IT HAS been an extremely busy time over the past few weeks in the Scottish Parliament.

After a long period of time where Holyrood seemed to be the only legislature in the world that did not actually legislate, we are now faced with a whole raft of bills that need to be carefully scrutinised and amended.

Before the last election, the Scottish Conservatives made a promise to be the strong opposition to the SNP that Scotland needed and to hold the Scottish Government to account.

The new planning bill that was passed by Holyrood just last week is a good example of where we have used our position to improve government policy.

As someone who served for nearly two decades as a local councillor, I am acutely aware of the challenges that arise from the planning system. Most people, I believe, realise that we simply need more homes and are therefore supportive of good-quality development if the right infrastructure is put in place to support it.

But until now it has all too often seemed that the views of our local communities our ignored in the planning process. Big developers seem to get away with large-scale, poorly designed schemes in the face of widespread local opposition and where there is insufficient capacity in our schools, health service and roads network.

This is not fair, and something had to be done about it. We looked seriously at proposals for what some call an ‘equal right of appeal’ that would allow communities to challenge some decisions to the Scottish Government. We concluded, however, that such a change would simply slow up the planning process and stifle development.

But it was also clear that the status quo was not an option. We wanted to seek a compromise and balance the need for more housing and development with giving a greater voice to our local communities.

We put forward an amendment for mediation between developers and communities to be an integral part of the planning process.

Bringing two very different points of view together can often be difficult but by trying to find areas of common ground early on, we can try to address any issues that communities might have before developers get their planning permission. I was pleased that we were successful in getting this amendment added to the bill.

Another positive development with this bill is the introduction Local Place Plans, which will allow communities to have a greater say on setting the priorities for development in their local area.

We managed to strengthen these to ensure that our councils must take proper account of them when developing their own Local Development Plans.

Good planning requires our communities, developers and councils to work together constructively to help build the houses that we need while taking into account the ambitions of our local communities.

While there are no perfect solutions, the changes in this bill will help to improve our planning process for the future.