"Trumping" the Scottish Planning System

01.01.08

"Trumping" the Scottish Planning System

The background to the Trump affair and the call-in of his planning application by the Scottish Ministers is now well known, albeit still controversial. But following the approval of the outline application for a golf resort, including hotel, holiday homes and 500 houses, by John Swinney this week, what have we learned about the Scottish planning system?

While many will remain unhappy about the final decision, it might be argued that the approach of the three Reporters who heard the inquiry demonstrated the inherent flexibility of the system, and is to be welcomed.

As with any other application, determination of the application required to start with consideration of the development plan. Perhaps surprisingly, the main parties to the Trump inquiry agreed that the proposal was indeed contrary to the plan in significant respects, due in particular to the significant adverse impact which would be experienced by the Fovern Links, a site of special scientific interest. This conclusion on policy would automatically lead to a presumption of refusal.

However in these circumstances, the planning legislation then requires an assessment of whether there are other planning reasons ("material considerations") which justify grant of the application nonetheless. This is exactly what happened in the Trump case. National planning policy on our national heritage allowed the grant of the application, despite the environmental impacts, if those effects were outweighed by "social or economic benefits of national importance".

Both the applicant and Aberdeenshire Council led expert evidence, found to be generally robust, to the effect that such benefits would in fact follow the proposal, in terms of significant numbers of temporary and permanent jobs, as well as a tourism boost to the area.

While it is easy to be sceptical of such arguments, planning decisions require to be evidence based, and the evidence in this case was found to be persuasive.

For some this will be a triumph for local democracy given the Council's (eventual) support for the scheme. While the development plan may appear to be the loser, our planning legislation provides for exactly such an outcome, and to that extent at least the letter of the law remains intact.