Repositioning the Planning System

white and black chessboard with pieces

Has the Planning (Scotland) Bill become a victim of its own success? Its passage through Stage 2 of the Parliamentary process may suggest that this is the case.

We know that there is hardly a conversation to be had in the local pub, at the shops or over the back fence that doesn’t involve some aspect of the world that planning can shape or influence. But people don’t usually associate these conversations with the planning process and decisions made through it.

Planning has real power. It can be used to harness and co-ordinate change in a place in a way that can make a real difference to people’s lives.

And that may be the reason that so many amendments were introduced into the Bill during stage 2.

The amendments effectively sought to ensure that anything and everything people think makes up a good place is required by primary legislation. But in doing so, we are in danger of stepping on the toes of other regulatory regimes and we are in danger of losing sight of the bigger picture.

In pulling resources towards regulation, tick box exercises and additional duties, we may miss the potential that planning has to dream big, co-ordinate, and importantly to deliver.

We may be too busy pruning the tree to effectively manage the forest. To busy concentrating on what we’re doing to understand, communicate and be guided and inspired by why we’re doing it.

One of the HOPS priorities in its business plan will be to see planning at the core of local authority activity and for planning to achieve enhanced recognition within national and local government.

This will be a challenge in the face of the amended Bill. Whilst the best of intention sits behind it, the additional duties to co-operate and duties to consult may not actually result in greater engagement or agreement.

The purpose of planning introduced (twice!) by a Stage 2 amendment may help give some clarity. The difficulty with incorporating this in primary legislation is that it becomes statute rather than being stimulating.

To have a Chief Planner in every authority could achieve enhanced recognition and positioning within local government, but this is in no way guaranteed, recent research by the RTPI showed that Chief Planners currently sit at different levels and have different spheres of influence, and this may not change in the face of the provisions of the Bill.

It will (as it was previously) be down to implementation. That’s why everyone working in planning and placemaking will be fundamental to the successful implementation of the Bill when it eventually becomes an Act. We will all need to be pragmatic, positive and proactive. Drawing on the best of our professional qualities, we will need to look beyond the 60 additional new duties that local authority planners may have to fulfil to the intention of introducing them: creating better places in a coordinated way that allow people to live their best lives.

The widespread interest in and debate around the Planning Bill should be welcomed. But we need to ensure that we continue to see the bigger picture. We need to communicate the benefits of putting planning at the core of local authority activity and we need to continue to demonstrate the value of our enabling and delivery roles at both a strategic and local level.

Heads of Planning Scotland Executive Committee

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