Vauban and Scottish Government policies

THE latest announcement from the Scottish Government that is about place design – ‘Regenerating the future of Scotland’s town centres’ (here) – has ‘Vauban’ written all over it.

Not literally, of course. But it might well have been.

Indeed, it’s quite possible that no Scottish Government announcement has ever explicitly mentioned arguably the ‘greenest’ district in probably the ‘greenest’ city (Freiburg) in Germany.

But if ever the Scottish Government were to permit (perhaps with the support of a low-cost loan) the building of a Scots version of Vauban, it would be making manifest several of its own policy commitments.

Vauban is recognised, the world over, for its radical approach to town and city design. Essentially car-free and committed to renewable energy generation, it is a former army barracks where plots of land were made available to small groups of households, to deliver their own housing.

A ‘helicopter’ view of Scottish Government policies pinpoints several elements that chime precisely with Vauban.

For instance, the pursuit of the so-called ’20-minute neighbourhood’, a concept that was specifically namechecked by First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, in the introduction to the 2020 edition of her ‘programme for government’ (here).

’20-minute neighbourhoods’ are simply about places where people don’t have to jump into a car, to fetch a pint of milk. In other words, a neighbourhood where life’s essentials – shops, education, recreation, health provision, etc – are all within an easy walk or cycle ride.

In ‘Regenerating the future of Scotland’s town centres’, while there is no actual mention of the ’20-minute neighbourhood’, you get the drift with one of the ambitions, stating: “[To] make town centre services as accessible as possible, to help reduce unnecessary car journeys and prevent climate change”.

The Scottish Government policy document that, arguably, corresponds most comprehensively with what Vauban symbolises is still in draft form – awaiting the results of a consultation exercise, then progress through the Scottish Parliament and, finally, approval from Scottish Government Ministers. 

It is the fourth edition of what’s called the ‘National Planning Framework’ (NPF) – here.

Designed to map out Scotland’s planning system until 2045, NPF4 – if approved – would become the statutory instrument directly influencing planning decisions at both national and local levels.

At the time of writing, the draft is peppered with all the aspirations that a Scots version of Vauban would encapsulate.

Its first objective is described in six parts: “Improving the health and wellbeing of our people; increasing the population of rural areas; meeting housing needs; improving equality and eliminating discrimination; meeting targets for emissions of greenhouse gases; and securing positive effects for biodiversity.”

The document formally begins: “The purpose of planning is to manage the development and use of land in the long-term public interest. The decisions we make today will have implications for future generations. Scotland in 2045 will be different. We must embrace and deliver radical change so we can tackle and adapt to climate change, restore biodiversity loss, improve health and wellbeing, build a wellbeing economy and create great places.

“We have set a target of net zero emissions by 2045, and must make significant progress towards this by 2030. This will require new development and infrastructure across Scotland.”

The document goes on to say: “Each part of Scotland can be planned and developed to create: sustainable places, where we reduce emissions and restore and better connect biodiversity; liveable places, where we can live better, healthier lives; productive places, where we have a greener, fairer and more inclusive wellbeing economy; and distinctive places, where we recognise and work with our assets.”

If that sounds like an invitation to the country to just get on with it, there are several other Scottish Government policies that point to a possible Vauban.

In April three years ago, the Scottish Government published information about the so-called ‘Place Principle’ (here), saying: “The principle was developed by partners in the public and private sectors, the third sector and communities, to help them develop a clear vision for their place. 

“It promotes a shared understanding of place, and the need to take a more collaborative approach to a place’s services and assets to achieve better outcomes for people and communities. The principle encourages and enables local flexibility to respond to issues and circumstances in different places.”

Then, a year later, the Scottish Government published ‘Scottish Planning Policy’ (here), outlining “national planning policies which reflect Scottish Ministers’ priorities for operation of the planning system and for the development1 and use of land”.

The document goes on to says that planning should “support development that is designed to a high-quality, which demonstrates the six qualities of successful place”, these being (1) distinctive, (2) safe and pleasant, (3) welcoming, (4) adaptable, (5) resource-efficient, and (6) easy to move around and beyond.

More recently, the Scottish Government has launched a dedicated ‘place’ website:

In January this year, government agency, Transport Scotland, outlined a ‘route map’ (here) to bring about a 20 per cent reduction in car kilometres by 2030.

A new, car-free town in Scotland might not make that much of a dent in the country’s overall emissions total; but it would be a dent, nevertheless.

Meanwhile, there is also ‘Housing to 2040’ (here), setting out “a vision for housing in Scotland to 2040 and a route map to get there” and backing for co-operatives (here), with Vauban-like community-led housing developments almost certainly fitting the bill.

Finally, it is understood that a new policy is to be soon added to the mix: so-called ‘Masterplan Consent Areas’, which would enable local authorities to be more ‘upfront’ about what they want from a site.

It’s a long list, maybe not exhaustive, but surely enough to place a ‘Scots Vauban’ squarely ‘on the table’.

Mike Wilson is a member of the Place Design Scotland team

Pictured: Vauban, 2010, Picture credit: Steven Tolson

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