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Beyond Logie Durno

trees%20on%20football%20pitch1In the face of ongoing crisis of planning and community democracy, such as the recent farce of  a local council planting trees on a football pitch at Logie Durno, near Inverurie, Graeme Purves asks, Can we return to a Geddesian view of planning?

People, Places and Planning, the Scottish Government’s consultation paper on the future of the planning system, states that it wants the system “to empower people to decide the future of their places”. It proposes a number of measures to achieve this, including a new right for communities to prepare their own ‘local place plans’, a duty to consult community councils on development plans, and help with building community capacity.

The first key change the Scottish Government proposes is the better alignment of community planning and spatial planning. * This is a response to growing concern that the two systems are disconnected, with community planning lacking any strong spatial dimension and community planning partnerships having little awareness of the part which land use planning can play in realising social objectives.

A research paper published by RTPI Scotland in 2015 acknowledged that “spatial and community planning have often existed as mutually exclusive processes” and made a number of recommendations to improve alignment and communication, overcome barriers and promote community-led approaches. In Empowering Planning to Deliver Great Places published in May 2016, the independent review panel recognised the importance of aligning development plans with community planning, but looked ahead to community empowerment and land reform stimulating more community-led action and locality plans.

The Scottish Government proposes to address the problem by introducing a requirement for development plans to take account of community planning. While improving the alignment of spatial planning with community planning is eminently desirable, there are real and obvious dangers in requiring spatial planning to take its lead from an approach to community planning which is seriously outdated and badly in need of reform.

Legislation has saddled Scotland with a corporate model of “community planning” which has its origins in the 1990s and is now some 20 years out of date. It sees community planning as being about public agencies working together to deliver better services for communities. Too frequently, it is an exercise undertaken by cabals of senior officials in which communities themselves are accorded only a passive role. In fairness, the legislative reforms of 2015, Scottish Government guidance and best practice have moved beyond that, but community planning remains a process concerned with corporate governance rather than community empowerment and in many parts of the country it is still a top-down exercise dominated by politicians and officials – something that is done to communities, not by or with them.

“Too frequently community planning is an exercise undertaken by cabals of senior officials in which communities themselves are accorded only a passive role.”

Community expectations have developed a long way since the Local Government in Scotland Act 2003.

We now have a Community Empowerment Act which seeks to strengthen the voices of communities in the decisions which affect them and the Independence Referendum experience has contributed to the development of a more politically aware and engaged citizenry, ready to demand active involvement in service delivery and place-making.

Patrick-Geddes_imagelargePatrick Geddes believed that empowering communities to shape their own futures is what planning should be about. If we see the challenge only in terms of improving communication between spatial and community planners, we are in danger of simply making planners more complicit in a top-down and technocratic approach to community development which sells communities short.

If the alignment of community planning and land use planning is to be successful, the Government must ensure a fundamental reform of community planning practice, putting the empowerment of communities at its core. And if the locality plans which emerge from the community planning process are to be effective in informing development plans, spatial issues and impacts will need to be addressed as an integral part of their preparation.

The Scottish Government’s consultation on the future of the planning system runs until 4th April 2017.


* Spatial planning is the process of decision-making on the geographical distribution and location of development under the statutory land use planning system. Community planning is the process by which public agencies work with communities to deliver services under The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015.

Comments (9)

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  1. Dougie Blackwood says:

    I wonder about the planning process. Here in Argyll & Bute the planners actively go out to search for the most trivial things that they can then insist of either planning permission or retrospective planning permission. I heard one story that a hairdresser was setting up in new premises and getting the electrics done for more sockets. The planners arrived and insisted he go through the planning process for the work. He remonstrated and said that he never did that for his old shop. You’ve guessed it; he had to apply for retrospective permission for the old shop.

    In this area the planners appear to be only concerned with maximising their workload and involvement. There is no real overview of what is sensible and what is not.

    The last thing we need is a bigger and more intrusive planning process. They should only be involved when there is a new build or when structural alterations are being undertaken.

  2. c rober says:

    First of all this is where the SNP and Holyrood fail , and now it seems they wish to float blame on to communities – for this is the only outcome and desire I see them wanting , their land reform and community empowerment is only up to saying YES.

    Check out the LDP problems , in SNP led councils like North Ayrshire , where even if community councils say no , locals say no , then Holyrood should say no – well actual the do say no , where no means rejection of the supposed communities that they offer empowerment to.

