The subject of the discussion was how can planners and planning encourage entrepreneurial activity.
The contexts were, firstly, the undersung importance of small private and social enterprises to local economies and communities – particularly their role in revitalising town centres, as emphasised in the Fraser Town Centre Review, the proper title of which was Community and Enterprise in Scotland’s Town Centres.
And, secondly, the experience of dozens of local enterprises gathered through this year’s Scotland Can Do Innovation Challenge supported by the Scottish Government, the Scottish Business Resilience Centre and Scotpreneur. There was common agreement amongst the entrepreneurs that planning has a crucial role in enabling enterprise and entrepreneurs flourish but, generally, planners don’t ‘get’ entrepreneurial activity: how entrepreneurs need to constantly innovate, adapt and pilot…
- “Adapt means being allowed to innovate and pilot. How can this be achieved when we have a planning led system that is based around local development plans that are for five years when we don’t know what’s happening in five weeks!”
- “We’ve struggled to get out-of-the-box thinking from planning and built environment people. Mind you it’s not just them, though they assume a kind of legal judicial position. I also mean all public agencies. Social enterprises like us are put in a package called community when we could actually create lots of businesses. But try getting some people to see that.”
- “Are we talking the same old top down hierarchy or are talking working directly with Trusts and groups on the ground? This is a really important point because we see ourselves as innovators not the local authority. Not that I’m blaming them it’s just that they are feart these days.”
Of course, the Scottish Government is trying to do various things to promote entrepreneurial activity in town centres, as explained in the Town Centre Action Plan published in November 2013 – including the Proactive Planning initiatives at the end of that Action Plan.
But, for me, what’s missing is helping planners (and others who have business contact such as economic development and environmental health staff) to understand what it’s like to be an entrepreneur. Yes, we need to have more flexible planning policy, more collaborative working and all the other things mentioned in the Town Centre Action Plan. But without planners and their colleagues truly understanding what private and social entrepreneurs really need to create jobs and activity, those initiatives will be far less effective than they could be.
The Scottish Government is working towards local demonstration projects for town centre regeneration. I hope these will include bringing entrepreneurs and planners together so that they can understand each other. Most of all, I hope this is done in such a way that entrepreneurs can inspire local authority officers, enabling them to appreciate just how much local enterprise can deliver for their community and local economy. Linked with that should be some facilitation to bridge the gap in language and working behaviours, and to help both groups work out what they might do to support enterprise.
The reward is that we planners will not only ‘get’ entrepreneurial activity – we will be inspired to push harder to help it flourish.