In September 2015 the Scottish Government appointed an independent panel to produce a ‘game changing’ review of the Scottish planning system. The report containing the panel’s findings and recommendations, Empowering Planning to Deliver Great Places, was published on May 31st 2016.
The report takes a largely positive approach to the potential of planning. The recommendations focus on how planning can serve as a tool for creating great places, increasing our rate of home-building, and encouraging sustainable growth.
It looks to strengthen the plan-led system, with clearer development plans that take less time to prepare, remain in place for longer, and articulate a long-term vision. This would be underpinned by greater public input, with more frontloaded and innovative community engagement, empowered communities bringing forward local place plans, and statutory links with community planning.
It also recommends the public sector become bolder and more proactive, with access to a greater range of policy tools and powers – particularly to boost housing development. This would be supported through an ‘infrastructure-first’ approach, where the infrastructure needed to ensure delivery would be front-funded via dedicated funds and government guarantees.
The report also recognises the need to support planners in these new roles, recommending increased planning fees, the up-skilling of planners in key topics, and the sharing of specialist staff across multiple authorities. At the corporate level, planning should become more central to local authority working, building links across services. It also recommends investment in IT systems that can support planners in many of these goals.
In truth, these are just some of the report’s recommendations – there are forty eight in total and it would be extremely difficult to summarise them in a five-hundred word blog post. However, what can be pulled out is a recurring theme – that empowered planners are more effective in how they operate, and that such empowerment can create a greater certainty for those living and investing in our built environment. The report also acknowledges that development issues in Scotland are complex, and that the planning system is not generally the main impediment.
The written evidence RTPI Scotland submitted to the review outlined four principles that should underpin the planning system; it should be delivery and outcome focused, treated as a corporate function within both local authorities and Scottish Government, proactive and frontloaded, and resourced in ways that add value. This thinking carried through to Planning in the Next Parliament, our manifesto for the recent Scottish elections.
As such, RTPI Scotland broadly welcomes the panel’s key message – that planners, planning and the planning system can play distinct and positive roles in how our places will grow. We share their opinions that planning can play a proactive role in creating a sustainable and fairer Scotland, but that a fundamental shift in thinking is needed to achieve this.
The report provides a useful and welcome building block on which to take forward a more proactive planning system. RTPI Scotland looks forward to working with Scottish Government and other key players to meet the review’s aims of “re-establishing the profession as a leader, an innovator and, a strong and effective advocate for the public interest”.
RTPI Scotland Project Officer - @colderstates