An International Call for Scottish Young Planner Skills

RTPI International Policy and Research Officer, Marion Frederiksen explores the skills Young Scottish Planners need to the tackle the New Urban Agenda.

Last week I was invited to present on the New Urban Agenda at the Scottish Young Planners Conference in Stirling. The conference focussed on the skills planners need to succeed – very apt considering the current review of the Scottish planning system, the draft Climate Change Plan and challenges such as affordable housing and Brexit facing the country.

There were presentations from experienced planners on leadership and project management, a soapbox session by young planners on new technology and an overview on the work of the Scottish Young Planners Network by the Chair, Elaine Fotheringham. I left thinking that the future of planning in Scotland is in good hands.


It was also encouraging to have government support. Scotland’s Chief Planner, John McNairney attended and Kevin Stewart (MSP), Minister for Local Planning and Housing, gave the keynote address. He highlighted the importance of planning as leading change, being central to great places and able to anticipate and plan for the world we will be living in. He also recognised that planners need the skills to do so. The Scottish Government is currently consulting on ‘Places, People and Planning’ which seeks views on the revised planning system.

Being able to anticipate and adapt to our future is very much a part of a planner’s job. We think strategically in both space and time and our plans reflect this. But in order to be better prepared we need to have political support. We also need to think both locally and globally so that we can better anticipate impacts and help our communities to adapt. In 2016 we got that international support for planning in our urban areas in the form of the New Urban Agenda (NUA). Agreed by over 170 countries at Habitat III in 2016, this is essentially an ‘urban planning brief’ for the world. It includes global actions, policies, principles and standards to help us all better construct, manage and operate our cities both now and in the future. It aims to guide the urbanisation efforts of nations, regions and cities, the public, private and third sectors, aid agencies, development agencies, civil society and the United Nations.

Why an international urban action plan?

Our towns and cities face the biggest challenges but provide our greatest solutions. For the first time in human history, more of us live in urban areas. By 2070 more than 80% of the world’s population will be urbanised. Most countries are dealing with air, water and noise pollution and resultant health issues. A lack of public transport and a loss of agricultural land and natural habitats. We’re struggling to provide affordable, healthy homes and access to jobs. We’re trying to deal with globalisation, automation and technological advances. On top of all this, we are facing two of our biggest crises climate change and refugees. Many of our existing legal, political and economic systems are failing to deliver what we need and provide social and environmental justice.

Countries have responded by signing up to a number of international agreements on sustainable development. These include action on protecting our planet (Agenda 2030), tackling climate change (COP21) humanitarian action (Agenda for Humanity), financing development (Addis Ababa Agreement), and managing our towns and cities (The New Urban Agenda).

The UK government has signed up to all of these.

The NUA (governments’ views), and the accompany document the City We Need (civil society’s views) seek to better manage our towns and cities. They both call on government leaders, professionals and civil society to implement sustainable towns and cities by making them more inclusive, adaptable to climate change, accessible, safe, healthy, environmentally-friendly, accepting of everyone and providing the facilities required for current and future generations. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs – agreed by UN members in 2015) are also recognised and implementation of the NUA will not only see the ‘cities goal’ i.e. SDG 11 being implemented but all the SDGs and international commitments on climate change, humanitarian, financing and disasters


The NUA seeks to readdress the way we plan, finance, develop, govern and manage our cities. Planning is recognised as an enabler along with national planning policies, urban rules and regulations, urban planning and design, and municipal finance mechanisms. Although there is a shortage of planners worldwide, the UN has also produced international planning guidelines to help countries better adapt their planning systems.

Although positive, the NUA is not legally binding and is difficult to read. It doesn’t demand what we need from our leaders including a call for more skilled planners, and updated legal and financing systems.  It is however, the best document we have and civil society has been actively engaged. As a profession, we no longer have to justify planning on the international stage but we do need to implement this and deliver sustainable urban development along with communities and stakeholders.

The RTPI has been active. We not only attended and presented at Habitat III but ensured the inclusion for improved air quality and skilled professionals in the City We Need and the New Urban Agenda. This year we are creating an RTPI wide action plan for our members.

Young planners in Scotland too have an active role to play in helping to implement our global commitments:

  • Help raise awareness within the profession, our communities and leaders
  • Demand from leaders the implementation of our global commitments and the need for planners to help deliver.
  • Input to Scottish Government and RTPI Scotland consultations –the Scottish Government consultation document: People, Places and Planning is a golden opportunity.
  • Call for, create, implement and enforce strategic polies, plans and strategies based on the NUA and the SDGs.
  • Integrate plans and policies and include medium and long term objectives
  • Assess new public plans, policies and strategies against our global commitments for example when undertaking Strategic Environment Assessments.
  • Create dedicated policies for towns and cities focussed on SDG11.
  • Take part in World Town Planning Day every 8th November and showcase the good that planners do
  • Support the activities of your local RTPI network and the Commonwealth Association of Planners Young Planners

Create well-located, integrated, connected, adaptable, healthy, diverse, mixed use, low carbon communities with meaningful community engagement. Demand the same from clients

Skills needed?

  • Leadership is key.
  • Keep abreast of global issues, latest thinking and best practice.
  • Undertake CPD and upskill throughout your career
  • Identify community engagement techniques appropriate to local areas and demographic groups.
  • Understand adaptation, mitigation and resilience measures.
  • Advocate for planners and planning; and market your skills.
  • Understand good governance, fairness and diversity, legal and political issues and the operation of markets and economics.
  • Help mentor and train the next generation of planners.

We have the international support but there aren’t enough planners in the world.

We are all needed – students, graduates, young planners, experienced practising and retired professionals – to help implement our global sustainable development commitments.

Because, if we don’t…

then it will be our own children and grandchildren who won’t be able to effectively face our biggest challenges.


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