The Planning (Scotland) Bill gives communities the right to develop proposals for the development and use of land through a new type of plan, known as a Local Place Plan. The aim of these Local Place Plans is to significantly enhance community engagement in development planning, empowering communities to play a proactive role in defining the future of their place.
Earlier this year, we ran a short survey to gather views on what support communities would like to see, what barriers they believe may prevent them from taking part in a Local Place Plan and how these barriers might be overcome. 350 people responded to the survey.
Reflection on the findings
The majority of the 350 respondents had never been involved in preparing a plan for their area. This is perhaps to be expected as Local Place Plans are a fairly new concept with no existing statutory framework. Although the public can get involved in the preparation of their Local Development Plan, they may not be aware of this and/or they may not consider the Local Development Plan to be local enough to take a stake in it, due to the plan covering the whole local authority area.
Nonetheless, most respondents indicated that they want to participate in the future in influencing plans that cover their area. Those who did not express interest in being involved in a Local Place Plan in future gave reasons for this view, mainly being due to feeling they have a lack of knowledge and skills regarding plan-making, as well as funding and time constraints. These constraints could be minimised by providing more information, support and resources.
Although most people had a positive experience when preparing a plan, the negative experiences should not be neglected. Whilst some felt they were listened to and taken seriously; other people felt completely ignored.
Another factor is achieving good outcomes. There needs to be at least as much focus on the delivery as on the plan making process, as a good experience can turn sour when people don’t see any results after their hard work. It is crucial for people to be supported from the start to the very end of the delivery. This support needs to be transparent; people need to be aware of the workload and the limitations of a plan. By being honest, people are less likely to feel ignored. This will lead to more feasible plans, better outcomes and greater trust.
Respondents who had had a positive experience in the past appreciated the chance to get involved through positive community engagement activities and processes such as workshops, meetings and online. These positive experiences were often due to good support from the local authority, community councils and local councillors as well as other support organisations (such as PAS).
Communities require professional, practical and technical knowledge to prepare a plan. Funding hence plays a big role in the facilitation of the plan making process, particularly when securing professional expertise and assistance.
When given specific examples of different types of support an online resource, professional practical support as well as a ‘how to guide’ were considered most helpful. Advice on effective community participation and training should be provided to communities, planners and other partners alike. This will help to ensure well organised, inclusive engagement and inclusive representation of the community – where these elements were present, respondents reported positive experiences, but where they were lacking, this tallied with reports of negative experiences.
Provide a dedicated ‘place’ team in every local authority, consisting of people from different departments. This would also allow local authorities to keep up to date on local needs. Furthermore, local authorities already hold a lot of local data and are aware of certain delivery processes. Although some local authorities have such teams in place, the same standard of service should be offered throughout Scotland.
Provide a dedicated online resource bringing together all relevant information on Local Place Plans. Although face to face communication is vital, particularly in community engagement, technology can support the preparation of Local Place Plans by providing online information on the process and delivery.
Template and ‘how to’ guide. Visual guidance through previous examples and guidelines can help people to imagine what they can work towards. For example, Renfrewshire Council has already published a ‘how to’ guide using the Foxbar Local Place Plan as an example. These should be available on the online platform mentioned above.
Practical support from planners and consultants. There are many technical aspects where communities require help from planners and other built-environment consultants. This support can partially be provided by the local authority. However, communities often wish to have independent support particularly when disputes arise between communities and the local authority.
Advice on delivering community engagement events. Whilst some communities may have experience in the delivery of community engagement events, others may not. This would also ensure that events cater for young people, older people, disabled people and other seldom-heard voices to ensure inclusivity.
Training. Communities would benefit from formal training on how to successfully prepare Local Place Plans. From understanding the planning system to the different steps required to prepare a Local Place Plan, as well as how to apply for funding, how to engage within their community and ensure that representation is fair and inclusive. Training could further include how to provide a variety of short, medium and long-term actions to keep communities engaged throughout the delivery of the plan and focused on delivery.
Provide continuous funding for the preparation and delivery of Local Place Plans. Funding should be made available throughout the year and not be restricted to deadline dates to encourage communities to start preparing a Local Place Plan. However, we want to avoid a situation where a community prepares a plan but then find that the plan cannot be delivered due to a lack of support and resources. Therefore, funding should be made available to ensure delivery ensuring that the community keeps engaging with the plan and achieves its set actions.