A More Collaborative Planning System – What Can A Mediation Approach Offer?

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PAS and Scottish Mediation held a conference on 21 February 2017 to examine this question. Scottish Mediation and PAS believe that there is scope for mediation to play a key role in Scotland’s planning system and recently co-organised a conference to explore this topic.

Planning can be a divisive and emotive matter and a mediation approach seeks to bring together divergent views round a table to promote dialogue and reach a consensual decision. The conference was also inspired by the Scottish Government consultation paper on the future of the Scottish planning system (People, Places and Planning) which seeks to achieve a more collaborative planning system. We are grateful to the Scottish Government Planning and Architecture Division for their support in allowing this conference to take place, and to Sarah Boyack (former MSP and Scottish Government Planning Minister) for chairing the event.

Between 2009 and 2010 the Scottish Government published a Guide to the Use of Mediation in Planning, undertook a series of associated case studies, and published Planning Advice Note 3/2010 on Community Engagement which suggests that mediation may have a role to play in planning. However the use of mediation in the Scottish planning system has not become established and there is no statutory requirement for it to be used.

The conference aimed to afford a wide range of stakeholders the opportunity to explore the issues and questions around how mediation could add value to our current planning system, and with the venue at full capacity, we were pleased to welcome a wide range of attendees, with Scottish Government, Community Councils, mediation practitioners, planners (from the public and private sectors), academia all represented at the event.

Sarah Boyack opened the event with a personal observation that planning disputes – whether at a neighbour or neighbourhood level – to last for years and have significant detrimental impacts on local communities. Dr Fiona Simpson (Assistant Chief Planner – Scottish Government) followed on with an outline of the current planning consultation paper and potential opportunities for mediation to be used.

Charlie Woods – a practicing mediator then outlined some key aspects of mediation. He concluded by noting that mediation can be a more efficient way to resolve disputes but it requires time, commitment and resourcing, and also that it would have to fit within the statutory regulatory role of planning in making decisions about land use in the public interest. Nick Wright – a planning consultant specialising in community engagement and also a qualified mediator – then outlined some planning related scenarios where mediation had been trialled.

The current consultation of reform of the Scottish planning system proposes that mediation could be used in an early “gatecheck” process as part of Local Development Plan preparation. It is likely that this process would be undertaken by the Directorate of Planning and Environmental Appeals (DPEA) and in his talk, Paul Cackette (Chief Reporter – DPEA) suggested that he saw scope for this to happen with regard to matters which could be part of the ”gatecheck” process. He envisaged the process being that a DPEA reporter would have the option to appoint an independent mediator. He also felt mediation could be used in other specific types of appeal including enforcement notice, CPO, core paths and more.

Sam Tedcastle (from the Centre for Good Relations) – a specialist in “civic mediation” (ie mediation taking place with a larger number of people or even a whole community –suggested that this scale of mediation might relate to planning scenarios such as local development plans or large scale masterplans.

The event ended with a lively panel discussion with some key points emerging listed below:

• Everyone has to be up for it and understand how mediation could work for them.
• Need clarity of language and aims.
• What is the trigger for mediation within the planning system and who should initiate it?
• Who would pay for mediation to take place within the planning system?
• What comes after mediation? How will it fit into the bigger planning and development process?

Emerging from the day appeared to be a general consensus that there is scope for mediation to have a role in certain aspects of the planning system. Graham Boyack (Director, Scottish Mediation) advised that with around 2000 mediators registered in Scotland the capacity exists for this to happen and that he hopes to see references to mediation in the future planning bill.

Kathryn Hilditch of Scottish Mediation has also blogged about her reflections of the conference.

For further information please contact David Wood.

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