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RTPI Scotland Annual Conference

The New Agenda: Planners as Visionaries, Facilitators and Enablers2018 annual conference image

The RTPI Scotland Annual Conference took place on Tuesday 3 October 2017 in the COSLA Conference Centre, Edinburgh.  Eric Dawson provides a summary of the event.

Introduction and Context

Stefano Smith, Convenor of RTPI Scotland, welcomed delegates to the conference at a significant time - RTPI Scotland has supported the planning review process, published think pieces and helped to establish the People and Place Alliance. An initiative - #planningahead - was launched to identify and promote good planning examples in Scotland.  The conference was structured around a series of prompts:

  • How do we plan for inclusive growth?
  • How do we plan for social justice?
  • How do we plan for environmental sustainability?

Emeritus Professor Cliff Hague set an overall context by reflecting on The New Urban Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals.  Planning fell from favour in the 1970s as it was seen as a barrier to economic growth, slow, autocratic, with a narrow focus on land use. The NUA reiterates the importance of the profession in a dramatically urbanising world.  "This is our last and only opportunity to get urban development right … it has to happen in this generation, otherwise the inherited scale of the problem will be formidable." Planning is central to achieving SDG which apply everywhere and which have spatial implications – e.g. end poverty in all its forms (500,000 Scots live in poverty); support good health and wellbeing (male life expectancy <65 in parts of Glasgow); reduce inequality within and between countries.  The SDG Target - "By 2030, enhance, inclusive and sustainable urbanisation and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries" - was contrasted with the 'Barriers' research on Scottish planning which found a lack of trust and confidence in a system not considered fair and equitable. A commitment to work towards a paradigm shift for a New Urban Agenda is a challenge to planning and planners; now is the time to act; there is an international mandate to reinvent planning; take the NUA into practice; focus on implementation; get urban development right or the sustainable agenda will fail.  This is not simply an opportunity for planning; it is a challenge to rediscover the moral compass that was once the reason for the profession. It is not doing what we have always done, or tweaking it. We signed up to the SDG and NUA and need to audit practices against this – are we implementing, or undermining?

How do we plan for inclusive growth?

Oonagh Gil, Head of Enterprise and Cities at Scottish Government, noted planning has a significant role to play in achieving inclusive growth objectives which inform Scottish Government's purpose and is mainstreamed through Scotland's economic strategy.
In the Enterprise and Skills Review the Government's inclusive growth ambitions support strong and productive inclusive economic growth, maximise opportunities of disadvantaged places, spread the benefits of growth more evenly, and ensure economic and social sustainable communities. The argument isn't just moral; more equal economies are more successful.  A staged diagnostic outcomes framework provides a methodology towards an evidence based approach. An initial stage seeks to understand the particular local inclusive growth story and give clarity on what needs done through identifying outcomes and specifying a range of indicators to monitor. Further stages involve understanding key drivers and opportunities; prioritising engagement and consensus for action; aligning actions to make a difference; and, monitoring to understand impact.  Planning tools already exist and are not dependent on new legislation; the role for planners is:

  • Analysis, evaluation and measurement at national, regional and local levels
  • Understanding place aspects of IG and the importance of making connections
  • Planning for delivery of development plans
  • Making things happen; capitalise on opportunities
  • From evidence to policies, plans and action; join things up
  • Proposed changes could improve alignment with the IG agenda e.g.:
  • An integral part of regional partnership working
  • Spatial awareness and cross cutting focus on place in development plans
  • Alignment with socio economic duty
  • Promoting longer term thinking; but can't wait for action
  • Broad involvement and links with Community Planning
  • Local place plans could be prioritised to reflect inclusive growth priority areas
  • Improved infrastructure planning
  • Natural focus of planning on the public good aligns well with IG agenda

Lesley Martin, lead member of RSA in Scotland, reiterated Cliff's earlier comment "planning is back!"  IG offers a different way of thinking about the meaning of growth with shared meaning around redistributive justice, fairness and equality of opportunity. Traditional approaches - 'trickle down' and 'work is the best route out of poverty' - are discredited; there is in-work poverty, poor opportunity and chronic productivity problems; there are different forms of inequality.  The RSA report recommends going beyond GDP as a measure of growth; aligning policy; building social infrastructure; devolving power; and focusing on place – but, what does 'place' mean to people? It is a value laden term; whose place is it … everyone's? Achieving IG requires co-responsibility of developers and communities.  Two examples illustrated alternative multi-disciplinary approaches:

