A Key Role for Planning in Tackling Climate Change

RTPI Scotland National Director, Craig McLaren, asks if those outside the profession see planning as key to tackling climate change

Our Convenor, Alistair MacDonald, recently gave evidence to the Local Government and Regeneration Committee at the Scottish Parliament on Scottish Government’s Second Draft Climate Change Report on Proposals and Policies (RPP2).

Alistair outlined how we welcomed references made to planning in RPP2 but were disappointed that the document didn’t fully recognise the role and contribution that planning can make in tackling climate change, especially in the medium to longer term. He emphasised that a properly resourced planning system, working within the right framework, is key to achieving ambitions on climate change and how it is an important lever to support approaches to sustainable development including protecting Scotland’s environment.

In our written evidence we had highlighted that those countries that have successfully planned for sustainable economic growth – such as the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden – have combined an approach which sets priorities and drives action from a national level down along with ‘bottom up’ community engagement and empowerment. They have explicitly embraced national and strategic planning as a mechanism to achieve this. They have used the planning system as a means of demonstrating national leadership through setting out their ambitions for the country and for making often difficult decisions that can bring short, medium and long term benefit.

The MSPs on the Committee appeared to ‘get it’. Alistair’s points were acknowledge both during and after the session. But we felt that there is still work to be done to convince those outisde of the planning profession of the benefit and added value that planning, planners and the planning system can bring in our drive to reach our climate change targets.

Of course, there are opportunities to embed approaches to climate change within the planning system, and, to show how planning can contribute. For example, the 3rd National Planning Framework (NPF3) should be a truly ambitious national plan which establishes key objectives for Scotland in the short, medium and long term and how these will be delivered spatially. It should set out the spatial priorities we require if we are to achieve our climate change targets. And the review of the Scottish Planning Policy (SPP) document can also be used to embed the climate change targets into planning policy which can then be cascaded down to Strategic Development Plans, Local Development Plans and decisions over planning applications. SPP should deal with the ‘how’ and NPF3 the ‘where’.

However for this to be delivered on the ground, there is a need for planning, planners and the planning system to be recognised as important players. There is a need for the whole of Scottish Government  to give greater recognition to our role in positively providing solutions and ideas on developing and managing places to make them more sustainable.  At a local level this means that there is a need to provide clarity, certainty and predictability. It needs planning to be at the forefront of corporate approaches.  It requires a culture that allows planners to have the confidence to make often bold or controversial decisions for the greater good.

In turn this requires confident and clear political leadership at the local and national levels that recognises and promotes a positive planning system.

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