Rural Planning Policy to 2050: research findings

Findings from research commissioned to inform preparation of the next version of Scotland’s National Planning Framework, NPF4.

7 Opportunities to Support Diversification of Land Use

7.1 Introduction

The previous chapter identified 9 broad areas of development, and conclusions and recommendations relevant to planning are presented for each of these areas in Chapter 8. This chapter considers the broader theme of diversification, which is a process that is important to delivery of the kinds of development discussed in Chapter 6 and more generally to addressing the needs of rural communities and businesses.

Diversification is the process of becoming more varied or different. In the context of the diversification of rural areas therefore, this could mean rural areas doing more than ‘traditional’ rural activities (discussed in Section 5.3), and allowing such areas to host different, as yet undefined activities. Using planning as a tool to support this process is challenging, as planning has traditionally evolved as a discipline where certainty and control of activity have been at its core (see Section 5.6). Offering meaningful support to such a dynamic and fluid process as diversification may require quite new conceptualisations of ‘rural’, and different approaches to ‘development management’ on the part of planners.

One of the common themes coming through the research has been the recognition that planning for rural areas needs to reflect differences between rural territories as well as between rural and urban. A further theme is the promotion of place-based approaches to rural policy as a means of ensuring that development strategies begin with the communities and places they will affect. In addressing these themes, this chapter builds on Section 5.6 above by considering the need for new ways of conceptualising and approaching ‘rural’ within planning (and wider) policy, and it also examines ways in which planning in its current form may be able to assist diversification. The chapter also examines the research results relating to place-based approaches as a way to encourage diversification on an ongoing basis. The chapter also reflects on how planning may need to adapt its approach to rural areas in order to support diversification more effectively.

7.2 Planning & Diversification: Scotland in Context

The Scottish Government’s desk based study ascertained that “there is little information available on tools for innovative rural planning policy at national level”[155]. This conclusion is supported by our wider literature review. However, it is a conclusion for planning policy at the national level, and examples of innovations in rural planning exist at other levels.

In terms of future innovation in national-level rural planning policy, the recent Planning (Scotland) Act 2019[156] contains some key provisions that could be transformative in relation to the process of diversification. Firstly, it states that one of the key outcomes for the National Planning Framework (among others) should be increasing the population of rural areas of Scotland. Secondly, it provides for an extension to the statutory review period for Local Development Plans from 5 years to 10 years. Finally, the Act also provides for the preparation of Local Place Plans. These new measures will be returned to in Sections 7.3 and 7.4 below.

Atterton and Skerratt have noted that, irrespective of the structure of the economy of a rural region, supporting entrepreneurship by individuals and communities will help to diversify the local economy[157]. They note that innovation in rural regions may be undertaken by individuals and communities. Such innovation may be small-scale but nevertheless critically important to the future of a business or community group. On the issue of small-scale developments, Gløersen et al.[158] have argued that the informal economy has increasingly been important to the development of tourism and communities in Sparsely Populated Areas in Scandinavia.

The OECD have recognised that some rural regions now perform in line with urban regions in terms of economic growth[159]. Indeed rural regions make a significant contribution to national prosperity and well-being across OECD countries (Scotland included, see Section 5.3). Rural regions have diversified economies beyond agriculture and other natural resource-based sectors, and there is evidence of innovation and entrepreneurship in the most remote rural regions. As evidence from Scotland shows, such regions can be those where employment levels and innovation are high.

At the same time however, the changing world requires rural Scotland, like all other territories, to adapt and diversify. Writing in 2018 in the context of an impending Brexit, Atterton points out that justification for providing funding to agriculture and rural communities in general will be challenged as competition for resources becomes more apparent[160]. Creating a coherent, coordinated rural policy will therefore be key to: sustaining and diversifying rural economies; strengthening rural communities; ensuring the delivery of high quality services; maintaining and enhancing natural and cultural assets, and; retaining and attracting back young people.

