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Debate ignites over ‘crisis’ in planning

March 10 2015

Debate ignites over ‘crisis’ in planning
A spate of controversial planning decisions in recent months; from Glasgow’s Buchanan Galleries to Aberdeen’s Marischal Square, has sparked a public debate on whether planning laws are fit for purpose.

Commenting on BBC 2’s Scotland 2015 current affairs programme former Prospect editor Penny Lewis remarked: “I would argue that we have a crisis in the planning process at the moment, you’ve got politicians who struggle to define what’s in the public interest and a public who are deeply cynical about the motives of developers and politicians when it comes to the planning process. The way in which the public get involved is usually as a stage army simply to come and protest against development, we’re not really participating in the discussion about how we develop a vision and public good.

“Planning has become more procedural, more bureaucratic, more about policy and less about product. One of the problems that we have in Scotland at the moment is that there isn’t really a serious discussion about the quality of urban design and the quality of architecture. We’ve lost our capacity to engage in public discussion about what constitutes beauty and how we make beautiful places and I think a lot of the measures developed in the new planning act have actually made for a more bureaucratic process.

"Yes, the public are involved but how are they involved? They’re often non-governmental bodies that are themselves funded by government or bodies with a relationship with government, so you have a very cosy slightly cliquey consultation process with people who are reliant on government for their funding and the general public are pretty much excluded from that process, so when planning approval is given the public’s reaction is one of shock and hostility.”

Craig McLaren, director of the Royal Town Planning Institute, disagreed however, pointing to recent reforms: “We’re going through a phase over the past five or six years where we’re trying to fundamentally change the planning system to move it away from a confrontational approach where we had developers pitched against local authorities and communities to something which is much more inclusive and brings people together at the start of the process to talk through what the issues are and see what the constraints are around developing their aspirations.”

Speaking later on BBC Radio Scotland’s Call Kaye Urban Realm editor John Glenday added: “Public cynicism in the planning system is widespread and we do need reform. There have been small steps forward in the digitisation of records and the promotion of pre-application consultations but these are largely box ticking exercises where developers will often turn up to present their ideas and attempt to convince attendees to come round to their way of thinking, rather than a two-way process where ideas from the public are brought on board.

“I’ve been to consultations which have almost descended into farce where you’ll have a representative holed up in a hotel room on a weekday with a bowl of sweets and some printed sheets of paper, so there is a crisis in the planning process and we do need further reform to make it fit for purpose.”


#1 Posted by SMcK on 10 Mar 2015 at 12:48 PM
Isn't another issue related to how design quality is monitored through Planning? The recession has delivered some fairly diabolical buildings and nothing has been done to stop them blighting the streets cape for the next 30 years, not even listening to the public. Buchanan Galleries really is the epitome of a planning system 'fail'. It delivers poor design quality and completely ignores what people want. GCC hang your head in shame. A+DS need to have at least some statutory powers and have real teeth. Buchanan Galleries, Perth City Halls, George Sq, Glasgow Harbour every epic fail has gone to design review at some point yet not any action has resulted. It isn't just the planners to be fair, it is also councillors that have a LOT of responsibility for these schemes. They have a democratic responsibility to listen to their people, yet continue to completely ignore public campaigns.Yes, we want jobs and development but not at any cost.
Auntie Nairn
#2 Posted by Auntie Nairn on 10 Mar 2015 at 14:46 PM
The problems with our planning system are multitude:-
1. A lack of real planners - so called planning technicians who do nothing but check your application for compliance with a checklist and look for any excuse not to register it.
2. A system that allows any excuse not to register an application i.e. "There is no building on an adjacent site to send a neighbour notification to". When the applicants had to notify the neighbours, we never got away with that.
3. Supposedly trained planners who don't understand design, and their fall-back position is "Make it look like the surrounding buildings".
4. Planners who can't read drawings.
I could go on and on but I'm depressing myself.
#3 Posted by Robert on 10 Mar 2015 at 15:55 PM
Question - Can a planning system better represent the interests of the general public while still facilitating development without resorting to the promotion of mock vernacular rubbish, which is what tends to come out favourite whenever the public are asked? And yes, I think that would be a bad thing...
Big Chantelle
#4 Posted by Big Chantelle on 10 Mar 2015 at 20:28 PM
Of course there's a problem with our planning. It is completetly dominated by the concrete lovin' modernist brigade who have complete and utter contempt for anything remotely human and beautiful. Their extreme liberal/lefty views compel them to wage war on our urban fabric in order to vicariously express their deficiencies as people: they can't produce art or architecture of the class of the past so promote a dumbed down version laced with fancy words to try and elevate it to greatness.

Look at the whole Aberdeen Marschal square fiasco. You have the world's second largest granite building (gothic style) and various other traditional buildings -- all beautiful. So the obvious solution is to plank a wonky angled modernist boxy building there. Obviously.

