For reasons best known to themselves, Scotland’s planning establishment has long taken the view that our planning system would be much enhanced if communities could just get themselves properly organised, have their say early on in the process but thereafter, keep well out of the way – leaving our planners and developers to get on with the job of delivering those much vaunted ‘great places’. Aside from revealing a streak of paternalism at the heart of the system, by any measure this approach has only ever served to alienate communities and stoke their resentment. Last Wednesday, MSPs were once again scrutinising the new Planning Bill, this time specifically debating how to address some of the long standing injustices that bedevil the system. Turning a proverbial blind eye, Scottish Government has pinned its colours to the mast of the status quo, sticking faithfully with the old mantra that has served communities so poorly for so long. But hope springs eternal. A consensus of sorts is beginning to emerge amongst the opposition parties that something must be done to strengthen the community’s hand in planning matters. This is a crucial test of community empowerment. Eventually, those with the power must loosen their grip.
In the most recent briefing…
For the past 10 years Community Energy Scotland has supported community groups to extract maximum benefit from the twists and turns of the UK Government’s energy policy and the vagaries of its subsidy regime. In amongst this work, CES helped to establish Community Energy Malawi. While the energy systems in both countries could not be more different, the principle of helping communities take control of their energy needs is identical. They have met some inspiring and ingenious people on their travels and none more so than a man called Corled Nkosi.
From a distance, it seems there’s a real struggle as to where the future of social housing should lie. In one corner sit the community led housing associations who seem to be under constant pressure from the housing regulator. In another corner there are the huge social housing providers, hungry to absorb small housing associations into their corporate empires. And now councils are getting back into business of building houses. But in this mad dash to meet national housing targets, let’s not forget that small scale, community providers often offer best all round value.
This year’s St Andrews Day has a new twist – we’re all being asked to offer some kindness to someone. What’s not to like about that? Coincidentally, Carnegie UK Trust have just published some research into how people from across the UK experience kindness both through their public services and in the places they live. Scotland scores highest of the home nations – apparently we like where we live largely because of the kindness that we experience there. I learnt a new word last week that seems to fit – we’re a nation of topophiliacs.
Scotland’s ski industry never seems very far from a crisis. If it’s not the warm wet winters failing to put that solid base-layer of snow on the slopes, there’s always the aging infrastructure that lifts the thousands of skiers to the mountain tops. But for all that, skiing is still big business. And nowhere more so than in Aviemore, where a good season is worth £10m to the Speyside economy. Reports that the future viability of the resort is in jeopardy have galvanised the community and what would be the biggest and most complex buy-out yet is being planned.
Finland has a reputation for being a bit of a pathfinder nation. Its education system consistently heads the global league tables, it has taken a lead in trialling different approaches to introducing the basic income and now it seems to be breaking new ground in the fields of participatory and direct democracy. In a departure from the standard legislative process, the Finnish Government have crowd sourced new environmental legislation. The lessons learned might be of some assistance to Scottish Government and COSLA as they feel their way through the next stage of the Local Governance Review.
The proliferation of food banks and their gradual acceptance as the new normal for communities has pushed food poverty up the political agenda – it’s estimated that up to four million people in the UK regularly experience going without food for a day. But many believe the ‘food agenda’ needs to be much more than simply ensuring that no one should be hungry. Scottish Food Coalition are leading the charge to make Scotland. Excellent article by Pete Ritchie of Nourish Scotland, in which he places food poverty in the wider context of tackling inequalities.
When a question is asked, answers tend to follow. The five questions posed by Democracy Matters are intended to gauge the appetite for change and for taking decision making down to a community level. The Common Weal – one of Scotland’s very few think tanks – were always going to respond. What was a surprise perhaps, was detail of their response. Their proposal for a new democratic form, the, will no doubt be chewed over as part of the next phase of Democracy Matters which kicks off this month. A unique chance to shape the future governance of Scotland beckons.
In recent months, much policy and press attention has been paid to how landowners engage with the communities that live on their land. The common assumption is that these are all private landowners – absentee or otherwise – who now are required to have much more regard for how they communicate with the communities affected by their decisions. But there are other types of landowner such as the environmental NGOs, many of whom have mission statements or memberships with interests that could easily rub communities up the wrong way. Interesting piece of research just published.