Saturday, 21 April 2012

Candidates Views; Moira Scobbie, IND - THC Ward 11

Moira Scobbie left a message on the blog:

Your note to me made it by good old-fashioned snail mail, but it's quite a task you've taken on, so good luck! I am an Independent candidate in Eilean a' Cheo, and have only recently been involved in engaging the Waternish community in the whole issue of planning. It is a hugely fraught matter i find, but the more engaged people become, the more notice 'the planners' will take. For me, the big frustration is the short timescales for getting the info out and them being able to have time to consider the application and then respond. If elected, this is an issue that I will certainly want to pursue. Thank you for getting in touch, Moira Scobbie.

Candidates Views; Myra Carus, GP - THC Ward 10

Dear (Christian name of APTSec)

The Highlands and Islands Green Party have a vision for a sustainable society in the Highlands and Islands.

Regarding local empowerment, the Greens in Council would strengthen grass roots democracy by increasing the resources, power and responsibilities of Community Councils, and devolve more responsibilities to them.

Community Councils should be able to initiate or block new developments in their area.

The Highland Wide 'local' Development Plan would be replaced with a Green alternative that supports the whole of the Highlands, with a focus on reducing dependence on road and air travel and developing strong, resilient local economies as far as possible.

(Reference: The Highlands and Islands Green Party Vision for a Sustainable Society in the Highlands and Islands)

Trust you are able to use some of this.

Myra Carus Green Party Candidate for the Local Council elections, Black Isle Ward.

Candidates Views; John Campbell - THC Ward Four

Apologies I am in the process of confirming a detail with Mr Campbell, my error.  

In the meantime here is the link that  Mr Campbell's provided to his blog

Candidates Views; Nick Noble, SLD - THC Ward Two


I just received the email via the Scottish LibDem HQ asking for Highland Council candidates to get in touch regarding their views on planning transparency.

What form would you like those comments to take? email, or direct on your website?

I have just signed up as a member, and fully support any efforts to increase participation by anyone that has an interest in the planning process, I would be delighted to make a fuller statement in any form you  wish to receive it.

Nick Noble
Scottish LibDem candidate for Thurso

[ I responded to Mr Noble as follows:

Thank you so much for your email.

Please feel free to choose how you would like to comment and indeed how often.

I intend to post on the blog regarding a range of issues in the next fortnight hopefully increasing the scope of direct comment. 

I have also started receiving statements of varying length directly from candidates and I will then use these statements as posts in themselves - where they are quite long – or as a starting point to introduce a subject for discussion if they are shorter.

Hope this helps and is clear enough and thanks for following the blog.]

Candidates Views; Russell Taylor, All Scotland Pensioners Party - THC Ward One

Mr Taylor left the following comment on the blog:

Got your 1st class letter this morning. Didn't know of your existence til then. Planning is one of H.C. dark arts!  Creich Community Council is just as frustrated - windfarms- we like the Community Benefit but would prefer more control over planning of them. Not enough time to contribute more just now- got an election to fight! Russell Taylor Ward 1 ALL SCOTLAND PENSIONERS PARTY

Candidates views; George Farlow, SNP -THC Ward One

Dear (Christian name of APT Sec)

It's good to hear from you.  I have been asked to respond - locally - to your inquiry to SNP HQ.  I am the Secretary and the Planning Spokesperson for the SNP Highland Council Group and happy to do that.

As you know we have been very supportive of ATP by responding to your emails during the last few years, and indeed I believe some SNP members have attended your very informative AGMs in Croy.

You will be aware that individual planning applications are not political matters and SNP Councillors have always ensured as far as possible that due diligence shall be at the forefront of effective and efficient planning.

SNP Highland Councillors have worked to scrutinise and amend accordingly the current Highland wide Development Plan with its accompanying supplementary guidances.  The meetings for the last 12 months are available on webcast as are the Planning Applications Committees for the North and South Highlands.

As regards the next 5 years, it is important that the Highlands economy starts to show significant growth, particularly with offshore renewables and we with the Scottish Government have identified Nigg and Scrabster as zones for enterprise.
In order to retain existing skills and our youth, we have entered on a record roll-out of apprentices in an aim to service existing energy production and prepare for prioritising broadband and other telephony connectivity. The road infrastructure will also be prioritised where budgets allow.  We have encouraged investment locally and from abroad.

