nick wright planning


Delivering NPF4 through mixed use placemaking

By Nick Wright on February 28, 2023
culture change

Urban designer Paul Morsley of Iglu Studio, development economist Steven Tolson and land-use planner Nick Wright summarise their work on the public sector’s role in delivering NPF4, commissioned by Scottish Enterprise after draft NPF4 was published in late 2021. 

The changing context

Achieving zero, improving health and wellbeing, and creating a fairer and greener economy are established objectives enshrined in the Scottish Government’s current Programme for Government.  NPF4 now provides a spatial framework for more sustainable, liveable and productive places that deliver those objectives.  Delivery and productivity are clearly priorities: the Ministerial Foreword to NPF4 highlights planning’s critical role in delivering the National Strategy for Economic Transformation and community wealth-building.  
"As a country we will be judged on the outcomes we deliver, not the strategy we write.  Words and intentions matter, but only actions deliver change."  (Kate Forbes MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy, Foreword to the National Strategy for Economic Transformation, February 2022)
Meanwhile, the Place Principle has been adopted by the Scottish Government and COSLA as a more collaborative place-based approach to achieve better outcomes for people and communities.  It is linked to substantial amounts of funding, including the five year £325 million Place-Based Investment Programme unveiled in 2021 - although the implications of recent economic upheavals for other aspects of public spending are still being worked through.

What does this changing context mean for property-led regeneration?  

Property-led regeneration

Regeneration is ultimately about people, but a big component of regeneration activity is inevitably about land and property - because of the need to tackle the country’s legacy of vacant and derelict land and to deliver NPF4’s new 20 Minute Neighbourhood aspirations.  Delivering on these will involve considerable investment in buildings and infrastructure throughout Scotland, to reduce the negative impact of vacancy and dereliction and to create mixed-use neighbourhoods where daily needs are satisfied locally.

Scotland has a long and proud history of public sector investment in property-led regeneration, focussing on areas of market failure where the private sector alone cannot deliver what is needed.  Examples span the country from Clydebank Re-built, Glasgow’s Merchant City and Clyde Gateway in the west, to Edinburgh’s Craigmillar and Dundee Waterfront in the east, and many more besides.  In recent years, these public sector initiatives have been complemented by successful community-led projects focussing on individual sites and buildings, as evidenced by the annual SURF awards

The question is: how might property-led regeneration be designed and delivered in the future, in the context of the wide-ranging benefits required by NPF4 and the National Strategy for Economic Transformation? And what should the public sector do to steer, stimulate and secure that kind of regeneration?

The role of the public sector 

Experience over many decades suggests that the market will not deliver the quantity and quality of property-led regeneration required to implement government policy aspirations without a proactive public sector. 

With a third of the Scottish population living within 500 metres of a vacant or derelict site (data from the Scottish Land Commission), it is clear that too much land languishes undeveloped for too long and fails to deliver its potential. 

We need more mixed-use places where our daily needs are met close to where we live, ‘20 Minute Neighbourhood’ style.  That will need designing new development differently, and adaptation of the existing neighbourhoods that the vast majority of us live in.

Mixed-use neighbourhoods of the type envisaged in NPF4 are much more challenging to deliver than traditional mono-use development, because they need a range of different activities, infrastructure, services, facilities and greenspace to be integrated from the outset. A token shop under an apartment block will not deliver the holistic vision of NPF4.  Not only do people need to be able to easily walk and cycle to that shop, but they also need all their other daily needs to be locally accessible, from jobs, childcare and heathcare to green spaces (see NPF4 Policy 15).  That needs planning, partners and collaboration.

Collaborating to deliver

“Delivery of NPF4 is not the sole responsibility of one organisation or sector. Implementation of the proposed actions will support leadership and collaborative working across national and local government, regional bodies, key agencies, businesses, voluntary organisations and communities throughout Scotland. It will also be important to build synergies between investors, recognising the benefits of joint working towards common goals.” (NPF4 Delivery Programme, November 2022, page 2)
Delivering the government’s ambitions will require public bodies in particular to change their operational processes and the way they create, organise and invest in property and places, including how they collaborate with the private sector.
“We face significant challenges, fiscal, demographic and socio-economic and it’s clear that more of the same won’t do. We need to adopt a more common-sense approach that focuses on what is important: people and communities. To maximise the impact of our combined resources we must work better together.”  (Our Place website, Scottish Government, 2022)
Developers are unlikely to lead the way, particularly in areas of lower value properties.  Investment will need champions, promoters and a coalition of supporters, as described by David Adams and Steve Tiesdell in their 2012 book “Shaping Places: Urban Planning, Design and Development”.  This is where the public sector needs to step in.