    This is a liability to the SNP , those involved at council , then cabinet , more so when land lords are defining housing policy , planning policy , and have been subject to smack on the wrists for declarations of interest – and where the LDP review and original documents state that is it to AID DEVELOPERS , and now with the review suggests decreasing the RED TAPE for them – This is not empowerment , this is a dictatorship.

    However on saying that proper local level planning and development is a panacea , a utopia , but one with a handbook supplied , an instruction manual , and with that comes direction and constraints – in other words still control , turkeys voting for xmas kind of control.

  3. Eleanor Ferguson says:

    I have little faith in the planning system for various reasons. Everyone and their uncle-and I do mean everyone!, objected to the plans for housing submitted for the Craighouse site in Edinburgh to no avail. It was such a jaw dropping decision that I for one have felt that it isn’t worth fighting any more against proposed developments.
    A friend converted an old 1960s warehouse, vastly improving a site that was a magnet for dumping and vandalism, without altering the original footprint and had to jump through a ridiculous amount of hoops regarding window shapes, not allowing a fence to protect the gardens from the many dogs walked in the area, not allowing back doors to access their own back gardens because of the proximity to the walkway etc etc while further along the Water of Leith Walkway, a developer was able to build houses right up to the walkway and demolish a historic mill nearby.

  4. Ian Wight says:

    A fine piece of commentary, and timely. The Patrick Geddes pointer is particularly relevant. He advocated for a place-based (community) planning allied to an over-arching civics – as the necessary operative context. Somehow the planning that emerged has become essentially space/spatial planning in the context of an overarching political economics. Perhaps we need to revisit Geddes’ ideas, especially around civics, but in terms of a ‘neo-civics’ appropriate to today’s times, and places, and challenges. After a long life in planning, often resisting its spatial turn and narrow land use/regulation focus, I now find myself advocating for planning as placemaking, as wellbeing by design. But how to get there? Perhaps the current consultation can help turn the corner and switch the focus… maybe even contemplate ‘channeling’ the spirit of Patrick Geddes, in pursuit of a neo-civics.

    1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

      This is the only constructive response amongst the comments presently made.

      We can all quote examples of bad planning, but, when the opportunity comes to change things, too often the response is to bewail past sins and then pessimistically give reasons for why change is unlikely to happen.

      We really have to transcend the (understandable – I have done it myself) urge to start greetin about it, and explore what is possible and how we can get local people to become involved in developing their communities.

      Mr Wight has presented two paradigms: placemaking and well-being by design. I think these are good places to start, but, being paradigm shifts, they will take time for the general public, and, particularly, many of the planners and politicians to develop the different perspective. Of course, we need more housing. Of course, we need economic development. But, these should be considered within the context of the creation of human communities which are healthy places in which to live – and ‘heathy’ is more than clean air and other essentials.

      It is difficult for the ‘interested citizen’ to find the time and inclination to become involved, given pressures of work, child care, finance, and lack of technical expertise. This raises issues like empowered communities, reduced working time, living wages boosted by citizens incomes, affordable child care, officers who can engage meaningfully and educatively with the public. There are examples across the world of how these things can be achieved. For example, when a local development plan is being constructed, should all school children as part of the core curriculum be meaningfully engaged in the process?

      I hope we can have some more ideas rather than gripes about past sins and an acceptance of likely failure.

  5. Duncan Harley says:

    The Logie Durno tree piece was a setup engineered by some local journalists. The goalposts in the image were never used on that part of the playing field and were kept between matches in a shed.
    Trump blasts on about false news. Logie Durno has blundered into the presidential trap.

    1. Really Duncan? I didn’t know that, thanks. Was it reported locally? I could cite a dozen other local planning cases that would make the same point though?

  6. Graeme Patrick says:

    If the desire is to genuinely empower communities in deciding what kind of place we should be planning for then you can guarantee the development, particularly new housing (inc affordable housing) will not be supported. As a previous Scottish planning minister famously stated to a delegation of developers…”there are no votes in supporting housing development” or words to that effect.

    1. Graeme Purves says:

      Perhaps that reflects a lack of public confidence in the quality of the offer? Under the current broken model of housing delivery, we are asking private developers to deliver on public objectives. The public sector should be taking the lead on delivery and place-making. Volume house-builders can then contract to build the houses we need, where we need them.

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