Scotland in the 21st Century faces serious challenges and – rightly – has ambitious aspirations. How do we solve the housing crisis? How do we keep Scotland open for business and deliver inclusive growth? How do we tackle climate change? How do we protect our most valued towns, cities and landscapes?
Facing these challenges and fulfilling these ambitions is complex. Planners are trained and experienced in looking at the big picture. Working with all interests, we have the skills to agree a vision and deliver it.
With a Planning Bill in the Scottish Parliament RTPI Scotland has highlighted six examples from across Scotland which show how planning is working with communities and other professions to overcome the challenges that Scotland faces. We believe that we need to make it easier for planners to deliver these successes. This means making sure that the Planning Bill, and changes to policy and guidance that follow it, help to reposition the planning system.
Over the next few weeks Kate Houghton will profile each of these examples. Today, planning ahead to achieve inclusive growth through the Borders Railway.
“Ensuring that all places have the opportunity to prosper is an important aspect of achieving what is called ‘inclusive growth” Naomi Eisenstadt CB
“The Borders Railway, the UK’s longest newly-constructed railway for more than 100 years, has shown how investment in rail infrastructure can yield benefit for travellers, the environment, the economy and communities” (A Plan For Scotland: The Scottish Government’s Programme For Scotland 2016-17).
Good infrastructure planning can accomplish more than just blue ribbon projects – it helps to make the most of the surrounding opportunities that these projects create. Because planners are trained to think about the bigger picture – the economic, environmental and social challenges which places face – they can help ensure that new infrastructure is well integrated and helps to support sustainable development.
The renewed connection between Edinburgh, Midlothian and the Scottish Borders has brought many benefits. Good planning practice around the reopening of the Borders Railway line has seen new development sites and economic opportunities unlocked.
The line has allowed businesses to grow, with 200 permanent new jobs created by a single IT firm, CGI, with the new connection central to their ability to flourish. New master planning at Tweedbank has set out a transformational vision for continued investment and innovation, helping to ensure that provision of employment space meets growing demand.
The Scottish Borders has also seen a significant rise in visitor numbers, leading to an 8% increase in tourism employment. In turn, the railway has helped to create new attractions, with Galashiels due to become home to a new showcase for the Tapestry of Scotland.
This kind of new development does not simply ‘fall into place’ – long-term visions have to be conceptualised, with key opportunities identified and actively pursued. This is exactly what planners can offer: ensuring that infrastructure projects play their full role in creating great new places. Places are never finished, and neither is planning: it should be counted upon to deliver the benefits to communities which are associated with new projects.
The proposed extension of Borders Railway to Carlisle could see its wider benefits reach even further.