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RTPI Scotland's response to Scottish Government's call for evidence on the development of the National Economic Transformation Strategy

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound and transformative impact upon Scotland’s economic and social landscape. Post COVID-19 there is an urgent need to plan, prepare and provide a route map for a different type of 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. 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

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.

If utilised to its full potential, the planning system has a fundamental role to play in supporting economic recovery, creating the right conditions for sustainable economic growth with positive and proactive role in shaping markets through: 

  • Supporting delivery of high-quality development
  • Better matching of employment land to sector needs in local areas
  • Increasing productivity
  • Attracting inward investment
  • Supporting economic innovation by bringing together people, activities, and resources
  • Lowering costs for businesses

Research undertaken by Vivid Economics and published by the RTPI, showed that in 2019 a total of 3100 affordable homes were provided through planning contributions in Scotland.  This generated £184m through rent savings, jobs due to employment opportunities and healthcare savings from reduced homelessness.  Planners protect, enhance and ensure the development of green spaces and the Vivid Economics research showed that these provide more than £240m in value per year for Scotland[1].

If aligned to the National Strategy for Economic Transformation (NSET) effectively, planning can be a key mechanism of directing economic stimulus measures towards local, strategic and national place-based solutions, which have public support and deliver multiple benefits. In order to unlock the transformative power of aligning economic and land use planning RTPI Scotland would like to highlight the critical need to align the NSET with the National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4).

In our response to the NPF4 Position Statement, we called for the NPF4 to be positioned as a key corporate document that influences Scottish Government decision making. We also welcomed and supported proposals to better link the NPF4 with other spatial strategies and the Infrastructure Investment Programme but stressed that success will be determined by the implementation of the plan, not its preparation. To successfully implement the NPF4 we highlighted a clear need for it to be accompanied by and integrated with a 10-year capital investment programme with clear, trackable milestones and outcomes. The NSET could provide this much needed plan of actions and projects to support place-based investment, with the NPF4 representing the spatial articulation of NSET. The proposed 10-year timeframes of both strategies will help to strengthen the value of demonstrable reciprocity. At a strategic level RTPI Scotland would also wish to highlight the role of emerging Regional Spatial Strategies (RSSs). The NSET will have to clearly address how it will align with RSSs, alongside city and regional growth deals, the work of Regional Economic Partnerships and Regional Land Use Partnerships.

Our campaign ‘Plan the World We Need’ highlights how planners and the planning profession will have a key role to play delivering a sustainable, green and inclusive post-COVID recovery[2]. Key to this is moving beyond traditional measurements of economic growth such as GVA to more holistic measures of economic development that encapsulate the broader ambitions of the Scottish Governments National Outcomes such as achieving net-zero carbon targets, supporting inclusive growth and reducing health inequalities.

Achieving net-zero carbon targets through green growth

To achieve Scotland’s net-zero carbon targets will require both the deployment of low and zero-carbon energy infrastructure and an overall reduction in energy consumption through building retrofit, behaviour change and the restructuring of energy-intensive economic sectors. Planners can play a leading role in a place-based response to the climate change[3]. At a strategic and local level, through integrating and empowering key stakeholders planning can:

  • Identify, develop and approve suitable low carbon infrastructure developments
  • Minimise energy and transport demand in Local Development Plans
  • Deliver smart energy infrastructure with site allocations maximising opportunities for onsite renewable energy and connections to decentralised low-carbon energy networks
  • Direct growth towards sustainable locations
  • Meet the land, housing and infrastructure needs of sectors which can deliver emission reductions, environmental gains and job growth

The shift of carbon intensive industries towards low-carbon sectors will have impacts on housing markets and create new demand for infrastructure and associated services. Therefore, RTPI Scotland would welcome a NSET that recognises a stronger role for proactive planning and place-leadership in maximising the opportunities of a green industrial revolution, growing economies linked to “green” sectors and replacing jobs lost in fossil fuel-based industries, ensuring that decarbonisation supports locally generated jobs and income generation.

