An Architecture and Placemaking Policy – Getting Beyond the Usual Suspects

Craig McLaren, National Director at RTPI Scotland, discusses the forthcoming Architecture and Placemaking Policy for Scotland

I recently attended a workshop organised by Scottish Government to discuss progress being made with the Architecture and Placemaking Policy statement. The document is scheduled to be published in April.

RTPI Scotland responded to the consultation document last September where we set out 10 principles that should be adopted in taking forward the policy. These included creating an evidence base on the value of good placemaking and design; establishing buy-in from key stakeholders and influencers; the need to ensure the policy covered architecture and placemaking; and the need to support all involved to have the skills and knowledge they need to deliver quality places and buildings.

It was clear from the workshop that Scottish Government has been putting a lot of work and thought into the policy and that they have engaged well with people and organisations interested and involved in planning, architecture and design.

Current thinking is that the key aims of the document will be to show the value of architecture and place; to consolidate where we are and set out Scottish Government’s ambitions; to set out a clear strategy and action plan; and to establish how best to communicate and monitor action arising.

These are laudable.

It also looks like the document will be based around themes such as embedding architecture and planning across policy; influencing investment decisions; developing talent and showing value; showing the contribution placemaking and architecture can bring to the low carbon economy; promoting placemaking an architecture as cultural assets for Scotland; engaging and empowering communities and stakeholders; and outlining the role of Architecture + Design Scotland.

These appear to make sense.

As part of its aim to embed place, quality design and good placemaking in planning Scottish Government plans to publish the new policy as a stand alone document, but, interestingly, they are also considering mainstreaming it into the reviewed Scottish Planning Policy and 3rd National Planning Framework.

Again I would think that this is to be welcomed.

For me the key challenge the document faces is its ability to truly influence those people and organisations who have an impact on places and buildings, but who do not view the world through the lens of planning or architecture. It therefore needs to be clear on how it will influence and evangelise national politicians including – or perhaps especially – those who don’t deal directly with planning and architecture. It needs get policy makers to see how their objectives can be attained through working with the placemaking agenda, rather than ignoring it. It needs to get local politicians to realise the value of investing in quality design and the long term benefits it can bring when they makes decisions on developments, on investments and on how to use and develop their assets. It needs to convince those who ‘commission’ development – such as asset managers, developers and housebuilders – that investing in quality is worth it.

This will involve making best use of the incentives that can be used to promote high quality design, such as funding. We need to look at how the policy can be given real teeth to ensure its ambitions are embedded in planning across Scotland.  We need to make sure our procurement and planning systems support what we are trying to do, rather than hinder it.  And we need to develop a more effective evidence base that clearly demonstrates the added value that investing in good design can bring economically, environmentally and socially.

Scottish Government has a vital role in taking this forward. But we shouldn’t forget that other organisation, including RTPI Scotland and other professional and representative organisations, will need to take some responsibility for promoting this and for identifying ways of focussing the minds of these key players on benefits of investing in quality places and buildings.

I’d welcome any thoughts you have on this…

2 thoughts on “An Architecture and Placemaking Policy – Getting Beyond the Usual Suspects

  1. Good if Architecture & Place embedded in SPP – but there has been little analysis of why the existing policy was failing – and thus what needs to be done to make design quality a much more important consideration. The worry is the 94.1% (and rising) approval rate in Scotland (compared to 87% and rising in England as design quality is lessened). Far too much current development in Scotland is frankly poor. The more limited planning statistics seek to hide this further – hindering any analysis of why schemes are refused. Performance targets focus on “time to approve” – not quality. For too many planners design is still a “personal preference” – with an inability to objectively assess – and the new policy is unlikely to make Design Review an essential requirement. Unless poor schemes are refused – there is no incentive to invest in good design. The CABE reports on the value of Good Design were helpful – but the current desperation for any development at all, does not auger well. And yes, “good leadership and design champions are essential” – just don’t hold your breadth.

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