In all this, local involvement will be paramount.  We intend to halt the centralisation of council business and return local decision making to the appropriate level.  Encouraging meaningful participation, that includes budgetary involvement, at the community level will ensure a greater communication with the council's planning and development process.  It is imperative that people engage now with the planning and development plans through community councils and your SNP councillor at their surgeries, for example.

A successful and prosperous Highlands means working towards full employment so that there is a 21st Century infrastructure with housing, schools and leisure for all.  That should of course come from the communities upwards, because people will ensure that we do not lose what we enjoy most. The environment and climate change issues will be at the heart of all the business of the council, if the SNP leads the administration after May 3rd.

Best wishes
Councillor George Farlow
North West & Central Sutherland Ward
Highland Council SNP Group

I then had a brief email correspondence with, by all accounts, a very busy Councillor who confirmed  that all SNP candidates had also had a chance to send in an individual response if they so wished.

Ready to put up candidates views

I am hoping to start popping up the local election candidates views this weekend and I think the best way to do this is to put up the views as per the order that the candidates appear on the official list starting with Ward one, North West and Central Sutherland  and Working away to ward 22, Fort William and Ardnamurchan.

Friday, 20 April 2012

...local government must demonstrate its trustworthiness

“To rebuild people’s trust, local government must demonstrate its trustworthiness…”

[Trust in Practice, Demos, 2010  Birdwell, Farook and Jones]


...Democratic participation depends on a certain level of mutual trust between citizens and their government representatives.  Although mistrust of a politician or political party
can motivate citizens to vote and participate in public consultations, perceptions of systemic mistrust – in politics or political institutions as a whole – can lead to a severe decline in democratic participation and increased feelings of apathy and powerlessness.

...Whether you stand on the left or the right, ‘local’ has become almost synonymous with virtue.

...Local government representatives need to move beyond mechanistic thinking of ways to ‘build’ or manufacture trust, toward providing the opportunity and space where they can
demonstrate their trustworthiness. This requires councils to put relationships at the heart of the equation.

...A number of key points emerged about the quality and process of engagement. Trust was a matter of power sharing: the public’s trust was dependent on the council demonstrating that it was willing to trust the public. The involvement of community members in strategic decisions, throughout the phases of the project but particularly at the outset, was crucial for maintaining a trusting relationship

...The point of involvement in decision making processes proved crucial to demonstrating trustworthiness with the public. In general, involvement of the public occurred too late in
community level decisions. Where the public did not feel able to influence the decisions, the view of the council became overwhelmingly negative. Consultations proved to worsen
frustration, as it appeared the council was not listening to citizens’ concerns. Without the space to change or adapt in response to people’s views, public interactions could potentially damage the perception of the council.

The opportunity to contribute to decisions did not in and of itself appear to increase trust. What was important was the ability to contribute to strategic decisions.

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Friday election round-up

After some last minute clarifications I can now start putting up the feedback that I have received from Election Candidates onto the blog; so as they say, 'Watch this space'.

I will leave you with a brain teaser.  

How many hours could a councillor work in a week?  

How much time could he or she spend with any individual constituent if everyone came forward with an issue?

I did some rough calculations, very rough calculations (I have to do something to try to get back to sleep when i lie awake in the wee small hours). 

Let us say that on weekdays a councillor could be on the go from 08.30am until 10.30pm given all the surgeries, meetings (Council, Community Council, Other Community and interest groups, Ward etc. ) and preparation for those meetings getting to grips with the technicalities  There will be letter writing and responding to letters, emails and phone calls and visiting people.  And then of course there is the driving, especially for those with huge distances to cover.  That makes around 14 hours a day, giving a 70 hour week.  Perhaps he or she may spend some of their weekend mornings working, say  5 hours on each of those weekend days, that is another 10 hours giving a potential for an 80 hour week.  

For the sake of keeping the sums simple, we'll say that they keep this up for 40 weeks  per annum which then multiplies up to 3200 hours a year of potential work time per councillor.

The population of Highland is in excess of 200k - about 219K last figures I saw.  

There will be 80 councillors so that may mean around 2500 adult constituents per councillor.   Simple division results in less than 1.5 hours per constituent per annum.  

