Open Space Strategies and Play Sufficiency Assessments Regulations: consultation

This consultation paper discusses proposed provisions and seeks views on both sets of draft regulations on Open Space Strategies and Play Sufficiency Assessments.

Play Sufficiency Assessments

Benefits of Play Opportunities & Link to National Planning Framework 4

71. Draft NPF4[15] contains a new policy on play, which recognises that providing quality opportunities for children of all ages to play will benefit their physical and cognitive development, and uphold their right to engage in play and recreational activities.

"Children experience a range of health, wellbeing and educational benefits from outdoor play, and learning in, and connecting with nature.

Providing quality opportunities for children of all ages to play will benefit their physical and cognitive development, and uphold their right to engage in play and recreational activities.

The planning system should support development that expands opportunities for play in the public realm and in a range of different types of open and green spaces, and which addresses unequal access to play spaces and facilities" (Extract from Draft NPF4)

Purpose – Link to Local Development Plans

72. The Act sets out in Section 16D(1), the requirement that planning authorities must assess the sufficiency of play opportunities in its area for children in preparing the evidence report for their local development plan.

73. In Section 16D(2), the Act requires that the Scottish Ministers must by regulations make provisions about:

a. the form and content of the assessment

b. such persons who must be consulted in relation the assessment

c. publication of the assessment.

Wider Statutory Context

74. Children's right to play and relax; freedom of association; and their right for their views to be heard and be given due consideration are enshrined in the UNCRC Articles 31,15 and 12 respectively. Despite the recent UK Supreme Court's judgement on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation)(Scotland) Bill[16] that found each of the provisions referred by the UK Law Officers to be outwith the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament, the commitment to incorporate UNCRC to the maximum extent possible remains. This new duty for the preparation of Play Sufficiency Assessments (PSA) can help local authorities uphold the rights of children.

Regulation 2 – Interpretation

75. It is proposed, for clarity and for consistency in application of the regulations, the following definitions are set out in draft Regulation 2.

"the Act" means the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997,

"children" means persons under the age of 18 years,

"localities" has the meaning given in section 9(2) of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015[17],

"open space" has the meaning given in section 3G(4) of the Act,

[This is the same as referred to in paragraph 22 above], and

"play spaces" means outdoor spaces which are accessible by the public and which offer play opportunities for children,

"play sufficiency assessment" means the assessment carried out by a planning authority under section 16D of the Act.

Consultation Question 12

Do you agree with the proposed definitions?

"children" Yes/No/No View/ Any Comments

"localities" Yes/No/No View/ Any Comments

"open space" Yes/No/No View/ Any Comments

"play spaces" Yes/No/No View/ Any Comments

Regulation 3 - Form & Content

76. Draft Regulation 3(1) requires that the play sufficiency assessment will take the form of a written report incorporating maps as required in accordance with Regulation 3, setting out the assessment of the sufficiency of play opportunities in its area for children. The intention is to give flexibility for planning authorities to include information that is meaningful locally and for the report to align with other relevant areas of work such as the open space audit and strategy, if the planning authority sees appropriate.

77. Draft Regulations 3(2), 3(3), 3(4) and 3(5) provide details of the requirements with regards to content which must be included in a play sufficiency assessment.

Each of the requirements is described and discussed in the following paragraphs 78-97.

78. Identifying play opportunities. Our discussions with stakeholders to-date have indicated the desire for embracing the wider concept of play, both formal and informal; and that it is important, as part of improving children's health and wellbeing, to support and enable children to play more readily outdoors. This is not restricted to playing in play areas or play spaces that are specifically designed and managed for play.

79. Whilst play spaces specifically designed and managed for play are essential in meeting the needs of children to play outdoors, to have fun and to relax, valuable informal play opportunities also exist in many open spaces, including natural spaces, woodlands, urban forestry and in some public realm areas. It is well-recognised that increasing children's contact with nature improves their physical and mental wellbeing, and can build resilience. Allowing children to use the natural world can help foster better understanding of nature and the need to protect and care for the environment.

80. Members of the OSSPSA Working Group suggested it would be helpful if apart from identifying designated play spaces, that planning authorities be required to identify different types of play opportunities, which exist in open spaces as part of their open space audit and include these in the Play Sufficiency Assessment (PSA).

81. Therefore, the proposed draft Regulation 3(2) seeks to require planning authorities to identify play opportunities in two categories of play spaces:

  • those play spaces that are specifically for play; and
  • those within areas of open spaces of which the primary function is not play.

