The trend of 'living locally' is a big topic at the moment, expedited significantly by the Covid 19 pandemic and the climate crises. The concept of the 20 minute neighbourhood (or 15 minute city as it is sometimes known) has been growing globally with cities such as Paris, Helsinki and Melbourne to name a few showcasing success stories. The concept has now been given far greater prominence in Scotland as part of the Scottish Government's reforms to the planning system. Improving peoples' quality of life and health and wellbeing is recognised as a critical requirement at national and local levels of government - 'living locally' is regarded as a key part of the solution to achieve that (and many other objectives) in planning housing and service provision and re-configuring our cities, towns and village centres.

What is a 20 minute neighbourhood?

These are places designed so that residents can fulfil their day-to-day needs within a 20 minute (10 minutes there, 10 minutes back) walk, wheel or cycle ride of the amenities people require to live, work and play. Including sustainable transport options, easily accessible employment and services (schools, healthcare, shopping etc), leisure amenities and green spaces to enhance the environment. The 20 minute journey will vary in each case depending on the specific place and local circumstances, with more densely populated urban areas requiring different layouts and solutions to more rural communities. The distance which can be covered on foot or by cycle in that time will vary, which emphasises the flexibility of the concept.

Which neighbourhoods?

These can be formed from existing places / communities, or based on newly designed schemes. Linlithgow in West Lothian is one example of an effective 20 minute neighbourhood which has been established over time. 'West Town' in Edinburgh now sees plans being advanced to transform the existing brownfield site into a 20 minute neighbourhood – including approximately 7,000 new homes, commercial and community facilities, additional active travel and public transport infrastructure and services. Situated next to the Ingliston Park & Ride, West Town is highlighted by the Edinburgh City Plan as an essential part of the vision for west Edinburgh to become a "vibrant, high-density mixed-use extension to the city with a focus on place-making, sustainability, connectivity and biodiversity ."

In reality, the focus is likely to be on new developments or regeneration areas. Opportunities to retrofit existing neighbourhoods are likely to be rare.

What does this mean for local developments?

Policy makers are proposing a re-think in how to plan and deliver housing provision going forward – with new and emerging places to be designed with local living at the heart. The plans emerging at national and local government level incorporate the principle of 'local living' - with '20 minute neighbourhoods' being one of the policies forming the Scottish Government's National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4). NPF4 promotes an integrated approach to planning housing, local infrastructure and services, to create connected and compact neighbourhoods which prioritise environmental, social and economic sustainability.

The Local Development Plans (LDPs) will support 'local living' through masterplans and engaging with local communities and businesses through the planning system. LDP proposals and allocations are intended to help focus investment in places and buildings to deliver enhanced communities.

Developers intending to bring forward planning applications will need to consider the physical, social and economic context of 'the place'. Key elements will include addressing location and connectivity concerns (such as the existing settlement pattern, quality of interconnectivity with the surrounding area, local access to sustainable transport and facilities), coupled with the need to create an attractive place with natural landscape features and, of course, the drive to cut carbon emissions and achieve net zero.

What are some of the challenges of implementation? / What does the future hold?

The Scottish Government is now consulting on its draft guidance to support the implementation of NPF4. The draft is aspirational, and tends to downplay the practical difficulties, particularly the need to take into account the financial viability of new developments. The market for retail and other commercial premises is also a consideration – it is not necessarily a case of "build it and they will come".

The market will need greater understanding of how 20 minute neighbourhoods will operate and be measured in practice, as well as clarity as to what sort of proposals will be acceptable given the scale and type of development envisaged. It is, by necessity, a flexible concept and one which requires to be adapted to meet the local needs of each community. Places next to dense urban cities and towns will have different considerations to those set in more remote village or rural locations.

Effective planning and delivery of 20 minute neighbourhoods will require significant collaboration and co-ordination across local communities/organisations, local businesses, transport providers, health/education providers, local authorities and the private sector. Private real estate developers and industry experts will be critical in bringing forward proposals. Schemes will need to closely tie in with wider transport planning, with the necessary investment and upgrading in transport systems committed so neighbourhoods are not left isolated. The question of power, the type of energy sources to use and grid connectivity is another crucial element which needs to be addressed in order to bring forward development at any scale.

Delivery of such schemes will require further investment and innovation in sustainable solutions, particularly in construction to improve the costs and efficiency of the build process and minimising the overall carbon impact and energy use. Also in new technologies/systems for enhanced data gathering, to fully understand the context of the place, local views and key statistics – with an increase in digital mapping to illustrate options and procure investment into projects.

In terms of bringing forward 'new' 20 minute neighbourhoods – extensions to existing urban areas by developing greenfield sites on the edge of existing towns and cities are expected to contribute significantly, but the concept also offers opportunities to redevelop existing brownfield and derelict land. Implementation of 20 minute neighbourhoods in pre-existing communities requires transforming buildings / spaces – with potential opportunities for smaller scale projects to bring change, especially where public sector land is involved. The need to re-imagine existing places to operate more successfully for their local communities is coupled with the requirement for regeneration of the high street / transformation of local town centres. Repurposing existing buildings is one means of delivering change – such as regeneration projects transforming shopping centres into multi-purpose living spaces with apartments, shops and offices (as seen with St James Quarter in Edinburgh and the proposals for Buchanan Galleries in Glasgow). With climate change another key focus of NPF4, understanding and reducing the carbon impact of any proposal will also be critical.


Jenna McCosh

Senior Associate

Neil Collar