Enabling communities to plan their own future

Everyone knows that where you live has a major impact on your life chances and that disadvantage is concentrated in particular geographies.

Charles Booth’s famous poverty maps of London were prepared in 1889. In Scotland, we’ve had decades of high quality research by places like the Glasgow Centre for Population Health (GCPH) into the impact that Glasgow’s industrial heritage and clusters of poverty and deprivation have on people’s health and life chances.

This is important information, affecting individuals and communities day in and day out across Scotland. Tackling the root causes of what drives these cycles of deprivation and poor outcomes is one of the country’s most pressing problems if it wants to create a fair and just society.

That’s why the Improvement Service ran a recent conference exploring the links between community planning – public bodies working with communities to improve their local area – and spatial planning, which has traditionally been about buildings and infrastructure. The conclusion from the event was that while these two activities have lots in common they’ve traditionally worked quite separately from each other.

As budgets reduce that’s just not sustainable, and in the context of the Community Empowerment legislation, local people need to have more of a say in how their area should be developed and improved. We echoed that message in our third update report on Community Planning in Scotland, recommending that the Scottish Government and CPPs (Community Planning Partnerships) ensure communities are given a strong voice in planning local services.

David Martin, chief executive of Dundee City Council, and Colin Mair, his opposite number at the Improvement Service, didn’t shy away from challenging planners of every stripe to really push the envelope and be ambitious in working together to address shared concerns around Jobs, Community Safety, Health and Well-being.

Shared intelligence – not rocket science

For me, it was a lightbulb moment. Obviously councils need local development plans. They also need a Single Outcome Agreement and locality plans, plus lots of other plans and strategies but streamlining and aligning activity has to make sense. So does making better use of the shared intelligence that community planners and spatial planners have about the needs and concerns of local communities.

Some places such as East Ayrshire already do this. They use their Community Plan as the sovereign document which drives everything that they do (including their work with partners). But for many at the conference there was a sense that this is a journey that they’ve yet to really embark on.

It won’t be easy. Community planning and spatial planning operate under different and at times potentially contradictory legislation and they have different cultures and perspectives. But what was exciting was the strong commitment to try and work through those challenges to focus on what really matters, improving the lives of local people, and reducing inequalities.

This blog first appeared on Audit Scotland and is reproduced with permission

The featured image is from the ‘legal graffiti’ wall in New Road, Edinburgh on hoardings surrounding the New Waverley development site.

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