82. We also considered whether to require the PSA to identify play opportunities that may exist informally in the public realm, for example, in safer streets / cul-de-sacs around residential areas; or along safe routes to schools and other destinations where children frequently visit, etc. We noted such informal opportunities for play that can be designed into the public realm and encouraged through safer management of streets that prioritise pedestrians uses can promote "door-step play" and "play-on-the-way" that help to keep children active and support their wellbeing.

83. However, we feel these opportunities are too wide-ranging, too varied and less definitive to be prescribed in the regulations for identifying and mapping, therefore decided not to include as a legal requirement. Whilst not prescribed as a requirement for the PSA, this does not preclude local authorities who wish to identify these informal opportunities for play from doing so, if they do exist in their area; and/or are actively promoted locally.

84. This wider concept is supported in planning policy, and examples of good practice could be shared in future.

85. Draft Regulation 3(2) also requires that the two categories of play spaces must be identified by means of a map showing their locations within the local authority area. One of the benefits of the joint approach in bringing forward the OSS and PSA regulations is in the mapping work, so the same GIS-based or equivalent mapping information used in Open Space Audit can be used to map all the play spaces.

Consultation Question 13

Do you agree planning authorities should map the locations of the two categories of play spaces, and how they are described in draft Regulations 3(2)(a) and (b)?

Yes/No/No View

86. Identifying play opportunities for all ages of children. Playing is an inherent part of a happy childhood, and is vital to children's physical and cognitive development as they grow. In our discussions with stakeholders, it has been clear that to ensure there is adequate provision for outdoor play for children of all ages, the play sufficiency assessment must identify the play opportunities that are suitable for children of different ages. The main objective here is not segregation by ages but to ensure consideration is given to meeting the needs of children of all ages and to seek out where potential exclusion may be present, preventing certain ages of children from accessing suitable play opportunities in their area. To this end, draft Regulation 3(3) requires that the PSA must describe the play opportunities for all ages of children.

87. Whilst the details of how to describe are not specifically prescribed in the regulations, we see this is an assessment of the play provision, in particular in its space design and any play equipment provided in the space and their suitability for children of certain age groups.

88. Age groups. The Working Group recognised that the difference in play activities and preferences between ages is not so significant to require consideration by single ages. However, it is beneficial to take cognisance of children's play needs or play preferences at different stages of their growth and development. Therefore we suggest that identifying play opportunities for all ages may be carried out in respect of age groupings as follows: ages 0-4, 5-11, 12-15 and 16-17.

89. During our workshop discussion with local authorities representatives, most stakeholders agreed with the principles of taking age groupings into consideration in the assessment of play opportunities, and indeed some shared experiences where they have seen under-provision of opportunities for play for certain ages of children.

90. However some questions were raised around how to identify what is suitable for different ages of children. We will continue to work with stakeholders and experts in the play sector to provide guidance in this respect. Amongst the early ideas for including in guidance is around the different characteristics of play, different types and ways to play that are suited and / or preferred by children from different age groups, with reference to Play Scotland's Getting it Right for Play toolkit[18]. The
following tables are indicative of some of the information we are considering including in future guidance.

Types of Play by Age Groups – indicative tool

Types of Play Ways to play   0-4 5-11 12-15 16-17
Physical Play be active Running, chasing, skipping hopping and jumping
Spinning or rocking      
Ball games like basketball, tennis, football, or rounders
be adventurous/ daring Balancing or crawling      
hang upside down, jump from high up, swing high, walk on logs
Bike or scooter riding
Roller skating or skateboarding  
Creative Play make things Sand or soil for digging or making things    
Building dens or other structures      
Water for pouring, measuring or splashing      
be creative Things or places for pretend play      
A place to perform, sing or act  
Chalking, drawing or painting
Social Play hang out Quiet places to be on your own or with a few close friends  
Places to socialise and meet friends (other boys and girls of different ages and abilities), sit around chat, laugh, shout, (generally hang out)

Characteristics of Play Opportunities by Age Groups – indicative tool

    0-4 5-11 12-15 16-17
Characteristics of Play opportunities The play place is easy to get to by walking or cycling  
The play place feel safe from traffic, bullies or strange adults  
The play place has natural things to play on or with eg trees, logs, rocks.
There are things to move around and play with in different ways.
There is fixed equipment to play on    

Consultation Question 14

Do you agree with the proposed requirement to assess play opportunities in respect of their suitability by age groups? Yes/No/No View/ Any Comments

91. Draft Regulation 3(4) requires that assessments include statements covering the aspects of quality, quantity and accessibility of play opportunities in respect of each locality within the local authority area. This will help provide the sufficiency picture at a neighbourhood scale, to help consider if the everyday play needs and demands of children can be met locally. We believe this localised approach will help support 20 minute neighbourhoods, and in informing place-based local development plans.