Copus et al.[161] consider that the remote and Sparsely Populated Areas of Scotland and the Nordic countries are all facing particularly severe demographic challenges. They consider that social innovation is one of the key requirements of successful rural development in such territories, and the importance of this for the success or failure of sustainable neo-endogenous rural development should not be underestimated. They also stress that effective social innovation is reliant on financial and/or advisory support from outside. It is therefore necessary to strike a balance between locally instigated innovation and properly resourced outside support and investment. [162]

The new measures in the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019, the recognition that small-scale local innovation is a feature of rural communities, and the general need for adaptation and ‘social innovation’ are all profoundly important in considering how spatial planning and policy can support rural diversification.

7.3 The Rural Perspective in Practice & Policy

Planning and the challenges of supporting Rural Diversification

Scottish Planning Policy currently promotes the principle that the planning system should “in all rural and island areas, promote a pattern of development that is appropriate to the character of the particular rural area and the challenges it faces”[163]. Looking critically at how this works in practice however, a number of contributors to this research have questioned whether this is taking place (see Section 5.6).

In relation to Sparsely Populated Areas across Europe, Dubois and Roto have stressed that rural strategies need to focus on ‘soft factors’ and not on structural challenges[164]. This echoes the importance placed on ‘social innovation’ discussed above. It was also noted during the 2016 Scottish Rural Parliament that social and spatial planning needs to be linked for rural areas[165]. This was also reflected in our other research results.

“Remember that communities are made up of people and the planning system should work for them rather than stifling any creativity of thought and entrepreneurship.” (Torwoodlee Estate)

“Sustainable development: the increase in popularity and understanding of this term can provide a host of opportunities when equal weight is given to economy, society and the environment in decision making. This should be the purpose of the Scottish planning system.” (Woodland Trust Scotland)

“There is a distinct lack of synergy between planning, economic development, environmental and community needs.” (Alison Milne, Co-chair, National Council of Rural Advisors)

Development on the ground and the use of land are what planning in Scotland was originally designed to deal with in the 1940s, rather than the ‘soft factors’ identified by Dubois and Roto. This legacy may have influenced how diversification has been understood by policy makers and practitioners up to now. Planners may need to think more creatively about what ‘diversification’ means in order to engage with the type of strategies outlined above. Planning’s focus has perhaps understandably been on the clear deliverables of development on the ground rather than on ‘soft factors’ and ‘social innovation’.

A number of our research participants challenged planning’s understanding of rural Scotland (see Section 5.6). Also, as discussed in Section 5.3, agriculture, forestry and farming are no longer such dominant sectors of the rural economy as they once were, although they do remain important industries across rural Scotland. Despite this structural shift in the economy, some LDPs continue to consider these land based industries as the only ones justifying housing in the countryside.

Accommodation and food Services, and sustainable tourism, are now important to the rural economy and contributors to the research have suggested that planning policy could provide greater support for the development of these sectors. As an example the Scottish Tourism Alliance pointed to the estimated need for 25,000 new homes for tourism staff, while workshop contributors pointed to the need for more accommodation for seasonal workers.

Wider research has arrived at similar conclusions. For example, Atterton and Skerratt[166] have criticised previous approaches to rural policy for relying on the assumption that rural economies equate with the ‘land based industries’, and the assumption that only urban areas can act as “engines of national growth”, with rural areas relying on any multiplier effects from this urban-generated prosperity.

Conversely, the National Council of Rural Advisors has noted that rural and urban centres support and nurture each other in a bilateral way within the wider Scottish economy[167]. Our own research indicates that rural areas can be economically innovative and dynamic (see Section 5.3 in particular). Yet the smaller scale of such economic development means that it has been less prominent as a policy focus.

