Kevin Stewart: Building a planning system for the future

Minister for local government, housing & planning Kevin Stewart reflects on a big week in the world of planning in Scotland.

Kevin Stewart: Building a planning system for the future

Kevin Stewart MSP

There is an especially busy and exciting period ahead for Scotland’s planning system.

We are living through a global health and economic emergency. This has been an enormous challenge for us all but amid the darkness and disruption of COVID-19, we have been reminded about what matters most: the people around us, the places we live in, our access to open space and the characters and local businesses that make all of our communities special. That’s why planning reform remains so important, perhaps more important than ever.

That’s why we published our National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4) Position Statement. The pandemic has impacted the timescale of the final NPF4 but we are taking this opportunity to advance our thinking in the meantime.

The Position Statement is not a draft NPF4; nor will it have any status in the planning process, but it will clearly demonstrate our direction of travel towards the next NPF.

Climate change is central to this. We are signalling a significant shift in the way we think about planning and our places – and a significant shift from NPF3 which focused on ‘low carbon’, to a ‘net zero’ agenda for NPF4.

Change is essential if we are to meet our world-leading emissions reduction targets, and we will have to do less ‘compromise’ and more ‘strategic direction’.

Development is essential for a green recovery from COVID-19 and a fair and just transition to net zero. We want to secure our future infrastructure, homes and businesses in a way that clearly supports sustainable communities and fairness.

We have learned a lot about planning policies from living with the pandemic this year, and the way that people value and use their places. Our Programme for Government commitment to 20-minute neighbourhoods and an emphasis on green infrastructure will be embedded across the strategy.

Last week we also published Transforming Places Together: Scotland’s Digital Strategy for Planning.

Through this strategy, we are setting out the framework for a world-leading digital planning system – a system that actively enables the collaboration which is so central to planning reform – helping connect people with their places, influence positive change, strengthen decision-making and focus on delivering high-quality planned development.

This digital transformation has been crucial to our reforms from the start. Indeed the independent panel which carried out the review of the system specifically set us that challenge.

Digital has enormous potential to provide new ways of involving people in the planning of great places. We are going to follow up the publication of our strategy with the launch of a £35 million, five-year transformation programme early next year.

The programme will substantially change and enhance how the planning system works and how we will deliver services over the coming years. It will enable planning to be more inclusive and more engaging. It will put data, technology and innovation at the heart of a planning system designed for the future.

We have completed a thorough process to get us to this point. Over the last two years, our Digital Planning team has been hearing about the experiences and hopes of people who work within planning, and of those who participate in various ways. We’ve heard about what works well, what could work better and how digital transformation can help deliver positive outcomes.

We have an excellent base to start from. Our award-winning eDevelopment service has been very successful, with ‘online’ quickly becoming the normal way to make applications; and with clear savings for applicants and authorities.

Ultimately, effective and successful planning will help support the great places we want for all of our communities and for how we live our lives.

This year especially, people understand that the quality and design of our places can have a major impact on our physical and mental health and wellbeing. We’ve spent more time in our own areas – travelling less and exploring more of what’s right in front of us.

Resilient and healthy places rely on social infrastructure as much as physical infrastructure. That is why I support the holistic approach of the Place Principle. It helps us to collaborate and achieve positive outcomes for people and places, supported with use of the highly successful Place Standard tool.

There’s a refresh of the Place Standard coming soon – involving a number of improvements to its usability and including some new bespoke versions.

And alongside this Place Standard re-boot, we are also getting ready to launch a new Place website in the New Year – to promote the benefits and positive outcomes from place-based working, including support for 20-minute neighbourhoods.

With all of these policies and more we are building a planning system for Scotland that is fit for the future, helping as many people as possible to get involved in creating and shaping their communities.

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