92. Draft Regulation 3(5) requires that assessments include statements covering the aspects on quality, quantity and accessibility of play opportunities for the totality of the local authority area. This is intended to provide an overall picture as to the provision of play opportunities in the area. It can help to provide an overview of the distribution of play opportunities across the local authority area and may highlight where certain provisions, for example, inclusive play spaces, can be met between localities or where gaps exist in some localities so local development plans may make new provision.

93. Shared good practice and guidance may offer more details on how to consider, assess and evidence quality, quantity and accessibility. The following paragraphs 94-97 provide a brief outline of potential indicators that planning authorities may wish to consider.

94. Quality. Planning authorities may consider quality by demonstrating fitness for purpose in meeting the enjoyment, social and developmental needs of the children; and the contribution the play space makes to the overall quality of the place in which it is located. Indicators may include the quality of design, the quality of the play features and their play values, the standard of maintenance etc. Some form of satisfaction survey feedbacks, or evidence in popularity through frequency of visits may be helpful data in this instance.

95. Quantity. Planning authorities may consider quantity by demonstrating if there is adequate provision for every child or a significant proportion of the child population in the area to play freely and to access a range of play opportunities in the community that meet their needs. Potential indicators may be the number of play opportunities in the locality; the level and frequency of usage and if there is evidence of overcrowding etc., bearing in mind these may be play opportunities that are specifically for play as well as those in open spaces and other outdoor spaces.

96. Accessibility. Planning authorities may consider and demonstrate the accessibility of play opportunities in their area are and in each locality, for children by walking, wheeling and cycling, in terms of distance, safety from vehicular traffic and access conditions; and what measures there are to promote accessibility. Indicators may include; travel distance appropriate to age groups, presence of features such as safe crossings, traffic calming measures, and cycle parking near to access point.

97. Another aspect of accessibility is in relation to physical measures to ensure safe and ease of access by most. Planning authorities may consider aspects of design and specifications that ensure play spaces are accessible by all children and their carers including those with physical disabilities; and the appropriateness of certain play features or equipment etc.

98. Inclusion. It is important to improve access to outdoor play opportunities for all children, including those with disabilities so they can play more readily and closer to where they live. The requirement to assess the accessibility of play opportunities will cover a number of key aspects of inclusion that apply generally to all play spaces. There may be further considerations given to the provision of play opportunities that are inclusive and can better meet the needs of children with disabilities and their families. These may include more specialised play features or equipment and the provision of other facilities such as disable parking, toilets etc. We intend to cover more details on inclusion in future guidance.

Consultation Question 15

a) Do you agree with the proposed three aspects of assessment – 'accessibility', 'quantity' and 'quality'? Yes/No/No View/ Any Comments and ;

b) to provide them in written statements in respect of the totality of the local authority area and at each locality level? Yes/No/No View/ Any Comments

99. Demographic data. Whilst it is not considered appropriate to prescribe as legal requirements the inclusion of specific datasets in the assessment, we think planning authorities should consider presenting key demographic data of the children in their area in its totality, as well as breaking down in respect of each locality to support their sufficiency assessment. Demographic data on the number of children, distribution by ages and by sex and other relevant protected characteristics may be some of the helpful datasets to consider. Such data is readily obtainable from National Records of Scotland.

100. Deprived communities. Almost one in four of Scotland's children live in poverty (approximately 230,000). Poverty impacts all areas of a child's life, including nutrition, standard of living, relationships, social and emotional wellbeing, play and education.

101. The 2016 Scottish Household Survey[19] showed that most children had access to play areas in their neighbourhood, but that availability differed according to levels of deprivation within urban areas. Households within the 20% of the most deprived urban areas said they had less access to a natural environment or wooded area in their neighbourhood, compared to the rest of urban areas. Parents living in the 20% most deprived urban areas were also much less likely to think that it was safe for children to travel alone to most play areas. Previous research found that the quality of play areas was poorer in more deprived neighbourhoods, compared to those in the least deprived areas.

