Planning for Places

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What is the product of planning modernisation in Scotland: towards better places and better futures –

The focus of any plan must be on the outcome. What is it you want to achieve? Once this is decided, the plan is the means to get you there. The efficiency of the plan will enable you to get there quicker. The modernisation of the planning system in Scotland, enabled by the Planning etc. (Scotland) Act 2006, seeks to achieve a system which is fit for purpose, efficient and inclusive. There is clarity about the objectives of the proposed system. There is clarity about the objective to support sustainable economic growth. There is clarity on the need to effect a culture change to implement and benefit from the proposed system. But what is the desired outcome, in place terms, that the planning system seeks to achieve? What kind of places are we trying to create, and how will the Local Plan enable these places to be delivered?

The Australian urbanist, Kim Dovey, suggests that ‘a place is a centre of collective meaning’. This suggests that a place means many things to many people, and critically, that it can deliver many things to many people. It can provide for healthy living, it can provide for community, it can provide for economy. Starting from the point of what people need, places are the best way to deliver spaces that make a difference to people’s lives. Places join up the bits and pieces of infrastructure that support quality of life for our citizens. In this sense, places are the most effective way of achieving real sustainable development, optimising available capital and resources to create futures that deliver for people.

Scotland has a rich and diverse legacy of successful places. Every town in the nation has some lesson to teach about how you create somewhere that means something for people, that helps people achieve a high quality of life. Taken as a whole, and taking account of the responses to a diverse range of contexts, places in Scotland are and inherited resource e of knowledge and expertise. The problem is that we have either forgotten how to tap into this resource, or have ignored it. In some cases, the places we create today are not like the places we love.

The modernisation of the planning system in Scotland though presents both the biggest opportunity to create better places, and some of the most significant challenges. The commitment to creating a more efficient system, based on clear objectives and system dynamics is an expression of a country that wants to deliver. Scotland wants to move forward, and it is developing the tools. The challenge is in how we use these tools to achieve better places.

If places are for people, then people must be involved in the process of how we plan and create places. The Local Plan, under the new system becomes the mechanism for capturing the desired future of an area. It is to be a short, focused document, aspiration in content, and clear in direction. It will form the context within which decisions are made, in which trade offs are negotiated, in which future scenarios for a place are considered an enabled. The Local Plan will become a powerful tool of democracy. The outcome of the Local plan will be better places for people, better designed streets, spaces and buildings, better opportunities. This is exciting, latent with the potential to create a Scotland that truly delivers a new legacy of places that do become the places we love, tomorrows heritage. Getting there is going to be an interesting journey.

The process of making the Local Plan, to get to a product which captures the desired future for an area, expressed by citizens, stakeholders and the different levels government is of great significance. It needs to be guided by a vision, a vision which can express the desired outcomes for a place. Once accepted, and ratified through the statutory processes, planning system, in terms of its clarity and efficiency needs to be able to take charge and implement the vision. The system of the planning process, and the vision for the desired outcomes need to be aligned. These are mutually re-inforcing issues. The effectiveness by which these processes can come together through the Local Plan, and its implementation, will be the measure of how we deliver more successful places.

Achieving a Local Plan, which is visionary, yet achievable, and practical, will require a culture change in the way we make plans. It will require new techniques of early engagement with citizens, stakeholders and government. Visioning is really an exploration of the art of the possible. It is a process of debating and deciding on the possible futures for an area, testing these possibilities through scenario planning and modelling, and translating the vision into practical objectives and criteria which guide how development should happen to make the vision a reality. If for instance, the vision is to create a walkable, mixed use community with excellent community facilities, then this has implications for the way in which we plan streets and spaces. What goes where becomes an important process in determining whether or not the overall vision can be achieved. Understanding the practicalities of all this allows us to better inform the tools of development management. Development planning and development management come together to deliver a place which is the sum of a consensus view about what kind of future we want. They manage the contexts within which development happens. These opportunities, afforded by the proposed planning system are exciting. They will deliver better places. They will enable Scotland to bet wealthier, fairer and greener, for its people. This a challenge of a lifetime. It is compelling. It can be done.

Architecture and Design Scotland recognise the opportunity and the challenge presented by planning reform. We recognise the need to bring joined up thinking to the table to guide how places can be created and delivered. We are engaging with national government to bring our experience, and the resource of our experts on placemaking directly into the debate on how we achieve better Local Plan products. We are developing a series of pilot studies to develop practical tools for visioning and scenario planning, tools that can make a difference to the plan making process in Scotland. Although small in scale, A&DS can make a difference. We are keen to work with public sector partners and Local Authorities to deliver on these ambitions, and realise the opportunities of the planning modernisation agenda in Scotland.

Diarmaid Lawlor, A&DS Head of Urbanism

This article first appeared in the Planning Section of Holyrood Magazine


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