Taking forward key issues in Scottish planning at this year’s SPEL conference

On 19th September 2019, we welcomed speakers and delegates to Edinburgh for the 29th Scottish Planning and Environmental Law Conference.

Before we began, the conference was invited to pause to remember and reflect on the life and achievements of Robert (Roy) Martin QC, who sadly passed away earlier this year. Roy was a long-time supporter and friend to the SPEL conference and a great addition to our speaker line up on many occasions. Everyone connected with SPEL would like to extend our condolences to Roy’s family and his colleagues at Terra Firma Chambers.

The conference brought together planners, planning lawyers, researchers and others who work in the field of planning, housing, development and infrastructure in Scotland for a day of discussion and debate around some of the key issues facing Scottish planning today and in the future.

Set to the backdrop of the most recent Scottish planning bill, the day focused broadly on two themes: the approach to housing, land value and infrastructure delivery;  and the impact of the community empowerment agenda. As in previous years, themed discussion topics were supplemented by the always well-received case law updates from conference sponsors and planning and environmental law specialists Terra Firma Chambers.

The day began with some brief reflection from our keynote speaker, Keith Winter, Executive Director, Enterprise and Environment, Fife Council. Keith considered his years in the profession, and the great steps planning has taken from its earlier years. He also posed some interesting questions for delegates and other speakers alike about the potential for the future of planning, discussing “positive planning”; placemaking; the challenges of needing to meet both local and national level expectations and meeting the challenges that face the next generation of planners – such as climate change – head-on.

Photo Copyright Rebecca Jackson

Housing, infrastructure and land values are all key topics for planners, and we spent the mid-morning session discussing all three. In the day’s longest session, panellists grappled with big topics for planning including whether the delivery of housing and infrastructure is becoming any easier; if more housing should (or could) be allocated to housing; how infrastructure will be funded in the future and whether we should be paying more attention to delayed sites which have already been granted approval.

Panellists brought a wealth of experience and perspectives to the discussion, with contributions from Taylor Wimpey, Homes for Scotland, Scottish Futures Trust, Lichfields, Renfrewshire Council and the Scottish Land Commission. The wide-ranging discussions on the supply and allocation of land for development, the implication of development for infrastructure and how multiple partners – not just planners – need to work together in order to create wonderful places where communities can live and work.

Photo copyright Rebecca Jackson

The afternoon session was dominated by discussions of community empowerment in planning and what opportunities and challenges the community empowerment agenda in Scotland could bring for the profession. A panel discussion which brought a refreshing range of perspectives was well received by an audience of delegates who were eager to ask questions and respond to comments from the panel, which included Nick Wright, from Nick Wright Planning; Pippa Robertson, director of Aurora Planning; Dr Calum MacLeod, Policy Director from Community Land Scotland and Antony McGuiness, Forward Planning team leader from West Dunbartonshire Council.

Panellists grappled with the challenges of aligning local place plans, local outcome improvement plans and local development plans; how community-led action can help address inequality and improve outcomes at a local level for communities and how integrating community and spatial planning is working in practice at the moment. The discussions proved to be one of the most successful of the day, with many delegates commenting on the value of the discussions to their own professional work.

Photo copyright Rebecca Jackson

The final session of the day explored the implications of the new planning act and its potential for delivering strategies which put place at their heart and enhancing the delivery of sustainable development projects across Scotland. Panel members included Stefano Smith, Director of Stefano Smith Planning and former Convenor of RTPI Scotland, Jacqueline Cook, Head of Planning at Davidson Chalmers Stewart LLP and Pam Ewen, Chief Officer of Planning at Fife Council and the Junior Convenor of Heads of Planning Scotland.

The conference provided an opportunity for reflection about the future of planning in Scotland and how practitioners from many different professions – not just planning and planning law – will have to come together to ensure that opportunities are seized upon.

And while it was widely acknowledged that the current model is far from perfect, and more exploration is needed to understand the potential and the application of the new planning legislation which has been introduced in recent years, it’s clear that there is willingness among the profession to learn lessons and to apply knowledge and determination to the current planning landscape to promote and develop planning in Scotland in the years to come so it can fully deliver for Scotland’s communities.