102. Our discussions with stakeholders highlight the importance in addressing the different levels of play opportunities experienced by children growing up in more affluent areas as compared to those living in less affluent areas. Planning authorities may wish to consider building in any SIMD data which they consider to be relevant in their assessments. This could help identify whether there are sufficient play opportunities for children in more deprived communities, who may also be less likely to have access to private gardens to play in.

103. Protected characteristics. In order to advance equality and eliminate discrimination, we intend to encourage planning authorities to consider and carry out their PSA taking into account the interests of children of all ages, of different gender, with different abilities and from different social, cultural and religion backgrounds including those with protected characteristics. We would encourage stakeholders and planning authorities to share good practice in this respect, in particular in terms of engaging with the relevant groups of children more locally to understand and cater for specific needs profile.


104. We believe meaningful engagement must be integral to the process of carrying out play sufficiency assessments. We do not intend to specify how the engagement should take place or what methodology must be used, only to emphasise that we expect engagement to take place as part of the assessment process. In our discussions so far, many stakeholders agreed that children themselves know best where they play and what types of play opportunities suit them best, and so should be engaged in ways so that they can properly and meaningfully participate.

105. UNCRC Article 12 states that every child has a right to express their views and have them given due weight in accordance with their age and maturity. Children should be provided with the opportunity to be heard, either directly or through a representative or appropriate body; and their views should be given due consideration. Apart from engaging children, we are also proposing that engagement must extend to include their parents and carers who have their best interest at heart.

106. Draft Regulation 4 requires that in preparing the play sufficiency assessments, planning authorities must consult with:

(a) children,

(b) parents and carers,

(c) community councils within the planning authority's area established under Part IV of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973,

(d) the public, and

(e) any other person or community body which the planning authority considers to be appropriate.

107. Consultation could be in the form of facilitated workshops, in-person drop-in events or they may be run digitally with online surveys and other interactive questionnaires etc. What works for urban areas may not work as well for rural and islands communities. Leaving the flexibility for planning authorities to choose the consultation methods that best suit their local circumstances should help to ensure the right method is used to harness maximum feedback and input from local children and communities. Authorities may already have existing engagement practices or be using innovative methods to facilitate involvement of and co-production with children that they can adapt. We also encourage sharing good practice and learning in this respect.

Consultation Question 16

a) Do you agree to the requirement to consult as part of the process of carrying out the play sufficiency assessment? Yes/No/No View/ Any Comments

b) Do you agree with the proposed list of consultees on play sufficiency assessments? Yes/No/No View/ Any Comments


108. Draft Regulation 5 requires the planning authority to publish the play sufficiency assessment by electronic means. This is intended to ensure it is readily available online, minimising the need for travelling to a location to view a printed copy.

109. We would encourage planning authorities to consider the publication of a suitable child friendly version that is more accessible for children.

110. As required by the Act, the completed Play Sufficiency Assessment will form part of the Evidence Report which supports the preparation of the Local Development Plan.

Consultation Question 17

Do you agree with the publication requirement for play sufficiency assessments? Yes/No/No View

Impact Assessments

111. Published alongside this consultation paper are partial versions of the following documents:

  • Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment (BRIA)
  • Equalities Impact Assessment (EQIA)
  • Children's Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment (CRWIA)
  • Island Communities Impact Assessment (ICIA)

Consultation Questions 18 and 19

18 Do you have or can you direct us to any additional information that would assist in finalising these assessments (BRIA, EQIA, CRWIA, ICIA)?

19 Please give us your views on the content of these assessments and how they have informed the draft provisions, or if you think changes are needed to the Regulations to further respond to the issues.

112. We have also prepared initial assessments screening out requirements to undertake assessments on the Fairer Scotland Duty and Strategic Environmental Assessment. Based on the information we have identified we do not consider there is a requirement to undertake full assessments in these cases.

Consultation Questions 20 and 21

20 Do you agree with the Fairer Scotland Duty screening and our conclusion that full assessment is not required?

Agree/Disagree Any Comments

21 Do you agree with the Strategic Environmental Assessment pre-screenings, that the Open Space Strategies and Play Sufficiency Assessments Regulations are exempt from the Environmental Assessment (Scotland) Act 2005, as the environmental effects are likely to be minimal?

Agree/Disagree Any Comments

[If you consider full assessments are required please suggest any additional sources that could help inform these assessments]



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