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Ministers ‘centralising power’

Planning decisions for projects such as wind turbines and telecommunications masts are being taken out of the hands of local authorities because Scottish Government ministers “believe they know best”, according to the Conservatives.

The party has accused the Government of increasingly centralising power instead of devolving decision-making down to council level.

During a debate in Holyrood, Tory MSP Jackson Carlaw highlighted the planning system as the area where centralisation was most “consuming in its suffocation of local determination”.

Referring to wind farm campaigners, he said: “Just yesterday, outside Parliament stood many who have become exasperated with the physical consequences of the Scottish Government’s seemingly insatiable appetite for wind turbines.

“Councils are now overwhelmed with applications fuelled by subsidies and find that whatever their own local determination the likelihood is that a refusal will be overturned.”

Turning to mobile phone mast planning applications, Mr Carlaw said of the 25 of those rejected locally, 17 decisions had been overturned by the Government.

He said communities also faced campaigning against “potential devastating applications” without the involvement of local councillors, who, under the councillors’ code of conduct, are not allowed to express an opinion on an application until the time comes to make a decision.

Mr Carlaw added: “It is both ridiculous and insidious that councillors elected with a relatively small local community cannot express their opinion or campaign in respect of a planning application without finding they have forfeited the right to vote on that application.”

He told MSPs the Tories would abolish the code and allow local authorities to bring forward their own codes.

Local government minister Derek Mackay, however, said it was “nonsense” that the Government was overturning applications across the country, adding that the Government agreed with the decisions taken by local authorities on wind turbine applications in two-thirds of appeal cases.