A World Class Planning System Can Help Achieve National Aspirations

RTPI Scotland Convenor, Alistair MacDonald, had the following article published in The Herald on 30 July

This week sees the deadline for commenting on two Scottish Government documents that will shape the places we where we live, work and relax over the next twenty to thirty years. These documents will set out how our cities, our towns, our villages and our countryside will change in the future. They will prioritise where we invest and will set out those places we should protect.

The drafts of the 3rd National Planning Framework and Scottish Planning Policy may not have been on the radar of everyone across Scotland, but they could, and should, have a real impact on the future of places across Scotland. They ask questions on how we can plan to achieve a low carbon economy, make best use of our natural assets, create successful places and develop infrastructure.

So we should all be more interested in planning. Planning is all about creating great places for people. It does this through providing vision on how best to shape our communities over the short, medium and long term. The ‘customers’ of the planning system are not only those applying for planning permission but also broader society at large, given the system’s role in helping to shape our built and natural environment, which we all use and appreciate.

Scottish Government has already set out how it sees planning, planners and the planning system as key to helping it to achieve its aspirations such as sustainable economic growth, sustainable development, climate change and great places. Planners are positively engaged in developing approaches to ensure we have a plan-led, visionary approach to planning and development; to streamline those parts of the planning process that do not add value; to promote better approaches to developing quality places; and to improve planning authorities’ performance. Scottish Government has shown its commitment through Scottish Planning Policy and the National Planning Framework. It has just published a new Architecture and Place policy which outlines the value of planning. And the Town Centres Advisory Group has recently published its report which sees a key role for planning in supporting our town centres. We are delighted that the Government has shown pride in, and respect for, the roles that planning can play.

We believe that the National Planning Framework and Scottish Planning Policy should be the framework that provides a truly ambitious national plan which establishes key objectives for Scotland in the short, medium and long term and where these will be developed. 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.

Given this we have called on Scottish Government to build upon the many good things contained in their draft documents and to ensure that we have a truly world-class planning system. This will require the documents to provide greater certainty to investors by explicitly stating priorities; for them to be clearer still on their ambitions and how they intend to measure progress; for them to set out a hierarchy that separates policy from action required and technical advice; and to allow planners to focus more of their efforts on the activities that add value to communities and developments.

The potential is there to help planning achieve the aspirations we have for the places where we live.

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