“…what we end up with is a scale of development that is not appropriate. The government wants to find the big flagship project that ‘sort it all out’. This is partly, at least, to do with the way the planning system works – it almost invites development to ‘go big’ because then the developer can claim big economic impacts (e.g. numbers of jobs) that helps to get permission. And as a result, projects that are never realistically going to be sustainable get through. What we need is more smaller-scale development, sustainable. Maybe creating 2 or 3 jobs, 2 or 3 houses. This takes an approach that facilitates not just regulates – a pro-active process that starts (a) with the beneficiaries and (b) outcomes.” (Jon Hollingdale, Chief Executive, Community Woodlands Association)

“It comes back to the economic argument – in rural communities 2 sustainable jobs can be as important as 20 sustainable jobs.” (Gavin Mowat, Policy Advisor – Rural Communities, Scottish Land & Estates)

“Smaller, sustainable development in all sectors is what our local area needs. Tourism is a rich income but tourism can't be relied on long term. We need to diversify into lots of smaller sectors - continuing traditional crofting and local, sustainable fishing, but increasingly looking at new ways to start new businesses locally.” (Anonymous)

“Digital communications are an essential way to ensure that residents in rural areas as well as farmers can have an opportunity to diversify their businesses into spheres that will almost certainly rely on internet based contact with customers. Accordingly improved broadband etc. is a transformative change” (Gemma Cooper, Head of Policy Team, National Farmers Union)

Recent work on the measurement of wellbeing[168] is taking a broader approach to assessment of the condition of rural communities and is helping to highlight the underlying strengths of rural communities that are lost in assessments based on economic data alone. By extension, planners may need to re-conceptualise the value of rural places, and the consequent damage that can be done to them if planning policies are serving to restrict the kinds of new development that are appropriate to the needs of those places, and the opportunities open to them.

Research by Scotland’s Rural College[169] has highlighted the perceived failure of planning to take a supportive approach to rural development in the face of landscape concerns, noting the tendency to regard rural landscapes as areas where development should be restricted in principle. As a consequence, rural resources have often received limited mention in planning strategies. This has resulted in innovative proposals not being put forward in the first place in rural areas or, owing to issues of environmental constraints, in delays to the processing of planning decisions.

This criticism, while echoed in some of our own research results, is tempered by voices that advocate a continued controlling role for planning to protect landscape assets.

Scotland’s Rural College has also found that remote rural areas suffer from seasonality and low wages, while accessible rural areas are where the lowest percentage of poor households in the country are situated[170]. Economic performance varies more across rural areas than it does across intermediate and urban areas. Similarly, ESPON’s work on shaping policy for islands, mountains, sparsely populated and coastal regions has stressed the importance of not making these territories function in the same way as ‘mainstream regions’[171]. Promoting uniqueness is seen as a way of offering more promising economic development perspectives that can be easier to translate into policy actions. These observations amplify the call that a ‘one size fits all approach’ to rural is not helpful.

The Rural Planning Summit in September 2018 highlighted that rural planning needs to be locally responsive and differentiate its responses to the development challenges of rural areas from the responses found in urban areas. Differentiated responses could be manifested in a number of ways, that may in fact stray beyond the locus of planning itself, such as through: adopting technical standards that are more appropriate to local conditions and risks e.g. different roads requirements; closer agency/private/public sector working; a greater role for community planning; and, an approach to planning that is outcome-focused rather than overly concerned with details. Similar commentary on the perceived prevalence of detail and over-regulation of planning and land use in general has also been provided by the National Council of Rural Advisors[172].

At Scotland’s Rural Parliament in November 2018, flexibility was advocated as a means of unlocking diversification. The integration of land management and planning was also seen as a key objective, as was (again) recognition that the diversity of rural Scotland means that one size does not fit all and that urban ‘standards’ are not appropriate in areas where things rarely are standard.

There is wide recognition evidenced here that development opportunities and constraints in rural regions are different to those in urban areas. Rural regions are diverse and strongly shaped by their specific natural environments. Thus their development paths are substantially different from the standard model which focuses on urban areas. Rural regions should perhaps therefore employ different development models adapted to reflect the specific features of having low density of population and different types of economic activity.

