A SENIOR Angus councillor yesterday (Thursday) mounted a bid to widen democratic decision-making over planning applications which may have a major impact on local communities.
In a move coined ‘demo-max’, Mark Salmond sought a change to council rules at the full council meeting in Forfar which could see schemes that fall outwith current major application criteria still go before a full council meeting in the community they relate to.
The Scottish Government currently set the criteria for major applications such as last week’s Kirriemuir supermarket bid which saw the full Angus Council reverse a refusal recommendation after overwhelming public support for the scheme at a town hall meeting.
If an application does not attract major status it goes only to the 10-strong development standards committee and not the 29-member full council.
The catalyst for Mr Salmond’s motion to Angus Council as we went to press yesterday is the current bid by pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline to site two 130-metre wind turbines at its town plant, but he has stressed the wider principle is the driving force behind his move.
He explained: “I don’t deny that the trigger for this motion is the current GSK planning application but I emphasise that this about the wider procedures involved and not this single proposal.
“My personal view is that we should be looking towards making the determination of planning applications which might have a potentially significant impact on a community as open and inclusive as possible - democracy max, if you like.”
He went on: “Delving into this issue, it seemed to me that there was a possible unintentional flaw in Angus Council standing orders which is limiting democracy in the district.
“A planning application may fail the test set by the Scottish Government, but might nevertheless have a very major impact on a local community where the residents believe it falls into the major category. These sort of applications may only come along once in a generation, but I feel that Angus Council should be in a position to make provision for these substantial exceptions .
“My change to standing orders would allow a councillor, or group of councillors to bring a motion to a full council meeting asking that a planning application be determined by all members of the council as a major application at a special meeting.
“Apart from the fact that it would then go before all members of the council, there are other significant factors which I believe support the ‘demo-max’ objective of my motion.
“It would allow local people a greater opportunity to get involved and speak as supporters or objectors to any application and, crucially, major application special meetings are held within the community to which they relate, as was the case in Kirriemuir where the town hall was packed.”
He continued: “The current set-up of the development standards committee also means that there is no necessity for there to be a representative of every town on the committee. Councillors from any burgh are free to ask to speak, but they cannot vote.
“Having the capacity within standing orders to elevate an application to major status before a full council meeting would mean that all councillors play a role in determining the outcome of important applications.
“This motion is not about any specific planning application, it is simply to look at the procedures which are in place and allow what I believe would be greater democracy in the decision-making process.”
Councillor Salmond concluded: “If I’m successful it would then be my intention to ask my colleagues at the next full meeting of the council to give major designation to the GSK application so that it could be dealt with in such a fashion.
“That debate would still have to take place, but if the necessary change to the current standing orders set-up is not in place then that simply cannot happen.”