Place Forum 3: Thinking big, thinking beyond

A set of six pencil illustrations of wind turbines in a green landscape
Published: 24/11/2023

Knowledge sharing for better planning

As Scotland seeks to address forces like a changing climate, nature loss and financial constraints, how do we plan big, long term and with people at the centre? 
At our third Place Forum, on 22 November, we invited speakers to reflect on thinking big, thinking beyond when it came to their projects. How do we take a place-based approach ensuring that the investments and changes are people-centred? On Wednesday 22 November, we heard presentations on coastal landscapes, a 30-year green space strategy, a ground-breaking approach to low-carbon energy infrastructure and a reflection on Scotland’s places on the world stage.  

Event chair, Heather Claridge, Architecture and Design Scotland’s Director of Design, summed up the event: 
From the session, several practical takeaways emerged. One important consideration is the inclusion of monitoring at the beginning of a project or plan. This allows for the measurement and demonstration of impact over time. Additionally, it is crucial to engage all stakeholders, including landowners, from the outset to ensure their involvement and support. 

Furthermore, the session highlighted the importance of thinking big and beyond while also considering the human scale of the local community. Finding the right balance between ambitious goals and meaningful engagement with the community is essential. 

The activities presented emphasised the necessity of developing a collective vision that can be translated into a development framework or strategy. This framework serves to unite partners, attract funding, and guide the implementation process, which often spans several years. 

Lastly, it was recognised lessons learned could be organised in a way that is specific to the local context while also being transferable to other locations. This ensures that knowledge gained can be shared and applied elsewhere. 

We will be exploring the themes and presentations further in the coming weeks, including the presentation by our keynote speaker Dr Liljana Jankovič Grobelšek who is the head of Planning of Ljubljana City Municipality, Slovenia. For now, you can reflect on, in summary, the presenters’ responses to the theme. 

Place-based approach: Presentation summaries

Morag Bain from Architecture and Design Scotland presented on Scotland’s contributions to the architecture exhibition at La Biennale di Venezia (the Venice Biennale) commissioned by the Scotland + Venice partnership. Recognised as one of the world's most prestigious festivals of art and architecture, the Biennale runs from May to November each year, alternating between art and architecture. 

  • Since 2004 Scotland + Venice has a track record of showcasing the best new and innovative thinking around how Scotland's places and communities are leading the way in creating thriving and sustainable futures. 
  • As part of the exhibitions, aligned events have enabled conversations and shared learning with other countries and an international audience.  
  • A key theme for all contributions is the importance of collaboration. Each exhibition has showcased Scottish communities where they have engaged with architects, artists, film-makers, performers et cetera. This has allowed the project to present their thoughts, hopes and ideas from people across generations and across Scotland.  
  • Starting small or acknowledging something small to achieve something bigger is also a keyway to begin to consider thinking beyond and what the future of a place may be. 

The Hagshaw Energy cluster development framework is the first one of its kind in the UK. Development frameworks are common in other parts of the planning system, but they've never been used before in the energy sector.  
Onshore wind farms are critical to our pathway to net zero. In Scotland, there is a gradual transition away from building new wind farms to increasingly focusing on repowering, existing wind farms in the landscape. This presents an exciting opportunity to reshape some of the landscapes which have been filled with wind farms over the last two decades.   

Here are some key highlights: 

  • Thinking big means thinking about the communities, the landscape, the infrastructure, the nature and the investment which is needed to get to net zero.  
  • Thinking beyond means thinking beyond the lifespan or the red-line planning application boundary of an individual wind farm. And it means thinking about the longer-term decisions that we need to take now to help support that just transition to net zero.  

With new funding announced recently, what seemed six months ago like a very ambitious vision for local infrastructure could actually be realised relatively quickly, combining the funding both from the wind farms themselves, but also by levering in further public funding from UK government, Scottish Government and elsewhere.  

Lisa McKenzie and Anaïs Chanon, are both landscape architects working at Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at the University of Edinburgh.  

The work presented centres on Golspie, a village and community of about 1,300 people in the Highlands. It is in the top ten areas at risk of coastal erosion from flooding in Scotland. SEPA reports that there are 70 properties at direct risk including 60 homes, including a nursing home, and 10 businesses. It also has a key impact on the A9 and on the Wick to Inverness railway line which are two essential lifelines of communication in the region. 
The talk highlighted the challenges and opportunities in working on a coastal project: 

  • Difficulty of planning with uncertainty around sea level change. Raising sea level forecasts can vary dramatically between high and low emission scenarios, depending on highly complex influencing factors, all of which are really difficult to accurately predict for specific locations. 
  • A strong disconnect between the coastal ecosystem and the scale at which planning frameworks and land ownership boundaries usually operate. 
  • A determination to represent people's voices directly and their stories and relationships with the coast. This very much includes us being very clear as academics, researchers and landscape architects about who we are working for, who we are working with and importantly, how we will work.  

What is fundamental is that this site is a landscape for learning. There is a scarcity of real-life precedents and exemplars of nature-based coastal adaptation. The School of Coastal Reimagination is a new space for voices of expertise and voices of experience to come together or places, where experiments could be set up, tested and observed through, practises of co-design.  

Alistair Shaw of Falkirk Council presentation reflected on 30 years of Falkirk’s Greenspace strategy. 
Falkirk Greenspace is a flexible framework for the transformation of Falkirk's urban and peri-urban green spaces. It is an initiative of multiple projects, with many partners, over a 30-year period. Over time the projects have connected and reinforced one another.  The vision was about creating a connected network of inspiring nature-rich and healthy spaces, bringing multiple benefits to the communities.  


  • In the early 1990s Falkirk was dealing with the legacy of industrial decline from the 1980s. On the positive side there were really solid natural and built heritage assets. This included the canals, the river, woodlands, designed landscapes and the Antonine Wall.  
  • A lot of land was in public ownership and there were a set of willing enthusiastic partner organisations involved.  
  • In 2010 the Central Scotland Green Network was conceived and that very usefully gave Falkirk Greenspace a wider regional context. In 2023 Falkirk is well placed to deliver on the key themes in National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4) on the climate emergency and nature crisis, as well as creating great places for people. 
  • Over the past 30 years, Falkirk Greenspace has created a connected nature-rich network of green spaces. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  
  • The overall vision is obviously very important. Falkirk Greenspace thought big and beyond, adopting flexibility and opportunism. A key factor is the continuity of the organisations involved.  
  • An area for improvement, looking back, is that monitoring could have been better to quantify the impacts of all that investment.  There are still gaps to fill and spaces that are not fulfilling their potential so there's more to do. 

Next steps

We will be adding further content from the event in the coming weeks, including a summary of Dr Liljana Jankovič Grobelšek’s keynote presentation.  
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 Headline image: detail from Hagshaw Development Framework, illustrations by Richard Carman (courtesy of Nature Scot).