A Vision for Rural Scotland

RTPI Scotland Director, Craig McLaren, discuss the Rural Scotland in Focus Report

I attended the launch of the 2014 Rural Scotland in Focus report on 2 June in Edinburgh. I’d definitely recommend a read of the report, which is published every two years to provide a fast-track to a range of evidence and commentary on how and why rural Scotland is changing. The key themes of this year’s report are changing population, economic activity and housing needs; young people; rural; poverty; and the importance of integrated spatial planning in rural areas.

There is much to ponder from the report and the presentations at the launch event. For example, it was reported that was that there has been a continued drop in housing development in rural areas with a particular issue in terms of a further reduction in Housing Association development. This comes at a time when urban housing association development has started to increase. The report says that the rural housing stock needs to grow by 20% between 2010 and 2035 but many rural local authorities have a shortfall and are not meeting the level of need. At the launch there was discussion over measuring need and overcoming opposition to new development where it was required.

The report also discusses the needs of young people in rural areas and sets out that the best way forward on this is to given them a clear idea of what their choices are and what the implications would be of moving or staying. In-migration from former residents of rural areas was being witnessed when people got older.

There are some fascinating statistics about rural poverty. For example rural householders aged 60+ were more likely to more likely to have fuel poverty than to not. Given this, it was no surprise that there was discussion about the applicability of the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation to rural areas given that it uses concentrations of deprivation for analysis.

The report also discusses the need to address the social, economic and environmental challenges in rural Scotland, stating that it need the rights things to happen at the right time, in the right places at the right scale. Interestingly the report called for a more effective approach to integrated spatial planning to help achieve this. This should involve planners listening to rural voices about what needs to change. The report says that here is a lot going on at a national level that can help this, such as the National Planning Framework (NPF), the review of Scottish Planning Policy and the Land Use Strategy, but this needed to be better joined up horizontally (i.e. across Government and organisations) and vertically to ensure that local implementation was not perceived as being disconnected to the aims of these visions. The report contains numerous examples of good practice where planning and planners have had a positive impact on rural communities.

Given this the report makes a call for a new vision and strategy that sets out what the Scottish countryside is for and which makes sure the different strategies in place complement one another. This vision for a vibrant rural life should be based around 10 principles:

  •  Comprehensive – in bring all interests together
  • Strategic – in taking an overview of the issues, challenges and opportunities
  • Appropriate – tailored to specific needs
  • Significant – influential and respected by different interests
  • Integrative – in bringing together the different strategies in place in delivering outcomes
  • Collaborative – involving all stakeholders, including communities
  • People-centred – involves users and partners at different levels
  • Holistic – works to develop an overall wellbeing for rural areas
  • Dynamic – addresses the changing needs of rural Scotland
  • Innovative – encourages and supports string leadership and creativity

Interestingly, these principles are not too dissimilar from the 10 principles RTPI Scotland set out for the National Planning Framework which sat alongside the 10 Outcomes that we felt the NPF should be aiming to achieve.

So, as mentioned previously there is much to think about, especially for planners and how we can use the planning system and other tools at our disposal as a means of helping to bring clarity on how to achieve a vibrant rural Scotland.

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