RTPI Scotland has undertaken research on the links between spatial and community planning with a view to making recommendations on how they might be strengthened. A report on Phase 1 of the research was published in April. A workshop to inform the content of the Phase 2 report was held in Edinburgh on Thursday 18 June.
The fact that community planning is a statutory function in Scotland has saddled us with a corporate model of “community planning” which has its origins in the 1990s and is now some 20 years out of date. It sees community planning as being about public agencies working together to deliver better services for communities. The communities themselves are accorded only a passive role. In fairness, Scottish Government guidance and best practice have moved beyond that, but it remains a process concerned with better local governance rather than community empowerment.
While the RTPI Scotland research is concerned with the relationship between spatial and community planning rather than the reform or modernisation of community planning, I believe that we have to take cognisance of how thinking and community expectations have developed since the Local Government in Scotland Act 2003. The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill has just completed its passage through the Scottish Parliament and the Independence Referendum experience has contributed to the development of a more politically aware and engaged citizenry, ready to demand active involvement in service delivery and place-making. If we see the challenge only in terms of improving communication between spatial and community planners, we are in danger of simply making planners more complicit in a top-down and technocratic approach to community development which falls short of contemporary needs. We need to be prepared to challenge the model and insist that the empowerment of communities is a central element of our shared agenda.
It is good to see “community-led approaches” featuring in recommendation 9 of the report on Phase 1 of the RTPI Scotland research. It is to be hoped that this theme can be given greater prominence in Phase 2.
One excellent suggestion highlighted in the workshop is that in the preparation of development plans the traditional call for sites should be broadened to include a call for the identification of community assets.