Scottish Alliance for People and Places

Blog: The Positives of Mediation in Planning

Archie Waters

Archie Waters from The Dispute Centre provides a piece for the Scottish Alliance for People and Places about the potential role of mediation in the planning system.

Criticisms aimed at the ‘Planning Process’ often suggest that it is remote, inwardly focused and insensitive. Although there are systems for representation, the planning authorities are accused of being a ‘power unto themselves’. This image tends to leave people with the feeling that it isn’t worth challenging proposed developments, making them less likely to become involved in seeking to have their views represented. We potentially, therefore, lose valuable input and knowledgeable opinion that could beneficially contribute to planning outcomes.

Not all planning decisions prove to be popular or meet their expectations. Disputes can and do arise before, during and after the process. Providing some form of conciliatory recourse as part of a statutory provision would seem favourable and mediation, built in at all levels, would seem to be worth serious consideration.

Mediation is a very empowering process in that it provides a platform for people to be openly heard and have their views taken seriously. It also allows for mutually accepted agreements to be legally binding through written agreement. And that is a powerful incentive for people to become involved.

A mediator is, in essence, a neutral third party who aims to lead the various parties involved in a dispute to a mutually agreeable resolution. Said parties make any agreement themselves and it is this process of joint settlement that lends itself to generating one of the unique benefits from the mediation. That is, the potential for good and workable relations to be engendered or re-built after tensions have adversely affected relationships.  The reinstatement of trust and empathy between planners and the public, where issues have created tensions, can only be of value and bode well for the future.

The principles of mediation can also be applied functionally before any serious issues arise; preventing unnecessary conflict from occurring in the early stages. Active mediation methods applied to public meetings, for example, can provide stability and organisation where the ‘stakes are high’. Knowing that a meeting was to be controlled, balanced and meaningful would help ensure members of the public feel more secure about attending. It would thereby serve to increase levels of inclusion.

The structure of the mediation process has another potentially valuable benefit that fits well with the principle of creating an engaging, collaborative and consensual planning system. This is the flexibility and adaptability it can afford to include significant numbers of people, campaign groups or other interested parties in large mediated discussions and workshops.

Where past planning decisions have failed communities and disputes subsequently arise, mediation would also be available as a tool to help provide some redress.  Deeply involved cases could be mediated upon to establish routes to resolution that would suit all parties.

Clearly, the benefits of mediation being an integral part of the planning process are considerable, including the prevention and early settlement of issues, reduction in delays and costs caused by disputes, inclusion – capturing broader input and, ultimately, the achievement of more appropriate planning outcomes. Its ability to functionally and constructively engage people from the onset of the development of their living spaces would appear significant, as would its inclusion as an integral element of the planning process.

  • Archie Waters is the UK lead mediator at The Dispute Centre

This blog first appeared on the Scottish Alliance for People and Places website.

New Planning Bill needs national and regional housing targets, says Henry McLeish

Rt Hon. Henry McLeish

The chair of the Scottish Alliance for People and Places and the former First Minister of Scotland, the Rt. Hon. Henry McLeish, has pressed the Scottish Government to be more ambitious on housing in its recently published Planning (Scotland) Bill.

Published earlier this month, the Bill is the result of a lengthy consultation and a series of position papers in 2017, as well as an Independent Review of the Planning System which reported its findings in 2016.

McLeish made the comments following the publication of a paper by the Scottish Alliance for People and Places which outlines the vision and principles the Bill should adhere to, and a number of major key asks of the Scottish Government ahead of the first stage of the legislative process.

In the paper entitled Articulating a positive vision for an inclusive planning system, McLeish argues that it is important to keep sight of a wider positive vision for planning, with underpinning principles, or risk missing an opportunity to bring about a transformational culture change.

