A survey undertaken by YoungScot to accompany the Scottish Government’s Places, People and Planning consultation concluded that the majority of young people felt that they should be involved in planning in their local area and that their local councils should look at ways to support children and young people to do this.
The current Scottish Planning Bill contains a number of provisions that aim to do just that – including enhancing the engagement of children and young people in shaping their local areas through the statutory development plans, and the requirement for planning authorities to use methods that will secure the engagement of children and young people.
The right to participate
This focus upon children’s participation in the planning system can be viewed as part of a wider move towards the greater acknowledgement of children’s rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The UNCRC sets out the fundamental rights of all children and young people across the world. It states that the best interests of the child must be a top priority in all decisions and actions that affect children. There are, therefore, many aspects that are directly relevant to the planning system.
- The right to relax and play, and to join in a wide range of cultural, artistic and other recreational activities.
- An environment secure from social harm and violence, and sufficiently free from pollution, traffic and other hazards that impede free and safe movement.
- Space to play outdoors in diverse and challenging physical environments, with access to supportive adults, when necessary.
- Opportunities to experience, interact with and play in natural environments and the animal world.
- Opportunities to explore and understand the cultural and artistic heritage of their community, participate in, create and shape it.
- Opportunities to participate with other children in games, sports and other recreational activities, supported, where necessary, by trained facilitators or coaches.
Children’s rights are also at the heart of the Child Friendly Cities Initiative (CFCI):
“A child friendly city is the embodiment of the Convention on the Rights of the Child at the local level, which in practice means that children’s rights are reflected in policies, laws, programmes and budgets. In a child friendly city, children are active agents; their voices and opinions are taken into consideration and influence decision making processes.”
Four key principles of the UNCRC are considered to be particularly pertinent to the CFCI initiative:
- Non-discrimination – a child-friendly city is friendly and inclusive for all children
- Best interests – putting children first in all decisions that affect them
- Every child’s right to life and maximum development – providing the optimal conditions for childhood, including their physical, mental, spiritual, moral, psychological and social development
- Listening to children and developing their views – promoting children’s active participation as citizens and rights-holders, ensuring their freedom of expression
Awareness and understanding of children’s rights among planners
However, in her research on children’s role within the town planning system, Dr Jenny Wood found that there was little acknowledgement or understanding of children’s rights under the UNCRC. Indeed, planners commonly believed that the provision of schools, parks and designated play facilities were all that was required in order to meet children’s needs.
Dr Wood argues that if public spaces and the planning process are to become more inclusive, then planners need to develop a better understanding of children’s rights. In a separate blog, she sets out five key steps to help embed children’s rights in the everyday work of planners and other practitioners:
- specific children’s rights training for planners
- government guidance on, and suggested methods for, engagement with children and young people
- the creation of a robust and routine feedback mechanism between planners and child participants
- encouraging networking, collaboration, and skills exchange between planners, play workers, and youth workers
- the collation of an accessible evidence base on children, young people and their relationship to, and use of, the built environment
There are some wider signs of progress – including the introduction of Children’s Rights and Well-Being Impact Assessments (CRWIA), which are now required for all new policy developments in Scotland, and new measures that require specific public authorities in Scotland, including all local authorities and health boards, to report every three years on how they have progressed children’s rights as set out in the UNCRC.
The current reform of the planning system offers an ideal opportunity to further advance children’s rights by encouraging and supporting local planning authorities to involve children and young people in planning as part of their everyday practice.