Blog: 13 October 2016Driving a National Vision: lessons we can learn from Scotland

Stephen Tucker

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Stephen Tucker

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Colleagues in England recently hosted a roundtable think tank discussion with industry experts to discuss the merits and opportunities a National Vision for England might offer. There, was, as you can imagine, strong feeling in the room around what it should and should not do. But there was a clear consensus that England needed more strategic direction from Government which goes beyond the scope of the National Infrastructure Commission, to help shape long term growth. The team in England are now looking to flesh out what that vision might look like.  

Interestingly Scotland (and Wales) already have Spatial Plans. There are lessons England can learn from our experience in Scotland. Today we are heading towards National Planning Framework (NPF) 4. With each iteration, the plan has evolved to become that little bit more detailed, so that today we have a national spatial vision and regional guidance, as well as drawing in major infrastructure projects along the way. 

In addition to this, the review of the Scottish planning system is well underway. It looks likely that NPF will play an increasingly important role. From the Planning Review workshops we’ve attended, it seems that NPF will be repurposed to set national and regional housing numbers. It will be required to identify the key locations for regional (not just national) growth and somehow incorporate the city region planning function. It will also be required to coordinate and direct the work of infrastructure providers. All of this will then be overseen by a management board with cross sectional membership that goes beyond Scottish Government employees.

All of this sounds great and perhaps just what England is after … but this is the fourth iteration of that framework and only now can I honestly say that the NPF is beginning to look like something I would call a ‘National Plan’. 

So if we want to do more than just an infrastructure plan in England, the process of evolution in Scotland that had led NPF4 is relevant. As with every plan, there will be challenges, but from my experience I think England needs to:

  • Ensure that enough resources and skills are available at a national level to drive the process establishing a dedicated and talented National Plan Vision team.
  • Secure interaction at a regional level (and with the Development Plan generally) as this is fundamental to success. Setting out timescales for that interaction is also key.
  • Establish how that vision will engage local communities in the preparation of a high level document - In Scotland there is currently a call for sites process, but they will have to expand that as the role of the NP4 evolves (and as it becomes a formal part of the Development Plan).
  • Establish how they will manage the sensitivities between the value of national planning and the interests of local democracy … ‘The Politics.’

Following Brexit, it is imperative that England (and Scotland) have clear direction that drives our long term future and sustainable economic growth.  

What the Scottish Government or their officials seem to have recognised, is that local politics was completely undermining the function and potential of regional planning. By lifting the responsibility for regional planning out of local government and into the NPF they are potentially removing the major barrier to proper impartial planning for growth. Whether this ambitious move survives intact as the review travels from a white paper towards legislation is another story.

But tell us what you think? Cast your vote in our poll and read the thinking behind the Vision so far here.

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