Until people start aspiring for greatness and reject all these futile lefty, dumbed down approaches, we'll continue to get stuck with all these monstrosities.
D to the R
#5 Posted by D to the R on 10 Mar 2015 at 21:46 PM
Haw Big C .... Gee it a break eh?! Let's stick to the planning department (which by the way isn't run by the modernist brigade you hold so dear) ... Development is driven by economy NOT design - which is fine but not when it's at it's expense which it appears to be now. Planners have (or should have) an obligation to us all to ensure new places are of the highest quality ...
#6 Posted by Roddy on 11 Mar 2015 at 00:03 AM
This debate is old hat ,really .
Planner finds the planning system absolutely fine while lecturer on architecture bemoans the bureaucracy and procedure. Who knew?

There has been a disconnect between the professions of architecture/urban design and planning for years .. A mutual suspicion that seems never to fade even after graduation.

Penny Lewis wants product , not procedure ; a sentiment I would echo . Remember, however, that a huge percentage of agents of applications are architects and, more often than not, the application is of their authorship. Much as I'd like to, I cannot bring myself to blame the planning procedure alone for the issues of poor design, poorly thought out places and the manifestations of protest and public angst. Perhaps architects, urban designers and landscape architects should shoulder some of the blame for poorly considered work which meets the very limited aesthetic criteria enshrined in our planning frameworks.

PS More hilarious bibble from the Mary Whitehouse of architectural criticism. The lady doth protest too much , methinks
#7 Posted by Roscobos on 11 Mar 2015 at 13:26 PM
As a planner I could not agree more. There is a focus on quantity rather than quality and until the Scottish Government realign themselves there will forever be an issue with punting out the 'schemes of tomorrow' rather than the so called 'conservation areas of tomorrow'.

The pre app procedures for major apps are a joke with no option for local residents to feed into and influence new development in their town. That said, can we trust local people to come up with suitable ideas, do they know what they want? Generally not, given the majority of folk live in mundane 12ft Cala boxes and their main concerns are always 'parking' or 'their view'.

Don't forget there is an LDP process in which people can feed into, but unfortunately the public consultation relies on the public coming forward to make their views heard.

I think its an interesting debate but lets not only bash the 'Planners'. The architects need a good kick in the jewels as they are responsible for issuing this rubbish from their studios.
Auntie Nairn
#8 Posted by Auntie Nairn on 11 Mar 2015 at 13:37 PM
Re #6 - Roddy, I would agree there is a lot of dross out there, but the blame can't solely be laid at the door of Architects. Yes, when it comes to large schemes (and Buchanan Galleries is one that comes to mind that is not very successful), but look at private housing or the householder one-off / extension market and the majority of these are done by plan-drawers with little or no design training (and definitely no PII).

There may be very little aesthetic criteria enshrined in the planning framework, but there are even less planning personnel trained or qualified to exercise their design muscle.
#9 Posted by Andrew on 11 Mar 2015 at 13:45 PM
'Conservation area of tomorrow' - I note with interest that most current conservation areas were created before the advent of modern town planning, i.e. before 1947! Spoken as a planner. What we do need to understand though is that if the public are against something doesn't mean it shouldn't be approved.
#10 Posted by Roddy on 11 Mar 2015 at 20:13 PM
@# 7 Roscobos

"..... can we trust local people to come up with suitable ideas, do they know what they want? Generally not, given the majority of folk live in mundane 12ft Cala boxes and their main concerns are always 'parking' or 'their view'."

What a crass and contemptible contribution.
Presumably you yourself live in some urban utopia or rural idyll perhaps. An attitude like that you wont win any friends in this debate.
#11 Posted by Al on 11 Mar 2015 at 23:01 PM
Planners are in a no-win situation. If they permit architects to build their cost-led designs they get the blame for the unappealing result. If they were to really start refusing on grounds of quality, a lot of architects would get nothing built, and planners would get flak for that instead.

Developers and architects need to up their game, simple as that. Stop blaming 'the system', or planners, or clients, and do our job - get creative. Good architects find good solutions.
Graeme Purves
#12 Posted by Graeme Purves on 12 Mar 2015 at 14:05 PM
The criticism is misdirected. This is not a crisis in the planning process but a failure of civic vision and leadership. It's a cultural not a technical issue.
Auntie Nairn
#13 Posted by Auntie Nairn on 12 Mar 2015 at 14:54 PM
Re #11 - .. and a poor system prevents good Architects building their good solutions.
#14 Posted by Artisan2 on 12 Mar 2015 at 16:19 PM
I am not a planner or an architect. I am part of development's target audience.
Discussion of aesthetic and cost-led design may be interesting, but it misses Planning's main problem. Planning is failing to deliver sustaining places. Planning is largely reactive, whereas it should serve communities as a vehicle for improving the quality of our lives. What proportion of the target audience currently participates in DEFINING the physical community to which we aspire? Perhaps 1%? So whose plans are we really discussing? For whose benefit are those plans being developed? And who foots the ultimate bill?
Darth Vader
#15 Posted by Darth Vader on 12 Mar 2015 at 17:26 PM
Darth here.
It's pretty obvious that if architects were paid properly they would dedicate sufficient resources to produce considered works of architecture. That's the way it works.
Trouble has been that in recent times especially architects have been undercutting each other on fees and supplanting each other with zero support from RIAS.
As a result the architect has diminished respect from clients and is now seen as a "cheap" consultant.
Is it therefore any wonder that buildings are being designed to be as bland and easy as possible.
Don't tell me "Good Design Doesn't Cost Anything" does/should!

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