We would like to thank our speakers, those who attended and our sponsors, and hope to see you all next year!

If you enjoyed this article you may also like to read:

Follow us on Twitter to find out what topics have been interesting our research officers, or search #SPEL2019 for more insight into the conference day. Delegates can get in touch for copies of presentation slides where available.

We publish Scottish Planning and Environmental Law Journal every two months. More information on the journal and how to subscribe is available here.

Managing growth in historic towns

canterbury cathedral

By Heather Cameron

Predominantly set within environmentally attractive surroundings, historic towns and cities have a strong sense of place, offer a good quality of life, are often prosperous and represent models of sustainable development.

Research shows that businesses based in older places are more productive than the average for all commercial businesses across the whole economy. Retail and leisure businesses often seek to cluster in historic areas of towns and cities, and historic buildings are particularly attractive to new business start-ups, especially in the creative and cultural sector. Well-maintained historic places also enhance cultural life and community resilience.

As a result, historic towns are much sought after places to live and work, which has contributed to unprecedented growth.

Growth pressures

While growth is seen as a good thing for the future of town centres, managing it effectively in these areas of historic importance is not without its challenges. Older townscapes and buildings are a valuable and irreplaceable community asset that need to be protected.

Growth in historic towns creates pressure for new housing and development, and the infrastructure that is needed alongside it. It can also lead to increased congestion and depletion of suburban quality through redevelopment and loss of garden space. The traditional infrastructure in these towns may not be able cope with the increased capacity resulting in demand for suitable adaptation.

Managing these growth pressures is a particular challenge for historic towns as they need to try and meet local development need while both conserving the identity and sense of place of the existing town and nurturing the creation of sustainable new communities within them.

The Historic Towns Forum has highlighted that “there are challenges of infrastructure, partnership working, working with major national developers, the tension between modernity and pastiche and how to learn from the past and the present when building at this scale.”

In addition, the main political priority across all areas is economic wellbeing, taking precedence over any heritage considerations. A report from Green Balance in 2014 found that this principle concern was interpreted differently from place to place, with some local councillors viewing heritage as beneficial to a town’s economic and social wellbeing, while others viewed it is a burden and drag on investment.

As the heritage of places can be a particular pull for tourism, not preserving them could lead to a loss in economic wellbeing. The importance of achieving the right balance between sustainable development and heritage conservation is a theme that has been consistently highlighted in the research.

Smarter growth

So how do such places manage growth while also safeguarding both the character of the towns themselves and the settings around them?

According to the Historic Towns Forum, key issues in effectively addressing growth pressures in historic towns include:

  • planning and process;
  • partnerships;
  • finance and economics;
  • climate change;
  • community benefits and community engagement;
  • design; and
  • learning from the past and present.

It has been argued that a strategic approach to growth needs to be taken, such as the approach taken in Cambridge, where the Cambridgeshire Quality Charter for Growth is being used to help steer the creation of high quality sustainable communities.

Partnerships involving a range of local stakeholders, encompassing a shared vision and cooperation are also important for effective growth. Where strategic resources are lacking, which is often the case in smaller towns, community engagement can be of particular importance, as shown in Cirencester.

Key principles of good design have been highlighted to include:

  • learning from the past, including study of appropriate models;
  • localising by understanding local conditions; and
  • transforming action by applying appropriate, robust advances.

The overarching message seems to be that ‘smarter growth’ is required.

Good practice

There are examples of good practice where historic towns are managing growth in a way that protects their heritage. Cambridge, as mentioned previously, is one example. Sutton is another, where the challenges of growth are being addressed through the use of a Heritage Action Zone. The aim here is to balance growth with the management of heritage assets, providing lessons for elsewhere.

It is also important to look further afield. The historic town of Amersfoort in the Netherlands has been presented as a good model for managing housing growth to achieve attractive new settlements and create balanced communities. It has been suggested that this smarter approach is something that historic towns in the UK can learn from.

