Skip to main content
Close Menu Open Menu

Scottish Parliament Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee

Inquiry into COVID-19 – impact on Scotland’s businesses, workers and the economy: Plans for economic recovery (including scrutiny of the AGER report).

6. What are your views on the Scottish Government Advisory Group on Economic Recovery’s report? If the recommendations are to be implemented, what practical action is needed now?

RTPI Scotland very much welcomes the proposals it contains advocating a move towards green growth and a robust, resilient wellbeing economy for Scotland based on the “Four Capitals” framework including Human capital, natural capital, social capital and economic capital.  We are also pleased to see the report highlight the need for a renewed focus on place-based initiatives and the need to tackle regional inequalities.

However it mentions planning only as a regulatory function.   We believe that the planning system is key in creating places that support the report’s ambition for ensuring a just transition to a net zero future, the commitment to put wellbeing at the heart of the post-COVID recovery and to support inclusive economic growth.  Given this we would highlight that planners could and should have a key role in identifying and coordinating approaches to infrastructure and investment.  Indeed the forthcoming 4th National Planning Framework is well placed to provide that long term vision and route map to tackle regional inequalities identified in the report. Our new report Plan The World We Need makes a compelling case for this -

7. Are there areas of economic recovery not covered by the Report which you believe should have been included? If so, please provide details.

A green recovery from COVID-19 will require a reduction in unsustainable patterns of consumption, which contributes to climate and ecological breakdown and increases the risk of future pandemics. These pressures, coupled with continued supply chain disruption and the need to decarbonise, could also impact on land use. Urban areas could see increased demand for sectors which support a circular economy, such as decentralised manufacturing and upcycling, while rural areas could see changing patterns of demand for food, timber and minerals. These changes will be coupled with the contraction of at-risk sectors, creating challenges for certain places. Proactive planning and place-leadership will be needed to maximise the opportunities of a green industrial revolution, while helping vulnerable places navigate through a difficult transition.  We believe that more proactive, front loaded and coordinated planning is key to supporting this through the following:

  • Meeting the land, housing and infrastructure needs of sectors which can deliver emission reductions, environmental gains and job growth. This will require strategic planning over wide geographical areas, and close engagement with businesses groups, trade unions, skills agencies, infrastructure providers and investors.
  • Identifying and coordinating the upfront infrastructure funding needed to maintain viability in weak housing markets. Public-sector masterplanning, with close involvement from infrastructure providers, can provide confidence for developers and local communities, and ensure that measures taken to stimulate construction are coupled with the investments needed to deliver sustainability and resilience.
  • Planning for mixed use communities with accessible local services, digital connectivity and networks of green and active transport infrastructure. This investment will capture the benefits of more flexible and remote working patterns, reduce pressure on both local and strategic transport networks, freeing up capacity which avoids the need for costly upgrades.
  • Regenerate, revitalise and diversify town centres and high streets. Maintain a town-centre first approach by taking a holistic, plan-led approach to the integration of high-quality affordable homes, and the repurposing of vacant commercial space for uses which support community resilience and environmental sustainability.

8. What needs to be done to promote economic recovery?

a) What needs to be done in the next 6 months?

Governance and resourcing

Place leadership. Effective leadership from Scottish Government, working with local authorities, informed by the expertise of Chief Planning Officers in each local authority. Providing more powers and funding should be devolved to support ambitious regeneration programmes that require land assembly, direct delivery of affordable housing, and upfront infrastructure investment. 

Robust strategic planning arrangements.  Many of the challenges require planning across wide geographical areas, aligning infrastructure investment and other stimulus measures with the needs of businesses, and the economic, social and environmental priorities of multiple local authorities.  

Investment in proactive planning. Public sector planning has seen disproportionate cuts which makes it extremely challenging to deliver on the wider objectives of planning. Financial assistance for local government should include sufficient investment in plan-making for the recovery, and allowing for meaningful participation with local communities and close collaboration between council departments, developers, businesses and infrastructure providers.

Resources for community participation in planning. Existing neighbourhood and community-level planning systems should be strengthened to ensure that diverse voices are reflected in plan-making.

Common objectives and metrics

Equality and justice: The impacts of the pandemic, economic slowdown and climate crisis are likely to place the most vulnerable at greater risk. National strategies, policies and investment decisions must help plans to tackle place-based poverty, eliminate discrimination and promote equality of opportunity across the built environment.

Climate-proof planning systems: To accelerate progress towards net zero carbon, national planning legislation and policy should be strengthened to support high levels of energy efficiency in new development, maximise accessibility by sustainable modes of transport, and overcome barriers to the delivery of smart and renewable energy infrastructure.

