Give much greater consideration to public petitions in response to the planning process.

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Frustrated with the current planning process, which is in breech of the Principles of Public Office by significantly favouring the private interests of developers and other associated commercial interests, the public are engaging with the digital realm and making use of resources such as on line petitions in order to convey concern, objection and disaffection.

 

While the ease and accessibility of online petitions have helped to encourage public engagement, for what is otherwise a typically overwhelming, bureaucratic and obfuscating process, thus allowing private commercial interests to prevail through attrition, local and national government is yet to properly recognise and respect this new medium of public expression.

 

Such expressions of participatory, direct democracy are evident in other progressive countries. In Switzerland for instance a public petition of 50,000 is enough to secure a referendum on an issue.

 

For a parliament, which supposedly champions the Sovereignty of the People, which has recently passed the Community Empowerment Bill, independent public petitions must be given greater consideration.

Why the contribution is important

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Currently a public petition, which may have collected thousands of signatures of support from the local community, is typically counted as a SINGLE contribution. This is unacceptable and an affront to the notion of fairness, decency and democracy.

by SimonB on February 04, 2016 at 02:16PM

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Comments

  • Posted by DJJ February 04, 2016 at 17:01

    We live in a representative democracy...we don't live in Switzerland. Petitions are good at gauging strength of feeling...what they are not good at is advancing a reasoned justification for or against a particular development. We elect people to make decisions on our behalf after taking account of all the evidence...not be blown about by public opinion. Petitions can often make their jobs harder I would have thought.
  • Posted by SimonB February 05, 2016 at 03:26

    Dll - We live in a changing society where the existing models of representative democracy and economics are not set in stone and indeed require critical questioning given the current levels of failure and disaffection.

    Elected representative are typically overburdened and not necessarily best placed to make decisions and indeed have shown themselves to be readily corruptible, even if unwittingly so.

    In a technologically advanced information age there is the possibility of much greater Citizen participation such as online petitions which if given meaningful recognition would likely improve social wellbeing considerably in an otherwise cynical and despairing age.
  • Posted by DC February 05, 2016 at 11:12

    I agree with DJJ - many petitions do not advance justified arguments for or against a particular development and a lot of people who sign them are not fully aware of the issues either. I have been asked to sign petitions in the past on the basis of limited or no information and suspect this happens a lot. Planning decisions should be taken on the basis of full consideration of the facts.
  • Posted by SimonB February 05, 2016 at 15:28

    DC - I agree that "Planning decisions should be taken on the basis of full consideration of the facts" yet often public officials are so overwhelmed with the workload and are otherwise programmed towards a "presumption in favour of development" that BAD decisions are made which can have profoundly detrimental affects on the long term well being of society and the environment.

    For large 'developments' in particular the public need an opportunity to have a meaningful independent means of voicing opinion. Rather than just a handful of citizens engaging, a public petition allows many, even the majority of local citizens to become engaged when they might otherwise be too busy or lacking in confidence to do so.

    Those who put together public petitions often dedicate many hours considering the facts, with no vested interest except to serve the public good, condensing what is otherwise an "overwhelming, bureaucratic and obfuscating process" in an attempt to overcome the attrition that is so often applied through the current process.

    An independent public petition is therefore an excellent means of giving expression to public feeling in response to controversial planning applications, helping to address a process which otherwise significantly favours the private interests of developers and other associated commercial interests.

    In a supposed 'democracy' this public expression should be welcomed, encouraged and properly acknowledged.

  • Posted by Thenonymous February 06, 2016 at 17:45

    Yes: democracy is not voting someone in and then expecting them to make decisions for you: it's having someone who is expected to listen to you, and act on your behalf. I often write to my member of parliament, but I have the time and capacaity to do so. He or she should listen: and shouldalso seriuoslu consider the size off a petition. It's com-lete nonsense to consider a larghe number of signatures as "one opinion". I agree - many petitions are carefully thought through and properly presented.
    As for "rull consideration of the facts" we should have much more publ;ic presentation of such facts - who stands to gain, and who to lose? An enormous amount of decision making is done in private by our councils, and material is held to be "commercially sensitive" and kept secret. Why should this be so - these decisions are being made FOR us and we should see that they are being made properly. AND we should know who is lobbying who: ex-councillors working for lobbying fitms now that they've leart how to swing the planning committes, don't need to tell anyone who they are emailing to swing a council decision. Look at "A guide to lobbying in Scotland" ( ISBN: 978-0-9570274-6-6)
  • Posted by Thenonymous February 06, 2016 at 17:52

    at the website www.spinwatch org
  • Posted by switcheroo February 08, 2016 at 20:48

