THE biggest shake-up of Scotland’s planning system since devolution starts its marathon closing leg at Holyrood today, with ministers accused of not being radical enough and warnings of damage to rural communities.

MSPs will hold three days of debates and votes on hundreds of amendments on the third and final stage of the Planning (Scotland) Bill.

The legislation, introduced to parliament more than 18 months ago, updates the 1997 law which currently governs how the system works.

Key intentions include giving the government more say over planning issues through a 10-year national planning framework; the streamlining of local development plans; and improving public engagement through local place plans.

The Bill has also attracted proposed changes from MSPs, including a third-party right of appeal against planning decisions and a crackdown on short-term holiday lets.

The government has also floated an “agent of change” policy, shifting the duty for sound-proofing new properties near existing live music venues onto developers.

Labour said the Bill risked being a “missed opportunity”, with ministers trying to dilute radical ideas agreed by MSPs at a previous stage, while the Greens called it “lacklustre”.

Scottish Land & Estates said the Bill could hit rural communities hardest if MSPs backed amendments to remove private ways from permitted development rights or establish a third-party right of appeal.

Policy Adviser for Rural Communities Gavin Mowat said: “Rural businesses in Scotland want to see a planning system that can help them deliver the employment and housing which diverse rural communities need.

“They require a flexible and proportionate planning system to enable them to continue to thrive, particularly in uncertain times.

“The requirements of almost one million people living in rural communities need to be given full consideration as the Planning Bill is passing through Parliament.

“We urge MSPs to back amendments that will support rural communities in building resilience through diversity.”

The Scottish Greens said they would try to revive a proposed curb on the short-term letting market following an SNP-Tory “stitch-up”.

Lothians Green MSP Andy Wightman, who has campaigned to help Edinburgh residents blighted by “audible sex parties” and other holiday let problems, secured a change at an earlier stage of the Bill last year which would force all landlords to get planning permission for a commercial let.

However, with the SNP government’s apparent blessing, the Scottish Tories have tabled an amendment saying the change should only apply in council-set “control areas”.

Mr Wightman said: “The Planning Bill should have been an opportunity to reset where power lies and give people a far greater say in decisions which affect them, but instead it looks like an SNP-Tory stitch-up is going to usher in an era of mass centralisation, leaving communities frozen out once again.

“Green MSPs have worked hard to strengthen what was a lacklustre Bill and we’ll fight for our amendments this week, which include measures to regulate hill tracks and short term lets, improve air quality and protect natural habitats. These are important issues that people care about and we’ll do everything we can to win support for them.

“But if the SNP chooses to side with Tories and their corporate and landed interests it will be a huge blow for hopes of building a fairer, more equal Scotland.”

The Scottish Tories are also pushing amendments to make it easier for people to build their own homes and for mediation to be used instead of a third-party right of appeal.

Tory MSP Graham Simpson said his party’s proposals would “put people at the heart of the planning system.

He said: “Many people would like to build their own homes but simply cannot find a plot. My amendments would facilitate that process and help more people build the life they’ve always dreamed of - the home they’ve always wanted.

“Too many people feel cut out of the planning system, which is really what has fuelled the demand for equal appeal rights.

“The Scottish Conservative solution of mediation will give communities the voice they need and ensure constructive resolution of controversial planning projects.

“The rapid growth in short-term lets has led to conflicts between the needs of communities with wider economic and tourism interests.

“The Scottish Conservative amendments in this section would give councils the powers to designate a problem area as a short term let control area.

“These amendments will give councils the flexibility that they need to respond appropriately to the concerns of their communities.”

Scottish Labour will push for a community right of appeal, a strong agent of change policy, a land value capture system letting councils benefit from rises in land prices after planning permission, and changes to “put public health at the heart of the planning system”.

Labour MSP Alex Rowley said: “As it stands, the Planning Bill risks becoming a missed opportunity to deliver the real change required to transform our communities.

“The SNP has teamed up with the Tories to push through their timid approach.”

LibDem Alex Cole-Hamilton added: “The Bill is a desperate planning power grab that funnels unnecessary new powers into ministers’ hands. The last thing we need is more centralisation. The planning system should at its core be about local autonomy and accountability.”

The Scottish Property Federation warned a number of last-minute amendments could “derail the planning system if passed”.

Chairman Miller Mathieson said: “Efficient and effective planning is crucial for future development and investment in Scotland. It starts with a workable, competitive planning system that unlocks opportunity rather than hindering it.

“We call for MSPs to bear these implications in mind and agree to return the Bill to its original intention of creating a simplified planning system for Scotland, which focuses on delivering much-needed homes, jobs, and investment.”

Planning Minister Kevin Stewart said: “The reforms we are making in the Bill are aimed at improving the system so that planning can focus more on people and places rather than red tape. We will support amendments that make the system work better for all including those that give councils powers to control short-term lets where this is needed.”