To deliver the promise of NPF4 and the National Strategy for Economic Transformation, the public sector must not only create the right policy and guidance framework (now in place thanks to NPF4), but also lead proactively as co-investor and co-creator - exactly as envisaged in the Place Principle.  Without the public sector taking that lead role, the government’s place-related agendas simply will not be delivered.
“In the next decade, we face a choice to either lead or to lag behind other successful economies all whilst we recover from Covid, deliver net zero, tackle structural inequalities and grow our economy.  We choose to lead.”  (Kate Forbes MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy, Foreword to the National Strategy for Economic Transformation, February 2022)
So, how exactly should the public sector lead collaborative mixed-use development, as part of a place-based approach to achieving zero, improving health and wellbeing, and creating a fairer and greener economy? Again, NPF4 signals the way forward:
“NPF4 supports alignment of multidisciplinary and cross-sector priorities, with the goal of facilitating delivery of the places that Scotland needs to be successful. Rooted in the Place Principle, it provides a framework for choreographing sectoral strategies and funding programmes, so that different parts of the public sector are progressing in the same direction towards shared goals.” (NPF4 Delivery Programme, November 2022, page 20)
The Scottish Futures Trust produced a Place Guide in November 2021 as an introductory guide for those in the public sector making decisions on investment in services and capital projects.  This was followed by case study research and literature review in April 2022, intended to help decision makers embed place-based principles in their thinking.  Architecture & Design Scotland have also published information to support placemaking and place-based approaches, such as Designing for a Changing Climate: Carbon Conscious Places (2020). 

A fresh approach

That work by Scottish Futures Trust and Architecture & Design Scotland is a platform to build on, but more is needed. 

So, Scottish Enterprise, in their role as a fellow member of the Key Agencies Group, decided to commission independent analysis to understand what else needs to happen to stimulate property and infrastructure investment that will deliver NPF4.  They commissioned our team with experience covering development economics, urban design and stakeholder engagement.

Based on evidence and analysis, we came up with what we termed a fresh approach.  In reality, none of the specific recommendations are new: they are all tried and tested, but have simply not yet been brought together in a co-ordinated approach here in Scotland. Our main report, which reflects the adopted NPF4, brings everything together including:
  1. More detail on the economic and planning policy environment outlined above.  
  2. Analysis of the economic context (which is fleshed out in an additional more detailed background report).
  3. Case studies of nine Scottish and European examples of collaborative regeneration, drawing out key lessons for the public sector to take a lead role in planning, design and delivery within the context of NPF4.
  4. The fresh approach with specific guidance on use of statutory powers, investment tools, design and delivery.
  5. Illustrated examples of applying the guidance to major development sites in Stirling and Cumbernauld.
  6. Action checklists for different sectors to implement the fresh approach - public sector developers, private sector developers, local authorities and regulatory bodies.
Importantly, the fresh approach we’ve outlined brings together co-ordinated guidance on statutory powers, investment tools, design and delivery - rather than treating them each as separate silos.  All too often policymakers think about powers and policies, developers and financiers think about investment tools, designers think about design, and project managers think about delivery.  But what is needed is for leading public sector decision-makers to think across those silos and bring them, and their respective professionals, together. 

Our guidance on ‘the fresh approach’ falls into four areas in our report accompanying table summarises the guidance contained in the fresh approach; more detail on each element can be found in section 6 of the report.  Some of it may seem obvious if you are already expert in certain subjects, but the emphasis is on how to connect up all areas and all parties.  That is the challenge for the decision-makers. The four areas of guidance are:
  1. Use of Statutory Powers including national and local planning policies, statutory provisions for land assembly, master plan consent areas and fiscal measures etc. Such matters require a commitment of public sector resources, discretion around the micro detail of regulation, prioritising infrastructure investment that considers the long term framework for action, is located in the right place and in the appropriate built form.
  2. Having the right Investment Resource which includes public funds to enable policy outcomes to be delivered. This means the public sector acting as an investment stakeholder which is so important in delivering successful mixed use. Such investment is not just about physical measures such as infrastructure but also about stimulating employment opportunities, having flexibility to tailor funds for specific propositions, seeking synergistic benefits that can accrue from public private partnerships.
  3. Ensuring that Design Quality is at the forefront of both policy and investment that is focussed on net zero, bio-diversity and connectivity. All these are identified within the 6 place making qualities of the NPF4.
  4. Placing critical emphasis on Delivery. Policy is the start point but it is delivering ‘outcomes’ that is most important. This means a substantial commitment to leadership, collaboration and stewardship that goes well beyond the development period. Sustainable delivery is about the long term investment in places. The role of place investors includes business, community and citizen participation. These are the ultimate investors in place.

What might the result look like?

In the report, we illustrate the impact of this fresh approach to mixed use by applying the guidance to two major sites: Forthside in Stirling and Orchardton in Cumbernauld.  The graphics below (courtesy of Iglu studio) give you a taste of the Forthside example; check out section 7 of the report for more.

What next?

The key point of the fresh approach outlined in our report is that it is possible for Scotland to deliver the quality of development and depth of outcomes envisaged in NPF4, on a par with best practice anywhere in Europe.  The report is a step along the way to stimulate discussion, consensus and ultimately action about a practical way forward to deliver that objective. 

What needs to happen next to deliver NPF4 is for public sector partners to consider the content of this report and agree a collaborative way forward to implement the fresh approach that it describes, based on the roles for each player that are suggested in section 8.  That discussion needs to consider:
  • What actions are required to implement the fresh approach, and who should do what.
  • Who needs to be involved from beyond the public sector, including the private development and investment sectors, professional bodies and the third sector.
  • The resources that will be required: finance, capacity, skills and behaviours.
  • A route map for marshalling those resources and organisations to implement the fresh approach.
To read the full report, please visit this link (17mb PDF).  An earlier version of this article appeared on the BEFS blog on 16th February 2023.