HAPPY NEW YEAR,
WE HOPE IT GETS BETTER!!
Many of you will already be familiar with the National Planning Framework (NPF) and its increased importance in planning since the planning reforms of 2019. The latest NPF4 is now in its early stages of development and as such there is not much detail yet about what it will contain.
However, it is arguably the most important document in planning for us to try and influence as it sets the tone for local development plans and decision making over the next decade and beyond. We have an opportunity to respond to the statement of position that the Scottish Government have set out following January’s Call for Ideas. The Scottish Government’s deadline is the 19th February.
Sign up here to our online event on Thursday 28th January (6-8pm) which explains the NPF4 and will highlight the key policy area changes. It will be an opportunity to share thoughts on what you think is missing, what needs challenging and how you might respond to the questions posed by the Government in their consultation.
(NB This event was advertised in my previous blog as being on the 9th February, but we have brought it forward to 28th January to give you more time to write your responses).
A National Plan to Limit Growth and Thrive
I did allow myself to get my hopes up that we might be up for something truly transformative in this new iteration of the National Planning Framework, the rhetoric was there, but having read the Government’s position statement I am now disabused of any fanciful notions I had of significant change and I realise that, unfortunately, the government’s idea of something different is not quite as fundamental as I might have dreamed for.
I had envisaged an entirely new narrative, bearing in mind the government’s recognition of the climate emergency and the need to rebuild our economy after the global pandemic. A narrative that sets limits to development, that might move us to a more sustainable way of thinking and living. But the language is the essentially the same, the process of deliberation is the same, albeit they have tried to be collaborative in the design, but there is still no sign of the kind of deliberative discourse we desperately need to change entrenched mindsets. There is a clear ambition to be a net zero nation, but it seems they are not ready yet to let go of the conventional damaging economic ideas and practices that got us into our current crisis.
I do believe that NPF4 could start to help us think differently, particularly if it draws on some of the innovative thinking that is being done by economists such as Kate Raworth and others in the Wellbeing Economy Alliance, who are looking for us to transition to a different type of economy and to understand the way that land plays a central role in the economy.
We need to challenge the notion that we require perpetual upward growth. Raworth says in her book (Doughnut Economics: seven ways to think like a 21st century economist) that we need to talk about boundaries and balance, drawing on other more sustainable cultures such as the ancient Greek culture where “all things in good measure is best”, we should be looking at an economic system where we aim to thrive rather than grow.
Her much acclaimed Doughnut Economics approach has been used in other countries and cities such as Amsterdam as a strategic tool for post-Covid recovery. It would be a powerful message that things are really starting to be done differently if the Government chose to explore an NPF using this new Doughnut mindset.
To start off with, the NPF4 could set out how we are to live within all ecological boundaries, establishing and acknowledging areas where we are transgressing our planetary limits. Rightly, the NPF4 identifies that we need to establish a net zero Carbon Scotland and acknowledges the biodiversity crisis; however, other boundaries such as ocean acidification, fertiliser use and land use are not measured or presented.
The Position Statement also lacks a certain honesty about how we need to address the problem of climate change. The insistence seems to remain that we must continue to develop, to grow, whereas what we need is greater recognition that we also need to limit, to regulate, to curtail.
To quote from The UK’s Path to a Doughnut Shaped Recovery by Beth Stratford and Dan O’Neill
“To live within planetary boundaries whilst maintaining and improving quality of life we undoubtedly need to grow certain things, such as renewable energy capacity, public transport infrastructure, ecological restoration projects, and insulation programmes. But scaling up the good stuff is not enough. To live within planetary boundaries, we also need to scale down the damaging sectors of our economy”.
There are occasional positive signs that the Government is willing to consider this kind of thinking, for example there is the ‘new policy direction’ of restricting peat extraction and development on peatland.
However, this is countered by the insistence that we can develop and build our way out of this problem. Our experience of this is that all development is equated with growth and is seen as a Good Thing. For example, the chapter on Our Future Places states
“We will need to focus our efforts on actively encouraging all developments that help to reduce emissions. This is not about restricting development”.
Does this mean that all emission reducing developments will be given permission, regardless of where or how many? Where is the limit? Does this statement consider the embedded energy and climate impact of the developments themselves?
The Government intend to finance some of the NPF4 initiatives through the investment activity of the Scottish National Investment Bank. Planning Democracy and Friends of the Earth Scotland have already raised concerns about the way the Government have already funded so called ‘affordable and green’ housing schemes through the Scottish Buildings Fund, a precursor to the SNIB. The WEAll suggest that “Conditionality needs to be the name of the game in government support for businesses. No business that is unable to demonstrate its relevance to the wellbeing economy agenda should be in line for public funds”. We agree, it is also crucial that any Government funding schemes must take a holistic view of the development, not merely one aspect such as affordability and must be rigorous in ensuring their funds do not enable unsustainable development.
Doughnut Economics also takes an outward looking approach to strategic planning. Rather than looking purely at Scotland itself, the NPF4 process could not just consider Scotland’s places and people, but the health of the world. Surely if NPF4 is to ‘embed’ the UN’s Sustainable Development goals then we also have to look at the impact of its policies and plans on other communities and ecosystems across the world? An example used in the Amsterdam framework is the negative impact that our move towards electric car usage will have on indigenous people’s land in Argentina, where lithium used for batteries is mined. This more caring approach might lead us to different conclusions on how we address transport issues in Scotland. This would surely enable planning to move us towards a truly just transition in our recovery from Covid.
There’s obviously a lot of hard work needed if we are to succeed in changing the current direction that the NPF4 supertanker is steaming ahead towards. But we do have time to organise. Planning Democracy and other community organisations also have many allies across the NGO spectrum who are working to the same end, whether their focus is on climate change, biodiversity loss, housing, local democracy or social justice.
That’s why it’s important that as many individuals and groups as possible across Scotland are engaged in the consultations relating to the development of NPF4. We must fight to make it the best framework for planning Scotland’s future.
Sign up here