News  |  Posted September 29, 2022

On Reflection…

In her last week as Chief Executive, we invite Petra Biberbach to share some reflections on her time at the helm of PAS.

It’s that time… time for the next chapter and on to the next adventure.

A lot has changed since I took up the post of Chief Executive in 2005. In those 17 years, our organisation has grown up and adapted and pivoted to respond to the changing needs of those we serve, but never losing the original aim of being an educational charity for public good.

Through a backdrop of rapid political change (eight different planning ministers!), economic uncertainty and profound shifts to how we live as a society, I’m delighted to have helped to navigate the organisation through choppy waters to where it is today – helping people across Scotland to navigate the planning system and shape the future of their places.

Many of the issues that we’ve sought to mainstream as part of standard good practice in planning have started to become just that – from inclusive engagement with Gypsy/Travellers, to the involvement of children and young people, to a focus on the role of planning as a key tool in addressing climate change.

Of course, it is never down to one person, it is always a team effort. Throughout my time at PAS, I’ve been fortunate to have had the support of our dedicated staff team, who – for want of a better cliche – always go that extra mile. I’m thankful also for the guidance of board members and our patrons over the years.

Most of all, I’m thankful for the amazing network of volunteers we have at PAS – planning professionals and other built environment professionals who give not only their time, but their expertise and skills to help individuals and communities across Scotland to better influence the decisions about their place.

I wish the organisation, our volunteers, staff team and board all the best for the future – and I’m hugely confident that PAS will be in great hands under the direction of the incoming Chief Executive, Johanna Boyd who takes up post on 3 October 2022.

There are almost too many key moments from my time at PAS to pick from, but what follows is a short summary of some of the highlights I’m most proud of.

All the very best,


  • 2008 – PAS achieved Investing In Volunteers status for the first time, marking a real commitment to making volunteering a great experience and supporting out volunteers throughout their journey with PAS.
  • 2008-2009 – We developed the first edition of SP=EED, a practical guide to effective community engagement in the planning system. This began as a partnership with Professor Cliff Hague and Heriot-Watt University and has since evolved into its current version today – now including a dedicated training and certification programme.
  • 2009 – Lesley Riddoch became the first patron of PAS, and in the years following, joined by Professor Greg Lloyd, Deborah Peel, Professor Cliff Hague and Rt Hon Henry McLeish – who have helped amplify and share PAS’ work to a wider audience.
  • 2010 – The PAS board agreed to set up a sub-committee on education, which marked the start of our work with the national curriculum, partnerships with schools and universities and a commitment to helping children and young people have their voice heard in the planning system.

  • 2012 – One of the most important changes under my tenure was the move to operate as a social enterprise in addition to remaining a charitable organisation. This allowed the organisation to develop new opportunities for growth. This was also supported by the creation of an associate role, enabling the organisation to bring in the skills of particular built environment professionals on a short-term basis and supported us in staying a nimble and responsive organisation.
  • 2013 – The first collaboration with the Innovation Circle Network (ICN) and first European Youth Summit that we held in Scotland, with a focus on ‘Cities of the Future’. This was the first of several opportunities for young people in Scotland and across Europe to share experience, develop their skills and take proactive steps towards positively influencing their towns and municipalities.
  • 2013 – This also marked the first of many interns over the years from elsewhere in Europe. Our interns all brought new perspectives and skills to the team whilst learning from good practices in placemaking and engagement in Scotland.
  • 2014 – I attended the 10th Biennial of European Towns and Town Planners in Cascais, Portugal, set to the backdrop of the city also being chosen as UNESCO Capital of Citizenship and Democratic Participation. PAS contributed to the working groups that resulted in the ‘Cascais Declaration On Spatial Planning: More Of The Same Is Not Enough – Spatial Planning For People’ – a manifesto for more sustainable and more participative spatial planning.

  • 2014 – I participated in a fantastic leadership mentoring programme, led by Scottish Government and ASOSVO, to support female third sector leaders.
  • 2015 – The then minister, Alex Neil, appointed me to the Independent Review of the Scottish Planning System, alongside Crawford Beveridge and John Hamilton. The review focused on six key areas: development planning; housing delivery; planning for infrastructure; streamlining development management; leadership, resourcing and skills; and community engagement. I was pleased that a number of the panel’s recommendations made their way into the final Planning (Scotland) Act 2019, including mandatory training for elected members and requirements for more inclusive engagement with Gypsy/Travellers and children and young people.
  • 2015-2016 – Another youth engagement project with the Innovation Circle Network (ICN), funded by the Eramus+ programme and with young people taking part from 7 countries. I was delighted at some of the outcomes of the Young Eyes Project – including young people working with their elected members to make changes in their community, to setting up a youth parliament and encouraging young people from other countries to find ways to make their views heard.
  • 2017 – We set up the Scottish Alliance for People and Places, bringing together a wide assortment of civil society organisations with an interest in place and planning. Over the course of the next two years, the Alliance worked to promote key changes to the Planning (Scotland) Bill, resulting in the Act which places a greater emphasis on public participation, inclusive participation of young people and Gypsy/Travellers and the introduction of mediation into the planning system, among other positive changes.

  • 2018 – Professor Cliff Hague and I were invited to share PAS’ ‘Bridging the Gap’ project at the World Health Organisation conference in Belfast – demonstrating the links between place and health and wellbeing and highlighting our work in Scotland including extensive use of the Place Standard, to an international audience.
  • 2020 – Just before the pandemic began, we took part in the World Urban Forum in Abu Dhabi where PAS was invited to run a workshop on the potential to develop a more international version of PAS. The idea of Global Planning Aid was born here in partnership with our friends at ISOCARP.
  • 2020-2022 – The pandemic was a great disruption to our day-to-day work and service delivery at PAS. However, with a creative staff team and volunteer network, I’m proud to say that we were quickly able to pivot into more digital delivery. Indeed, a number of our training programmes such as SP=EED actually increased during the pandemic – thanks to planners and community members being able to join remotely from anywhere in Scotland. It also helped us to achieve a sizeable reduction in our carbon footprint.
  • 2019-2022 – One of the projects most close to my heart has been our work to help the Heart of Newhaven, a community initiative to acquire and repurpose a former Victorian school building at the heart of the Newhaven community in Edinburgh. The project is not simply about reusing existing buildings – albeit that is a huge plus – it is about creating a multi-generational centre that will cater to the needs of all ages within the community, supporting social cohesion and reducing isolation, as well as skills transfer and exchange between different age groups. In essence, it is about a community shaping their place to focus on quality of life and increased wellbeing. It is a holistic approach to placemaking – one that also reflects PAS’ values of inclusiveness and participation. I look forward to seeing PAS supporting more fantastic initiatives like the Heart of Newhaven in the future.