Longer term plans key for engaging communities, says Henry McLeish

Rt Hon. Henry McLeish

The chair of the Scottish Alliance for People and Places, and former First Minister of Scotland, the Rt Hon. Henry McLeish, has called on the Scottish Government to be much more explicit about the requirement for local communities to be engaged at the earliest stages of the planning process.

Published on December 5, the Planning (Scotland) Bill is the result of a lengthy consultation and a series of position papers during 2017 as well as an Independent Review of the Planning System which reported its findings in 2016.

Former First Minister McLeish made the comments following the publication of the second position paper on the Scottish Government’s Planning Bill, entitled ‘Utilising an effective plan-led approach’.

In the paper, the Alliance, a group of 12 organisations from a range of sectors, welcomes the inclusion of a “gatecheck”, a stage where key evidence is gathered locally for the preparation of the Local Development Plan, but argues that the Bill needs to be much more explicit about the requirements to involve the community and other stakeholders are this crucial early stage.

The paper outlines seven recommendations about this part of the Bill, including:

  1. There should be a Chief Planning Officer in every Local Authority to oversee regional and local plans, and ensure the link between spatial planning and community planning is working well.
  2. Building on the duty for local authorities to work together on regional planning, there should be a duty to develop multi-regional spatial strategies to inform the development and support the delivery of the National Planning Framework. There should be a further statutory link between the National Planning Framework and regional spatial strategies in the Bill.
  3. The National Planning Framework should be subject to parliamentary approval. Given the new ten year life span of the NPF, Minister should be required to make a statement to Parliament on its relevance during the Parliamentary term.
  4. As part of the performance monitoring, Local Authorities should undertake regular assessments on the relevance of a Local Development Plan in lights of its new longer life cycle.
  5. Detailed plans of how communities will be engaged throughout the development of the Local Development plan should be contained in the first stage of the “gatecheck”. Furthermore, an analysis of this engagement, including the extent to which the views of the community have been taken on board, should be part of the second “compliance” phase of the “gatecheck”.
  6. The quality of community engagement should also be introduced as a metric for assessing planning performance.
  7. Local Places Plans needs to be adequately resourced to ensure a meaningful process and prioritise groups identified in community planning as facing particular barriers to participation. Local place planning should be considered as part of the evidence gathering process in the gatecheck.
  8. Speaking following the publication of the paper, McLeish said: “An effective plan-led approach is crucial for the long-term development of the great places in which we live our lives. Although it may appear unnecessary bureaucracy, national, regional, and local plans allow us to agree what we want to see for our communities in the longer term. They provide consistency, credibility and certainty in decision-making.

    “More importantly, plans provide a forum for people to contribute their views and hold decision-makers to account. By involving communities at the very earliest stages of Local Development Plans, we can ensure the views of the community are paramount in key decisions about their local areas on an ongoing basis. Our paper, Utilising an effective plan-led approach, has harnessed the collective expertise of our diverse membership to set out how we think this can be achieved.”

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