mediation in planning – and regeneration?

two alpha males settle a dispute, courtesy of Mike Baird on flickr

Planning Aid for Scotland organised a seminar on 16 October to explore the increasing interest in using mediation in planning. As one of the co-facilitators at the seminar, in my capacity as a Director of Planning Aid for Scotland, I’ve summarised the main outcomes of the discussion. This post will shortly be appearing in the Scottish Urban Regeneration Forum‘s quarterly newsletter, Scotregen, which will be available for download from their website.

Planning Aid for Scotland hosted a seminar to discuss how to take forward the emerging idea of using mediation in planning on 16 October 2009 in Edinburgh. The event followed the Scottish Government’s publication of A Guide to the Use of Mediation in the Planning System in Scotland, prepared by Core Solutions, earlier this year.

The tone was set with a presentation from John Sturrock QC of Core Solutions. For those not already familiar with mediation, John explained how his experience has shown that mediation can produce better and more efficient decision-making, lower costs, and less risk for developers and planning authorities. With a mixture of benefits like that, you might wonder why it hasn’t already become more mainstream !

Mediation is all about moving away from the confrontation and antagonism that can so often be found in planning, from public inquiries to community consultation. The aim is to find solutions which are workable for everyone – in other words, building places which are better for everyone – rather than a “winner takes all” situation.

With a lively cross-section of participants from local authorities, community groups, planning consultancies, developers and the Scottish Government, the discussion groups that followed John’s presentation were interesting and wide-ranging.

We looked particularly at where mediation could be used in planning. Some of the key points that emerged include:

Mediation would be useful right at the start of the development process, between developers and communities, when developers are selecting sites for proposals. It is really part of a wider need for more engagement, communication and facilitation with local communities before plans are even drafted. Early engagement helps to build trust and avoid positions hardening.

As well as opportunities for formal mediation with different parties and a trained mediator, there is great scope for use of mediation skills – training planners in particular so that they can use mediation skills in their everyday work to break down conflict and build consensus.

Planning Aid for Scotland was mentioned as being a useful home for mediation in planning because of its independence and credibility – either as a conduit to providers of mediation services, or possibly as a provider itself in the future. (And this wasn’t suggested by a Planning Aid for Scotland volunteer or member of staff!)

It was widely agreed that there is a need to continue to work to raise awareness of mediation and mediation skills. Personally I believe it could be every bit as useful in regeneration as in planning. Planning Aid for Scotland is keen to hear from anyone who would like to know more about mediation and whether they would be interested in taking part in our next awareness-raising session.

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