  • Rotterdam
  • Borders railway
  • Devolution of power
  • Co-creation of place
  • Social impact bonds
  • Public procurement
  • Sustained vision
  • Inclusive consultation
  • Integrating economic, social and environmental objectives

Nick Skelton of Peter Brett Associates spoke about economic performance and productivity; benefits and opportunities need to be shared more widely; consider inter-generational IG; improve access to jobs and secure, fair work- quantity and quality of employment (not low paid, zero hours contracts); create more economic opportunities across cities, towns and regions.  Join things up – Grangemouth suffers fuel poverty, but there is waste heat; why not integrate heat distribution? Think about drivers of positive change - N Ayrshire has focused on improved health. A range of players need to be involved in operationalising IG locally. Much is already in place but challenges exist: more consistent application is needed; evidence based approaches are critical; partnerships need to be deepened; broaden effective engagement and participation; be aware of the value of public goods.

Jennifer Wallace from Carneigie UK Trust described a shift in how we understand and value wellbeing. Social wellbeing is a multi dimensional concept that describes progress in terms of improvements in quality of life, material conditions and sustainability. GDP is not a good indicator of progress; a holistic multi-disciplinary theory of change is required – well designed places support health and economic prosperity for all which leads to good outcomes.  We need to consider how people can reach their full potential. We can't do more of the same, but instead build relationships differently; build places with people not for them. Planning for IG requires a different way of working. Instead of identifying negatives / SIMD, focus on positive aspects of change - successful economic turnarounds mean not giving in to terminal decline but finding out what makes a place quirky – this is a hook for new economic development; know what their story was and where they were going; think of people and place as assets. Local leaders are catalysts; build cross sector collaboration; be flexible and not rely on a linear process; think past election cycles and commit to the long term; value subjective measures.

Q&A session comments:

  • Austerity has impacted on resources, skills and knowledge
  • Economic crisis has favoured prime sites and safe bets; therefore an exclusive/spatial impact
  • We have become more risk averse, seeking safer ways of doing things
  • When government and markets are weak then people are crucial to making things happen
  • Planning has huge potential to look beyond boundaries
  • People have budgets to tackle issues
  • Who will lead on this if not planning?

How do we plan for social justice?

Sarah Boyack from SFHA noted that factors interlink, and housing is central to delivering social justice. Inequality, disadvantage and social exclusion are largely determined by where you live. There is a human cost through lack of dignity, poor health, vulnerability to crime, youth and intergenerational poverty.  A generation has been priced out of the housing market and there is rising homelessness. "Lack of affordable homes is the biggest barrier to social progress in our country today" - UK Housing Minister. Use the housing investment programme to deliver more than housing numbers: design out crime; link with community facilities, employment opportunities and environmental factors e.g. GI and landscaping. The Planning Bill presents opportunities – infrastructure needs to come with, not after, new investment; involve people in the process; link with community planning; give certainty – land values are a major barrier to providing good quality social housing.  Other economic opportunities exist: adapt homes and buildings; maintain and upgrade existing properties; there are 30k empty homes; vacant town centre properties; regenerate communities – the Commonwealth Games village housing enabled people to live and access work.  Along with corporate social responsibility there needs to be a legacy - investment in housing is an investment in people that provides jobs, training and apprenticeships.
Housing is at the heart of a vision to tackle social justice; award winning housing designs should be standard across the country; the planning system can join up the dots and bring it all together.

Andy Milne, CEO SURF, described how inequality is at the root of the problems we face; budgets exist, there is plenty of money to make good things happen; it's about distribution; 8 billionaires own the same wealth as the poorest 3.6bn people! There needs to be a shift in how we drive the economy; we are stronger when we work together for a common cause. There has been a failure to support the profession and planners have been dragged off course – resulting in gated communities, gentrification and privatised public space; understand the formal and informal processes that make things happen; work out what can be done with limited resources to benefit all.  The general situation in Scotland is excellent; make the most of the opportunity. Authorities have power to be interventionist – where to make investments: where already healthy markets, or directed to where markets are struggling and value can be generated. There are benefits for all when investment is spent in local economy. Capture value and direct it to benefit people and places to provide greatest benefit.  We make good positive change happen through the planning process. Planners and the planning system are key to do the best for communities; the best we do is inspiring!

