The polymath and visionary, Patrick Geddes, is widely acknowledged as the founding father of what now passes for Scotland’s planning system. One wonders what he might make of it all, if he were around today. His holistic philosophy and renowned focus on the interconnectedness of Place, Work and Folk convinces me that he was instinctively a bottom-up, evolutionary planner, one who trusted the wisdom of local people. Today’s planning system however, seems wholly devoid of trust – on all sides. And yet there’s increasing evidence to suggest that building trust is key to changing behaviour and organisational culture. Companies where workers agree their own wages and decide who gets to be promoted; universities where students set their own tuition fees; and restaurants where customers pay only what they judge to be fair. All real-life examples, and growing in number across the developed world, of organisations seeking to transform themselves simply by trusting their key stakeholders to do the right thing. Unfortunately, in the current climate it is inconceivable that today’s planners and developers would ever concede that much ground – trust seems to be anathema in the planning system. Let’s have a return to Place, Work but with renewed emphasis on Folk.
In the most recent briefing…
Highlands and Islands Enterprise gave itself a well-deserved pat on the back last month with a conference celebrating 50 years of strengthening communities and of helping many to become landowners along the way. With many of the original pioneers of the community land movement no longer with us, Sandra Holmes of the Community Assets team had commissioned a short film, drawing on HIE’s film archives to place on record this remarkable story. And balancing up this retrospective of community landownership, Dr Calum MacLeod presented a paper at the conference which speculated on what the future might hold.
Last month saw the launch of The Scottish Alliance for People and Places. SAPP offers an intriguing insight into the mind-set that seems to be prevalent across Scotland’s planning system. Intriguing because while one of the stated aims of SAPP is to have a planning system that ‘empowers and inspires communities’ as well as ‘engaging with communities’, there’s a conspicuous absence of any community representation within its membership. Indeed, it’s not immediately obvious from their website whether anyone else is able to join. So I asked, and this was the not-very-encouraging response.
For the past six years, often under the radar of the national press, a fierce grass root campaign of opposition has been waged against the very organised and well-resourced lobbying of the fracking industry. Community groups from all over the country have come together under the Broad Alliance and, with support from a range of national and regional civic organisations, have maintained constant pressure on the Scottish Government to hold its stated position that fracking will not be allowed unless the case for it can be made beyond any doubt. Looks like a famous victory has been won.
Scotland’s credit union sector has its origins in the Irish movement where three community activists from Dublin back in the 1950’s saw the value of financial self-help in the face of high unemployment and fragile state benefits. The impact that this was having in Ireland came to the attention of a Drumchapel resident, Bert Mullen, who founded Scotland’s first credit union in 1970. Bert is still remembered by his credit union colleagues across Scotland with the biannual Bert Mullen Lecture. Always delivered by a top-notch raconteur, this year is no exception with Stuart Cosgrove in the hot seat.
It’s more than six years since the Association for Scottish Community Councils pulled the plug on itself and left Scotland’s 1200+ community councils without any kind of supporting infrastructure or collective voice. In its absence, community councils in some parts of the country have self-organised themselves into local associations or regional networks and the Improvement Service has been charged with administering a website. All of which is fine, but if we’re going to be serious about CCs going forward, perhaps we need something akin to what parish councils have in England – a kind of COSLA for hyper local democracy.
The Scottish Land Commission came into being six months ago and has spent much of that time out on the road engaging with its stakeholders around what is undoubtedly a contested area of public policy. Last week, the Commission held its first conference and published its 3 year strategic plan and the Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement – both key documents in shaping its future work. Any concerns that momentum behind the land reform agenda might ease up now that the Commission is in place were quickly dispelled by Cab Sec Roseanna Cunningham’s speech in which she promised much more was to come.
It looks almost certain that the forthcoming Planning Bill will include some kind of new community right to plan. But what that actually means and how much status will be accorded to these local place plans is very much an open question. There’s already a lot of this kind of activity underway and there’s a need to ensure consistency of approach across the country. New funding from Scottish Government for this work is to be welcomed but we need to make sure it is joined up and in line with what’s already happening elsewhere.
It’s always interesting to observe the trajectory of new policy ideas as they move from the outer reaches of public awareness into the mainstream of government thinking. The Universal Basic Income or Citizen’s Income is an example. After some encouraging pilot projects in different countries, and with some organised lobbying beginning to take root in Scotland, gradually support and interest has grown (for different reasons) across the political spectrum. And now, most recently the concept has appeared in the current programme for government. All still at an exploratory stage, but encouraging how quickly this has all happened.