Planning Advice Note 83: master planning

This Planning Advice Note (PAN) 83 covers the masterplanning process from beginning to end.

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Preparing to masterplan

Once the need for a masterplan has been identified, it is important that the commissioning client establishes the physical boundaries of the area under review, and sets down, as clearly as possible, the provisional aims of the masterplan.

A successful outcome depends on careful preparation. Key factors which are important from the start include having a clear vision, writing a good brief, getting the right, committed, team, strong leadership and working together in partnership.

Issues to think about:

1. Vision, i.e. having clear aims

2. Brief, i.e. writing a good brief to establish the design principles and guide the process

3. Leadership, i.e. being a strong leader

4. Working together, i.e. getting the team right and working in partnership.

1. A clear vision

The vision for an area forms the foundation and the driver for a masterplan.

The vision for a particular site should form part of, or respond to, the larger strategic vision for an area and should, ideally, be set out initially in the development plan. The principle of development on a site, the vision for it, and the appropriate mix of uses will generally be established within the development plan, as will the requirement for, or intention to prepare, a masterplan.

Planning authorities should act to minimise any delays to development proceeding which might be occasioned by a requirement to masterplan. Draft masterplans may, for instance, be prepared in parallel with the preparation of the development plan, and agreed masterplans should help applications to be processed quickly.

In formulating a vision, the fundamental question to ask is:

What is the nature and quality of the place that we hope to create?

A major challenge is to ensure that the vision is capable of implementation. All parties must be realistic about what can be achieved with the available budget. Research, historical precedents, reference to examples of best practice, and site visits to other developments can all be good sources to help inform and test evolving ideas.

The local physical, social and economic circumstances of projects will vary widely and so any vision will always require to reflect unique site specific considerations.

2. The brief

Once a clear vision or direction has been established, the principles should be translated either into policy or a brief. If the masterplan is being driven by a local authority, the vision can be expressed in policies in the development plan; in a design guide; in a design brief; or in a brief for a design competition. When driven by a developer or a land owner, the brief can be developed in the light of national and (if any) local design guidance and their ambitions for the site.

Developing a good brief depends on an understanding of the social, environmental and economic context, the dynamics that drive investment decisions, and consideration of how the development will be implemented. In carrying out an initial urban design analysis to identify the strengths and weaknesses of a site, it may be necessary to collect and analyse baseline information on a much wider area than the site itself.

nature and quality

What is the nature and quality of the place that we
hope to create?

3. Leadership

It is important to have strong leadership in the masterplanning process (ensuring that the original vision is realised). The leader may be a political figure, a design champion, a member of the masterplanning team (from either the public or private sector), a developer, or a funder. Whether the process has one leader or several, their visible support and commitment should be in place at an early stage and, where possible, remain constant throughout. As development processes can be lengthy and the people involved can change, it is important that continuity of vision is achieved by ensuring that aims and objectives are clearly recorded at the outset.

4. Working together

Effective masterplanning acts to reconcile the needs of stakeholders across public, private and community interests. The process of masterplanning may involve local authorities working together in partnership, or internal departments within local authorities being set up to work in a coordinated manner; particularly in terms of planning, roads and transport. It can also mean setting up better links and processes with statutory consultees and may often demand close working relationships with developers, infrastructure providers, utility companies, and local communities.

The type and scope of the project should influence the selection of the right kind of masterplanner and the assembly of the best team. For example, the preferred masterplanner for a project may be one whose skill is to interpret the sort of place already envisioned by the commissioning client, or it may, alternatively, be someone who can inspire vision when no clear ideas have yet emerged. Masterplanning often addresses complex and challenging issues, and this must be reflected in a multi-disciplinary team. It should generally include those who can:

  • Interpret policy
  • Assess the local economy and property market
  • Appraise a site, and its wider area
  • Manage and facilitate a participative process
  • Draft and illustrate design principles
  • Programme the development process
  • Project manage the masterplanning process.

Different skills will be required at various stages of the masterplanning process, so it may be appropriate for different professionals to take the lead at different stages. It is essential, however, that, at all stages of the process, there should be continuity of the core philosophy and approach, supported by clear communications.

Where the site is in multiple landownership, effective joint-working arrangements need to be in place. A project manager can play a vital role in coordinating the project and keeping the work on track.

An example of working together: Renfrewshire Council


Renfrewshire Council has made a strong connection between planning and engineering to develop a specific masterplan for Renfrew Riverside. Successful outcomes were achieved as a result of the Council working together with landowners and developers to come up with a masterplan that would adopt contemporary design principles and be flexible enough to meet changing needs for the 21st century. The key to Renfrew Riverside's success was co-operative working together with a flexible approach to design standards to achieve a flagship development site incorporating over 2000 houses, business and leisure developments.



Telephone: 0131 244 7528

Area 2-H (South)
Planning and Architecture Division
The Scottish Government
Victoria Quay

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