Blog: Learning About The Place Standard

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Board member Sue Evans, Head of Development for the Central Scotland Green Network Trust, blogs about using the recently launched Place Standard.

As a Board member of A&DS, I’ve been following the development of the Place Standard with great interest. The Standard has been developed by the Scottish Government, A&DS and NHS Health Scotland and was launched at the end of 2015. The Place Standard is now being rolled out for use by public bodies, developers, designers and communities.

I am keen for my own organisation, Central Scotland Green Network Trust, to become an early adopter of the Standard, so in late February we spent an afternoon learning about the Place Standard and trying it out.

CSGNT is fortunate that one of our directors, Matt Lowther, Head of Place and Equity at NHS Health Scotland, has been directly involved in the development of the Standard, so he was able to give us the history of its development. We learnt that it comes out of work by A&DS on creating liveable, quality places and the NHS on the impact of inequality on health. There are many types of inequality and many causes from global to more local but a big determinant is around local environment and the quality of where someone lives plays a big part in how well they live. Inequality leads to shorter life spans and to fewer years of good health. The most deprived people die sooner and might have on average only 48 years of good health compared to 72 years for the least deprived people in Scotland.

The Standard has been developed with the purpose of ensuring that “all places in Scotland nurture the wellbeing of the people within them.”  To do this the Standard describes: “what makes a good, sustainable place” and the: “supporting actions and processes which deliver places of high quality.”

It is intended that the tool can be used to bring about design and management changes to improve the quality of existing places and to influence the development of new places so that they help to reduce health inequalities (and in the process are better designed and more sustainable).

We then had a look at the methodology. This is free to download and is pretty straightforward. It consists of 14 elements which cover the physical and social aspects of a place. Each element is described and has a key question framed from the perspective of the individual – like, Can I regularly experience good quality natural space? – with further more detailed questions to encourage detailed conversations to develop. Responses are captured in note form and are then mapped into a spider diagram which shows at a glance where a place performs well and where improvement is needed.

Armed with this information we headed out into the Shotts’ sunshine to practice using the tool. Afterwards we came back to the office to discuss how we had got on and how the Standard might inform our work in future. So what did we learn?

Well quickly we realised that whilst many of us use Shotts for shopping, catching the train or driving or walking through, we didn’t know it the way a local resident would. So immediately we could see the need and desirability of local people participating in the discussions around each element. We felt it could be beneficial to use the tool at different times of the day and week and with different age groups. Seasonality might also play a part – would people’s responses vary from winter to summer and how could this be factored in if you only had a short time in which to engage with people?

And what about the organisations and individuals that make policy, implement changes or look after things? We felt they needed to be on board with the process and on hand too to assist with the conversation so that expectations about what might be possible don’t get out of hand.

The process is very subjective; it’s about how people feel. So like many processes it is good to have done your homework in advance – how big is the population, what does the local plan say, what does the community plan say, where are the schools, who are the contacts local community groups, have there been early consultation processes which could be used to help shape the debate?

In terms of next steps, we felt that there may need to be some ‘signposting’ to organisations that community groups could go to for more help if they had been leading the process.

We talked about how to make the Standard a success. For existing places it would be really valuable for community planning partnerships to lead on use of the tool to inform their locality planning. For new places and expansion areas, the tool needs to be embraced by development planners to inform the next main issue reports, local development plans and masterplan briefs. And at a detailed level, clearly developers (public or private) and their agents should use the tool as a way of developing site briefs and design proposals

We wondered about how to monitor use of the tool and its effectiveness – if change comes about because of the conversations could you then rerun the process to assess impact? It might be possible, but how do you get the same people back together again?

We closed with a discussion about its use by our development team. As a greenspace organisation, often we are tasked with addressing a few of the 14 elements. Would this matter? Should we seek to do more/cover a wider number of elements? For now, we could work in the spirit of the place standard and do more to capture the conversations we have. We could ensure that we use the supplementary questions so that we develop a consistent approach across sites and over time. Perhaps in future we might be brought in to bigger projects as part of a team or indeed we might be the organisation that seeks to bring other agencies to the table. We have a current project where the greenspace (in this case too much and underused) is only a part of the problem and so much more needs to be done to support a more viable community. We’ll see if other partners might agree to use the Standard to start the communications.

In the meantime, we’ve agreed to trial the Standard and to let NHS Health Scotland know how we get on.

If you are interested in learning more there is a dedicated website at http://www.placestandard.scot/#/home and you can get help from john.howie@nhs.net

The Place Standard Case Studies

This series of case studies from A&DS illustrates how the Place Standard tool has been used in a variety of ways.

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