New Context, New Approaches

Craig McLaren, Director of RTPI Scotland, reports on the recent RTPI Scotland Annual Conference which looked at how the profession can respond to the changing environment that we work within.

After introductions by Alistair MacDonald, Convenor of RTPI Scotland, Derek Mackay MSP, Minister for Local Government and Planning, discussed how planning had been put at the heart of the Scottish Government’s programmes. He wanted planning to be part of the corporate approach and outlined how he thought that planners could become local leaders through development plans. The Minister emphasised that resources are important and the need to link this to improved performance.

Pete Daw from Siemens then gave an overview of the megatrends affecting cities across the world saying that they were looking to be more efficient as well as self sufficient, especially in terms of water and waste. Other issues included climate change, quality of life, globalisation and competitiveness.

Chief Executive of Improvement Service, Colin Mair, outlined how the demand for public services continues to outstrip resources. Planning had to target and improve vulnerable areas and we need to embed spatial planning into big thematic partnerships through integrated engagement with communities combining outcome, spatial and service planning. He made the point that planning helps to achieve many outcomes that are often taken for granted and urged planners to work better to show how they delivered demonstrable improvement in people’s lives. There was a good story to be told.

Malcolm Macleod, Chair of Heads of Planning Scotland (HOPS) and Head of Planning in Highland Council made the point that as well as financial pressures there was also increased scrutiny, transparency, customer expectation and cross service working required. He talked about planning acting corporately and the need for support  the private sector to make an impact on outcomes. Malcolm talked about the need to speed up updating development plans; the need to engage the right people in right way; to improve customer service; to get it right first time and to improve how we learn from one other.

Steven Tolson, Consultant and Vice Chair of RICS Scotland, said planning has become more regulatory and less project orientated whereas in other parts of Northern Europe planners are facilitators and are active in planning and delivery. He said that the State should participate in joint ventures with community and private business partners and should be a ‘prime mover’ that shapes the market. This needs proper partnerships such as those taken forward in the Dutch VINEX programme which was led national government and delivered by regions.

Malcolm Fraser said that we need to push decision making upstream. He said that we need to take old buildings and develop them joyfully bearing in mind that our existing cities and towns are in fact our original eco towns given they were originally designed to be integrated and nor dependent upon cars. We need to strike a balance between the integrity of space and modern use.

A panel and discussion on the future role of planners and what need to change involved John McNairney, Chief Planner in Scottish Government who said the profession needed to be more confident and had to become a bigger part in corporate approaches through being more outcomes-focussed and working with Community Planning. Margaret Bochel from Aberdeen City Council discussed how we need to change planners’ image and help people understand what outcomes we can achieve. Andy Inch of Sheffield University asked if there was a threat of legitimacy of planning interventions and whether we need to use ‘betterment’ to deliver high quality outcomes. Mike MacKenzie MSP said that planners need to get better at demonstrating the added value they bring and work more collaboratively.

Dan Macdonald, Chief Executive of MacDonald Estates discussed the need for Central Government, local authorities and the development industry to work together to deliver development. We need to work beyond silos.

Yolande Barnes, Head of Global Research at Savills, said having a long term interest in land, and development on, it is key to delivering a quality product. Neighbourhood making is about streets, not architecture and about fine grain, not big boxes. Her research demonstrated that people value places that are permeable and interconnected to wider surroundings. Residential is more than housing – it needs to contain other things communities need and want

Professor Duncan Maclennan of St Andrews University thought that we need to plan properly for infrastructure by creating a system where the national spatial plan is explicit on priorities and these are linked to resources to deliver. We need to ensure politics is informed and rises above narrow, local and short term interests and so should look to models in Canada and Australia establish where expert boards select proposals for Ministerial approval. He felt that we should be exploring the potential of City Deals model for city regions in Scotland

Thanks go to conference sponsors:

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