Holyrood Conference: The Future for Planning in Scotland: What Does the New Planning Law Mean for You?, Tuesday, 29th October 2019
Session 2: Fostering Collaboration and Addressing Community Needs: Making the new planning system work
Planning Democracy worked hard on many aspects of the Planning bill, but our name became synonymous with the campaign for Equal Right of Appeal. Our agenda was always broader, but the circumstances of the planning review forced us into reacting to proposals and didn’t provide the opportunities for anyone to discuss and debate a far more transformational agenda that provides a holistic solution to the problem of how we plan for Scotland.
The planning review and subsequent bill worked on a narrower view of planning than we would have liked. Overall, we felt it considered planning as a reactive light touch system focussed on streamlining and efficiency. This played to the narrative that planning is a problem and we need less of it and the best way to get affordable housing is to loosen controls and allow development to happen anywhere.
In assessing the act we ask who benefits from this narrow definition of planning? Certainly, communities don’t and I don’t think planners do either. Because this kind of thinking underplays and weakens the plan led system, it limits planners skills to a technocratic role of licensing development, it panders to a speculative housing model where the competitive market for land drives development towards poor quality housing.
We want to reimagine planning into something that encompasses a broader agenda. Our idea of success is a planning system that can really deliver change and meet the challenges we face today. Challenges such as climate change, a biodiversity crisis, food insecurity and homelessness.
Focussing on tweaking the current system meant that the planning act is less able to deliver on these. It is a missed opportunity to bring about change of a different scale…. on a scale that we desperately need. It is disappointing that work on land value capture and land assembly has not been incorporated into the act and left for the next administration to legislate on. Difficult as these issues are politically this is the sort of wider vision of planning we would like to be collaborating on.
Take the housing crisis, to really address this issue we need to take more than a simplistic ‘build more houses’ approach and tackle the role of land in the economy and we need to challenge the systems and ideologies which have converted our homes from places to live, in to financial assets.
We need to reconsider a system that has hugely increased home ownership and financial security of an older generation but at the expense of a younger generation who cannot afford the extortionate house prices. In short, we cannot rely on private developers seeking to maximise their short- term gains to deliver housing need. We want a system that allows builders to compete on quality rather than on their ability to navigate the speculative land market and where communities can co create policies and housing targets with local authorities based on need.
Since 2015 when the review began the Government and some local authorities have declared a climate emergency. This means things need to change and perhaps we need a rethink. Climate change is going to need more planning not less.
Although we welcome the additions in the planning act, such as requirements for assessments and statements on climate change in the NPF, these in themselves are just not enough. Likewise increasing permitted developments to include car charging points and micro renewables is not going to deliver the kind of change we need to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045.
In fact, much has changed since 1947 when the foundations of modern planning were laid down and when the drive towards market fundamentalism that shapes our economic thinking today were born.
In those days our planet held only 3 billion people as opposed to the nearly 8 billion it holds today. Our generation is the first to really understand the damage we are doing to the planet and is possibly the last that are able to do something about it. So, we need to now focus on developing a planning system that works within the ecological bounds of our planet, not a planning system that is set up to deliver unsustainable housing and continual economic growth that doesn’t work within the limits of nature.
To achieve this planning needs to take people with it. It must not view people as a problem, but needs to understand their motivations and work with them. It cannot view citizens as customers, but needs to accept that people have a wide range of interests & concerns about every aspect of life social environmental, not just economic self interest.
Planning and planners must see public engagement as due process and necessary for good decision making in this complex world, not as a delay to development. Rather than dismiss the public voice as NIMBY’s, people should be listened to, because perhaps in fact some are acting as an early warning system…….. canaries as it were, for the issues that might not be getting the consideration they need such as climate change and biodiversity crisis.
All this requires a change of culture and thinking, ditching what have become accepted norms, rethinking modern economics and some of its assumptions about land and questioning how we can live on a planet within a finite capacity whilst pursuing perpetual economic growth. It also requires more resources and time for planning departments. We strongly advocate for more planning and more planners because with this we hope comes greater ability to face up to these exceptional challenges.
What we also advocate for is better measurement of what planning achieves. The planning review suggested that planners need to focus their attention on the outcomes of planning, not just on procedures. We achieved a great success in gaining a purpose for planning in the planning act, albeit confined to just development planning. That purpose requires development to achieve national outcomes. Presumably then we need to be developing the skills to determine how planning contributes to the national outcomes.
Current performance measurements are largely confined to the operation of the development management process, they focus on speed a lot and these measures are of more value to those who engage directly with the planning system (planners, policymakers, developers and others)
What matters to citizens and communities are the outcomes of planning and the impact of that development on them, their lives and their surroundings.
Ailsa Cook who leads in the field of outcomes, admits they are a wicked problem, not being easy to measure, but she argues that “outcomes based approaches must embrace complexity, value the perspective and contributions of multiple stakeholders”
Planning Democracy suggest that communities should become part of the process of performance measurement in planning. We are interested in community led research around this and providing communities with the resources and knowledge to help assess the impact of development on what matters to them. Part of the role of Local Place Plans could involve identifying community defined planning outcomes, providing baseline data and measuring the impact of development on different places.
A word about Local Place Plans. Forgive us our scepticism about them having any influence on development, but this is why. The principle of public participation has become accepted in law and policy. This means that there are three core sets of interests in planning, planning authorities, applicants for planning permission and the wider public, and not just two (ie the developer and local authority) as some professional planning bodies have been erroneously claiming.
As the Aarhus Convention makes clear, people have rights to a say in decisions that affect their lives. But this principle sits uneasily alongside the dominant story which says that planning exists to facilitate development. Making predominantly market-led development synonymous with the public interest leaves little space for meaningful community engagement. If any development is seen as good, you already know the answer is going to be yes then why bother asking folk what they think?
Having said that local place plans can be a tool to promote civic engagement and community development. We have seen a good example of a real grassroots place plan development that has been entirely community led, informed by Colombian process of life plans and has resulted in a plan that is true to that communities history and culture. It received 90% community endorsement and is being actively considered by the planning authority.
It starts by saying “We have come together and produced this Life Plan in order to set out: the Important Things we hold in common to be a vital to the lived experience of our Community. It contains Core Principles, Themes and Guidelines for local development and action over the next 5-10 years.
It goes on to say Our Ward has a rich history, with evidence of permanent settlement dating back to the Neolithic Age. Our local mythology is rich in faerie lore and features at least two monsters.
An unusual sentence perhaps, but here is a local place plan that is written by people who have looked into and thought about their history, their culture and community. It is written in their language, they engaged all of the children in the area in its development and in my opinion it is a great example of a community really owning their plan. The difficulty of having plans that are required to conform and have regard to other plans is that they could well lose this vital essence. Possibly a way to encourage this approach is to fund local place plans but do so by funding local community development workers or those who can work at a local level and initiate and grow this sense of community during the process.
Communities bringing forward their own place plans will have to have regard for the National Planning Framework (NPF). We have asked the NPF team to consider some more deliberative means of engagement in the NPF consultation. Deliberative public engagement is a distinctive approach to involving people in decision-making. It is different from other forms of engagement in that it is about giving participants time to consider and discuss an issue in depth before they come to a considered view.
We would be really pleased to see the use of deliberative techniques in all aspects of planning from local place plans to NPF4, tools such as mini publics, citizens assemblies and juries could be used to explore problematic issues from fracking to housing, but fundamentally we need processes that encourage considered engagement not just tick box or survey style approach. We are facing such challenging times, we are going to need new ways like these to work out long term solutions and we need everyone to be part of that conversation.
More of the same just isn’t an option.