Planning Advice Note 83: master planning

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

This document is part of a collection

Creating a masterplan

There is no set rule for creating a masterplan. Most masterplanners have their own style and approach, often related to their experience, ability and knowledge. The following, however, attempts to describe a simplified process for creating a masterplan. Whilst each stage is presented separately, in practice the design process is often more iterative than linear. Whatever the preferred approach, the overarching aim should always be to create sustainable places.

Scottish Sustainable Communities Initiative

The creation of well-structured and effective masterplans will be required for Scotland's new sustainable places.

The vision for the future of housing in Scotland encompasses an increased supply of housing across all tenures, all of which will be delivered to higher environmental and design standards. In addition, the Scottish Sustainable Communities Initiative will encourage the development of new, sustainable communities of varying sizes. These may be much-expanded or new, stand-alone settlements that are sympathetic to Scotland's landscape and environment.

Simplified process for creating a masterplan

Simplified process for creating a masterplan


Stage 1: Site appraisal

Good design depends on thoroughly understanding the site. A number of different types of appraisals may be used. In most cases there will be a need to assess in terms of its physical/environmental characteristics, social factors and economic needs.

i. Physical/environmental characteristics of a site

The following checklist is a guide to a physical appraisal of a site. The checklist can also be found in the Design Snapshot publication. Not all elements will apply to every development and, in some cases, other issues will need to be added.

Context: Responding to the physical context of a site depends on understanding the elements within and beyond its boundaries, understanding the dynamic between what will be held within the site and what will be reached from it or through it.

Context (the site and surrounding area)

Local area

Location of the site (and land use)
Surroundings (eg urban, residential, industrial)
Is the site in or near a conservation area?

Site description

Planning history
Ownership of the site
Adjacent land uses, and relevant planning proposals
Heritage conservation and listed buildings
Focal points
Views to/from/over site
Topography and contours
Microclimate (wind, sun orientation, exposure, shelter)


Public utilities (eg underground services, drainage systems, overhead power lines)
Public services available locally (eg schools, public transport, local facilities)

Identity: One of the key characteristics of many successful places is that they have a distinct identity. The masterplan may take inspiration from the character of existing development or it may seek to establish a new character or identity.

Identity (local character)

Surrounding buildings

Building lines (groupings, rhythms and plot/feu sizes)
Entrances (styles and sizes)
Windows (styles and sizes)
Active frontages
Scale (height and massing)
Appearance (facades, details and materials)

Use of the space

Spaces between buildings (public and private)
Variation of use (day, night, seasonal)
Safety and security

Hard landscaping

Street furniture
Condition and maintenance
How people use it
Public art

Soft landscaping

Landscape character and quality, and ecology
Need for ground modelling (ground conditions)
Nature conservation areas
Wildlife habitats
Tree preservation orders

distinct identity

One of the key characteristics of many successful
places is that they have a distinct identity.

Connection: Through examining existing movement patterns in and around sites, consideration can be given to how connections can be strengthened and improved. For example: how routes to/from and through the site can be enhanced or created, how routes and spaces will be used, and how they can help to make a good place to live. The local authority's highway engineers must be involved at this early stage as equal partners charged to find solutions which promote safe and sustainable patterns of movement.

Connections and movement

Vehicular movement

Access, parking and circulation
Bus and tram stops and routes, taxi stops, cycle routes
Areas of vehicular/pedestrian conflict
Traffic measures (eg speed humps, surfaces, crossing points, bollards)
Servicing arrangements

Pedestrian access

Where are people coming from and going to?
Desire lines
Disabled access
Barriers to easy access

ii. Social factors

When creating successful places, people must be at the heart of the process. The local community's understanding of the needs of an area are invaluable in establishing priorities and arriving at a vision for a place. Once the local community and key stakeholders (the community in its widest sense) have been identified, early discussions can provide a wealth of information about the area's history and how it functions. An engagement plan could be devised to identify mechanisms for involving the community. These will establish opinions and confirm local people's aspirations for the place. Various types of interests may have to be engaged in different ways. Those planning on engaging local communities throughout a masterplanning process may want to think about the following questions.

Some useful questions to consider when thinking about engaging with the community

  • How will the community be made aware of the programme for participation?
  • How will those most likely to be affected be given opportunities to make their views known?
  • Will the engagement be in a manner, location and at a time that allows a wide range of people to make their views known?
  • How will the masterplanning team analyse the results of the engagement and provide feedback to the community?
  • How will the masterplanning team respond in amending the masterplan?
  • How will the community be able to review any changes to the masterplan?
  • Where changes are made, how will details of revised plans be publicised with an explanation of how people's views have influenced it?
  • How will a management scheme be devised in collaboration with local communities? (For example, the developer may consider assigning community representatives on to a local project review or management panel.)
  • How will development agreements be developed in discussion with local communities?