Another good example is Freiburg in Germany. Although different in terms of development to Britain, some of the issues applicable to British towns and cities have been addressed – including how to attract families to live at higher densities close enough to city centres to avoid car dependency.

As Historic England states:

“Learning is central to sustaining the historic environment. It raises people’s awareness and understanding of their heritage, including the varied ways in which its values are perceived by different generations and communities. It encourages informed and active participation in caring for the historic environment.”


If you enjoyed this blog post, why not read are previous posts on the civic use of heritage assets and the value of preserving our built heritage.

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team.

Community planning in the devolved UK

Community planning is all about how public bodies and other partners work with local communities to design and deliver services that suitably reflect the needs and priorities or a local area. Effective community planning incorporates strong partnership working and a shared vision which has been created especially to fit a set of local circumstances.

Providing effective and efficient services, promoting community engagement and enterprise and engaging the third sector are all things that could now be considered part of “community planning”. It is founded on the idea that communities know best; they know what they need, they know how it can be delivered and how they will use services in the most effective way to get the most value from them. With an increase in political devolution we have seen different approaches to delivering community planning emerge in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Some nations embraced it from a very early stage, others less so. However, it has become an increasingly popular model over recent years, with all four administrations now using some form of community planning model.

England

In England, the focus has largely been on housing and land use and the relationship between community plans (which consider services and public engagement) and local development plans (which focus more on the physical aspects of planning in the community, such as land use). Neighbourhood plans give communities the opportunity to develop a shared vision for and shape the development and growth of their local area. Neighbourhood plans are not a legal requirement, but a right which communities can evoke if they wish to. They are designed to fit alongside local authority produced “local plans” and provide an opportunity for communities to set out a long term vision for their area in terms of development, and “may encourage them to consider ways to improve their neighbourhood other than through the development and use of land.”

Scotland

The introduction of the 2015 Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act is a clear indication of the stance of the Scottish Government with regards to community planning. As well as statutory rights being strengthened with regards to consultation and community consultation, the legislation also places statutory requirements on public bodies with regards to supporting local community based service delivery, and actively engaging local people in decision making processes. As a result of the legislation 32 Community Planning Partnerships (CPPs) now exist in Scotland and they are responsible for developing and delivering community plans. These can take two forms:

  • a larger plan, which takes account of the whole CPP area (Local Outcomes Improvement Plan)
  • a smaller plan, which focuses on a smaller geographic area which has been identified as being in need of improvement (locality plan)

There is no limit to the number of plans CPP’s can create in a year, but the views of local communities are particularly important in creating these as that is the way to best reflect local needs and priorities.

In Scotland a consultation is also currently underway to consider ways to align community and spatial planning more closely, as it was recognised that planning for services should also be mapped along with physical development.

Wales

In a Welsh context the use of community planning focuses on resource allocation and the direction of resource to where it is needed. Promoting community cohesion and well-being through community planning is also something which can be seen in both Wales and Scotland. Increasingly, plans have attempted to incorporate a “place-centred”, “service focused”, “partnership led” approach, with the emphasis on individual need. It is hoped that by bringing service providers and other partners back in touch with the people who use their services that their views can be taken on in future planning projects. As in all community planning projects, partnerships are key; however in Wales one of the biggest challenges has been forming these partnerships and getting buy-in from local businesses. A similar challenge has also been seen with national level bodies.

This challenge of engaging national bodies in community planning has also been seen in Scotland. National bodies are expected to engage with rural and urban CPP’s in ways which reflect individual community need, something they had not been used to doing previously. As a result, promoting flexibility and adaptability and encouraging participation from a range of stakeholders in order to support the creation and delivery of community plans has been high on the agenda across the UK.

Northern Ireland

The situation in Northern Ireland is, to a large extent, still evolving. Executives at Stormont, as well as planners and developers, see engaging local people as important but they are also trying to find a model which works best for a Northern Irish context. Potential options for integrating community based models have included adopting models from England or Scotland respectively; creating their own model which takes elements from a number of different models; or making attempts to align the Northern Irish model closer to that of the Republic of Ireland.