Of course not everyone is going to want to see their councillor on a personal and unique issue and not all the time will be available to spend with individual constituents anyway given the number of meetings, meeting preparation and driving.  Also several people may have the same issue.

What it all adds up to for candidates is the potential for a very busy and potentially stressful life.  That does not make for a very large hourly rate.

What would you expect of a councillors working week?

[I have not mentioned MSPs / MPs and MEPs here but I would imagine their number of constituents per head is far higher.  I wonder how democracy is served by this with so little real time to spend on people's concerns]

Voters Reminded: mark your paper with numbers

Latest PR on THC web site full item here


Voters taking part in the forthcoming Highland Council elections on Thursday 3 May are reminded that in filling in their ballot papers they should use numbers against the name of candidates in order of choice, using 1, 2, 3 and so on – and not a cross.
Voters can make as many or as few choices as they wish.  They don’t have to number every candidate.  As long as the voter numbers at least one candidate, their vote will be counted.  If a voter makes a mistake on their ballot paper, they can ask for a new one.
Voters are therefore invited to put the number 1 in the voting box next to their first choice; a 2 in the voting box beside their second choice; a 3 in the voting box next to their third choice and so on.
Most people vote in person at their polling station. There are 271 polling stations in the Highlands. Polling stations are open between 7 am and 10 pm on Thursday 3 May.

The Highland electorate is 176,226.

The system being used to count the votes is the Single Transferable Vote. The ballot paper lists the name of each candidate. To be elected a candidate must reach a set amount of votes known as the quota.  The votes are counted in stages.  In the first stage, only first preferences are counted.  Anyone who reaches the quota is elected. Any votes received over the quota are not needed by the elected candidate and so are transferred to the second preference.  If not enough candidates have reached the quota, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated and all of their votes are passed to the next preference on the ballot papers.   This process is repeated until three or four candidates have been elected.
A total of 170 candidates are seeking election to the 80 seats on The Highland Council. There are 14 four-member wards and 8 three-member wards.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Educate and inform the whole mass of the people... They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.
Thomas Jefferson


Soil, does the planning system really take notice of the impacts on it?

Planning and soil sealing

Land, particularly that close to existing infrastructure, continues to be under pressure from development (see Chapter 4) and, based on evidence from the 1970s and early 1980s, much of this is on high quality agricultural land at a time when, locally and globally, food production and food security is under increasing threat. There appears to be inadequate weight given by planning authorities to protecting prime agricultural land and protecting the soil resource in general across non-prime agricultural land.

Measures to mitigate the impact of soil sealing could be introduced, including: examining the footprint of proposed developments; maintaining the functionality of soils on parts of development sites that need not be sealed; and ending practices that treat soil as waste.

The planning system needs to include safeguards on land use and maintaining soil quality, in particular carbon stocks, with appropriate guidance in National Planning Policy Guidelines and Planning Advice Notes. There is also a need for planning officers to be trained on this issue, as most will not have any previous experience of considering soils in detail.

Policy recommendation eight: review and, if necessary, develop further Guidelines and Advice to protect valued soils or specific soil functions during development.

Extract from 'The State Of Scotland's Soil' 2011

Well, I have quoted from an earlier incarnation of this report (or one very like it) in consultations and it is my view that not a lot of notice was taken of it.

On the Protection of Scotland's Soils


Soil is a key and very complex natural resource that provides us with essential services for life on our planet including food production, water purification and protection against flooding, valuable habitats, recreation areas and, crucially, climate regulation. Scottish soils are distinctly different to soils elsewhere in the UK and they require specific management guidance and protection strategies.

Scotland’s soil supports the agricultural, horticultural and forestry industries and the high quality products they produce. Crucially, soils also make the largest contribution to terrestrial carbon storage in the UK and, therefore, must be managed properly to prevent increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. In addition, Scotland’s beautiful landscapes and habitats of national and international
renown are a direct result of soils and their management. The generally good water quality of Scotland is somewhat dependent on soil management and its impact on diffuse pollution. Soil management also impacts flood risk. Scotland’s soil, air and water environments are therefore linked and interact.

Consequently, it is vital that future policy developments in Scotland take this into account, i.e. that the soil, air and water environments are viewed as a whole and that each component is given equal importance.