The engagement process should be carefully planned and supported by the team involved in the project, or where necessary, skilled facilitators. The success of the process will depend on its participants playing a key part, and knowing that their involvement can make a difference. It's useful if they have access to appropriate information and support throughout the masterplan process, and preferably a single point of contact. Further guidance on effective community engagement is available in PAN 81: Community Engagement, Planning with People.

An example of a structured approach towards community engagement: Enquiry by Design

Enquiry by Design (EbD) is a collaborative planning approach using design workshops which has been developed by The Prince's Foundation for the Built Environment to ensure that design is at the heart of the development process from the outset. The EbD process relies on a concentrated effort over a short period of time, and assembling the right information in advance of the design workshop is critical. The aim is to collate a wide range of relevant information about a given site and to reconcile this with the aims and aspirations of all key stakeholders. Community involvement is central to EbD, and the process facilitates informed decision-making between key stakeholders, who, in addition to the community, typically include local authority planners, elected members, landowners and developers, as well as a team of specialists and designers. The process also has an educational component, drawing concepts of traditional urbanism, sustainability and context into the discussion.

The EbD process can be adapted for use in a wide variety of physical and social contexts, from urban regeneration to green-field development, within different statutory planning frameworks. The model is therefore applicable to any development, with the aim of ensuring that the end product is driven by good design principles. The process enables stakeholders to appreciate the context of the site, providing an understanding of how it functions and what the consequences of its development would be on the surrounding environment and community, with every issue tested by being drawn. As the vision generated through an EbD workshop is based on consensus amongst everyone linked to the development, it typically makes quick delivery of the plan more achievable.

The first EbD workshop in Scotland took place in Ballater within the Cairngorms National Park (November 2006) followed by EbD's at Ellon (Aberdeenshire), Castletown (Caithness) and most recently, near Cumnock in East Ayrshire. Tornagrain (Highlands) has also used a similar approach to community engagement. The overall aim for all of the places is to generate sensitive growth and long-term plans for sustainable communities.

iii. Economic needs

An area's capacity for development, and its economic and market potential, will need to be taken into account during the appraisal process.

In collecting baseline data, it is important to examine the links between the existing social, environmental and economic contexts in order to determine the needs for regeneration and to show how investment should be targeted. In particular, it is important to be aware of housing market needs and to understand

how local businesses perform and relate to the local and wider area. A comprehensive approach to providing facilities and infrastructure can generate market confidence in the viability of the development.

Land ownership can be a key factor in determining how a coherent planning approach can be developed. Early discussions with financiers should also be factored in at this stage.

Stage 2: Analysis

The next stage is to assemble all the information from the site appraisal and establish the relevant policies which need to be taken into account. Most of these will be contained in the following range of documents:


  • National policy and guidance
  • Local authority development plan policy
  • Supplementary planning guidance
  • Urban design frameworks
  • Design guides
  • Site-specific and development vision opportunities

Other useful documents

  • Natural heritage: For information on addressing natural heritage issues in new areas of development see a report produced by Scottish Natural Heritage titled New Housing, Settlement Expansion and the Natural Heritage (Report No. 120).

If a previous masterplan for an area was produced, but never implemented, it will be important to assess why it was not delivered, and to ensure that any problems are understood and remedied at an early stage. Likewise, if the plan had been through a Design Review process it could be useful to re-visit the report. It is also advisable at this stage, to discuss with your local authority the need for environmental assessment. The Scottish Government's Strategic Environmental Assessment ( SEA) Gateway can informally advise further on SEA requirements.

It is important to focus on identifying priority issues and opportunities for positive change. If necessary, further collaboration with the community throughout the analysis process, drawing on local knowledge and understanding, can help reveal a deeper insight into real needs.


Stage 3: Developing the design

Design concepts should be worked up using the information gathered at the previous stages in the process. A useful technique to help develop concepts is to consider layouts in terms of three key uses (buildings, spaces and movement). A clear way to illustrate this, which has been successfully explored in Bavaria, is to show these uses in three colours: red (buildings), green (spaces) and yellow (movement). The image below shows how these relationships can be presented in a single diagram.

As the design process evolves, different ways of translating the original aspirations into physical development should be explored. The best designers will devise a number of feasible options. Options should identify the elements which are essentially fixed or given but highlight where choices might exist, for example on connections, building form and heights, landscaping and phasing.

Stage 4: Testing the design concepts and finalising the masterplan

Once the design options have been firmed up, it is useful to test the design concepts to find the best solution which achieves the vision and can be delivered. At this stage, it is useful to present the masterplan in three dimensions to better visualise the site and its design concept. This presentational style will also help people without design knowledge to better understand proposals.


Drawings can sometimes be easier to interpret than
text, since a large amount of information and spatial
relationships can be expressed in a single diagram.



Telephone: 0131 244 7528

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

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