In the paper, the Alliance has outlined a number of key positions ahead of the first stage of the legislative process, including:

  • Regional strategies with neighbouring local authorities working together should be developed to provide a tangible outcome from the removal of Strategic Development Plans.
  • The National Planning Framework should be subject to Parliamentary approval in order to secure national and local buy-in.
  • Clear details of how a planning authority intends to engage with local communities for the purposes of developing the Local Development Plan should be included as part of the evidence gathering process, also known as a ‘gatecheck’, and a mediated process to support this should be considered.
  • Support for the Scottish Government’s position not to introduce an ‘Equal Right of Appeal’ given its potential to exacerbate inequality and conflict, and undermine a more positive system.
  • National and regional housing targets to be included as part of the National Planning Framework and regional strategies.
  • The creation of a National Planning Commissioner, supported by an office, to monitor the performance of planning authorities, provide training to elected representatives, promote civic participation, and to drive improvements in skills and capacity in relation to planning and placemaking.
  • There should be a statutory Chief Planning Officer in every local authority.

Speaking following the publication of the paper, Henry McLeish said: “There is a real opportunity to use this planning bill to help fix Scotland’s housing crisis. Access to a home is a basic human right. We can use this legislation, by setting national and regional housing targets, to eventually put a roof over the heads of everyone in our society.

“It is important that we collectively look towards an overarching vision of what Scotland’s planning system should be, and the principles that should underpin it as the Bill goes through the parliamentary process. Otherwise, there is a risk that it simply becomes just another law that makes technical changes on the periphery, and the collective ambition for a transformational culture change is not realised.

“The wide ranging membership of the Scottish Alliance for People and Places, which is unique in Scotland, has come together in recognition of the opportunity this Bill presents. In this paper, we have outlined the vision and principles we believe should permeate the Bill.

“We welcome the progress the Scottish Government has made in the publication of the Bill, and commend their approach to engaging with communities and local stakeholders. However, we think there is space for more ambition, and we look forward to working with them as the Bill goes through the parliamentary process.”

Planning Bill published by Scottish Government

planning stockA Bill for an Act of the Scottish Parliament to make provision about how land is developed and used has been introduced by cabinet secretary for communities, social security and equalities, Angela Constance MSP.

The eagerly awaited Planning (Scotland) Bill follows a wide-ranging consultation earlier this year on proposals which aimed to transform the planning system and builds on recommendations of an independent review carried out by a panel of experts last year.

Ministers have insisted the Bill will “improve the system of development planning, give people a greater say in the future of their places and support delivery of planned development”.

Provisions within the Bill include Simplified Planning Zones and proposals to develop an Infrastructure Levy to help support the development of infrastructure to unlock land for development. It also includes a new right for residents to produce their own development plans.

The Bill will strengthen the status of the National Planning Framework, bringing Scottish planning policy within the statutory development plan. It will also remove the requirement to produce strategic development plans and changes the process of producing a local development plan so there is “greater emphasis” on delivering developments.

It will give planning authorities more powers to take enforcement action against unauthorised development. It will also require planning authority staff to undertake training.

An infrastructure levy will be introduced in the bill that will be payable to local authorities and linked to development. This can be used to help pay for infrastructure projects that could incentivise new development.

The Bill’s aims include:

  • Focusing planning, and planners, on delivering the development that communities need “rather than focus on continuous writing of plans that lack a clear route to delivery”
  • Empowering people and communities to get more involved and to have a “real influence” over future development
  • Strengthening the strategic role of planning in co-ordinating and supporting the delivery of infrastructure needed to support development, including “much-needed” housing
  • Reducing complexity, while “improving accountability and trust” in planning processes and decision-making.

In a ministerial statement to the Scottish Parliament yesterday, local government minister Kevin Stewart described how the Bill will create a new structure for a more proactive and enabling system with clearer development plans, earlier engagement with communities, streamlined procedures and smarter resourcing.

Mr Stewart said: “Scotland’s economy needs a world-class planning system. Our planning system must take a strong and confident lead in securing the development of great places that will stand the test of time and this Bill will encourage more people to play an active role in shaping these.

“In addition to restructuring and simplifying the system to provide greater certainty for investors and communities alike it will reflect the importance of development and infrastructure to achieve our ambitions for housing, schools and regeneration – creating jobs and generating economic growth.

“Performance improvement will be formalised so applicants can rely on receiving a consistent service and local authorities will have greater powers to charge for their services. In short, this Bill will reduce bureaucracy so that planners are better equipped to lead high-quality developments that support the economy and enhance our communities.”


Scottish Alliance for People and Places

Rt Hon. Henry McLeish

Rt Hon. Henry McLeish

The Scottish Alliance for People and Places welcomed progress in the Bill and commended the minister’s approach to engagement, but has said the Bill could be more ambitious if it is to achieve the type of transformational culture change that the Scottish Government and the wider sector wants to see.

