New planning system must protect wildlife, ministers warned

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A root-and-branch revamp of the Scottish planning system must include safeguards to ensure the protection of wildlife.

That is the message Scottish Borders Council – one of 32 planning authorities in the country – is sending to a Scottish Government which believes the current set-up is unwieldy and over-bureaucratic.

“We want Scotland’s planning system to help deliver more high-quality homes and create healthy lives with developers inspired to invest,” states the foreword to the Scottish Government’s 50-page consultation document on its proposals for change.

“We want to reduce bureaucracy and improve resources so the planning system can focus on creating great places. To achieve this, we can remove processes that do not add value.

“We want to empower people to have more influence on the future of their places.”

At the final council meeting before the local government elections, outgoing East Berwickshire councillor Michael Cook claimed there was a “glaring omission” in the blueprint.

“There is not a word about the impact of planning policy and decisions on the natural world, and we, as a council, really must say something,” said Mr Cook.

“It seems that housing and economic development are the paramount considerations before which all others fail, yet the natural environment around the world and here in the UK faces catastrophe.

“Between 1970 and 2007, there has been a 96% reduction in our tree sparrows, a 72% reduction in corn buntings and a 50% fall in yellowhammers.

“In 1950, there were 36 million hedgehogs in the UK – today there are just one million – while three species of British bumblebee are now extinct.

“Common juniper, the small tortoiseshell butterfly, skylarks, red squirrels, slow worms, even the stag beetle – all are in decline.

“This is what happens when we allow our wild places to be grubbed up, drained, felled, ploughed or buried beneath concrete and it is time the Scottish Government, instead of posturing and focusing on quick political goals, really got to grips with land use.

“We must point out the foundational importance of our natural environment and the flora and fauna which rely on it.”

Mr Cook’s comments on the need for wildlife protection to be a material consideration in a new planning system brooked no dissent from fellow councillors, and they will be conveyed in a letter to the Scottish Government from the council’s chief planning officer, Ian Aikman.

The Scottish Government consultation on the planning system ended on Tuesday, April 4.