*'The State Of Scotland's Soil' Just google and it downloads as a PDF

Getting your hands dirty?

Extract from THC PR

This May, people in Highland will get an opportunity to take part in a Festival with a difference.  The Highland Soil Biodiversity Festival comprises nine days of illustrated talks, field visits and guided walks to raise awareness of the importance of our soils for nature and wildlife.

Janet Bromham, Biodiversity Officer with The Highland Council is co-ordinating the Festival.  She said: “We have put together a very interesting programme of events all over Highland to try to answer the questions: Why does soil matter? What does it do for us? and What lives in and on it?

“We are holding this Festival during Scottish Biodiversity Week because soil and soil biodiversity is receiving more attention from the press and the policy makers – the State of Scotland Soil Report was produced last year – and yet very few people have a clear understanding of how soils work and why they are important to us.  It fits in very well with the Scottish Biodiversity Week theme “Biodiversity is Life – Biodiversity is Our Life” and we hope lots of people across Highland will take this opportunity to find out about soil and associated wildlife.

Full details here

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

New role for former Council Leader

Scottish Government reports:

Cabinet Secretary for Health, Wellbeing and Cities Strategy, Nicola Sturgeon, today announced the appointment of three Members to Highland NHS Board.

The new members are:

Myra Duncan - is an independent management consultant with experience as a manager at senior and Board levels in the NHS in Scotland and England. 

Alasdair Lawton - is a Chartered Accountant with experience of  senior finance roles in both the UK and Asia. 

Michael Foxley – previously worked as a General Practitioner in Fort William for 30 years.  He has also served on the Highland Council for 26 years and on NHS Highland Board from 2003-2007.

Michael Foxley has held office as a Scottish Liberal Democrat as a Highland Councillor for Fort William and Ardnamurchan from 2007 to 2012 and as Highland Council Leader from 2008 to 2012. 

For full details click here

How much can candidates say?

I have just had an interesting query regarding just how much candidates can say on issues involving planning.

This seems a good time to remind readers of the existence of the 

I am working under the assumption that since all candidates are potential councillors at this moment they too are bound by rules.  I may need to stand corrected on this, I'll call the council.

Council reaffirms position on Refusal

Extract from THC Press Release

At yesterdays  (Tuesday 17 April) North Planning Applications Committee members confirmed the reasons why the council refused an application from Combined Power and Heat (Highlands) Limited to erect a residual waste to energy combined heat and power plant on land at the Cromarty Firth Industrial Park in Invergordon.
Members made their original decision to refuse the application on 18 August 2009. The applicant appealed The Highland Council’s decision and was successful.  However this decision was quashed by the Court of Session. The appeal will now be determined by a Reporter appointed by Scottish Ministers at a Public Local Inquiry in June. 

It is vital that robust reasons for refusal form the basis of the Council’s case at appeal. Today’s decision was a positive step towards defending the decision, taken locally, to refuse planning permission.

Full article here

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

What a busy bee I am

What with the forthcoming council elections and being in the midst of a consultation on the Inner Moray Firth Local Development Plan my feet do not seem to be touching the ground.

This morning I popped the following comment up on the Council's Development Plans Blog re my attendance at the first workshop to be held as part of the consultation on the IMFLDP:

"Thank you. I have now attended a workshop and I am afraid I was disappointed. It is clear that the council has worked hard to prepare materials. It is also clear that officers are prepared to give time (some of it standing around in the cold! Bless) and a lot of it and this is something I feel should not be taken for granted

But I left the meeting with the clear impression that whilst struggling not to suppress debate, and participants clearly had things to say, there were a number of set issues that the council wished to get views on and given the limitations of time these two aspects were at odds with one another. I had to leave, apologies, before the end. 

Perhaps greater clarity from the presentation stage as to the benefits to the community of the participant's contributions at each stage of the workshop would help.

I also think it would be beneficial to identify just how familiar those attending are with the planning system and how much participation they have already encountered. This would give an idea as to the range to experience present and the tone of the presentation could be tailored accordingly to need. There seemed to be no recognition at the workshop that many of the participants were familiar with the process and had already been through several years of national and local consultations. Those who had been in the village for 20 years or more were well aware of the previous consultations on plans old and new. 

