Evaluation of the Regional Land Use Framework Pilots

This report presents results from the evaluation of two local authority led Regional Land Use Framework pilot projects.

SECTION C: Conclusions

9.1 Conclusions

The two land use pilots were established to test the practicality of preparing regional land use frameworks and in doing so to inform the 2016 review of the Scottish Government's LUS (2011).

No specific definition of what constitutes a land use framework was supplied, but the pilots were provided with a specification document which stated that:

'The aim is to pilot a mechanism which considers existing and future land uses in a collective and integrated way, with a view to optimising the use of the land, and to establish a mechanism to prioritise or guide decisions about possible competing or conflicting uses.'[33]

The specification further noted that the objective of the pilots should be to produce a framework which would:

'facilitate the delivery of policies, strategies and objectives in relation to integrated land use.'[34]

In recognition of the experimental nature of the pilots the specification allowed the pilots the flexibility to develop their own approach subject to them complying with a list of ten requirements.

A stated expectation of the Scottish Government was that the frameworks would have a strong spatial component and if possible use GIS for any mapping work. In response both pilots decided to produce GIS mapping and decision support tools.

To provide context for the GIS tools both pilots developed written companion documents although these differed in tone and intention. Aberdeenshire produced an 'Issues and Opportunities' document which provides a high-level overview document, with the stated intention of stimulating regional debate on land use change and aiding strategic rural land use planning decisions.

The Scottish Borders developed a 'framework' document which provides technical guidance which, when used in conjunction with the GIS tool outputs, allows users to consider the implications of land use change (opportunities and constraints), either as a result of local plans or generated by external drivers such as government policy or climate change.

The evaluation of the regional pilots focused on both the process by which they were produced and an assessment of their final outputs. It was guided by an evaluation plan which was developed by CAG and agreed with the Scottish Government and the pilots. The evaluation sought to answer a series of research questions, and the findings of this work are reported in section 3. It is important to note that the Scottish Government did not make any assumptions as to how the pilots might undertake their work, there is not therefore considered to be a right or wrong way to deliver a regional framework against which either pilot might be measured, nor was it intended to compare the two. Rather the aim was to learn from how two projects, with different local circumstances, might approach the challenges posed by the project brief.

The objective and requirements set out in the project specification were regarded by stakeholders and project teams in both pilot areas as extremely challenging due to the complexity of the issues, the potential for tension between different sectoral interests, the sensitivity of the agenda given the wider backdrop of the Land Reform debate and the required timescale of production. These issues played a significant role in dictating the pilots' approaches to delivery.

A desk based assessment of the written outputs from the pilots found that the key messages, theoretical approach and recommendations contained within both documents were largely consistent with the ten LUS Principles for Sustainable Land Use. Of the two Principles not clearly reflected within the documents it might be argued that the absence of reference to regulation (LUS Principle b.) is evidence that the pilots are in line with the Scottish Governments advocacy of a light touch approach. Reference to the use of derelict land (LUS Principle g.) is something that might be expected to have been omitted by the pilots as this matter is addressed through existing local development strategies.

Both the Aberdeenshire Issues and Opportunities report and the Scottish Borders framework take account of Scottish Government policy and local /regional policy and consider a wide range of land uses, but both chose to exclude or limit their focus on certain issues. For example coastal issues were not considered within the Aberdeenshire pilot owing to concerns about over complicating the project. The Scottish Borders pilot largely excluded issues such as development and renewables in order to avoid confusion amongst stakeholders.

Both pilots were concerned to ensure stakeholder buy-in to the process. They therefore elected to focus on the development of decision support mechanisms (as opposed to strategy) and were careful when communicating their work to external audiences, presenting it as being experimental, and designed to enable improved land use decision-making, rather than representing an attempt to dictate it. The context of Land Reform and fears in the private sector of the framework informing a more regulatory approach was one driver to this approach. Public sector stakeholders were sensitive to these concerns and also mindful that for the pilots to have a future impact, there must be a mechanism for change. Some stakeholders saw the influencing of SRDP targeting as a key test for the development of the pilot approaches.

The adoption of this position informed both the pilot development process and the production of the GIS tools and written materials with the pilots developing products that can be used to help guide the translation of policy into practice, but which do not attempt to set specific objectives for direct local / regional action. This approach and outcome is consistent with the Scottish Government's stated aim and objectives for the pilot (as quoted above), saving that the GIS tool produced for the Aberdeenshire pilot only allows for consideration of broadleaved woodland expansion.

