Petra Biberbach of Planning Advice Scotland (PAS) on why the collaborative approach of a project in Orkney shows the way forward for communities
We may not always think about it, but the places in which we live and work, where we avail of public services, where we build our relationships and simply live our lives, are crucial to our social, economic, physical and mental wellbeing.
Our communities, whether urban, rural or island, form an integral part of the fabric of our everyday lives.
It follows, therefore, that communities must be involved in planning the future of their places and those plans should reflect what they want to see.
Presently, our current planning system is not as inclusive as it could be. It does not inspire the levels of civic participation we should be aspiring to as a forward looking, modern country.
Many groups in society, especially those who traditionally face barriers to participation, such as people living in socially disadvantaged areas, young people, travelling communities, are barely aware that there is a planning system, let alone know how to make their voices heard within it.
We must be aspiring to a system which is truly inclusive, collaborative, positive and innovatePetra Biberbach
At PAS, it is our mission to work with local communities across Scotland to empower and enable them to be truly active participants in their places.
Through our different services we are able to work with all communities thanks to our large network of volunteers - 20% of planning professionals volunteer for PAS.
Before Christmas, the Scottish Government introduced a new planning bill to the Scottish Parliament. This legislation is the result of a lengthy review process, which began with an independent review of the planning system, of which I was a member, and a series of consultations.
This bill is an important opportunity to drastically improve how we engage local communities in planning for what they want to see for their places, rather than simply objecting to what they don’t want to see.
We must be aspiring to a system which is truly inclusive, collaborative, positive and innovate. We need a transformational culture shift which goes beyond any legislation, and reaches out to communities to convey the importance of good places to their everyday lives and inspires them to participate.
Part of realising this culture change involves articulating what “good looks like”, and replicating it across Scotland and there are already excellent examples of how this can be achieved.
PAS is currently supporting Orkney Islands Council to deliver the Your Kirkwall project. Your Kirkwall is a series of community conversations and events where people are encouraged to come together to discuss and share ideas for the future of Kirkwall over the next 10-20 years – and help improve Kirkwall as a place to live, work and visit.
The project aims to involve everyone from residents, schools, community groups, local businesses, voluntary organisations, the council, and others.
It will feed into a community action plan and guide council planning / design / transportation policies for Kirkwall in the future.
Your Kirkwall is a glowing example of best practice in active citizenship through meaningful participation, and we must be aspiring for this to be the norm for communities all across Scotland.
Petra Biberbach is chief executive of PAS.