I cannot deny that fact that I have gained a very unfavourable impression of the planning system and its operation. Over the years many folks in Highland have raised the subject of a loss of trust and confidence with the operation of the planning system in Highland but we are constantly left with the impression that our words are falling on barren ground and there is a gulf between us and the major decision makers. A great, great pity, since we should all be working together, in a open and transparent system which engenders confidence with its users, to create the best plans that we possibly can for the Highlands."  Post is here at comments on 16 APRIL 2012 post

I have received the following reply:

Thank you for your feedback on last nights event.

We can assure you that we are taking these on board and are looking to make changes to address your concerns and we have already made some changes which will take effect at tonight's event in Ardersier. This will include changing the way the round discussion will work to help everyone have their say and going around the table asking people who they are and their experience of the planning system to date.

Just up on the Inverness Courier - And you get extra time!!!!!!

Extracts:  full item here

Yesterday, Highland Council kick-started a 12-week public consultation seeking views on the document which also outlines both the advantages and disadvantages of possible sites as well as indicating the areas which should be safeguarded from development.

Mr Stott acknowledged the difficulties in encouraging people to look beyond the boundaries of their home when they attend such exhibitions. "They find their house and see nothing planned nearby and then walk out," he said.
"We are trying to get people to think wider - to think village-wide or town wide.It is very difficult."

Between now and the end of June, planning officers will hold 34 public exhibitions across the area to give people the opportunity to say how they would like to see their communities develop over the next 20 years.

A round-table discussion will also be held at each community on the same evening. Anyone wanting to attend the evening events should call (01463) 702259. Representations should be submitted to Highland Council by 5pm on Friday 6th July.

Oh and it seems that the subject of the importance of infrastructure (See Community Council Comment in the article) is uppermost in minds of those discussing  the featured new development proposals at Tore. 

Just put up on the 'Development Planning Highland Blog - Main Issues Report Video

Highland Council Dev Plan Blog says:

We have just uploaded a video to Youtube which we hope will help people to understand what the Inner Moray Firth Local Development Plan is all about, it lasts about 6 minutes and covers all of the topics addressed by the Main Issues Report and also briefly sets out what a Local Development Plan is.

Click here for the Council's blog page

I commend the initiative but find this video confusing.

The Planner states that the IMF LDP is the first of the 'Local' development plans.  This is surely not strictly true, since the HwLDP is also in fact still an LDP or is it?  What is its legal status?  There surely needs to be much more clarity around the subject of the exact meaning of 'Local'.

We are now not in the previous system where effectively the old 'Structure Plan' was the 'Overarching Strategic Document' and the 'Local Plan' provided  the site specific detail and the Local Plan had to relate to the 'Structure Plan'.


The Development Plans team have put up the following response to this post (to which I am putting together a response):

...Thank you for your comment which I have just read on your blog.

We set out in the Development Plan Scheme how the Local Development Plans are being produced and we are in the process of putting together an article to explain the relationship between the Inner Moray Firth Local Development Plan and the Highland-wide Local Development Plan for our Blog and this will be available soon.

Given the large area that The Highland Council produces development plans for The Highland Council has taken the approach of having one Local Development Plan which contains the vision, spatial strategy (including some major land allocations) and general policy approaches. Then a total of three area local development plans will be produced which will fill in the local detail to help achieve the vision and spatial strategies which are set out in the Highland-wide Local Development Plan.

We have chosen to bring forward this method of delivering development plans in Highland to help us to meet the legislative requirements of having a local development plan covering the planning authorities area which is no more than 5 years old.

Both the Highland-wide Local Development Plan and the area Local Development Plans will hold equal status in the decision making process. 

Other Local Planning Authorities have taken this approach to bring forward more than one local development plan for example to have land use allocations and show where minerals could be extracted.

We hope that this has helped to clarify the situation.

Mr Trump is in the News; again...

