‘We understand planning frustration’, says councillor

The Bute House Hotel (right) has been at the centre of a storm of criticism of Argyll and Bute Council's approach to planning applications - prompting a statement from the authority explaining the process in detail.
The Bute House Hotel (right) has been at the centre of a storm of criticism of Argyll and Bute Council's approach to planning applications - prompting a statement from the authority explaining the process in detail.

Argyll and Bute Council’s planning spokesperson says he understands that people can be frustrated if rules and regulations prevent them doing what they want.

Councillor David Kinniburgh, the authority’s policy lead on planning and regulatory services, was speaking amid growing disquiet on Bute at the difficulties faced by some residents who want to improve their properties.

The council has also sent us a statement outlining the planning process in detail in the wake of readers’ criticism of decisions on the Bute House Hotel, a derelict building in Battery Place and elsewhere.

“People will have ideas about what they want to do – whether it’s building a brand new house, making alterations to an older property, or creating premises for a new business,” said Councillor Kinniburgh.

“Essentially people can apply to do whatever they want – and we are aware that they can feel frustrated if they are told that their initial proposals are not possible.

“The challenge is making sure that people’s hopes, aspirations and ideas fit in with the community and land use surroundings where they live, so that the aspirations and visions of whole communities are maintained and realised. Trying to ensure an appropriate fit is where our planning officers come in – and they are there to help people who are getting involved with the planning system.”

All Argyll and Bute Council planning officers are professionally qualified and have considerable experience of the challenges posed by a large geographical area which includes urban, rural and remote settlements.

“All our planning and enforcement officers are either members of the Royal Town Planning Institute or are working towards membership of this professional body,” said Councillor Kinniburgh.

“They have an intimate knowledge of Argyll and Bute and the needs of its communities – and use this with their professional training and their understanding of the other policies, plans and legislation that can affect planning applications which come from individuals and large companies alike.”

Planning officers have to balance the wishes of the applicant against a range of other material planning considerations – for example, the Argyll and Bute Local Plan, Scottish Government guidelines and legislation. Inevitably this requires a degree of interpretation but, as Councillor Kinniburgh explains, there are always checks and balances within the system to ensure that the best decision is taken.

“Officers have their recommendations quality-checked by their line managers, again all professionally qualified and experienced planners,” he continued.

“Sometimes proposals simply aren’t acceptable and where this is the case, planners will offer guidance in terms of how a recommendation of refusal can be turned into an approval. It’s not always possible, however, but they will do what they can.”

The planning process runs like this: some planning applications are decided by officers under ‘delegated powers’ – which means that the planning service, with its checks and balances in place and bearing all the relevant policies and guidelines in mind, can make a decision itself in accordance with schemes approved in advance by councillors.

Other more contentious applications are referred to the council’s planning, protective services and licensing committee, made up of elected members, who will carefully consider reports and other material planning considerations provided by the planning team, along with its recommendations. Councillors on the committee can decide to accept or reject the recommendations made by officers.

But in either case, if someone is unhappy that their planning application has been refused, there is always a right of appeal.

When a decision has been made by officers under delegated powers, people can appeal to a Local Review Body. An application refused by the Planning, Protective Services and Licensing Committee can be appealed to Scottish ministers.

“We know that inevitably some people are going to be disappointed with a particular decision – especially so if that is confirmed by an appeal,” Cllr Kinniburgh said.

“However we would stress that our planning officers are here to help before it gets to that stage. They work within a strict professional code of conduct as well as national and local planning policies, they have an in-depth knowledge of Argyll and Bute and its needs, and they will do whatever they can to help people who are engaging with the planning process.”

There is lots of information about planning in Argyll and Bute on the council’s website at www.argyll-bute.gov.uk/planning-and-environment including an outline of the process and procedure, the Argyll and Bute Local Plan which is an important part of the system, and local contacts.