Conservative candidate blasts Scottish Government over 'rotten' planning system
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A far north parliamentary candidate has hit out at Scotland's "rotten" planning system and the extent to which local decisions are overruled by unelected officials.
Conservative councillor Struan Mackie claims the Scottish Government has presided over a scandal that has left communities with no trust in the way applications are handled.
Councillor Mackie, who represents Thurso and Northwest Caithness on Highland Council, is the Scottish Conservative and Unionist candidate for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross in the Holyrood election.
He says his party is committed to returning to local decision-making and halting the "endless centralisation" from communities.
"Right across Caithness, Sutherland and Ross we have seen local planning decisions overturned by unelected Scottish Government officials," Councillor Mackie said.
He alleged that since 2017 "hundreds" of decisions had been thrown out by planning reporters based in the central belt.
“In the last five years, nearly half of applications refused by local councillors have then been given the green light on appeal," he said.
Councillor Mackie highlighted the example of the proposed Coul Links championship golf course in east Sutherland. A planning application initially put forward by American inward investor Todd Warnock and business partners found favour with Highland Council but was called in by the Scottish Government and turned down on environmental grounds following an inquiry.
"Popular developments such as Coul Links were called in by Scottish ministers, a move that prevented the creation of vital jobs in the county," Councillor Mackie said. "It was a decision in stark contrast to the countless onshore wind developments that were forced upon communities without their consent, in many cases owned by large foreign firms with no local presence.
"When local decisions are made by elected councillors, all of whom will belong to the region and understand the local impact, I find it unacceptable that the Scottish Government has the power to come in and tell local communities that they know better.
"The Scottish Conservatives are committed to ending the scandal of the Scottish Government overruling local decisions which has left communities across the Highland region with no trust in the planning system which has let them down time and time again."
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Since January 1, 2017, independent reporters have made 59 planning decisions across the whole of the Highland Council planning authority area. Of these 59 decisions, 26 (44 per cent) appeals were allowed and planning permission granted.
“The right to appeal certain planning decisions forms an important part of the planning system in Scotland. Independent reporters, who make the majority of decisions on planning appeals, are required to do so on the planning merits of the case, having taken full account of all the evidence before them, including any representations from members of the local community.”