Design in the planning system: sustainable placemaking in action

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North Ayrshire training event – 6 April 2011

The Climate Change (S) Act 2009 has set ambitious carbon reduction targets, and a legislative requirement exists for development plans to help achieve sustainable development and limit greenhouse gas emissions. Scottish Planning Policy (SPP) also notes the importance of supporting sustainable development through the location, layout and design of new development.


The planning system meets these challenges through promoting spatial strategies across different scales: whole settlement strategies at the scale of the development plan influence location, layout and urban structure, whereas detailed considerations such as built height form and massing are more appropriately covered at the scale of masterplan or site specific guidance.

A&DS is partnering with others to consider how spatial planning can address such scale related issues, and a sustainable placemaking programme is being jointly delivered with SNH in association with Improvement Services. The first pilot project was facilitating a training event for North Ayrshire in Irvine, attended by Council officers from a range of backgrounds including development planning, development management, regeneration, access and biodiversity.

The mix of presentations, scenario planning method and group discussions interwove broad considerations relating to climate change, regeneration and design. An initial provocation that ‘place is a public good’ that supports and enables life choices and opportunities drew on two significant research papers – a recent Scottish Government publication which identifies leadership and long term stewardship as crucial qualities in Delivering Better Places, and Newman and Kenworthy’s paper which describes a holistic view of urban sustainability; places that work and where people want to be, balance quality of life issues with environmental and waste management.


Post event feedback was extremely positive and predominantly ranked sessions as ‘good / excellent’. The most helpful aspects were seen as the ‘practical’ sessions which looked at how essential qualities of two spatial scenarios – a walkable ‘urban village’, and a regenerated neighbourhood – could be communicated to inform the briefing for either masterplan or site specific design guidance.

Significant lessons resulting from the day were:

  • The public sector has a crucial role as ‘place shaper’ to provide leadership about what should go where and why, and to maintain a long term vision through place stewardship.
  • Achieving successful sustainable places requires an ability to work across different spatial scales, which is something that the planning system does.
  • The development plan needs to: set out and maintain a whole place spatial vision that extends beyond topic issues; make the best use of existing assets; guide and layer up infrastructure investments (e.g. green networks that support healthy travel options along with SUDS); and communicate essential guiding principles relating to location, urban structure and built form.
  • Identifying essential ‘non-negotiable’ aspects that are necessary to achieve better outcomes for any given context must always start by considering the whole place view of what is being created, and ask “what should it look like, and what will the user experience be?”


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