This week's Councillor Column is written by David Kinniburgh - Conservative councillor for Helensburgh and Lomond South, Argyll and Bute's policy lead for planning, and the area's Provost.

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AS we enter February, we approach one of the most important dates in the council calendar – the full council meeting to consider budget proposals and council tax rates for the 2022/23 financial year, which starts in April.

Councils have a legal obligation to deliver a balanced budget each year – something that is becoming increasingly difficult for all 32 of Scotland’s local authorities as the funding levels to local government are cut in real terms by the Scottish Government.

You may have noticed that Kate Forbes, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy, told the Scottish Parliament recently that the Scottish Government’s own budget would include an additional £120 million for councils across Scotland.

Hopes may have been raised as a result that the annual dilemma facing councils who are required to balance their budget may have been a little easier this year.

READ MORE: Argyll and Bute Council faces budget gap of up to £5.9m in 2022-23, report reveals

But independent analysis carried out by the Scottish Parliament’s staff in December concluded that core funding to councils is actually being reduced in real terms by £284m.

The extra £120m – which I imagine was held back by the SNP-Green coalition as a good news story – still leaves councils with significant gaps to fill after years of underfunding by the Scottish Government.

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UNDER current planning legislation a planning authority has a statutory duty under the Planning Etc. (Scotland) Act 2006 to prepare Development Plans for their area.

In Argyll and Bute, the current Local Development Plan was adopted in March 2015 and the process to replace it with Local Development Plan 2 (LDP2) began in January 2016.

Preparing a Local Development Plan is a major piece of work for any local authority’s planning officers, involving as it does evidence gathering, pre-engagement, a main issues report, a proposed LDP, examination, adoption and an action programme.

That work involves consultation throughout with key stakeholders and interested parties, and though there have been some delays in producing the new Argyll and Bute plan along the way, the Proposed Local Development Plan 2 (PLDP2), together with the unresolved issues from the public consultation into the PLDP2, which is the settled view of the council, has recently been submitted to the Scottish Government for examination by the Department of Planning and Environmental Appeals (DPEA).

READ MORE: U-turn bid launched after plans for new home near Helensburgh are turned down

It’s expected that the DPEA’s examination process will be completed by October 2022 and that LDP2 will formally be adopted by the council in January 2023.

The final part of the process, the Action Programme will then be published within three months of adoption, setting out how the goals and visions of LDP2 will be achieved.

READ MORE: Catch up with the latest news stories from across Helensburgh and Lomond by clicking here