Local Place Plans: why bother?
By Nick Wright
on August 05, 2023
Many local authorities are inviting local communities to prepare Local Place Plans. Planning Democracy kindly asked me to write this blog post for their website, to help community groups decide whether or not to bother - with a few useful tips thrown in along the way.
In the run-up to the 2019 Planning (Scotland) Act, there was much scepticism about community-led Local Place Plans. Many people who wanted Equal Rights of Appeal for local communities saw Local Place Plans as a poor substitute for a stronger community voice in planning decision-making.
Whatever the political motivation for introducing Local Place Plans, they are here to stay. Local authorities are starting to invite local communities to prepare Local Place Plans, as required by the 2019 Planning Act. Countless communities across the country have started work on plans, and some early adopters have already had their Plans registered.
Should you take the plunge?
Only your community can decide whether to invest your time, energy and money in making a Local Place Plan. I can’t make that decision for you, but I can flag up what to think about in making the decision.
Your starting point should be to look at section 1 of the Scottish Government’s draft How To Guide for Local Place Plans and Paul Ede’s presentation at the start of the SURF People in Place Network meeting 10 on 27th July 2023.
Those two links will help you think through questions that might affect your decision whether to take the plunge. For example:
How much time will it take? My experience is that you should expect it to take at least six months to prepare a plan, not least because good community engagement takes time. If you need to secure funding or support, you’ll need to add in preparatory time to get you to the starting line.
What are the costs? You’ll need a few hundred pounds to cover printing and venue costs relating to community engagement (e.g. posters, surveys, space and refreshments for events). Beyond that, the cost depends entirely on how much of the community engagement and plan preparation you want to do yourselves. Some communities, like Callander do everything themselves. But most buy in some external support, usually to provide extra capacity and/or impartial facilitation. If you just want to buy support for specific tasks, you might spend a couple of thousand pounds, maybe more depending on what you need. To buy in paid support to facilitate the whole process and produce the plan, I suggest you budget between £10,000 and £20,000. Some plans have cost substantially more than that and provide more detailed content, for example Wester Hailes; others could cost less and contain less detail. You should decide what’s right for your situation. And don’t forget that, in an ideal world, you would also have a budget ready to deliver what’s in the plan!
What else might your community get out of it? The headline reason for doing a Local Place Plan is to influence planning policy. But, as the government says, Local Place Plans are more than just a plan. Communities find that there are other potential benefits from making a community-led plan, including:
- Helping make the case for funding for community priorities – because inclusion of a project or priority in the plan demonstrates to funders that it has community support.
- Motivating and energising the local community – this applies particularly to volunteers like Community Councillors or people involved in specific groups, who can get renewed energy from being involved a Local Place Plan. Sometimes it can bring new volunteers too.
- Enabling local folk to meet new people and make new connections.
- Building relationships between your community and your local authority or other organisations, which can help to open doors and make things happen.
That said, it’s important to make an informed decision about whether to embark on a Local Place Plan. That means weighing up the pros and cons. For example, people might come together and forge new relationships, but they might also fall out with each other; that can get messy with strong personalities and entrenched views. You might have limited resources and have to weight up how to split those between projects that are in immediate need and long term planning. And, whilst your plan could help your community get resources to deliver projects or change planning policy, you might invest all that time and energy for seemingly little return.
One of the problems facing communities is that there is no guarantee that their Plan will make it into planning policy (which is contained in the Local Development Plan, prepared by the local authority or National Park). That is because, once Local Place Plans are registered by the community’s local authority or National Park, the government says that “they are to be taken into account in preparing its Local Development Plan” (Planning Circular 1/2022: Local Place Plans, paragraph 10). That wording is important: it means that there is no obligation on planning authorities simply to incorporate Local Place Plans into their Local Development Plans. So, even if communities go through the hard work of producing a Local Place Plan and getting it registered, they won’t necessarily get what they want.