Achieving Inclusive Growth and a Well-being Economy.

Scotland experiences relatively high levels of income inequality[4]. Such high levels of income inequality are well-known to correlate with health inequalities within populations. Resultantly in Scotland there are significant differences observed in health outcomes between the wealthy and deprived areas, with such health inequalities increasing in the last decade[5]. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing patterns of inequality and disadvantage both within and between places, exposing weaknesses across society that undermine resilience to risk.

Therefore, a strategic priority of the NSET needs to be reshaping economic development in Scotland to distribute the benefits of increased prosperity fairly, ensuring more equitable access to the resources that allow people to participate in the economy. Tackling this goes beyond ‘people-focused’ solutions such as welfare spending. It also requires place-based solutions to poverty and inequality, supporting the delivering of homes, services, amenities and infrastructure that improve health and wellbeing for all, tackling the rise of chronic non-communicable diseases like diabetes, cancer and obesity; mental health issues including anxiety, loneliness and depression; and the health impacts of climate change. Planning is key mechanism to readdressing place-based inequalities and support the shift to a well-being economy. This can be achieved through:

  • Improving the quality of existing homes and neighbourhoods
  • Deliver high quality and affordable housing in the right locations
  • Improving access to green spaces
  • Embedding ‘climate justice’ in plan-making
  • Supporting delivery of community wealth building initiatives
  • Planning for mixed use communities with accessible local services, digital connectivity and networks of green and active transport infrastructure
  • Regenerating, revitalising and diversifying town centres and high streets

The pivotal role of planning in delivering inclusive growth and a well-being economy was recognised in Scottish Government’s NPF4 Position Statement, which acknowledged that the level of intervention in development and investment processes will need to increase, targeting redistribution to sustainable locations and geographic centres where the need is greatest[6]. This once again raises the challenge of coordinating national strategies, plans and investment spatially at a local, regional and national level. RTPI Scotland would like to reiterate the need to align the NSET with the NPF4 to achieve the much-needed integration of planning, investment and public health reforms.


However, this requires an investment in the planning service. The need to effectively resource the planning systems has been called for by a number of business groups in their Scottish Parliamentary election 2021 manifestos, including CBI Scotland, Scottish Chambers of Commerce and Scottish Renewables.

Over multiple decades the disinvestment seen in the planning system has resulted in an increased reliance on market-based solutions reducing planning to a more reactive and regulatory tool for managing growth. Research from RTPI Scotland has shown that:

  • Nearly a third of planning department staff have been cut since 2009
  • Planning authorities’ budgets have diminished in real terms by 42% since 2009
  • In 2020 local authorities only spent 0.38% of their total net revenue budgets
  • Planning application fees only cover 66% of their processing costs
  • There are 91 new and unfunded duties in the Planning (Scotland) Act, which could cost between £12.1m and £59.1m over 10 years
  • Over the next 10 to 15 years there will be a demand for an additional 680 to 730 entrants into the sector

Limited resources and ambition for planning to deliver quality outcomes can create a vicious cycle of low-quality development and reduced confidence in the planning system and local authorities. To support delivery of the NSET, RTPI Scotland wishes to see clear recognition of the need to invest in the planning services to proactively enable growth of industries that will support Scotland’s shift to a fairer, greener economy.


[1] RTPI (2020) Invest and Prosper – A Business Case for Investing in Planning. October. Available here:

[2] RTPI (2020) Plan The World We Need. June. Available here:

[3] RTPI (2021) Place-Based Approaches to Climate Change - Opportunities for collaboration in Local Authorities. March. Available here:

[4] SPICe Briefing (2017) Scotland's economic performance - comparative research. December. Available here:

[5] ScotPHO (2020) Recent mortality trends. November. Available here:

[6] Scottish Government (2020) Fourth National Planning Framework: position statement. November. Available here:


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