Log in | Register

Nations & regions focus: Scotland

Words: The Planner
Dundee waterfront

A snapshot of planning in Scotland, looking at key planning themes, major projects, skills requirements and RTPI activities.

In planning terms, as politically, Scotland is a nation in flux. Its planning system is undergoing a comprehensive review, with significant changes proposed to policy. 

A reappraisal of the national transport strategy is pending. A draft climate change plan has been published and a draft energy strategy, which together create ambitious targets for renewables, transport and energy delivery.

There is a consultation on fracking and considerable debate over the use and ownership of land, embodied within the Community Empowerment Act 2015 and the Land Reform Act 2016. These have the potential to reconfigure the relationship between Scotland’s citizens and its land. 

This is famously spectacular. Scotland is home to mountain wilderness, glacial glens and lochs, a rich marine ecosystem and two national parks. Its cities and industrial areas, too, boast a legacy of built heritage that is at risk as traditional industries decline and new ones rise.

"Large regeneration projects are giving former industrial areas a fresh identity: Dundee waterfront, home to the new V&A Museum, is perhaps the most eye-catching"

Large regeneration projects are giving former industrial areas a fresh identity: Dundee waterfront (pictured, top), home to the new V&A Museum, is perhaps the most eye-catching. The Clyde in Glasgow, formerly home to the shipbuilding industry, is seeing massive urban regeneration.

There are more projects across the country as Scotland’s cities – all at various stages of negotiating city deals – discover a new sense of purpose. Even the islands are pondering a devolutionary deal and lobbying for the Crown Estate’s powers.

Such activity reflects a nation coming to terms with the contemporary challenges of devolution, population growth (at a historic high of 5.2 million), housing shortages, ageing infrastructure, climate change and – above all – the need to sensitively balance new development with a rich built and natural heritage. 

Interview: Reforming zeal


Bob Reid is a planner and land reformer who advised the Scottish Government’s independent Land Reform Review Group from 2012-14.

Why is land reform such a strong theme in Scottish planning?

“We’ve got this very strange proportion of 432 people owning over half of Scotland. So few people own so much. Is that right or wrong? What should we do about it?

“In 2014 I was on the team that wrote The Land of Scotland. As an upshot there was a new Land Reform Act in 2016. What it covered was predominantly rural issues, such as farm tenures – not really the bread and butter of planning. But a substantial part of the group were looking at planning faultlines. What can land reform do to help take on other agendas?”

Such as?

“Is there something we could use under the land reform banner that might make it feasible for us to procure housing and new towns even. That’s roughly where land reform is relevant. Some of the provisions of the early new towns acts don’t necessarily exist [anymore].”

Don’t planners already have these powers?

“The Land Reform Act is bedding in. But what there would need to be is a more progressive look at urban land reform that would bring forward new property law measures to assist the delivery of projects.

"If you look to the places on the lines that we want to create – such as Hammarby or Freiburg – what do they have in common?"

“So often you give something planning permission but you can't make it work. If you look to the places on the lines that we want to create – such as Hammarby or Freiburg – what do they have in common? All of the land in question came into public ownership prior to the development taking place.”

So land reform is about planning authorities assembling land?

“Land assembly and procurement. It’s to enable them to act as the master builder. That’s back to the housing crisis. If you really want to do this you need a process by which land comes into public or quasi-public ownership, that has some sort of impetus rather than manipulating house prices. It’s about sleeves rolled up and becoming the builder rather than being the regulator.”

Major projects

Clyde Gateway regeneration

Twenty-year renewal programme east of Glasgow, building on the Commonwealth Games legacy with business space, jobs, homes and community facilities in a historic shipbuilding area. Completed projects include the Clyde Gateway East Business Park and the conversion of the Games athletes’ village into a residential area.


Dundee waterfront

A  £1 billion regeneration project to revive the city’s relationship with the River Tay waterfront. Over 30 years, an 8km stretch of riverside will be transformed with parkland, business space, retail and leisure developments, a railway station, hotels, parkland, homes and the new V&A Museum.


A9 dualling, Perth-Inverness

£3 billion project to upgrade 80 miles of single carriageway on Scotland’s longest trunk road between Perth in central Scotland and Inverness, the ‘capital’ of the Highlands. See also: Aberdeen city centre masterplan, River Forth Queensferry Crossing, Central Scotland Green Network.


Valuable skills


A growing population puts housing firmly on the agenda. The Scottish government anticipates a rise of 300,000 households to 2039. A key requirement is for planners with knowledge of the mechanics of housing markets who can marry demand with supply where homes are needed most.

Linked to this, infrastructure planners will be highly employable in coming years - particularly in renewable energy, where Scotland leads the UK.

Scotland's strong maritime culture means planners who specialise in marine environments and industries are valued. This is not least the case around the Islands, which are hoping to acquire the powers of the Crown Estate, and in the Moray Firth, where planned wind farms will provide power to a million homes.

Find planning jobs in Scotland on Planner Jobs

Recent successes

Saltcoats Town Hall, North Ayrshire

£3.77 million refurbishment of the grade B listed town hall to restore it to the civic focal point of Saltcoats. The work, part-funded by Historic Scotland, included new shop fronts to provide a unified aspect, new reception area and detailed restoration of the main hall. Shortlisted for 2017 RTPI Excellence in Planning for Built Heritage award.

Laurieston Transformational Regeneration Area

Return to a more traditional style of Glasgow housing following the demolition of four mid-20th century high-rises in the Gorbals area. Contemporary tenement form, with a wide variety of energy-efficient housing, courtyards and a wide central street emphasising walking. All homes are energy efficient. Shortlisted for 2016 RTPI Excellence in Planning to Deliver Housing award.

Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters marine spatial plan

A pilot project to support sustainable management of the seas around Orkney, balancing needs of local communities and marine economy with environmental protection. This plan aims to put in place a policy framework in advance of statutory regional marine planning to support sustainable decision-making on marine use and management. Shortlisted for 2017 RTPI award for Excellence in Plan Making Practice.

Barrhead Waterworks, East Renfrewshire

Transformation of an old sewage works into an industrial wildlife garden on derelict land. Led by the community, it focuses on learning, volunteering, recreation, health and biodiversity. Winner of Scottish Government Quality in Planning award in 2015.



RTPI Scotland is run by a staff of four, including a director (Craig McLaren). Its work is managed through a 25-strong executive committee that covers all regions and includes student and young planner representatives. RTPI Scotland is heavily involved in policymaking and research in Scottish planning, and published 17 papers in 2016.

Nations & Regions Focus