1. Process of establishing and managing the pilots
- Both pilots were local authority led and involved external stakeholders in project governance. Both also involved extensive collaboration with expert partners in project development and delivery - the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeenshire and the Tweed Forum, University of Dundee and Environment Systems (GIS support) in Scottish Borders.
- Both pilots involved wider stakeholder engagement, although there were differences in the nature and scale of activity and the role this played in shaping the projects. Aberdeenshire were concerned to keep the project to schedule so ran a tightly defined programme of stakeholder workshops, whilst the Scottish Borders appointed a dedicated staff member to lead a broader programme of stakeholder engagement.
- The lighter touch approach adopted by Aberdeenshire allowed for a rapid deployment of resources, but was criticised for not involving a wider range of stakeholders in the early, developmental stages of the work. The more intensive Scottish Borders approach was enabled by strong, existing local networks, but proved far more resource intensive than anticipated.
- The pilots and/or their stakeholders expressed concerns about a perceived low level of engagement from some groups, including tourism, recreation/leisure, health, farming and non-land management rural businesses. However, this was not thought to be a result of a lack of effort on behalf of the pilots.
- It was suggested that a lack of a clear incentive to participate, the theoretical nature of the exercise and the language used (e.g. relating to the ecosystems approach), might have deterred some individuals and organisations from becoming involved in the process. From the perspective of the project teams, stakeholder engagement was noted as being time and resource intensive.
- The project teams and wider stakeholders regarded the pilot objectives and requirements to be extremely challenging. Issues identified included tight project timescales, the challenges associated with managing different sectoral interests, the complexity of land use decisions and the broader sensitivities associated with the agenda (given the land reform debate and private sector concerns about a more regulatory approach).
2. Extent to which the pilots met their requirements
- Both pilots were found to have operated, and delivered their outputs, in a manner broadly consistent with the Scottish Government's requirements.
- For the most part, the two pilots' approaches were in line with an ecosystems approach. However, arguably Aberdeenshire's approach to stakeholder engagement did not allow sufficient involvement in the development of the project and its outputs as would be expected under an ecosystem approach.
- A desk based assessment of project documents from both pilots found that the key messages, theoretical approach and recommendations were consistent with eight of the ten LUS Principles for Sustainable Land Use. Regulation (Principle b) and the use of derelict or vacant land (Principle g) were not clearly reflected within the documents.
- Both pilots' written documents took account of Scottish Government policy and local/regional policies. They both considered a wide range of land uses, but chose to exclude or limit their focus on certain issues. For example, the Aberdeenshire pilot did not address coastal issues, due to concerns about over-complicating the project. The Scottish Borders pilot largely excluded statutory issues such as development and renewables, in order to avoid confusion amongst stakeholders.
- Both pilots produced a written document (Aberdeenshire's 'Issues and Opportunities' document and Scottish Borders' 'Framework' document), complemented by a GIS decision support tool. The written documents differed in tone and intention, but both focused on developing decision support mechanisms (as opposed to strategy).
- Stakeholders felt that these outputs were of value, but were uncertain about whether or not these would provide a meaningful mechanism for guiding future land use decision making. They suggested that this could only be determined through practical application and that this would be largely dependent on future government policy.
3. Potential impact on land use decision making in local areas
- The pilots were supportive of the concept of regional frameworks as a mechanism for guiding land use decisions. Overall, however, stakeholders felt that the framework approach needed to evolve in order to realise its potential.
- Both pilots identified several practical applications for the materials that had been produced. These included informing strategic development planning, biodiversity offsetting and targeting, flood risk management planning, and the development of a new forestry and woodland management strategy.
- There was support from both pilots for using their GIS tools to guide the strategic targeting of funding, although it was acknowledged that this would be constrained by the limitations of the tools (e.g. data availability, quality and resolution of maps).
4. How stakeholders perceive the frameworks
- Stakeholders from both areas were positive about the pilot projects, the project management teams and lines of communication. They felt that the pilots had taken an effective and reasonable approach to the development and management of what was seen as a highly challenging project.
- Some stakeholder criticism was recorded (in Aberdeenshire). This focused on the narrow programme of stakeholder engagement, an overly academic approach and a perceived over-emphasis on data collection in the early stages. The pilot acknowledged these as lessons learnt.
- Stakeholders from both pilots noted that they would have liked to seen more engagement from private land owner / managers.
5. Do the benefits justify the costs and resources?
- Participants in the end of project evaluation workshops felt that the pilots had been useful and had provided a firm basis for future activity. Both pilots identified a range of benefits associated with their activities and identified a range of expected follow-up work.
- Benefits included improved and new stakeholder relations, the opportunity to pursue an ecosystems approach, and the development of spin-off projects (e.g. to assess historic land use value). The GIS tool, associated datasets and maps were seen as a useful legacy and foundation for future work.
6. Role of a regional land use mechanism
- Both Aberdeenshire and the Scottish Borders were supportive of a mechanism to guide land use decision-making. The issue of scale was regarded as important but complex. Both pilots endorsed the regional approach, but noted the need to accommodate a multi-scale approach.
- A multi-scale approach was seen as necessary to accommodate some stakeholders' preference to consider land use at a more detailed, localised level than the region (e.g. cultural services) and also to accommodate the fact that ecosystems services do not recognise administrative boundaries (e.g. for flood management a larger scale approach might sometimes be appropriate).
- The Scottish Borders pilot reported that the sub-catchment area was the most effective level at which to engage people.
- It was suggested that if, in the future, local areas were required to develop local frameworks, there would need to be an effective mechanism for ensuring that they took appropriate account of regional and national priorities, as well as local priorities.
Email: Linda Gateley