With Sèamus Lalor of sèamus lalor associates, I’m facilitating a series of events in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire for ACSEF, the Aberdeen City and Shire Economic Forum. The events are half-day discussions for anyone and everyone involved in planning in the North-East of Scotland: planners from the public and private sectors, local residents, businesses, developers, architects and other professionals. We get together for an afternoon to talk about how we could make planning better.
It would be easy to dismiss these events as mere talking shops. But they are, in truth, a far-sighted initiative by ACSEF to plan for the post-oil economy in the region.
ACSEF realise that North Sea oil has a limited lifespan as being the economic lifeblood of the North-East. And they know that something needs to be done to prepare for life after oil. They have a concerted plan of action; and one element is to encourage more investment in the region.
Where does talking about planning fit into this? ACSEF have, very intelligently I believe, understood that the new Scottish planning system is all about collaboration across the different stakeholders that I mentioned in the first paragraph.
With everyone pulling together in the same direction, the region will develop a planning system that is not only responsive and efficient, but will also be based on a shared vision of where the region is going. And ACSEF believes that this will attract investment, both public and private – so fuelling economic growth and a new post-oil future for the region.
This is a courageous move, exactly the kind of initiative that the Scottish Government should be applauding. ACSEF are putting their money where their mouth is. They are supporting culture change in planning (a key part of Scottish planning reform) because they believe that it will support sustainable economic growth.
The aim of our discussion sessions is very simple: to get different stakeholders talking to each other, so that they can understand each other’s perspectives and get to know each other – the essential precursor to effective culture change and collaborative working, and something which just does not happen enough at the moment.
Basically, we get people talking about simple questions – like what needs to happen to make planning better. Through sharing views, people realise that they are all human, and that they can do business with each other – and that they don’t have to follow the old adversarial model of planning.
What makes the programme really interesting, I think, is the ambitious scale of it. ACSEF want every local authority planner, every local architect, every Community Council and every local developer in the region to be involved. And it’s by engaging at this scale, of course, that culture change really could be delivered in the North-East.
These sessions are only the starting point: in themselves they won’t deliver the new investment that will create the region’s post-oil economy. But they do create an essential precondition to allow that happen, as well as opening up the discussion of what that future might be.
If you live or work in Aberdeen city or shire and are interested in joining one of these events, please contact Judith Munro at ACSEF – contact details on this page.