Places, people and planning.

Back in 2017, the Scottish Government published its proposals for reform of the planning system under this strapline. While identifying the need for a planning system which helps growth to happen and unlocks potential, the Ministers recognised that it is people that make the system work and that they should be empowered to have more influence on the future of their own places.

This was effectively the culmination of a number of earlier community-led design initiatives, including the Scottish Sustainable Communities Initiative which ran the SSCI Charrette Series in 2010 bringing together local professionals and stakeholders to produce masterplans for 3 different areas in Scotland. The Charrette Mainstreaming Programme then followed which encouraged local communities to play an active role in the development of their area by participating in funded design charrettes that supported the production of local development plans (LDPs). This led to a second workstream with communities, third sector groups and local authorities participating in charrettes in support of town centre regeneration and then the introduction of the Place Principle in 2019.

National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4) looks for communities that are inclusive, empowered, resilient and safe and encourages people to volunteer and take responsibility for their community. Local Place Plans (LPPs) are a new way for communities to bring forward their ideas for development in their area, but local development plans set out how places will change and where and what development should and should not happen. Along with NPF4, they set the framework for how planning applications will be determined. It is important, therefore, that local communities also participate in the development planning process and be part of that change from the outset.

The Consultation on Effective Community Engagement in Local Development Planning Guidance, which runs until 13 September, seeks views on how communities can get involved in the preparation of local development plans and is the latest in a package of legislation and guidance being brought forward by the Community Engagement Working Group to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to get involved.

The draft guidance identifies 5 levels of engagement in the development planning process – inform, consult, involve, collaborate and empower – and suggests what activity, offer and purpose or degree of influence which the community should expect at each level. It also suggests different levels of community engagement for different stages of the local development plan process, which is useful for everyone involved, but it doesn’t set out particular methods of engagement to be used. Rather, those undertaking engagement exercises are asked to consider methods that are appropriate to the subject, context and groups being engaged.

The consultation paper does, however, ask whether the suggested engagement levels at each stage of the process are appropriate.

Too often planning becomes confrontational at the application stage. Effective community engagement at this earlier local development planning stage is unlikely to remove all conflict but bringing together everyone involved in the process – landowners, developers, local authorities, statutory consultees, members of the public – to truly collaborate to create better places is an exciting prospect.

Guidance alone will not ensure that effective community engagement takes place. The evaluation report on the charrettes and Making Places funds identifies community commitment, skills and knowledge; strong leadership; strategic commitment from local authorities and other local and national stakeholders; funding; and aftercare or follow-up support as key components of successful community engagement.

Places, people and planning. Has your community got what it takes?