Don’t forget to check out the draft How To Guide and Paul Ede’s presentation at the start of the SURF meeting ten video recording to help you weigh up these and other pros and cons.
Making the most of the opportunity
Let’s say you decide to take the plunge and make a Local Place Plan. How can you make the most of this opportunity to influence local authorities and planning policy?
I believe the job of a Local Place Plan is to put forward the community’s agenda in the context of overall public policy aims (like climate change, health and wellbeing, and social inclusion) – not to translate the details of public policy into a local community plan. An essential purpose of Local Place Plans is to challenge and bring the local perspective to the next generation of Local Development Plans and wider public policy (even including NPF5 in due course!).
To achieve that, I’d suggest that any community should make sure its Local Place Plan does two things:
1. Represent your whole community. Make sure that the way you prepare your Local Place Plan is not open to challenge, and particularly that you make every effort to give everybody in your local community the opportunity to be involved. This isn’t easy, especially if there are disagreements There is lots of advice on how to do this in the Scottish Government’s draft How To Guide on Local Place Plans (scroll down on that webpage to see the guide).
Even if you think you know what your community wants, don’t miss out the crucial step of asking the wider community what they want. If you fail to do that, the whole basis of your plan will be open to question. That means you’ll be on the back foot defending your plan, rather than on the front foot implementing it.
2. Don’t miss the boat! Remember, Local Development Plans will now only be produced every 10 years. Pay close attention to your local authority’s ‘Local Development Plan Scheme’, which is updated annually and says when local communities will be invited to prepare Local Place Plans. Here’s what the Scottish Government’s Local Development Planning Guidance has to say about this issue:
“Community bodies can prepare LPPs for their area at any time, including in advance of the invitation to do so. However they should be aware that outwith the timeframe provided by the planning authority in the invitation the assistance for the preparation of them may not be available and the opportunity to be taken into account in preparing the LDP will diminish as work to prepare the plan progresses.” (Annex B, paragraph 11)
Clearly, you’ll have the greatest chance of influencing planning policy at the start of preparing a new Local Development Plan, when the invitation to prepare Local Place Plans is issued. Nobody yet knows for certain how Local Place Plans prepared after Local Development Plans have been written might be able to influence planning policy. It’s a new system and that simply hasn’t been worked out yet.
Now let’s look in a little more detail at what the new crop of Local Place Plans look like, drawing out some lessons from urban and rural plans that I hope will help your community to make its plans as effective as they can be.
Let’s look at four urban Local Place Plans: Ferguslie Park (Paisley), Foxbar (Paisley), Kinning Park (Glasgow) and Wester Hailes (Edinburgh). Each contains a range of proposals, but they all share three fundamental attributes.
Firstly, each plan covers an identifiable local neighbourhood. That reflects good practice of local communities themselves deciding the extent of the plan, rather than having it imposed on them (see section 1 of the draft How To Guide). That works well for identifiable neighbourhoods, like the four mentioned in the previous paragraph. One question for the future is how that approach will work in town and city centres, areas that are home not only to residents but have a greater presence of businesses and other organisations and are used by large numbers of people who live elsewhere.
Secondly, the plans cover a range of initiatives, not only proposals related to planning policy. Across the four plans, you will find proposals that are related to planning policy (such as revitalising long derelict sites with new development or community food growing) alongside a range of other “non-planning” initiatives like community gala days, cycling routes, improvements to front gardens, community hubs, arts projects and many others. Each plan represents a community agenda for the future which goes beyond planning policy, to be delivered through community and local authority action, and also contributing to bigger government agendas of climate change, health and wellbeing, and equality/inclusion.
Thirdly, each plan has an overarching vision or set of objectives for their local community which acts as a framework for the content of the plan. This is significant, because it allows the plan to demonstrate how they address established government priorities like climate change, improving health and wellbeing, and equality/inclusion. That’s what Local Development Plans have to do, so you’re more likely to get what your community wants if you do it too.