Currently the legislative basis for community planning in Northern Ireland is set out in the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 2014. The Act makes a statutory link between community plans and local land use development plans, and makes the link between community planning for a district and well-being more explicit.

category-picture-community-development

Engaging difficult to reach communities in community planning

The views of local communities are particularly important when creating community plans, as their fundamental principle is to reflect service and resource need more effectively in order to benefit communities. As a result community planners across the UK face the unilateral challenge of getting people to engage. Different groups within a community may have different capacity and ability to engage. ‘Hard to reach’ groups are particularly important to the consultation process as it is often they who make the most use of services or have the greatest need for specific service provision. People in this group may include young people, older people, ethnic minorities or other socially excluded groups, and small businesses. They are also sometimes referred to as ‘seldom heard’ groups.

Methods to improve communication and consultation with hard to reach groups vary, but some potential barriers and solutions to engagement include:

  • Jargon and technical language – Policy and planning documents can be very long, and very dense, with lots of planning specific technical jargon, create an easy access version so that everyone can be engaged in discussions and not feel intimidated by “high level” documents.
  • Digital illiteracy – Increasingly consultation documents, some forums and copies of the plans themselves are held online, and improving access to these would help to encourage more people to participate.
  • Awareness and accessibility – Promoting consultations or community planning events, and holding them at a variety of times and in a variety of settings to allow people from different groups to attend. In addition providing them in multiple languages, using language that is more accessible for young people, or in a larger type size may also help to encourage people to participate.
  • Showing impact – Create follow up documents so that people can see how their input has made a difference. Even if the plan won’t be implemented for a number of months, let people know how what they said influenced or changed the decisions that were made.

It is clear that England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are at different stages in their community planning journey. However, they have all, in one way or another recognised the importance of engaging communities to identify needs and attempt to allocate resources accordingly. In many instances, these community agendas have not just been linked to spatial, or even service planning, but also to wider issues around inequality and well-being and how resources and planning across all areas can best be directed to tackle this. It may be that we see this reflected further in future legislation.


This blog reflects on a recent paper by Deborah Peel and Simon Pemberton “Exploring New Models of Community based Planning in the Devolved UK” a study funded by the Planning Exchange Foundation.

Idox Information Service members can access our research briefing on engaging communities in planning.

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team.

The changing landscape of planning: views from the Scottish Planning and Environmental Law Conference 2015

The Scottish Planning and Environmental Law Journal (SPEL) held its annual conference in Edinburgh on 17th September. This year’s theme was “the changing landscape of planning”.

Rebecca Jackson, 2015

Photo: Rebecca Jackson

The death of strategic planning?

The keynote speech of this year’s conference was delivered by Professor Greg Lloyd, Emeritus Professor of Urban Planning, Ulster University. He outlined a concept of ‘landscapes of planning’, taking delegates on a whistle-stop tour of what he viewed as the four landscapes of modern planning: post WWII; post 1979; post 1997; and post 2011.

This reflected a journey from post-war social democratic principles, to immature new liberalism under Thatcher, to a third way synthesis under Blairite Labour and what he described as ‘pure unadulterated Neoliberalism’ post-recession.

Professor Lloyd argued that we will soon be transitioning into a fifth landscape which may see the ‘de-coupling of capitalism and democracy’; as the state becomes smaller and more interested in pursuing private rather than public interest (he specifically referenced books by Mason, 2015 and Streck, 2014).

He emphasised the need for planners to be aware of these transitions and for the profession to attempt to remove itself from the current path dependent, money driven culture. Otherwise it would result, he argued, in “reactionary, short term planning; the death of strategic planning and the rise of the know nothing school.”

Unconventional gas … a need to build public trust

The second topic of the morning was a discussion about planning’s future relationship with energy, particularly unconventional gas. Public controversy in the UK over fracking has received considerable news coverage in the last few months. The Scottish Government also announced in January a moratorium on granting planning consents for unconventional oil and gas developments, including fracking, while further research and a public consultation are carried out.