The decision to restrict the scope of the Aberdeenshire tool was made early in the development of the pilot and reflects both the importance of the issue within Aberdeenshire and the careful nature of the pilots overall approach. In interviews with the evaluation team Aberdeenshire Council staff noted that they had identified a risk of project overrun and had therefore elected to constrain their approach to ensure that they would be able to deliver within the resource (e.g. internal staff time) and in particular time constraints of the pilot. There was also evidence of greater uncertainty regarding post pilot activity.

Concerns over resource and time constraints were clearly evident in the Aberdeenshire pilot's approach to stakeholder engagement. Project management staff reported that previous stakeholder and in particular community engagement exercises the council had been involved in had proven highly resource intensive, and expressed concern about the potential impact on project delivery. Consequently the pilot looked to reduce this risk by restricting its investment in this form of activity.

Another time driven decision that impacted upon stakeholder engagement, was that JHI were authorised to commence setting project objectives prior to stakeholder engagement. This was subsequently criticised by participants in stakeholder workshops and was acknowledged as a lesson learnt by the pilot. The failure to engage stakeholders sufficiently early in the pilot development process is regarded as being inconsistent with the ecosystems approach.

The Scottish Borders pilot elected to run an extensive programme of stakeholder engagement with this being integral to the development of the project. The programme was run by the Tweed Forum and engaged a significant number of local stakeholders from a wide range of backgrounds. In evaluation interviews both project management staff and stakeholders reported that they felt that the programme had been successful with this being in large part a result of the involvement of the Tweed Forum and its ability to draw upon its existing networks of contacts within the pilot area. It was however reported by the Tweed Forum that the approach had involved twice as much staff time as originally anticipated. This provides some evidence in support of Aberdeenshire's concerns about the resource intensive nature of stakeholder engagement.

It is difficult to be clear at this stage what the implication of the pilots' respective approaches to stakeholder engagement might be. Arguably higher levels of engagement might generate higher levels of post project activity and there is greater evidence of this in the Scottish Borders. This, however, may simply reflect the existing tradition of joint working on the land use agenda within this area.

There were some common issues in relation to engagement with stakeholders from both pilots expressing concerns about the perceived absence, or low level of engagement from some stakeholder groups. There was a clear desire to see greater engagement with sectors such as recreation, health, tourism and non-land management rural businesses. Some stakeholders (from both pilots) also noted 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 (297 out of 845 participants in open meetings).

Those expressing concerns about the absence of certain stakeholder groups were keen to note that they did not feel that their lack of engagement was a result of a lack of effort or oversight on behalf of the pilots, but instead suggested that barriers such as the lack of a clear incentive to engage may have been a factor, i.e. the benefits and reward for engagement in the process were not particularly apparent. Linked to this was a suggestion that the theoretical nature of the exercise and potentially the language used, e.g. that relating to the ecosystem approach, might also have deterred some individuals and organisations from becoming involved in the process. It was also noted that land owner / agricultural interests may have chosen to prioritise engagement in other policy consultation (e.g. CAP reform) over involvement in the pilots.

Overall, those stakeholders involved in the evaluation held positive views on both of the pilots and both were regarded as having taken an effective and reasonable approach to the development and management of what was seen as a highly challenging project.

There was evidence from both pilots that benefits had been generated through the development process and some evidence of future potential benefits. Benefits to date included improved relations between different stakeholder groups as a result of being brought together, in some instances with organisations with whom they did not usually engage, to discuss land management and land use in a different way to more conventional fora.

In particular the opportunity to pursue an ecosystems approach, and to do so at a strategic level, was welcomed by stakeholders in both pilot areas. Feedback received during evaluation stage 3 however suggests some uncertainty as to the most appropriate scale for land use planning, with a flexible approach being recommended. The Scottish Borders pilot reported that a key learning point from their project was that the sub-catchment area was the preferred scale for many stakeholders.

Although both pilots noted the need for further development of their work, they were able to identify several practical applications for the materials that had been produced. These included informing strategic development planning; use in flood risk management planning and the development of a new forestry and woodland management strategy.

Data and mapping outputs were also valued in and of themselves by some stakeholders, who suggested that the compilation of this information might yield unanticipated benefits. Weaknesses were recognised in terms of the scope of data availability, quality and resolution and stakeholders in both pilots suggested this might limit the use of the GIS tools in field scale land use planning. It was also noted that using spatial data in an ecosystems approach tends to have an inherent bias against cultural services that do not respond well to a spatial data approach.

Despite the perceived limitations of the GIS tools, there was also a desire to see them play a role in guiding land use planning and in particular it was felt that they could be used to target land use and associated support mechanisms.

Overall stakeholders from both pilots were cautiously optimistic about the potential of the pilots to have a positive impact on local decision-making. The emphasis in stakeholder responses however was on the word 'potential' with a common view being that more work was required to develop the pilot outputs as they were still at an early stage.


Email: Linda Gateley

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