The short on-line 'accessible without subscription' web page of the Press and Journal informs us:
Donald Trump will today tell MSPs he would not have spent a single penny in Scotland had he known the government wanted to “decimate” the country with windfarms.
The US billionaire believes the Scottish Government is heading towards economic ruin with its green energy proposals.
The SNP wants 100% of Scotland’s electricity supply to come from renewable energy by 2020 – and hundreds of wind turbine projects are planned across the north and north-east.
There is a little more here but you'll need to read a copy of the paper to find out the rest
So just how many wind farms will that mean and how much of the Scottish landscape will have to accommodate this?  To get an idea why not try the freely available short synopsis of the book, 'Sustainable Energy - without the hot air' (page giving links to both book and synopsis).
According to a former Chief Scientific Adviser, 'This remarkable book sets out, with enormous clarity and objectivity, the various alternative low-carbon pathways that are open to us.'
Page 5 of the synopsis shows 'Five energy plans for Britain.'  Where, 'All these supply-side plans assume that demand has been substantially reduced by efficiency savings in heating and transport.'  
'To convey the scale of energy plans that add up', figure 9 on page 7, shows a map of Britain bearing a sixth plan. This sixth plan features every possible low carbon energy source, and lies roughly in the middle of the first five, it is called plan M.

Surely something here to spark a good debate?

Monday, 16 April 2012

Monday's Progress on contacting Highland Council Election candidates

Well, as always things take longer than you think.  I am shocked to realise how much I have come to rely on email communication, but without it and the help of the party offices and some contact from independent candidates, I could not have afforded the exercise of contacting the election candidates in Highland.

There are now lots of ticks and coloured highlights on my print out of the official candidate list, but I have still to be reassured that contact has been made with all of the candidates.  There are also one or two gremlins in the e mail works but hopefully they will sorted by close of play tomorrow.   The Local SCP and Local GP have helped out and UKIP national was polite and gave me UKIP Scotland details with an instruction to get back to national if I was experiencing any difficulties in contacting candidates.

Having followed up my request to the SNP with a Sunday phone message then an email to SNP HQ has forwarded my email request to the campaign team in Highland.  I am keeping my fingers crossed since without their kind assistance my costs will escalate. 

I know that the Party HQs have been under no obligation to help the APT blog exercise but so far they have been very helpful and I and grateful for their assistance.  I am so hoping that the SNP too will be able to assist or I'll either have to take a hit on the cost or I will have to abandon this whole exercise completely given that I will have been unable to give all the candidates the same opportunity to reach the public.

Civic Pride Awards


Good design isn’t just about individual buildings, it is about the communities in which they sit and the wider social and economic interactions they foster. 

This realisation has driven Urban Realm to launch of the Civic Pride Awards, a bottom up initiative to identify Scotland’s best places and spaces. It is a democratic platform for the debate, understanding and celebration of what makes our towns, villages and neighbourhoods great - in the hope that this knowledge can be extrapolated to better the lives of us all. 

To achieve this we want you to tell us which places make you happiest; and why. Is it their natural splendour? the strength of their built environment? the social networks they accommodate? their economic vitality? their transport links? or the range of services they offer? 

Original item here

SBF Urges election candidates to prioritise construction

Urban Realm reports:

The Scottish Building Federation, the construction industry trade body, is calling on all candidates in next month’s local elections to prioritise capital expenditure on new buildings.

The article states that to back up this call the SBF has published a report and quotes that:

There is a wide variance in the performance of individual councils in delivering the right number of affordable homes to meet current and future demand and there is always scope for every local authority to do more...

How is the Highland Council doing?

Well, featured graphs appear to show that:

  •  Highland was in the 'top three' in terms of the 'number of public sector new homes completed in 2006/7 - 2010 /2011'  More here
  • Highland had only a -0.02% change in local construction employment 2007-2010*  More here  
* Figures for the majority of local authorities ranged from -0.02% to -46.5%.  Only three local authorities had featured with positive numbers, East Dunbartonshire (3.1%), Sterling (8.0%) and Aberdeenshire (12.6%)

Council Blog gives info on this weeks IMF LDP consultation events

Extract from page here where more details and a chance to comment is provided:

This week the consultation events for the Inner Moray Firth Local Development Plan -Main Issues Report starts. From 2:30-18:30 there will exhibitions in the following locations:

16th April - Croy Public Hall

17th April - Ardersier Old School Hall

18th April - The Pavillion, Muir of Ord

19th April - Dores Village Hall

There will be evening workshops in these towns towns and villages . if you would like to attend the evening workshop please give us a call on 01463 702261.