    Given that public petitions require only one signature to be considered by the government, and considering that the majority of petitions appear to be lodged by those with little understanding of the subject matter which they are arguing for/against, the present system seems a more than fair footing.
  • Posted by SimonB February 19, 2016 at 04:32

    Regarding switcheroo's comment, petitions, like most expressions of public engagement, are considered by a growing disillusioned electorate as being ineffective, invariably ignored or disregarded in the face of economic imperatives, hardly an endorsement that "the present system seems a more than fair footing."Regarding switcheroo's comment, petitions, like most expressions of public engagement, are considered by a growing disillusioned electorate as being ineffective, invariably ignored or disregarded in the face of economic imperatives, hardly an endorsement that "the present system seems a more than fair footing."
  • Posted by nickfiddes February 19, 2016 at 16:42

    Absolutely, yes. We hear lots of lip service about public involvement. But the system is thoroughly discredited in the public's eyes by a (valid) perception that it operates largely in the interests of developers and a closed clique of planners and politicians. To restore public trust far greater REAL involvement of the public interest is required, and this would be a small first step.
  • Posted by switcheroo February 22, 2016 at 21:18

    The second part of my previous comment is perhaps the more relevant. Increasing the weighting that petitions have would give a louder voice to those who are ill-informed and in many cases ignorant of the system they are petitioning against. Yes, there are sensible petitions, but you only have to look at social media to see how hollow and misguided many petitions are, especially given their ease of creation in this day and age.

    I have heard of petitions leading to individuals being invited to give evidence to parliamentary committees. This hardly seems an endorsement of your belief that petitions are not given consideration. Also see my previous comment regarding one signature being required for consideration.
  • Posted by SimonB February 23, 2016 at 15:47

    In response to switcheroo's 2nd comment: "I have heard of petitions leading to individuals being invited to give evidence to parliamentary committees" - well in regards to planning I haven't heard of this though I would favour such an intervention if a certain tally was reached for an independent petition was reached.

    My own experience in responding to the issue of the hugely controversial Caltongate/New Waverley 'development' of national significance, was that 5000 signatures of objection were ignored in favour of private commercial interests. This 'development' was an appalling abuse of power and has done much to discredit the reputation of Edinburgh Council and damage the wellbeing of the local community. Had the petition been taken seriously a more amicable outcome could have been secured.
  • Posted by KemnayCommunityCouncil February 28, 2016 at 17:32

    I write on behalf of the Garioch Area Community Council Forum, which consists of representatives of the nine community councils in the Garioch Area of Aberdeenshire.

    Planning enforcement has been a concern of many individual Community Councils in recent times, as well as at the Forum. Whilst we recognise that enforcement action is taken in the public interest, the Garioch Community Councils note that on at least two occasions over the last year Aberdeenshire Council’s attempts to undertake enforcement measures have been ineffective. As a result, members of the public – our constituents - have experienced considerable stress and loss of quality of life, as well as losing their faith in the planning system.

    Our concern is that the powers available to council officers are constrained by Scottish Government guidance and by the legislation in place at present. There is an inadequate level of protection for the public. In effect these constraints allow developers or businesses to flout enforcement measures. I have written also to the Chief Executive of Aberdeenshire Council to express our views on this matter.

    My purpose in writing to you is not only to raise this concern, but also to seek your comments on this important issue for our communities. The Garioch Area Community Council Forum requests that Scottish Government Planning Enforcement policies are fully reviewed so that they may be as robust and proactive as possible. The current measures do not inspire public confidence in the Planning Enforcement system. As community councillors, we have witnessed the intolerable impact this has had on some communities.

    Dr Sheila A Simpson FRCP
    Chair, Garioch Area Community Council Forum
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