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Linking people and places: Spatial planning and community planning in Scotland

15 April 2015

Sile Hayes, RTPI Scotland

Sile Hayes, Intern Project Officer at RTPI Scotland, discusses research undertaken to see how we can better connect spatial and community planning.

There has been a perception that there is a disconnect between the processes, outcomes and priorities of Spatial Planning and Community Planning. In Scotland, community planning is the statutory process of service delivery within a local authority area for people. The Scottish Government defines Community Planning as a “process which helps public agencies to work together with the community to plan and deliver better services which make a real difference to people’s lives”. Given this, RTPI Scotland has undertaken research exploring if this was the case; how we can address this; and what the benefits of a greater connection between processes might be for all parties. Primary research involved interviews with a range of organisations; an online questionnaire sent to Heads of Planning and Community Planning Partnerships across Scotland a call for evidence from other interested parties and a roundtable discussion with a range of individuals to test the emerging conclusions.

The research identified a number of opportunities for better connecting spatial planning and community planning that were highlighted by both planning departments and Community Planning officers. These opportunities include delivery of outcomes, shared visions, shared processes, shared resources and shared knowledge.

A number of barriers were also identified, including, timescales and statutory processes, reduction in resources, institutional barriers, complexity of Spatial and Community Planning, lack of partnership working, lack of consistency across Scotland and culture of organisation. The research has also led to a number of recommendations for taking work forward.

There are opportunities to align processes to help to deliver Spatial Planning and Community Planning outcomes more effectively and efficiently. Our research has shown that, despite some barriers in terms of legislative timeframes, there is potential to align processes.

There needs to be a recognition of the starting points to making links between Spatial Planning and Community Planning. There is a drive and commitment for joining up spatial and community planning and growing recognition that place-based approaches through planning can help to maximise impact. Our research has identified a number of issues where more joined up approaches have been taken including regeneration, health and wellbeing.

There are opportunities to align processes to help to deliver Spatial Planning and Community Planning outcomes more effectively and efficiently. Our research has shown that, despite some barriers in terms of legislative timeframes, there is potential to align processes. These include visioning exercises for plans; community engagement; and stakeholder involvement processes.

Spatial Planning needs to articulate to Community Planning what it can do. There is a lack of understanding of the roles, responsibilities and benefits of Spatial Planning amongst many Community Planners, and vice versa. This reflects a need for spatial planners to improve how they work corporately and express the expertise, resources and added value that they can bring through their work.

Community Planning Partnerships need to recognise the need for, and role of, spatial planning in delivering community planning. There are inconsistencies across Scotland on how, and if, Spatial and Community Planning are working together. Generally such a link is seen as desirable and useful in helping deliver the priorities of each plan. Given this there needs to be consistent messaging about the importance of coordinating tasks and efforts to link spatial and community planning. It is recognised that this should not be a one size fits all approach and that approaches should be adapted to fit local circumstances.

There needs to be more effective communication between Spatial Planning and Community Planning actors. The research has highlighted that a significant barrier to forming links between spatial and community planning is lack of communication. There is a need to address communication links therefore between spatial and community planning within local authorities. This could be addressed through sharing processes, sharing successes and sharing working environments.

There is a need to improve Spatial Planners’ knowledge of Community Planning, and where they can contribute. Many spatial planners do not have a great understanding of what Community Planning is, what it does and how they should interact with it. There are different interpretations and perceptions of spatial and community planning. Given this, it is thought that there may be a need for training and awareness raising to help spatial planners and community planners better understand what one another do, and where they can complement their work.

There is a need to explore the landscape of plans for overlap and consistency. There are a range of plans that aim to provide vision for a place or which set out how a programme or funding stream is to be implemented. These appear to have distinctive roles but there may be opportunities to better join these up to ensure that they are all pulling in the same direction.

There is a need to be clear about roles and responsibilities at different levels of leadership. Our research has shown that leadership is important in taking this issue forward. However there are different leadership roles to be played at different levels and so there needs to be clarity on who needs to do what.

There is a need to explore how community-led approaches contribute to the delivery of both Community Plan and the Development Plan outcomes. Spatial planning has an important role in engaging communities to establish a vision for their area and that this could be an extremely valuable part of the Community Planning machinery. Key to this will be making the link between the future development of an area (mainly through the Development Plan) and the provision of services in an area (which is mainly articulated through the Community Plan).

There is a need to ‘drill down’ further to explore practical opportunities and barriers. Emerging from the research is a need to ‘drill down’ to explore the practical barriers and opportunities to linking Spatial and Community Planning, building some case study examples of good practice and lessons learned from the experience of local authorities and Community Planning Partnerships. Given this we are delighted that Scottish Government have agreed to fund work on this with the aim of developing a ‘route map’ for local authorities, Community Planning Partnerships and Scottish Government outlining the key steps to take and pitfalls to overcome in establishing better linkages between Spatial and Community Planning at the local level.

This is not an uniquely Scottish issue to overcome, Northern Ireland is recognising the benefit of better linking spatial and community planning, and is working to build this provision from the outset with its new legislation. Elsewhere, the way in which we design and deliver places can have powerful outcomes for people. There is therefore a benefit in better linking spatial planning with service delivery. The RTPI Planning Horizons Paper Thinking Spatially highlighted this link between planning and other services: “policy- and decision-makers can learn much from the theory and practice of ‘spatial planning’ […] This goes beyond traditional land use planning to seek to integrate policies for the development and use of land with other policies and programmes which influence the nature of places and how they function. In the twenty-first century, […] we need to develop a new ‘spatial policy’ – a science of policy which incorporates place and space, and produces policy which is much more integrated, strategic and sensitive to place.”

You can read the full report here.

Sile Hayes, Intern Project Officer at RTPI Scotland