In 2013, the Scottish Government established two regional land use framework pilot projects to test the practicality of preparing regional land use frameworks as a means of guiding 'local' decision making. The aim of the project was to:
'pilot a mechanism which considers existing and future land uses in a collective and integrated way, and to establish a means to prioritise or guide decisions so as to optimise the use of the land, and to resolve competition or conflicts relating to land use change'
The pilots were established in Aberdeenshire and the Scottish Borders and led by the respective local authorities. The development of each pilot was guided by a three stage programme specification (provided by the Scottish Government), but were allowed to develop an approach which best reflected their local circumstances. The pilot projects concluded in March 2015. It is intended that the pilots' experience will inform the 2016 review of the Land Use Strategy.
Each stage of the pilots' development was subject to external evaluation and the insights from this activity have been used to inform this final report. The evaluation was intended to assess both the processes followed in the development and management of the pilots and the final project outputs. More specifically the Scottish Government required that the evaluation review the pilots' activities against a set of pre-agreed criteria. It is important to note that the evaluation did not seek to identify a 'right' or 'wrong' way to deliver a regional framework. Rather the aim was to learn from how two projects, with different local circumstances, might approach the challenges posed by the project brief. Both projects produced a GIS based mapping tool, but the Aberdeenshire pilot opted not to produce a formal regional land use framework, but instead produced a high level 'issues and opportunities' report. The Scottish borders pilot did produce a framework document.
Evaluation activity included desk based assessments of project outputs and a series of facilitated workshops and interviews with project stakeholders and project teams.
The evaluation found that:
- The approach of the pilots and their final outputs, were found to be largely consistent with the ten LUS Principles for Sustainable Land Use and to take account of relevant national and regional policy.
- The pilots found the scope of the project brief to be extremely challenging owing to the complexity of the issues, the potential for tension between different sectoral interests, the sensitivity of the land use agenda and the required timescale of production. These issues played a significant role in dictating the pilots' approaches to the delivery of the brief.
- Both pilots noted concerns that the projects might be perceived as attempting to impose land use decisions upon local stakeholders. In practice both focused on the development of tools designed to improve local/regional land use decision-making and ensured that this was clearly communicated to stakeholders.
- Stakeholder engagement posed some challenges for the pilots. Both established 'core' stakeholder groups and these played an important role in informing the development of the pilots. Engagement with groups and individuals beyond this core group was identified as a potential project risk by Aberdeenshire - owing to the associated time and resource requirements. In response the pilot confined activity to two local focus group areas (3 workshops in each), this restricted approach attracted some criticism from stakeholders. The Scottish Borders pilot opted to run an extensive programme of engagement activity across six sub-catchment areas. This generated a high level of participation, but proved to be more resource intensive than anticipated.
- Stakeholder feedback from both pilots included concerns about the perceived absence or low level of engagement from some stakeholder groups, including recreation, health, tourism and non-land management rural businesses. Some stakeholders (from both pilots) also expressed the view that farmer engagement had been low, although this contradicted evidence from the Scottish Borders pilot which reported a significant level of farmer participation in their engagement programme. Several reasons for a lack of engagement with the identified groups were proposed, including the lack of a clear incentive to engage, the theoretical nature of the exercise and potentially the language used. In the case of land owner / agricultural interests it was suggested that stakeholders may have chosen to prioritise engagement in other policy consultations (e.g. CAP reform) over involvement in the pilots.
- Stakeholder interviews provided evidence that both pilots were viewed positively with respondents reporting that overall they (the pilots) had taken an effective and reasonable approach to the development and management of what was perceived as a challenging brief.
- There was evidence from both pilots that the projects had generated benefits for participants, most notably in the form of new and improved relations between organisations who had not previously collaborated on land management issues. There was also some evidence that the pilots will generate future benefits.
- The concept of a more regional approach to land use decision-making was welcomed and endorsed by stakeholders. There was though some uncertainty as to the most effective spatial area for an ecosystems led approach and both pilots indicated that there was a need to be able to accommodate a multi-scale approach. The Scottish Borders pilot reported that a key learning point from their project was that the sub-catchment area was the preferred scale for stakeholders at the 'local' scale.
- There was cautious optimism that the pilots have potential for beneficial impact, tempered with caution that much more development work is required and that great care is needed on how the frameworks are developed. Stakeholders reported that the pilots represented a useful start, but observed that the future direction of national policy would play a key role in determining future success.
Email: Linda Gateley