The Planning Review – what do planners think?

Rhiannon Moylan of Perth and Kinross Council gives her view on a recent East of Scotland Chapter event, an opportunity for planners across the board to reflect on the outcomes of the Planning Review.

Last month the East of Scotland Chapter brought together professionals from a variety of backgrounds to discuss their initial thoughts on the Planning Review panel’s report, Empowering Planning to Deliver Great Places. The discussion that followed explored the possible implications of the recommendations, prior to the Government’s response to the review.

Chair Nick Smith (TAYplan) began the event with a poll:

  • Who supports every recommendation?
  • Who doesn’t support any of the recommendations?
  • Who thinks the recommendations are deliverable?

The answers…? Nobody agreed with every recommendation, yet everyone supported at least one. This showed some promise. But no one felt that the recommendations were all deliverable, clearly a key challenge.

Our first speaker, Mark Richardson, runs a planning and land management practice, Ristol Consulting Ltd, which represents the interests of family companies and estates throughout Scotland. Mark focussed on two key themes of the report: The planning profession and delivery. He welcomed the recognition of the role of planners in placemaking and delivering innovation, drawing on international examples such as the City of Freiburg to highlight the central role planners can play in delivery. He argued that planners should be proactive and encourage the public sector to step in and reduce risk for developers, as they have in Hamburg, to give one example. This could enable greater innovation in self-building and custom building, which he believes can play a key role in meeting housing needs. Mark’s vision for planning in ten years’ time is; that it is a popular profession; that housing has moved on from a narrow focus on shortfall and affordability, and; that Scotland is a leader in planning best practice.  I’m sure many of us support these aspirations.

Next up was Jill Paterson, Environment and Development Plan Manager at Angus Council. She has experience in the private and public sectors in consultancy, development planning and developer obligations.  Jill’s main concern was the implementation of the planning review. While generally positive about the report, suggesting that its findings reinforce the views of many planners, she cautioned that the ‘devil is in the detail’. This theme would recur throughout the discussion that followed.  Jill saw opportunity in the focus on delivery, the emphasis on working with community planning, and the removal of the Main Issues Report, which in her experience causes too much confusion especially in the context of community engagement.  However, several challenges for implementation were highlighted:  Without an enquiry, how would gate checks work? Who will drive forward housing delivery? Where will funding for infrastructure come from?  Secondary legislation will be key to realising these recommendations.

Dr Maggie Bochel, Director of the Planning Division at Aberdeen-based Burness Paul, and with over 25 years’ experience in all aspects of the planning process, was next to give her take.  While acknowledging the good intentions of the current review and the review from 2006, she highlighted that many of the recommendations are dependent on culture change.  She again emphasised the importance of the as of yet missing detail, asking key questions about implementation. Who will make the final decisions on local place plans? Who will guarantee community engagement? How can we ensure the gate check process won’t draw out plan-making and increase legal challenges? How do we deliver essential infrastructure? Maggie suggested that detail is needed to build on the strengths in the review; its success will therefore depend on a positive government response.

Finally, Director of RTPI Scotland and chartered town planner, regeneration specialist and economic development practitioner Craig McLaren offered his view. He called for the response to the review to maximise the role of planning. He noted that the panel, made up of non-planners, had given an overwhelmingly positive review of planning.  Craig called for planners to now take the lead in prioritising among the 48 recommendations, and then to work with Government to ensure that the value of planning and placemaking is fully realised by any reform that takes place.

A lively discussion followed the presentations. Issues raised included the preparation of new legislation, the likelihood of a radical change to the planning system and the importance of encouraging people into the profession. All four speakers viewed the review in a positive light and felt that the recommendations could help deliver a better planning system. But the question remains: Where we do go from here?

If this event taught me one thing it would be that ‘the devil is in the detail’. We won’t be able to judge the success of the review until we have more information regarding its impact on upcoming legislation.

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