Planning has come of age again. Both documents recognise the twin contribution that planning has towards the Scottish Government’s ‘Purpose’ of sustainable economic growth – both in delivering attractive and competitive places, and ensuring that Scotland’s rate of house-building increases to accommodate population growth and tackle housing affordability.
The need to increase house-building is, quite rightly in my view, now firmly enshrined in policy. Indeed, one of the Government’s new set of 45 national performance indicators is to increase the rate of house-building. But how does this fit with one of the key aims of the Government’s planning reforms, which is for ‘local people to be more involved in the decisions that shape the development of their communities’? (a direct quote from the Scottish Government’s website).
The answer lies in that quotation. The Government carefully do not say the level of influence that local people should have in the development of their local communities – the aim is, rather, that they should become ‘more involved’.
Therein lies a challenge, not just for communities, but for local authorities and the planning profession. We have to design our community engagement so that it not only lets people have their say, but also – critically – helps them to understand the wider context within which decisions are made. So it’s not simply a case of giving voice to the NIMBYs: it’s the much more difficult combination of giving local opportunity to influence proposals where appropriate whilst at the same time explaining the wider context that means decisions may not always be in line with local opinion.
Planning Aid for Scotland and a number of planners in both the public and private sectors have already cottoned on to this – I describe an example elsewhere on this website. But we’re going to have to get a lot cleverer at it, very quickly, if we are going to support the Government’s aspirations of sustainable economic development.