Reluctant councillors back plan

Councillors have ratified a controversial strategic development plan, despite several of their number complaining they had far too little time to digest the more than 200 pages of information.

At the full meeting of Scottish Borders Council (SBC), members debated the ratification of the Strategic Development Plan for Edinburgh and the South-East of Scotland (SESplan).

Under the terms of the Planning (Scotland) Act 2006, the six councils that make up the SESplan authority – Borders, Edinburgh, Midlothian, East Lothian, West Lothian, and Fife (south) – are required to prepare a strategic development plan every five years.

This is intended to set out a vision statement on the future development of the area and land use and the SESplan committee, including two councillors from the Borders, has spent two years working on the new one.

A proposed plan, taking into account all representations received, has been drawn up and has been awaiting ratification by member authorities.

But a number of SBC members, including the SNP’s Donald Moffat and Kenneth Gunn, together with Nicholas Watson from the Borders Party and John Paton-Day from the Lib Dems, were more concerned that a decision on ratification should be delayed to allow councillors more time to read the document.

Mr Gunn, pointed out that he had only received the document in the post five days before last Thursday’s meeting.

Councillor Watson wanted to know why the Borders was giving up its role as a strategic planning authority for the region to an unelected body.

“I am extremely disappointed by the lack of engagement over this,” he said. “I would strongly urge that the strategic planning powers be retained by this authority. And why are we not being given more time to dissect this very lengthy document?”

Despite misgivings from Councillor Vicky Davidson, one of the council’s two members on the SESplan joint committee, over any further delays to approving the plan, members were told they could wait at least one more month before giving their decision, but any further stalling could have serious consequences.

Council leader David Parker pointed out that there seemed to be a fundamental misunderstanding.

“Some of those objecting to this seem to think we have some magical power when it comes to this issue. But we have never had that – all of our structure plans are circulated to other authorities and can be amended.

“We don’t have the power to dictate the plan totally unchanged by other parties or the Scottish Government.

“The whole point of the strategic planning approach is that it brings together all those who are doing structure plans in a certain area, to bring some more uniformity to this whole process, rather than it being done in a disjointed way.

“It is sensible to have a plan developed together.”

To laughter, Councillor Parker then mentioned that in his five years as local authority leader, in all the correspondence on a myriad of issues he had received, strategic planning had only ever merited three letters.

“We are not giving up some magical golden power that lets us shape our own destiny.

“This is a fundamental misunderstanding that needs to be dispelled in this chamber,” he said.

Councillor Carolyn Riddell-Carre, the other SESplan joint committee representative, echoed Mr Parker’s comments, saying there was a lot of misinformation and mischievousness surrounding the issue.

“Anyone opposing this is hunting for headlines and nothing else,” she said.

But speaking this week, a still very unhappy Mr Watson accused Ms Riddell-Carre and Mr Parker of not understanding the new system.

“Planning regulations require authorities to work together whether they are in a city region or not, and perfectly good mechanisms exist for this without giving away power to a city-focused authority which will never respond to the Borders’ particular needs and special qualities as well as the locally elected authority can,” he said.

“The proposed plan which has been approved is a very important document. What did Scottish Borders Council do by way of public consultation before ratifying it? Absolutely nothing. Other councils at least had the decency to get the public’s views, by taking it to area committees, for instance.

“Technically, the Central Tweed Valley is now in the Central Borders Strategic Development Area of the Midlothian/Borders Sub-Regional Area of the Edinburgh City Region. What nonsense.

“The Midlothian/Borders Sub-Regional Area is both confusing and geographically illiterate.

“The quicker we get out, the better.”