I was both pleased and interested to be invited to chair the meeting of the Place and Wellbeing Alliance on the 23rd March. Two years to the day when many people who could started to work from home, and here we were with me chairing a virtual seminar. It was not a hardship but it is interesting to reflect that given other commitments I might not have been able to do it if it had involved travel to another place. Behaviours have changed and I suspect we have quite a long way still to go in figuring out what works and why, when and where. I of course am one of the lucky ones with the ability to make that choice. There are so many who could not.
The seminar/webinar was the 11th such meeting of the Place and Wellbeing Alliance. The Alliance was set up in 2016 as a forum to share resources, ideas and lessons learned to enable to ongoing delivery, appraisal and improvement of place based working. This webinar focused on two themes: first, aspects of the emerging planning policy in Scotland and its impact on place and secondly the developments and amendments to the Place Standard Tool and information about place. About 70 delegates heard from a range of presenters and it is anticipated that the recording of the webinar and the slides will be made available.
My interest stems from a concern about place (mainly towns and town centres) and the consequent wellbeing of people, the planet and the economy. We all subscribe to the priority for “A Scotland where we live in vibrant, healthy and safe places and communities”. My views on place were most recently set out in A New Future for Scotland’s Town Centres, but it is a longer standing interest. In that report, the importance of planning policy, data and stopping and reversing developments that do harm to our towns and places were emphasised. The relationshiops that exist between the fundamental drivers of our physical, social and economic environments and the immediate or eventual impacts these environments and places have on population health and inequalities are well documented. So looking at the webinar agenda, there was much for me and others to discuss and learn in these areas.
The first theme was kicked off by a keynote presentation from the Chief Planner in the Scottish Government, Fiona Simpson, who took us through the National Planning Framework 4 draft and the implications for place-making, plan-making and the enhanced involvement of communities and people (my comments can be found here). Fiona was followed by three linked speakers looking in more detail on some aspects of the changes underway and proposed. Petra Bieberbach (Chief Executive, Planning Aid Scotland) looked at planning reform and options and opportunities for communities, Irene Beautyman (Place and Wellbeing Partnership Lead at the Improvement Service and Public Health Scotland) took us through the story so far of the Shaping Places for Wellbeing Programme, and Flora Ogilvie (Consultant in Public Health, Transport Scotland) explained the route map to achieving a 20% reduction in car kilometres by 2030.
The second theme focused on the Place Standard Tool and its enhancements and developments and the recently launched Our Place website bringing together a wide range of place based elements. John Howie (Interim Public Health Principal at Public Health Scotland) reflected on the national and international success of the Place Standard Tool and the latest version and extensions (children, design. climate) that are being launched in the coming months. He was followed by Sandy Robinson (Principal Architect, Scottish Government) who ran through the development and content of the Our Place website and made a request for feedback, content and suggestions for development.
After each of the three parts (NPF4, planning, Place Standard) a lively question and answer session took place, with delegates firing questions in via Teams chat. It was impressive the way these flowed and the discussions that took place built on each other. Two and half hours flew by.
The questioning around NPF4 focused on two main areas: the concept of the 20 minute neighbourhood and what this means in practice, especially in non-urban places, and the way in which data and evidence is obtained in the various levels of local planning and how these fit together. This sparked some comments about inclusive practice and design and the way in which less or seldom heard voices and lived experiences can be made vocal and not hidden. There is still time to respond to the consultation on all of this if you have not yet.
The notion of inclusive practice was also a theme in the questioning of the speakers who did a more in depth look at aspects of the planning process and change. Focusing on younger people and the need to bring in these voices, the panel also reflected on the role and knowledge of elected members in councils and the need to have wide inclusion. Other aspects covered included the need for walking as well as cycling strategies, behavioural change in modes and length of car journeys and the interaction of place-making and climate resilience and not just net zero.
Data and its types and representations was also a theme in the discussion on the Place Standard Tool developments and the Our Place website. There are major enhancements proposed and the new website provides a home for a lot of material, data, case studies and tools to enable local communities to understand and shape their places. There is of course room for more, and both these developments are very much living entities.
My role as chair was made very easy by the excellence of the speakers and the audience and the willingness to engage and discuss. I found it informative and enjoyable. The range and depth of knowledge and material was highly impressive and impossible to sum up adequately. My over-riding sense was of a community that is highly engaged, informed and knowledgeable with a passion for helping communities improving places across Scotland and the lives of their citizens. Substantial change is underway and we have fascinating tools and ideas to help communities shape their own places and lives. Not all of this is easy, by any means, as resources are tight and the local and national challenges are considerable, but we are on a good, strong path and in many ways at a point of real opportunity to make significant change. The strengthening of the statutory framework and planning structures proposed in the draft NPF4 will help considerably in this. Our places and people are the beating hearts of our country and we need to do everything we can to strengthen them. Place and Wellbeing are vital partners in this.
In this short post I can not do justice to the webinar. When I get the links to the recording and the slides I will post them here if possible. I thoroughly recommend the session and commend the Alliance for its work and initiatives.