Tom Pickering from INEOS Upstream presented on INEOS specific practices, while Sandy Telfer, DLA Piper Scotland, discussed the impact of increased regulation on the contamination of water supply at shale drilling sites in Pennsylvania.

The key thing to come out of these presentations, and the questions from the floor which followed, was the emphasis on education and making information accessible to members of the public to gain their trust on the subject of fracking and horizontal drilling.

Rebecca Jackson, 2015

Photo: Rebecca Jackson

Linking community and spatial planning …”it’s not rocket science”

Following a quick coffee break the next session was delivered by Nick Wright, Principal, Nick Wright Planning and Karl Doroszenko, development planning and regeneration manager at East Ayrshire Council. They spoke on community planning and spatial planning in Scotland and how it should, and can, work effectively to deliver better services for communities.

Nick Wright gave an update on research by the RTPI on the benefit of linking spatial and community planning. This was followed by Karl Doroszenko who spoke about the experience of East Ayrshire Council and the creation of their community planning partnership.

The presentations provided a useful insight for delegates, particularly planners, as to how they could integrate shared planning into their practices. Karl spoke at length about cooperation and the benefit this had on delivering services for the local community in East Ayrshire.

Just before lunch there was the first round up of Planning Case Law delivered by Maurice O’Carroll, Advocate at Terra Firma Chambers.

Priorities and game changers in the next parliament … “planners have an important role to play”

The afternoon session began with Stefano Smith, Vice Convenor of RTPI Scotland, looking at priorities and game changers in the next Parliament. He spoke of the need for planners to discuss and engage with the 2016 election in Scotland. It is planners themselves who need to take responsibility for promoting the importance of planners and planning in order to generate public discussion about the planning system.

He identified 7 key themes which the RTPI believe should shape how planning is approached in the next parliament. He emphasised the necessity for planning to realise its full potential and to work towards key priorities to deliver planning effectively.

Rebecca Jackson, 2015. Stefano Smith addresses the conference.

Photo: Rebecca Jackson, 2015. Stefano Smith addresses the conference.

“We need radical change, centred on land use and management”

Following Stefano Smith, three speakers considered the priority actions of land use and delivering land for new homes in Scotland. Blair Melville of Turley began by outlining the housing situation in Scotland. He commented that planners are using the economy as an excuse not to plan effectively for housing but that this should not be the way forward for planning in Scotland.

Robin Holder, MD of HolderPlanning then reflected on whether planning was helping or hindering the delivery of housing. Housing land supply has been an eternal argument for planners, which has led to a large shortfall in housing supply. He suggested a new approach where there is a move away from regional Strategic Development Plans and Main Issues Reports, which he saw as a drag on the planning process, in favour of local community-based development plans which could be consulted on instead.

Professor David Adams rounded off the discussion and put it to delegates that they should be taking a more radical approach to land use in order to reform planning. He commented that planners need to rediscover the fundamental link between use of land and planning. He looked specifically at the Land Reform Review Group and their suggestions on Compulsory Sale Orders and the creation of a new Housing Land Corporation for Scotland in the proposals being considered currently in the 2015 Land Reform Bill.

Rebecca Jackson, 2015. Speakers take questions from the floor

Rebecca Jackson, 2015. Speakers take questions from the floor

Continuous improvement in the planning system

The final session of the afternoon was given by David Leslie, Acting Head of Planning and Building Standards at Edinburgh City Council who gave his reflections on continuous improvement in the planning system in Scotland and how joint working and innovation in future projects can drive planning forward. He commented that both transformational and cultural improvement is needed to promote effective planning.

Finally there was a second roundup of planning case law delivered by Alasdair Sutherland, an advocate at Terra Firma Chambers.

What is the future of planning in Scotland?

A key message which emerged regularly throughout the day was the question of consultation: how do planners strike the balance between consulting fully with a community and creating a quick planning process which sees decisions reached quickly and clearly.

