skip to main content

A Scottish perspective on community participation in planning and other issues

While rooted in English case law and policy, the Joint Planning and Law Conference in Oxford last week had plenty for me to take away and ruminate on in the context of the Scottish system. The latter is currently undergoing a major review, with a Planning Bill due to be published before the year is out.

Community participation in planning– lessons from south of the border?

Back in 2011, when the now Localism Act was a Bill on its way through the Westminster Parliament, I was in a previous role involved in working to influence some of the changes that that legislation introduced to the English system, notably the introduction of Neighbourhood Plans. It was useful to get a ‘progress update’ as such on how neighbourhood planning has impacted on decision making in England, especially given my current work to try and shape reforms to the Scottish system.

Obviously, care has to be taken about drawing direct parallels between the Scottish and English systems since they have evolved separately over time and operate in very different contexts. But with quid pro quos given, where were the lessons for the Scottish planning review?

The Scottish Government has proposed introducing a community tier of spatial plans in Scotland, similar to Neighbourhood Plans but under the badge Local Place Plans. I’m a passionate advocate for demystifying planning and getting a broader spectrum of the public interested in how they can influence changes to their places for the better. But, like those who flagged up the unintended consequences of neighbourhood planning, I have concerns that a community tier statutory spatial plan in the context of huge resource constraints will not improve transparency and accessibility, but continue the exclusion of large numbers of the public from the planning process.

Research recently commissioned by the Scottish Government identified trust as the major barrier to community involvement in planning. Building trust by creating an environment in which planners and the public are able to work together proactively seems to be a stronger approach than introducing a new tier of plans that could find themselves undermined by decisions that continue to be made away from the community in Local Development Plans and the National Planning Framework.

Strengthening the existing system of community planning in Scotland – which as it stands often has little to do with town planning – seems to me a better approach. This current process, by which all those institutions responsible for service delivery in a local authority area must come together in a Community Planning Partnership to identify and minimise inequalities, is a ready-made canvas onto which greater community involvement in place making and service design could take place in an integrated way.

The Scottish Government has proposed introducing a statutory link between community planning and spatial planning. This link should be the root of new powers given to communities to influence the plans and delivery in their places.

Inclusive growth

In her ‘Seven ways to think like a 21st century economist’, Kate Raworth talks about reconfiguring how we think about the ultimate goal of the economy. Her point about the need to move from aiming for infinite growth to ‘meeting the needs of all within the means of the planet’ resonates with the Scottish Government’s “inclusive growth” policy strategy.

Her framework for a new economics fit to meet the challenges of the 21st century could also make a significant contribution to advancing the thinking, led by RSA Scotland, on how to develop the ‘inclusive growth’ moniker from a broad principle to a way of working that delivers tangible outcomes for Scotland’s people, businesses and environment.

Managing a historic environment designated by all

The broadened concept of heritage to include the ‘ordinary’ and the ‘everyday’ and its consequences for development decision making, as discussed by Dr Chris Miele of Montagu Evans LLP, has relevance to Scotland too. Guided by the same academic and international thinking the same shift towards heritage embracing the ‘ordinary’ is observable in Scottish historic environment policy.

However, Historic Environment Scotland’s recent project, What’s your heritage, in my view further advances the agenda on to proactively questioning how the value we place on the ‘everyday’ should interact with future development. What’s your heritage asked the Scottish public what is important to them, with a focus on culture and tradition alongside physical manifestations of the past.

But the project also asked how those different elements of the historic environment - which as Dr Miele pointed out, in the UK could just as well extend to ‘the environment’ – should be managed, from preservation to adaptation. The headline statistic that 78% of respondents believe that some change should be allowed to historic sites and places is just one of many outcomes that will inform HES’s forthcoming Policy Statement, due to be published in 2018.


Finally, Janice Morphet FRTPI’s tour de force of the possible consequences of Brexit for planning left many heads spinning. Most notable looking through the Scottish lens was the projected loss of the principle of subsidiarity that defines the EU. The arguments about whether powers returned from the EU will land in Westminster or the devolved governments/executive will continue to rage, but this timely reminder that subsidiarity itself is a European principle raises a perhaps more fundamental question.

Share on