For me, this is about thinking how your plan’s vision and objectives can be framed in the language of the National Performance Framework and the National Planning Framework (two different documents!), plus also the Place Standard.
For example, if you produce a plan that encourages more car use or suggests putting new development in locations that flood or are a long way from facilities or public transport, you would find it difficult to get support from authorities because . But if you frame your plan in terms of a government policy like 20 Minutes Neighbourhoods and Local Living for example, as do the Local Place Plans for Kinning Park, Wester Hailes and Ferguslie Park, you’re more likely to get a good hearing.
Don’t feel that you need to familiarise yourself with every detail of relevant local and national policy and reflect them all in your Local Place Plan.
Let’s turn now to rural communities. A good place to look is Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, where Local Place Plans produced by four very different communities have recently been registered by the planning authority:
- Arrochar, Tarbet and Ardlui – focussing on the twin villages of Arrochar and Tarbet which are blighted by derelict sites and buildings, a lack of housing for locals and workers, and heavy trunk road traffic through the villages.
- Callander – a small town in a beautiful landscape setting which is a hub for local services, but with scant transport links and career opportunities.
- Drymen – a growing village which is in commuting distance of the Central Belt whilst also the visitor gateway to East Loch Lomond and the first overnight stop on the West Highland Way.
- Luss and Arden – Luss, a conservation village on the banks of Loch Lomond, faces challenges not only from a huge seasonal influx of visitors but also declining community facilities and services.
Although facing some similar issues, each community is unique, as their plans illustrate. Their plans are unique too. In Callander and Drymen the communities themselves prepared the plans, whilst Arrochar/Tarbet and Luss employed external facilitators to help. All four received financial and in-kind assistance from the National Park as planning authority.
What lessons can we draw from these four plans for other communities?
Firstly, each contains a vision or set of objectives as a framework for their proposals. As with the urban examples mentioned above, this enables the plans to demonstrate how they ‘fit’ with established government agendas like tackling climate change, promoting sustainable transport, addressing rural population decline, supporting community empowerment, and working collaboratively to deliver place-based change. That makes it more likely that local and national government will support delivery of the plans.
Secondly, the plans are presented in different ways. Callander is beautifully written and presented, a traditional plan document which is a joy to read. Drymen, Luss and Arrochar/Tarbet opt for more graphic formats, with mini action plans for each main theme like housing, climate change and getting about. All are exemplary, and demonstrate that there is no right or wrong way to produce a plan.
Thirdly, it is striking how common themes occur in all four of these rural plans, including:
- The need for more homes that are affordable for local people.
- Getting about on foot, by bike and by public transport, both within communities and to reach opportunities and services elsewhere.
- Access to community services and facilities like shopping and health facilities.
- Building the local community’s capacity and ability to take action themselves on these and other issues.
If you’re familiar with rural communities, these themes will come as no surprise; they are common in Community Action Plans and Local Place Plans across rural Scotland. As more Local Place Plans are registered over the next couple of years, it will be interesting to see how common aspirations can be brought together as an evidence base to inform policy and investment by local and national government in rural housing, transport, services and community empowerment. This may also apply to urban Local Place Plans, of course.
It’s early days in the evolution of Local Place Plans. Time will tell how the eight plans referred to above will influence Local Development Plans, or indeed wider investment or services. Personally, I’m most optimistic for those communities where the local authority or National Park were proactive in supporting preparation of the plans. Those investments of time and money suggest that the public sector is more likely to try to implement what the plans contain.
If you’re thinking of taking the plunge and preparing a Local Place Plan, think carefully first about why you want to do it and the balance between risk and reward. Go in with your eyes open.
Practice is likely to evolve rapidly in the next couple of years as more communities prepare Local Place Plans, and local authorities get to grips with them (developing the suggestions put forward by the Scottish Government in Annex B of their 2023 Local Development Plan Guidance). I’m looking forward to seeing how communities and the public sector develop new ways of using Local Place Plans to make better places.