Planning: Good, Evil or Just Tedious?

At the end of April, Planning Minister Derek Mackay published draft proposals for the third National Planning Framework (NPF3) and the Scottish Planning Policy (SPP).  These proposals could have significant impacts on what Scotland considers important and how it will look in the coming years.  Consultation is open until July 23rd on a series of questions in both proposals and there are consultation events being held across Scotland.

Planning sometimes gets a bad rap, but often this is because so many elements are lumped into ‘planning’.  Without planning and with a free-for-all at all levels across Scotland, the country would look very different (think the worst parts of the USA).  But with over-planning, nothing seems to happen and the ‘dead hand’ stifles innovation, modernisation and aspirations.

So whilst it can look tedious, this stuff is significant.

In his launch speech Derek Mackay said:

“Scotland needs a planning system that has, at its heart, the overriding principle of delivering sustainable economic growth in order to maximise the country’s attraction to investors and visitors in a global economy.”

“We want future planning decisions to give significant weight to the economic benefit of proposed developments, particularly the creation of new jobs.”

“We will support our review of Town Centres by insisting that major new developments which attract people – like workplaces, leisure facilities and shops – are in town centres wherever possible.  We want to see development which ensures lively, successful and viable town centres.”

But this immediately sets up an issue between jobs and economic growth (which requires efficiency and productivity) and town centres (which are currently higher cost, less convenient and more difficult to operate in).  Reconciling these conflicting tendencies without addressing some fundamental imbalances (rates, VAT, parking) will be problematic.

But let’s be positive!  The NPF3 is much more interesting on town centres than its predecessors.  It recognises ‘the need for a radical rethink of the changed function and dynamic of town centres ….. a need to develop a different approach to planning for town centre regeneration’.  Recognition and rethinking is one thing, but putting in place the big changes will be critical.

So if you have ideas, let them know your answers to Q11 of the consultation:  “Q11 – what more can NPF3 do to support the reinvigoration of our town and city centres?”

The SPP is the more detailed approach that planning bodies have to do in order to deliver these local and national priorities.  The planning system here is meant to deliver better places for Scotland.

Given the expanded focus on town centres in NPF3, the SPP proposes an extension of the ‘town centre first’ policy, health checks, strategies and the broadening of the sequential test to ‘all uses which generate significant footfall’.  This seems interesting but I have a couple of issues:

  • the health check is meant to be done every 2 years
  • the sequential test has not always been the effective tool envisaged.

So again if you have views on these areas, go to the consultation events, reply to the consultation and get your views known.

My reply will probably suggest that in addition to looking at extending the sequential test (a good thing) we should consider its operation and take lessons from the last few years.  It will also suggest that if local authorities are doing a health check only every 2 years then they are not serious about town centres and nothing will change.

Every 2 years?  We should know in real-time what is going on in our town centres and be far more proactive and dynamic.  With technology and the data services around this is possible.  And if we do it place by place on a consistent basis then we might at last understand what is going on in town centres, realise the depth of the issues and more importantly the opportunities to focus on to put it right.

Planning is not evil; but not all planning is good. Getting the frameworks right is important and then letting and enabling local decisions to be made, focusing on innovation and dynamism. We need the big decisions to be made at national level to encourage the innovation and entrepreneurship that is around for town centres (and other places) in Scotland.

Time to have your say. You have until the end of July.

About Leigh Sparks

I am Professor of Retail Studies at the Institute for Retail Studies, University of Stirling, where I research and teach aspects of retailing and retail supply chains, alongside various colleagues.
This entry was posted in Car Parking, Government, Places, Planning, Rates, Scotland's Town and High Streets, Town Centres, Vacancies and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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