getting the best out of planning

making planning better

Over the last year, Seamus Lalor and I have been running a series of 17 seminars for ACSEF in and around Aberdeen. The title of the seminars was Getting the best out of planning. ACSEF commissioned us because they want to improve the efficiency of planning decision-making in the region, and decided that breaking down barriers between different groups of people working in planning was a really important aspect of that. That kind of thinking deserves to be applauded.

Over 12 months, at 17 seminars and with 249 participants, we got people talking about planning. Councillors, local authority officers, developers, construction companies, consultants/agents, Community Councils, members of the public, and people from private companies, other public sector organisations (from SNH and SEPA to university students and staff) and other voluntary sector organisations (like housing associations and equality organisations): they all came, and shared their ideas and frustrations about how to make planning better.

What did they say? Here are a few quotes from participants:


We need engagement – not just consultation.

More communication and engagement between interested parties is required – encourage dialogue with stakeholders.

Community Council comments should be better – more talks/collaboration with/from planners/local groups needed (including Community Councils) – involve Area Managers.

Misunderstanding of consultation – need better and open/honest/meaningful consultation.

Encourage more training for Councillors and Community Councillors.

Different sectors should engage through secondments.


These 17 seminars represent a huge amount of learning, which I feel is useful way beyond the boundaries of Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire. To capture the essence of that learning, we’ve produced a short report for ACSEF which you can read online here. (Go on, have a look. It really is short.)

What did our 249 participants say needs to happen to make planning better?

More long term vision

More joined-up thinking

Politicians should stick to planning policy

Facilitate/encourage creative good practice

Communicate and engage better – earlier and more open, change our attitudes towards each other – work together more – and build trust

Better personal working relationships

Stop having the default answer “no”

Value local opinion – listen to communities better, give them feedback

Perceived power balance needs to shift away from developers to be more balanced with communities

Don’t let discussion be dominated by negative views

Stir up apathy, get to the silent majority

Be more positive

Be less regulatory

Make the process more efficient

If objecting, say what is needed to improve proposals

Development should create sense of place

Don’t submit poorly developed proposals

Regulators should only ask for more information if it’s necessary

More information from local authorities

More collaborative training/participation like these events, leaflets etc – especially for community and Councillors

Use Planning Aid for Scotland as source of training and good practice

Need to build community capacity – support Community Councils to raise awareness and participation

That’s an interesting list. I wonder what it would be in other parts of Scotland and the UK. I suspect very similar.

A final comment. When we asked participants to tell us what they thought was the most useful part of the sessions, they said – overwhelmingly – that it was dialogue with other stakeholders: understanding and sharing other people’s perspectives, and working more collaboratively. There’s one very simple lesson there. Never underestimate the power of asking the right questions and giving people time to talk and listen.

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