NICOLA Sturgeon has rejected calls for planning decisions to be placed in the hands of an independent body.

An alliance of environmental and heritage bodies this week called for a radical overhaul of the planning process, warning public trust in the system had been lost.

Nine groups, including the National Trust for Scotland, John Muir Trust and RSPB, said ministers should consider setting up an arms-length body to ensure decisions were "truly independent of government".

Speaking during First Minister's Questions, Scots Tory MSP Liz Smith said they had raised a "deep seated concern".

She added: "Does the First Minister accept that that is a very serious issue that undermines the heart of local democracy and can only be addressed if there is an involvement of an independent body?"

Ms Sturgeon said: "The vast majority of planning decisions are already made locally by those who are best placed to consider in what circumstances planning consent should or should not be granted.

"I think that is right and proper.

"Planning does benefit greatly from being part of a democratic process, and it is informed at all stages by high quality objective professional advice."

She offered to meet the groups to discuss their concerns but added: "I don't think we should take the planning system out of the democratic process, I think that would be a mistake."

The groups cited recent decisions to permit wind farms in environmentally sensitive areas, development on green belt land and a luxury housing scheme near the Culloden battlefield site.

In an open letter published in The Herald on Monday, they said the planning system must be reformed to ensure transparency and the "objectivity of Scottish ministers".

Local authorities determine most planning applications in the first instance, though ministers have the power to intervene in decision of national importance.