EDITORIAL: CBI's attack reveals poor sense of timing

The planning system costs the Scottish economy £600 million a year.

Delays to investment, higher housing costs and out-of-date plans are all part of the drain that planning places on Scotland's coffers - or so says the Scottish arm of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).

Here we go again, I hear you cry. We have become familiar with business-led outpourings of frustration over the shortcomings of the English planning system. It was Digby Jones and friends at the CBI who first received the ear of the government over the issue. Scotland has been spared the full weight of the big business organisation's wrath - until now.

It is surprising that CBI Scotland chose to bring out this condemnation when the development plan system north of the border is about to be overhauled.

Surely it would be worth waiting to see how the new system works. Instead, alongside calls for greater pressure to be put on councils to process applications speedily, it wants councils with out-of-date plans to be prohibited from receiving planning fees and the Scottish Executive to send in external consultants to update plans where councils fall behind schedule.

It is hard to escape the feeling that this is another instance of the planning system being beaten up by a powerful business community on the basis of flimsy evidence. Yet some parts of the document deserve credit.

CBI Scotland proposes that a specific grant should be set up for Scottish planning authorities, akin to the planning delivery grant in England.

It also highlights the issue of planning departments' positions within councils. Placing planning within regulatory services divisions implies a negative approach, it argues, while splitting plan-making and development control can make positive planning more difficult. This is a crucial issue for planning's future, and Scottish business should get three cheers for recognising it.


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