5. Potential impact on land use decision making in local areas
Research Question: Do the regional frameworks have the potential to make a positive impact on land use decision-making in the local areas?
As stated in section 1, the aims set for the pilots were:
- To trial a mechanism which considers existing and future land use in a collective and integrated way, with a view to optimising the use of the land.
- To establish a mechanism to prioritise or guide decisions about possible competing or conflicting uses.
Stakeholders and project management staff were asked in the stage 3 evaluation workshops whether they felt that the outputs from their projects, and in particular the GIS tool, were expected to deliver improved local decision making in relation to land management.
5.1 Findings from the pilot areas
In the final evaluation workshop, the project management team suggested that the delivery of practical benefits from the tool was still some way off. Both the project management team and some stakeholders felt that the views and actions of the Scottish Government would largely determine the potential for future impact.
In the final evaluation workshop, the project management team indicated that they felt the pilot approach had helped to fill a current gap in integrated land use management planning and thinking. It was suggested that the tool could play a useful role in helping to 'illustrate' the interconnectedness of issues and potential land use change to communities, thereby helping to promote the principle of ecosystem services and providing a mechanism to explore future consequences.
The project management team suggested that, in the future, the approach could usefully compliment statutory land use plans. The tool could be used, for example, to inform the main issues report of local plans, thereby helping to provide the context for decisions. However, it was pointed out that statutory planning control is limited to built development, which covers only about 2% of the Aberdeenshire area.
Stakeholders (in the stage 3 evaluation workshop) suggested that the tool might be useful in community planning and development, in forestry and in strategic approaches to river basin management. It was also noted that through providing a mechanism for targeting SRDP funding, the tool could be seen as an investment that might generate future savings through allowing for a more effective disbursement of public money.
In terms of the impact of the pilot's practical legacy, it was reported that Aberdeenshire Council intended to build on the pilot's work when developing a new regional Forestry and Woodland Strategy suggesting that:
'Much of the Pilot's work is highly relevant to the creation of a new [forestry and woodland] strategy, and the broad overview of land use issues, coupled with the tools developed by the Pilot, will aid its production.'
In addition, the Council is intending to explore how the pilot approach might influence the statutory planning processes, notably Local and Strategic Development Planning.
Stakeholders involved in the final evaluation workshops and telephone interviews suggested that they felt the land use decision-making tool had the potential to have a positive impact on land management, not least because of the current absence of an alternative mechanism. Overall, however, they felt that the pilot tool needed to evolve before it could be applied to this end.
One commercial landowner (Scottish Borders pilot telephone interview) indicated that they felt the tool should have a role in guiding SRDP funding to help ensure that it delivered value for money to the public purse. This perceived need to link the tool to SRDP funding was endorsed by many of the stakeholders who participated in the final evaluation workshop and was seen as being a potential future benefit of the tool. A number of respondents to the pilot's final consultation exercise also noted the potential role of the tool in guiding SRDP funding.
A perceived drawback of the tool was that the underpinning datasets were too high-level to allow for a detailed consideration of local areas, thus precluding its application at the farm scale. In short, it could be used for targeting, but there would then be a need for on the ground 'truth checking'. This issue was also identified by a number of respondents in the final consultation exercise run by the pilot.
Another reported data-related challenge was that the value of the tool was limited by the availability and quality of the data. Some types of activity (e.g. woodland/forestry) are much better covered by existing data sources than others. The tool may therefore be more useful when dealing with issues such as woodland strategy and flood management (another area where good data exists). Data for issues such as biodiversity and cultural issues is much weaker. A key learning point is that data needs to be kept up to date if data-based tools are to remain relevant and useful.
The relatively coarse nature of the data was also seen as being problematic when trying to engage wider stakeholders, as it was felt that people were more likely to think in terms of their local area than at a catchment scale.
Overall, stakeholders felt that the framework approach, and the tool in particular, needed to evolve in order to realise its potential. However, several stakeholders noted that the maps and data collected to inform the tool could potentially be very useful in and of themselves, with potential applications that may not yet have been identified.
During the final evaluation workshop, the Scottish Borders project management team noted that the framework had significant potential to deliver benefits, but that for this to be fully realised the framework needed to be able to guide SRDP spending to provide a clear incentive for engagement with the process. The Tweed Forum saw this as something of a 'deal breaker' (in the sense of 'if not used for that, then what is the value?') and suggested that making this link would help to address the current disconnect between strategy and delivery - something which was seen as an ongoing risk for the future roll out of pilot approaches.
The Scottish Government has provided further funding to enable a range of phase 2 work including testing the potential for the framework by developing a methodology that could further inform targeting under SRDP, including the Agri-Environment Climate Scheme and the Forestry Grant Scheme. SBC has commissioned Tweed Forum to undertake this aspect of the phase 2 work.
In terms of more immediate practical applications, SBC noted that the tool was seen as being a viable mechanism for helping to inform flood risk management plans and the management of natural capital on the Council's own estate.
Both pilots were supportive of the concept of regional frameworks as a mechanism for guiding land use decisions; this was seen as a means of filling a perceived gap in current land use planning. 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 - including biodiversity offsetting and targeting under the existing Scottish Borders Woodland Strategy; use in flood risk management planning (Scottish Borders) and the development of a new forestry and woodland management strategy (Aberdeenshire). Given that both lead local authorities stated their intention to build on the work undertaken by their pilots, this suggests that it does have the potential to make a positive impact on at least some aspects of land use decision-making in Aberdeenshire and the Scottish Borders.
Beyond this, there was support from both pilots for the idea of using the GIS tools - one of the principal outputs of the pilot projects - to guide the strategic targeting of SRDP funding. Some stakeholders viewed this as an approach that could yield significant potential benefits, although it was noted that any such approach would be constrained by the limited scope and detail of the datasets that underpin the tools.
Email: Linda Gateley
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