Mainstreaming the Historic Environment – A Planning Perspective

Nikola Miller, Planning Policy & Practice Officer in RTPI Scotland, reports on the Bulit Environment Forum Scotland (BEFS) Annual Congress

With the Scottish Government’s current planning reforms aiming to streamline the system bringing in further efficiencies and transparency with a focus on quality and delivery, and the recent consultations and debate on the Historic Environment Strategy for Scotland and Historic Scotland/RCAHMS merger, the topic of “Mainstreaming the Historic Environment” for this year’s BEFS Annual Congress was a timely one. For me, the overwhelming emerging theme from the day’s speakers was that of collaboration and partnership working to achieve the aims of mainstreaming the historic environment and creating great places for people.

Focussing firstly on defining “mainstreaming”, BEFS Chairman Professor Cliff Hague emphasised the significance as public sector funding grows tighter, of efficiencies which can be made by making links across policies. This is something which cannot be underestimated in the current economic climate, and other organisations, RTPI Scotland included, recognise the ever-increasing need for collaboration across the built, natural and historic environment sectors, sharing knowledge and best practice, and cutting across boundaries. As Cliff mentioned in his presentation, innovation is critical to the Scottish Government’s aim of Sustainable Economic Growth, and this cannot come from working in silos.

Jim MacDonald, Chief Executive of A+DS, challenged delegates to think differently about place, suggesting that places are about people more than about buildings. RTPI Scotland also seeks to promote and reinforce this message of the importance of people in any discussion of place, and placemaking, particularly sustainable placemaking. Jim highlighted several key points on the theme of mainstreaming, noting that successful places embrace change, and this is a key part of the mainstreaming agenda, recognising that historic environments are richer for the changes that happen in places and that the places which prevail have changed and adapted to survive the challenges facing them.

Cabinet Secretary for Culture & External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, again highlighted this key theme emerging from the Congress, acknowledging that partnership working was essential to achieving a common vision for the historic environment, and that consistency of process and the definition of the historic environment set out within the Historic Environment Strategy for Scotland due to be published in early 2014 was another important step towards mainstreaming the historic environment. Councillor Stephen Hagan, COSLA Spokesperson, echoed the Cabinet Secretary’s comments, emphasising the importance of placemaking, of thinking differently about places and buildings in terms of potential use, and with the vast changes happening across the public sector at the moment, coupled with resulting resource constraints, the importance of working together is even more vital.

This is very much a planner’s perspective of the mainstreaming agenda, but perhaps it’s useful to see this key message of collaboration and partnership working coming to the fore. It’s a positive and proactive message which I believe should be overarching all that we do to achieve mainstreaming of the historic environment and indeed achieving culture change, delivering the right development in the right place, and improving performance, efficiency and transparency of the planning system across the built, natural and historic environments.

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