The Alliance is a collection of organisations working across the place-making and planning sector. Unique in Scotland, the group formed in recognition of the opportunity to build a more inclusive, respected, efficient and ambitious system of planning that puts people at the heart of their places.

The Alliance’s goal is to ensure forthcoming changes to the planning system in Scotland meet the ambitions of communities, the built environment profession and the Scottish economy by working with government, parliament and local communities to articulate a compelling argument for change and develop constructive ideas for how to realise that change.

Speaking following the publication of the Bill, chair of the Scottish Alliance of People and Places, and former First Minister of Scotland, Henry McLeish, said: “We welcome the progress that has been made in the publication of the Planning (Scotland) Bill, and we recognise the significant consultation process that has been undertaken to get us to this point. ​Furthermore, the serious and detailed engagement of the Minister is an exemplar of good governance and we welcome it wholly.

“However, it is our view that there space to build on the Bill’s ambition and this is will be important if we are to achieve our collective goal of a transformational culture change in the planning system.

“In some communities in Scotland, planning is viewed as an imposition – something done to us by big developers in partnership with local government. It’s about our neighbour’s extension. It’s about stopping the development we don’t like, rather than working together to plan the positive developments we want to see – local parks, schools, hospitals, and, crucially, housing. In many other communities, especially in deprived areas, some people may not even know the planning system exists, let alone how to get involved.”

​“We want to see a move to a much more inclusive, holistic and innovative system of planning, where there is systematic and robust engagement with local communities and all stakeholders from the outset and throughout the entire process. This requires a transformational culture change which involves articulating a compelling and positive vision for planning, rather than simply making technical changes.

​“We look forward to working the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament over the coming months to present constructive and innovative ideas for how we think this can be achieved through the Bill.”

Stefano Smith

Stefano Smith

RTPI Scotland

The professional body for town planners has called for a bold approach when considering the new planning bill for Scotland.

Stefano Smith, convenor of Royal Town Planning Institute Scotland (RTPI Scotland), said: “We said at the outset of the planning review that it was a fantastic opportunity to realise the potential of the planning system and to highlight the important role planning had in creating the types of places we want across Scotland.  Any new planning act must aim to fulfil those initial aspirations of a planning system that delivers infrastructure to enable development and achieve sustainable economic growth.

“The Bill, as introduced, has the right direction of travel and will fix some of the issues faced in planning our cities, towns and villages. However, we question if it is bold enough to make the step change required for a world leading planning system.”

RTPI Scotland believes that there is still an opportunity to do this through ensuring the bill promotes:

  • a new ambitious approach to engaging communities where discussion and debate takes place at the start of the process and is based on what people want their area to be rather than on what they don’t want
  • a more coordinated approach to planning, development and infrastructure through making the National Planning Framework more influential, establishing new statutory Regional Planning Partnerships and taking new approaches to funding infrastructure
  • a planning system that delivers development through capital funding from local authorities and other community planning partners
  • a properly resourced and influential planning service that promotes good place making through establishing a statutory Chief Planning Officer in every local authority
Petra Biberbach

Petra Biberbach

Planning Aid for Scotland

PAS has called on the Scottish Government to be bolder and more ambitious in its Planning Bill in order to realise a more positive, collaborative planning system which carries the trust of local communities and empowers them to actively engage in the decisions about their local places.

PAS is Scotland’s leading place and built environment charity. Its work includes everything from a free planning advice and mentoring service, to tailored training and public engagement events catering for members of the public, planning professionals, local authorities, public bodies, elected members, community groups, young people, volunteers, and for those simply interested in how planning is shaping their environment.

PAS chief executive, Petra Biberbach, sat on the Independent Panel which was set up in September 2015 by Scottish Ministers to review the planning system. The Panel reported its findings in 2016.

Ms Biberbach said: “PAS wants to see a planning system that is much more positive and inclusive. This involves working with local communities, planners and other stakeholders at the very beginning of the planning process in order to encourage a more collaborative approach based on meaningful dialogue and trust.

