Last week Aberdeenshire Council (or rather a sub-committee thereof to whom powers had been delegated) rejected an application by Donald Trump to build a golf course, hotel complex, and other delights. Part of the reason was that the proposed site would be on a site of special scientific interest (as prescribed some time ago). Councillors were concerned about the effect on the local environment. One would have thought that given the environmental concerns and the close relationship between the SNP and the Greens (see previous posts) the matter would rest there as far as ministers were concerned. But, no. Yesterday, Scottish ministers said they were going to call in the application.
The government press release regarding that decision is here. It reads,
“The planning application by Trump International Golf Links Scotland for a golf resort in Balmedie, Aberdeenshire, has been called in by Scottish Ministers for their own determination.
Ministers say they recognise that the application raises issues of importance that require consideration at a national level.
Calling the application in allows Ministers the opportunity to give full scrutiny to all aspects of this proposal before reaching a final decision.”
Unfortunately, a decision has already been reached by the Aberdeenshire council sub-committee. And this seems counter to principles of local democracy and the legal position.
The planning system is biased in favour of developers. There is a presumption in favour of specific developments (provided they are in accordance with the local plan). There is a right of appeal to the developer if a proposal is rejected, or the developer can resubmit an application in an amended form, but if the decision is granted there is no right of appeal to objectors. Given the decision of the sub-committee (and the apparent position that they had recommended resubmission to have the development on a site not including the SSSI) the normal course would be for the developer to appeal matters – and a public inquiry can be held to hear the case. This is the normal course of business, but in a game of chicken Donald Trump’s business indicated that (unusually) it would not appeal. What then for those (like Wee Eck, the First Minister) reportedly furious at the sub-committee decision?
Well as the process is in the hands of the developer it can be suggested that the ministers can’t do anything about it. While ministers can intervene before a decision is made, they cannot intervene after. There is a real risk of legal challenge and judicial review.
Further, for a government notionally promoting local democracy and green issues, a decision to circumvent a decision of a democratically elected group of local councillors runs counter to policy (but then again so does removing the power of local authorities to set their local rate of taxation); and on green issues this is another instance where environmental concerns are overridden.
In this game of chicken the ministers have blinked first. Their action may actually scupper the chances of the development they appear keen to promote - but, sometimes the law has a nasty habit of rearing up and kicking you in the teeth.
Edited 6th December 2007.