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15/09/2017

World class planning? Not at this rate, Scotland

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Scotland can't afford to ignore the link between planning and public health - or the need to embed democracy into planning - as it reviews its planning system, argues Monica Lennon

Pledging to lead a country and make it the best place for children to grow up is a gutsy and bold commitment. It is a long-term project that must stand up to international scrutiny, and few would dare to make the claim in the first place. Except the Scottish Government has.

As an opposition MSP, I’m not afraid to say I share this ambition to make Scotland a more successful country in every sense.

The planner in me, however, needs to see a convincing ‘best in the world’ blueprint.

A planning bill at Holyrood later this year will put the placemaking prowess of Scottish ministers under the microscope. Is Scotland on track to be the best of the best? The patriotic Scot in me would love to say “Aye!” But the evidence screams “No!”

A world-class country needs a world-class planning system. You can’t achieve that by writing off planners. Someone in the Scottish Government has to see sense and reverse the shrinking of the planning workforce.

"There's no spotlight on the relationship between planning and health inequalities. That's a travesty"

What has been trailed so far appears underwhelming; a planning bill devoid of radical action on placemaking and no serious attempt to connect planning to the public health agenda.

Recent figures reveal that deaths by suicide or linked to alcohol or drug harm increased in Scotland last year. And whether it’s mental health or housing or obesity, the term ‘crisis’ can be added without exaggeration. Everything is screaming out for a life-changing approach.

Planning has to influence every strategy and spending plan. This calls for bold action and public health must be embedded in any shake-up of planning. But there’s no spotlight on the relationship between planning and health inequalities. That’s a travesty.

The Scottish Government is taking positions on what it won’t do. It is not keen on a rights-based planning model where communities are equal to developers and has ruled out equal rights of appeal. SNP ministers swear by frontloading, but still too many people feel that planning is something that is done to them, rather than a process in which they have a real stake. For Scotland, the planning bill is a chance to engage with a growing planning democracy movement.

The nation of Patrick Geddes has puffed out its chest to the world and said “watch us become the best”. Planners in Scotland, don’t you feel it’s time to reclaim your place and bring your own placards to parliament? Ensure that Scotland has the planning system it desperately needs, not the one the Scottish Government is in danger of settling for.

Monica Lennon MSP MRTPI is a Labour Party member of the Scottish Parliament and a chartered town planner

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