the voice of all elected councillors to be heard at the planning committee which acts as judge and jury with speed of decisions apparently its first consideration.

“There is still a need for a more democratic approach.”