A&DS Design Advice – information for communities

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Your local authority may ask Architecture and Design Scotland to provide advice. This usually happens when there are:

  • Proposals for major new housing schemes
  • Significant infrastructure projects
  • Public investment – for example schools or health buildings

Architecture and Design Scotland is invited to support dialogue and collaboration.

Our job, as a national public body, is to promote good architecture and sustainable design. Our role is non-statutory – that means that we work by voluntary agreement and cannot require those we work with to act on our advice.

Illustration: How A&DS Design Advice fits in to the planning process

“A Guide to the Planning System in Scotland” is available on the Scottish Governments website:


How do we work?

We run a series of workshops with those who make decisions or influence the design and planning of the development.  We provide skills from a panel of professionals and specialist staff.


In the workshops we:

  • help parties establish shared aims for a site.
  • share what worked on other projects
  • work towards building better places
  • help assess the design at the final stage

This process delivers real improvement to proposals by the common effort of those taking part.

“I find the workshops to be an extremely helpful exercise which adds value to the process and ‘placemaking’ outcome. I find the support from A&DS to be extremely helpful in the processing of major development proposals from pre-application through to consideration and determination.” – senior planning officer who has taken part in advice workshops for several projects

How do we choose when to get involved?

  • Projects are referred to us by the Local Authority or project team
  • We engage with proposals where the principle of development has been established through the Local Development Plan.
  • We aim to get in as early as possible.
  • We look at the potential impact of the project on the nature of the local area and the sense of place. This is different from place to place.
  • The potential to learn and share lessons from the project.

How do we make sure we understand the place?

We ask the project team and the planning authority for information. The first workshop always involves a site visit. The planning authority shares place aspirations shaped by the development plan process. We draw on the public pre-application consultation to access knowledge and understanding of the local community, and ask for a full report of this. We encourage everyone to engage fully with the pre-application consultation.

Image: Workshop participants on site visit ahead of first workshop.

What do the workshops cover?

A&DS promotes design that works for the common good of existing and new communities. We look at maximising the benefit of development to the place as a whole. We look at how it will feel to be in the place. How can the proposal make best use of existing features or create new ones? We aim for and encourage better developments, regardless of the starting point.


Client priorities
  • Aspiration and vision
  • Commercial aims, constraints, expectations and timescales
  • Site Selection, ownership, acquisition strategy and constraints
  • Procurement methodology
Brief, programme and constraints for new buildings and spaces. 
  • User needs & accommodation requirements
  • Floor areas, unit numbers, scale, massing & density
  • Performance: design life, cost vs longevity, materials & flexibility
  • Sustainability: natural resources, energy effciency, climatic design & renewables
  • Site constraints: topography, orientation, climatic & ground conditions, minerals
  • Precedents & relevant exemplars

Proposed urban design, buildings and spaces


  • Link to local community: culture, history & memory
  • Link to local landscape: topography, views, visibility & landscape character
  • Link to surrounding buildings and public space: scale, shape, density, character & materials
  • Link to movement networks: permeability, accessibility, local connectivity, access to facilities & public transport
  • Design of new streets & public space: making them lively and attractive
  • How public space, semi-public & private space connect
  • Legibility, character & identity of streets and urban spaces
  • Adaptability, exibility & longevity of new buildings and spaces
  • Mix of new uses, tenures & integration of community buildings
  • Design of new parks & open space

Planning policy context


  • Site specific policy or supplementary guidance
  • Wider community infrastructure
  • Strategic services infrastructure, environment & flooding
  • Strategic transport infrastructure
  • Historic buildings & context
  • Landscape designations & context
  • Other agencies’ role & engagement, e.g. HES, SNH, SEPA, Transport Scotland
Skills & consultee involvement
  • Design team skills & specialist skills
  • Users’ role & how they will be consulted
  • Local communities’ role & how they will be consulted
  • Stakeholder engagement, how other people with an interest in the project will be consulted
 Table: Before the first workshop, we ask participants to tell us what topics are a priority for this particular project, based on a list of suggestions.


Following each workshop we share a written note with the project team and the planning authority. We report in a Final Appraisal Report. This report sets out how successful we believe the project will be in meeting the project aims and national standards.
We grade each project as follows:

  • Potential Exemplar – Supported
  • Well considered – Supported
  • With potential – Unsupported
  • Outcome at risk – Unsupported

More information

You can find more on this website, including:

  • The essential qualities that make good places
  • Information to help you respond to consultations
  • Appraisal reports we have submitted to local authorities at the point of planning application submission


Making Better Places: Design Advice Leaflet

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This piece explores a sample of housing forming edges to parks, public open space and the wider landscape.

Healthier Places

Supporting the creation of truly healing places and healthier communities across Scotland.

Smarter Places

Learn more about our work across the learning estate and our collaboration with local authorities to regenerate spaces for learning, by design.

SERVICE: Health Design Advice

Our Health Design Advice service, delivered with Health Facilities Scotland, helps those who commission new, or substantially redeveloped, facilities.

SERVICE: Design Advice for Schools

A&DS offers a design support to education authorities offering an external view, peer support, facilitation and learning networks.

Design Forum Report: Dallas Dhu

A&DS Design Forum Report on workshop relating to Housing Masterplan for Dallas Dhu, Forres - a development on the edge of Forres, Moray.

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