“This Bill is a real opportunity to bring about a real and meaningful change in the way we engage people in the decisions about their places, and we think the Scottish Government needs to be bolder and more ambitious in its approach. Whilst there is a lot in the Bill around engaging communities earlier in the process that we welcome, there needs to be more detail on how this will achieved and what processes will be in place to ensure that it happens in meaningful way.

“Once we have had the time to fully consider the legislation, we will continue to work with the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament to outline our ideas on how we think this can be achieved through the legislative process, but we do not think the Bill goes far enough in its present form. We want to see an ambitious planning system fit for a thriving Scotland.”

Hew Edgar

Hew Edgar

RICS Scotland

Hew Edgar, RICS Scotland policy manager, said the Planning Bill “needs to be more ambitious”.

He said: “While the Scottish Government’s approach should be applauded, via the establishment an independent Review of planning and sector-wide engagement, this process has lasted for more than two years. As such, RICS, like most of the sector, had hoped for a more innovative and ground-breaking set of provisions that would provide the necessary changes to cement Scotland’s planning system in the ‘world class’ category.

“There are undoubtedly positive and welcome changes within the Bill that can fix some of the more technical barriers; but overall the Bill needs to be more ambitious. Only then will it make the required changes that will enable the system to be less reactionary, and create a framework that can maximise output in the form of infrastructure, housing, and place-making.

“RICS is a member of the Scottish Alliance for People and Places, and will work the Alliance, Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament to explore constructive ideas that make the whole-sale changes that are required.”

Scottish Property Federation

Andrew Sutherland

Andrew Sutherland

Andrew Sutherland, chairman of the Scottish Property Federation and Joint MD of Miller Developments, said: “The proposals in the Bill deserve a cautious welcome from the Scottish real estate sector. Altogether they hold some promising suggestions to move from a regulatory system to a positive and active enabler of good quality development, with appropriate early engagement and focus on growing the economy to secure new investment and development.  If we are to drive local economic growth, jobs and investment we must have strong public leadership and an efficient, aspirational and delivery-focused planning service.

“However, we continue to hold major reservations over the prospect of a Scottish Infrastructure Levy and further discretionary fees when we are yet to see a step change in performance.

“We look forward to seeing these concerns addressed further if the Bill is fully to realise its potential to unlock development and deliver the much-needed infrastructure for our growing population and business needs.”

Addleshaw Goddard

Sarah Baillie

Sarah Baillie

Sarah Baillie, planning partner at international law firm, Addleshaw Goddard, said: “We are pleased to see the continued commitment to improving the planning system and the introduction of Planning Bill into the Scottish Parliament today. Scotland’s economy needs a flexible, positive and effective planning system, and whilst much work has been undertaken since 2015, we expect that significant questions will be raised during the progress of the Bill. Much information is also still required on the specifics of implementation of new legal and policy mechanisms, even if the Bill does go through.

“The challenge of delivering both more, and good quality housing, and the approach to infrastructure provision is far from resolved – it can’t be left to just the planning system to resolve. Also, if there really is to be a step change from that of a regulator, to a positive and active enabler of good quality development and a shift from reacting to proactively supporting investment and development proposals, then there needs to be a significant cultural change and the Bill alone won’t provide that.

“Local planning authorities need to be adequately resourced in both financial and human terms, and, having graduated with a planning degree, it stems from the grassroots up starting with Scottish universities creating courses that attracts students to continued and adequate professional development and support for the planning profession, to ring-fencing planning application fees for the planning department.

“A Bill committee will now be formed to take evidence and make recommendations and this will provide a real opportunity to participate in the Bill’s legislative scrutiny. We would actively encourage the property industry, planners and other key stakeholders to fully engage, share their innovative ideas, views and opinions with any calls for evidence by the Scottish Parliament.”

Henry McLeish heads new campaign to help influence new Planning Bill

Scottish Alliance for People and PlacesAn alliance of ten organisations from the planning and placemaking sector in Scotland has launched a new campaign to help influence new planning guidelines ahead of the upcoming Planning Bill.

The Scottish Alliance for People and Places, which includes RTPI Scotland and RICS Scotland, has come together to help deliver a “more inclusive, collaborative and innovative” planning system when the Bill is introduced to Holyrood later this year.