Infrastructure appraisal: The regulatory framework for utilities, and transport appraisal methodologies, should be improved to better align infrastructure investment priorities with the economic, social and environmental objectives of planning. The Well-being of Future Generations Act in Wales provides an example of how better legislation can shape infrastructure decisions.

Measuring planning outcomes: Establish common metrics to measure and monitor the short, medium and long-term performance of planning. These should look beyond housing delivery to focus on decarbonisation, resilience, accessibility to services and infrastructure, design, health and wellbeing.

Scenario modelling tools. Local authorities should have access to open source scenario modelling tools which allow for different policies, land uses and infrastructure investments to be tested against key sustainability criteria. 

Standardisation and open data. Planning for the recovery requires close cooperation between local government departments, developers, infrastructure providers and others. This can be facilitated through the standardisation of common built environment language, processes, documents and data, and by ensuring that planning documents are published in a machine readable format.

Digital tools for inclusive and participatory planning. These should complement traditional face-to-face methods, enabling discussions with diverse stakeholders to gather qualitative data on local priorities for place, and enabling planners to analyse large volumes of representations.

b) What needs to be done in the next 12-18 months?

RTPI Scotland believes that the 4th National Planning Framework provides an opportunity to effect real, positive change towards a just transition.

The current situation regarding Covid-19 shows the need to plan, prepare and provide a routemap for a different Scotland.  There is a need to agree that we need a new normal and how we achieve this. We need to embed resilience into how our cities, towns, villages and neighbourhoods function and develop over time. This needs to embrace risk in a more positive and constructive way.

The Covid-19 emergency has highlighted a number of issues that will have an influence on the way our built environment needs to change. Issues about how we ensure people have equal accessibility to the things

  • they need such as shops, green space, leisure and jobs. How the built environment will be changed by new behaviours and how it can also influence how people behave. How communities will function in the future and
  • how they will engage with institutions and one another. How our towns, cities and villages will look in the future given possible new opinions on design and density to minimise carbon emissions as well as virus transfer. And
  • how we take forward and stimulate an economy that serves everyone whilst protecting and enhancing our environment.
  • To make this change RTPI Scotland is of the view that there is a need to undertake the following shifts:
  • From short term thinking to long-, medium- and short- term thinking
  • From having many overlapping and disjointed strategies to complementarity
  • From an opportunistic, reactive approach to development to a planned, proactive approach
  • From economic priorities to holistic priorities covering environmental, social and economic issues
  • From a competitive investment approach to one of managed investment
  • From a deal-making approach to one based on providing a place vision first
  • From short-term, project focussed investment to a planned long term holistic vision

The NPF can be a key tool in supporting this approach and provide a long term vision of Scotland in 2050. It needs to set out what we want Scotland to be like in 30 years’ time and have clear milestones to provide the pathway to achieving its ambitions.

c) What needs to be done in the next 3-5 years?

Scottish Government must develop and deliver the 4th National Planning Framework (NPF4)  NPF4 should be accompanied by a 10 year capital investment programme with buy in from across government.  It should be used as a key corporate document that influences Scottish Government decision making and has buy in from all Cabinet Secretaries in supporting their Post Covid-19 recovery ambitions and as a vision piece on planning for the ‘new normal’.  IT should be seen as the spatial articulation of the Scottish Government’s National Outcomes - much as development plans are the spatial articulation of Local Outcome Improvement Plans - which clearly sets out relationships between the planning at national, regional, local and community levels.  NPF4 should also embed “Place and Wellbeing” themes from Place Standard and ensure collaborative implementation of the NPF through the place principle

NPF4 should be structured around outcomes which are tied into planning authority performance assessment frameworks and priority strategic themes on achieving climate action, delivering a net zero carbon Scotland and improved health and wellbeing and it should promote active and sustainable travel.

The document should ensure that the reuse first principle - where previously used land, buildings, places, materials and infrastructure are given preference to new - is applied across all of planning for places.

It should adopt and embed the principle of planning decisions that provide long-term positive impacts to prevent persistent problems such as poverty, health inequalities and climate change and which meet the needs of future generations.

It should include short-, medium-, and long-term milestones and establish a delivery oversight group (which should include representatives from younger generations) to report annually on progress being made and implications of changing contexts.

9. How can longer-term ambitions, such as net zero greenhouse gas emissions targets, be achieved whilst responding to the immediate economic crisis?

See answer to 8c above.

Back to top