Two, new tools for a healthier, ‘greener’ Scotland

CREATING places for people, supporting communities to shape where they live, and planning for a ‘green’ economy – turning these lofty ambitions into reality are what gets me, as a planner, up in the morning.

It’s an exciting challenge that I am pleased to say is being embraced by both the Scottish Government and Royal Town Planning Institute (Scotland), which I had the privilege of recently convening, and which has just published its manifesto, ahead of the upcoming Scottish Parliament elections.

And to help us realise these aspirations, we have two, new important tools to help us: the ‘20-minute neighbourhood‘ and Local Place Plans.

In reality, neither of these are new concepts. 

The ’20-minute neighbourhood’ is a catchy name for ‘walkable neighbourhoods’, a concept that’s become popular across the world – from Melbourne to Paris and Portland.

It’s an established principle of urban design and planning, which aims to make sure that people’s everyday needs are within easy, safe walking distance of their homes: schools, shops, parks, good public transport and so on. 

Local, community-led planning, the principle at the heart of Local Place Plans, has also been around for many years.

What’s different and exciting now is that the Scottish Government is giving us stronger tools to turn these lofty aspirations into reality. 

The Scottish Government’s 2020-21 Programme for Government announced the ambition of ’20-minute neighbourhoods’, giving it that all-important stamp of authority.

I hope that will be backed up by the funding needed to invest in delivering them across Scotland – from making walking a genuinely attractive and comfortable choice in preference to jumping in the car for a five-minute journey, through to the location and design of new health centres and schools.  

But such neighbourhoods won’t happen overnight. They will take many years of investment so that shops, parks and all the other aspects of everyday life exist within a few minutes’ safe and easy walk.

Our job as planners is to work with communities, infrastructure providers, the NHS and other public services to make sure that we start now to plan that ‘walkable’ future pattern of education, work and infrastructure – whilst also co-ordinating relatively quick wins that can be delivered in just a few months, such as safer, cleaner and more pleasant walking routes to schools and shops.

Local Place Plans, meanwhile, will properly come on to the statute books over the next year or so.  They will provide communities and planners with a mechanism to work together to plan and deliver ’20-minute neighbourhoods’ on the ground: communities setting the aspirations, planners helping to work out how to turn them into reality, and everyone collaborating to deliver the goods. 

‘Collaboration’ is the key word here, and Local Place Plans will be the vital tool for that collaboration. 

Today’s reality is that, making our neighbourhoods the best they can be is neither top-down nor bottom-up, but a meeting of minds.

Communities can tap into funding that local authority planners cannot access, have local knowledge, and have or can develop capacity (with the right support) to make things happen.

Planners bring the vital links to other departments, agendas and organisations that help to navigate the system and turn community aspirations into reality.

This isn’t pie in the sky.

I’ve seen it work with my own eyes at Foxbar, in Paisley, for example, on a pilot Local Place Plan prepared by the local community and the local authority.

Two years after the plan was prepared, the community aspirations in that plan are now being delivered, collaboratively, from quick wins – like land for community food growing – to longer-term ambitions like redeveloping historic vacant sites for the right kind of housing, locally.

Scotland has lots of other examples of successful, collaborative, community-led planning.

I see ’20-minute neighbourhoods’ and Local Place Plans as two sides of the same coin: the former describes what we’re aiming for and gives it national priority, whilst Local Place Plans enable it to be tailored and delivered at the local level.

Both are about making our everyday neighbourhoods better and healthier places to live and work, with all our day-to-day needs on tap. That’s good for health and wellbeing, for reducing carbon emissions, for the future of our communities, for post-COVID recovery.

Of course, resources will be needed for communities, planners and everybody else involved to make the most of the potential opportunities that Local Place Plans and ’20-minute neighbourhoods’, by investing in planning and delivery, on the ground. 

So let’s secure those resources – keeping our eye on the prize of healthier, ‘greener’ communities across Scotland. 

On January 26 2021, RTPI Scotland published its manifesto, ahead of the Scottish Parliament elections, scheduled for later in the year.

You’ll not be surprised by its contents…

Nick Wright MRTPI has worked in Scottish planning for 30 years: in local authorities, the voluntary sector and, for the last 15 years, as an independent practitioner (https://nickwrightplanning.co.uk). His interest in community-led planning stems from two years working in Jakarta, Indonesia, in the mid-1990s to design and deliver community-led housing. Nick was convenor of RTPI Scotland in 2016.

A version of this article appeared on the website of the RTPI (here), for which kind thanks.

Photo: Morningside, Edinburgh. Picture credit: PlaceDesignScotland

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