It will promote the need for a planning system that “inspires and empowers civic participation, recognises the positive force that quality economic development can play in creating a more equal society, and is built on fostering strong relationships through consensus and collaboration”. It aims to put forward a compelling argument for change and develop constructive ideas for how to realise that change by influencing MSPs, Minister and officials.

The Alliance is chaired by former First Minister and town planner Rt Hon Henry McLeish. Its members are:

  • PAS (Planning Aid for Scotland)
  • Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors Scotland
  • Paths for All
  • COSLA (Convention of Scottish Local Authorities)
  • Scottish Federation of Housing Associations
  • Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce
  • Royal Town Planning Institute Scotland
  • Scotland’s Towns Partnership
  • Scottish Mediation Network
  • Institution of Civil Engineers Scotland

Speaking at the launch of the Alliance, RTPI Scotland director, Craig McLaren, said: “The planning bill is an opportunity to create a planning system that allows everyone to help shape the places they live in. RTPI Scotland looks forward to working with partners in the Alliance to help make this a reality.”

Former First Minister Henry McLeish added: “We want to work with the Scottish Government and Parliament to present an ambitious vision for a refreshed and revitalised planning system in Scotland that plans and delivers the quality economic and social development our country needs, but through collaboration and dialogue.

“Over the coming months, we will harness the experience and expertise of our members to offer constructive policy solutions that we believe can make this type transformational cultural change a reality.”

Blog: Reforming planning needs a positive compelling vision, not just technical change

Henry McLeish

Henry McLeish

Former First Minister and town planner Rt Hon Henry McLeish on the launch of the Scottish Alliance for People and Places.

Those of us with an interest in planning are acutely aware of the issues the system faces. It is complex, is often lost in departmental structures, it is human resource intensive, often disjointed and can create endless conflict between developers and communities with the planning profession stuck in the middle as the arbiters and mediators. It often lacks identity in the new world of local government and is too often at the mercy of political direction and the “market”.

However important the structures, systems and resourcing of the planning system are, which we should attempt to get right in the Scottish Government’s forthcoming Planning Bill, this is not the primary problem we face. Rather, our problem is much more fundamental and existential – namely, people and communities in Scotland often do not see the relevance of the planning system to their everyday lives.

In many communities in Scotland, planning is viewed as an imposition – something done to us by big developers in partnership with local government. It’s about our neighbour’s extension. It’s about stopping the development we don’t like, rather than working together to plan the positive developments we want to see – local parks, schools, hospitals, housing.

We must reach out to communities, and build a compelling narrative for why their positive participation in the decisions about the places in which they live and work is fundamentally important for all our mental, physical and social wellbeing. The question is, how?

I was recently invited to chair a new multi-organisational body, the Scottish Alliance for People and Places, which launched recently in Edinburgh which will aim to answer these questions. The Alliance, unique in Scotland, comprising many well-known organisations across the planning sector, including the RTPI, has been established in recognition of the need for those of us eager to see change in the planning system, to come together and present a united, ambitious and compelling vision for change.

The planning process must acknowledge the positive force that quality economic development can play in creating a more equal society, which is built on fostering strong relationships through consensus and collaboration.

To that end, given that so much of the planning system is geared towards the provision of housing, it must collaborate in the process of delivering sufficient affordable mixed tenure housing. Homelessness is unacceptable. Alongside education and health, housing is a basic human right.

Our economy thrives on investment and innovation – our country needs quality economic development. We must encourage quality development in the right places at the right times by engaging constructively and proactively with business, underpinned by a consensus in the community about what is required in this regard.

In achieving the level of innovation that Scotland requires to compete on the global stage, we must deliver high quality and sustainable digital infrastructure, and accept the fact that digital capability, in the 21st century, is a fundamental utility, like other utilities such as gas, electricity, and roads in modern communities.

It is the role of the Scottish Alliance for People and Places to come together and present innovative and constructive policy solutions, underpinned by an overarching ambitious vision that accepts there is much more work to do than simply tweaking policy.

Ultimately, this means building consensus around developing a planning system that empowers communities to realise a positive and ambitious future, and that recognises that the places in which we live, work and play are fundamental to solving the inequality that exists in our society.

A meaningful and transformational cultural shift is required. However, in order to realise it we must really understand the challenges we face, the scale of the opportunity ahead and present a positive and compelling vision for change.