How do we plan for environmental sustainability?

Anne McCall from RSPB Scotland noted that environmental issues are not limited to, or bounded by geography. Free planners from the straight jacket of the statutory planning system; the profession has the skills to develop the vision and keep on track to deliver it on the ground. The NPF is the spatial expression of the SG Economic Strategy – should the economic strategy not be the budgetary expression of the NPF?

Gordon Watson, CEO of LLTNP, described how the planning function is central to what is happening in the park authority; plans, policies and projects in partnership. The environment is seen as valuable to the Scottish economy; national park work contributes to national outcomes.  Think outside statutory planning system; harness the power of communities; make things happen; get people excited about their communities. A place based approach has used community charrettes as a framework for delivery – a vision for Callander was developed by and for the community. A good planning system is about people; harness ideas; connect; deliver.

Martin Valenti of SEPA challenged planners to make things happen and asked what will happen between now and 2050? Narrative has to change - look for challenges and make them opportunities. Is 'visionary' and 'transformative' doing things slightly better? Planners are pioneers - can't do what has always been done; it needs to be different; be brave; if don't do it then it won't happen!  The key to it is you… build business in inclusive ways; collaborate; brilliant things can happen. Social Bite is working to eradicate homelessness.  VDL is a blight of unused uncared for land, the size of two Dundee cities – use this to deliver benefit; transform this; take on the challenge and generate ideas to eradicate VDL. Think and act differently; enable processes that make good things happen.

Certainty in an Uncertain World

Professor Janice Morphet presented on 'The way forward for planning: creating certainty in an uncertain world'. There is uncertainty with Brexit but the EU remains an intermediary between UK and UN; environmental standards and obligations remain although the legal redress is weaker.  There is certainty as public procurement processes remain; OJEU was agreed by UK with WTO. Post Brexit methods will still include environmental standards, quality and price methods of tender assessment. The UK has agreed an international treaty with UN for the New Urban Agenda under Habitat3; this includes a commitment to strong spatial planning; horizontal and vertical integration through spatial scales.  Devolution brings uncertainty with a loss of the EU legal principle of subsidiarity and loss of Barnett formula. However there is an opportunity to enshrine position in international treaty.  Austerity has caused political damage (Brexit, General Election); removing central government funding from local authorities in England is leading to rethinking the role of funding.  There is a drive to create more homes; a new approach for authorities as patient investors; using rental incomes to support local services. There is a challenge to public sector culture; a resurgence of local authority confidence to be on the front foot; more focus on problem solving and delivery; it's no longer a plan to be delivered by someone else. Be positive: planning is not the problem; it's part of the solution!

Ministerial Address

The Minister for Local Government and Housing, Kevin Stewart provided the closing address. Considerable progress has been made over the past year; people are passionate about planning. The Planning Bill is noted in the Programme for Government; now is the time to demonstrate what planning can do for Scotland. Aims for the refreshed planning system: set a clear vision; get people involved in decisions about their place; deliver good quality investment; strengthen strategic planning by co-ordinating infrastructure investment; improve accountability and trust; focus on place rather than process; find solutions; a can-do attitude makes things happen.  There is a need to work together to deliver a system; collaborate not conflict; visionary, not micro manage; a place focus to be able to live healthy lives and tackle climate change.  Development plans should be inspirational and provide confidence about where investment should be made; show a clear picture of where development is needed, when and how. Focus on delivering outcomes.  A need for strong and effective leadership; empower people at every level; develop and share skills; deliver real and positive change. Align investment plans with development planning; strategic projects being put together in isolation of each other needs to change.

Over all the major themse of the conference were:

  • Planning is back!
  • Rediscover the reason for the profession
  • The planning narrative is changing …
  • Less about process… more about action
  • Make things happen
  • Join the dots and connect things up
  • Demonstrate what planning can achieve
  • A generational opportunity to get it right
  • Make good places and build value
  • More equal societies are more successful
  • Planning is part of the solution!

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