Another was the question of land in Scotland and how we can maximise its use to help achieve the outcomes set out in the national planning framework.

A third key theme was how local communities can be integrated into the planning system more – are community planning partnerships the way forward or is there another way?

And finally how do we review and evaluate planning – should central government be taking a greater role in ensuring that outcomes are met and concerns of the public are taken into account?

The day provided an opportunity for individuals involved in the planning sector to get together to share ideas and understanding about how planning in Scotland should work and the changing nature and demands of planning. The topics covered drew together a diverse range of themes, and it was good to see delegates and speakers interacting and debating. As the planning process in Scotland continues to adapt to meet new challenges in the future, it’s clear that Scottish Planning and Environmental Law Journal will remain at the forefront of commentary and insight.


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Read our other recent articles on planning:

The potential of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill to strengthen community planning

community sign

by Laura Dobie

The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill was finally passed by the Scottish Parliament after a debate and vote late on Wednesday evening. In this article we look at the background to the Bill, the reforms that it proposes and its potential to strengthen community planning.

Background

The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill was introduced in the Scottish Parliament on 11th June 2014, and the Stage 2 debate took place in March 2015. The Bill has its origins in the 2011 Scottish National Party election manifesto (where it was referred to as the Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill). This was followed by two Scottish Government consultations. The Bill is part of a broader programme for public service reform in Scotland which was introduced by the Commission on the Future Delivery of Public Services, which stressed the need to ensure that public services are built around people and communities.

The Bill sets out reforms in areas including community planning, community right to buy land, involving communities in the delivery of public services and the acquisition of public assets by communities.

Community planning provisions

The Bill gives community planning partnerships (CPPs) a statutory basis and extends the range of public bodies which are defined as community planning partners beyond those set out in the 2003 Local Government in Scotland Act, which introduced community planning. It sets out a legal obligation for local authorities and their partners to participate with each other and to participate with any community bodies which the partnership considers likely to be able to contribute to community planning.

There is a particular focus on involving organisations which represent disadvantaged groups, and CPPs are required to “act with a view to reducing inequalities of outcome which result from socio-economic disadvantage unless the partnership considers that it would be inappropriate to do so.”

CPPs are also required to prepare and publish a local outcomes improvement plan and to review whether they are making progress in achieving these outcomes. They must also publish progress reports for each reporting year.

Will the reforms strengthen community planning?

A number of reports have been critical of community planning since its inception, in particular with respect to its involvement of, and impact on, local communities. The Christie Commission highlighted “variations in the effectiveness of community planning partnerships,” while an Audit Scotland report found that barriers such as the lack of a clear accountability framework have prevented CPPs from operating as intended. It argued that all community planning partners need to work together to address these barriers.

A SPICe briefing on the Bill noted that “putting community planning on a statutory basis, and requiring participation from all partners, not just local authorities, has long been considered a way in which community planning could be improved.” The general duty on all partners to participate, and specific responsibilities conferred on some partners to ensure the efficient and effective operation of the partnerships, may help to address some of the previous shortcomings of CPPs.

However, the Local Government and Regeneration Committee does not consider that a statutory duty is sufficient to ensure the effective participation of all public bodies in community planning. Some stakeholders have also highlighted issues with how outcomes will be selected and prioritised by CPPs, while others have voiced concerns that the process will remain top down, and will not give communities much of an opportunity to contribute to determining outcomes.

While the proposed reforms place clear responsibilities on CPPs to involve relevant bodies in community planning, and contain provisions which aim to address previous problems with CPPs, we will need to see how they are applied in practice in order to determine whether they will bring about improvements in community planning, and ultimately lead to improved outcomes for communities.


The Idox Information Service can give you access to a wealth of further information on community planning. To find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

Further reading*

Changing gear (Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill), IN Holyrood, No 327 10 Nov 2014, pp35-36

Empowering communities: putting people at the heart of their place, IN Scottish Planner, No 159 Sep 2014, pp4-5

Improving community planning in Scotland

*Some resources may only be available to members of the Idox Information Service