Participants in our research commented that a lack of recognition for the differences inherent in rural areas mean that unsupportable burdens are placed on small developers, and that in a more general sense there is ‘over protection’ that works against ‘benign development opportunities’. Yet, participants also stressed that difficulty in meeting standards did not imply underlying fragility or weakness in rural areas, but rather a need to reconsider how processes could be adapted so that they more easily serve rural communities. A common suggestion was that planning should become more of a facilitator in rural areas than a regulator.

“Let people come up with their own ideas for businesses and be flexible enough to support them.” (Anonymous)

“Planners need to become facilitators for the future rather than regulators for the past.” (Anonymous)

“Having an overarching framework is good however this needs to split off into specific frameworks for different areas. (Moffat stakeholder workshop)

“Rural is not weaker, it is just different. A lot of the differences are because of choice, not because rural areas are necessarily weaker.” (Professor Russell Griggs, Chair, South of Scotland Economic Partnership )

Following on this theme, Copus and Hopkins have reported research findings that indicate support for the principle of ‘island-proofing’ national policy, including planning, to ensure that decisions made are applicable to the needs and characteristics of islands, given the differences that they exhibit from mainland contexts[173]. Comments were also received in the consultation on the recent Planning Bill (now the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019) for recognition of ‘difference’ to be extended to non-island rural areas in recognition of their distinctiveness and need for different approaches.[174]

The foregoing paints a picture of planning as a process that may struggle to deliver diversification for the different needs of rural areas. It also points to areas where planning may need to re-conceptualise what rural is, and what the function of planning should be in rural areas. The particular perceived deficiencies with planning can be characterised as comprising: a lack of attention to the human components within rural communities; an imbalance between planning’s ability to control and its role in encouraging and supporting development; a misunderstanding of economic activity within rural areas; and, a continuing urban focus that largely perceives ‘protection’ as the key purpose of planning in rural Scotland.

Planning’s potential to respond positively to diversification

It may be that the most effective way to encourage diversification is not to seek to deliver diversification itself through planning efforts, but rather to create the conditions where diversification can thrive.

The new Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 and the various outcomes it introduces in relation to the National Planning Framework represent an important opportunity for planning to re-conceptualise how it supports diversification in rural areas. By focusing the NPF on outcomes such as: increasing the population in rural areas; meeting housing needs; improving health and wellbeing; improving equality and eliminating discrimination; securing positive effects for biodiversity; and, meeting greenhouse gas emissions targets, the 2019 Act enables a renewed focus on the underlying conditions from which successful diversification can emerge.

This point about the importance of underlying conditions is one that came up at our Oban workshop during a discussion about diversification. A workshop contributor noted that tourism itself, while a form of diversification, is not a transformational development. Rather, tourism only thrives where the underlying conditions of the host place in which it is situated are attractive to potential visitors. In this view, the key transformation is in the underlying conditions, and from this, new development flows.

This comment echoes the findings from other aspects of our research, which also suggest that successful diversification comes from ensuring that the conditions are in place to support new and innovative investment decisions. The literature on this issue includes a 2016 OECD report that recognises that, while growth comes from improving connectivity to export markets and matching skills to areas of comparative advantage, improving the provision of essential services is also key[175]. The OECD also note that the policy focus must evolve away from short-term and sectoral support towards helping to build conditions favourable for the long-term growth of low-density economies. While the process of economic diversification is about identifying one or more new and profitable niches for an area, the success of such economic diversification is only likely to take place where underlying conditions encourage people to change and vary what they do. There will be risks relating to any change, and people are less likely to take risks if there is increased uncertainty about their likely chances of success. It follows that if basic infrastructure to support experimentation and future expansion is not available, this could stifle entrepreneurship and prevent those changes being made at source.

Housing is a good example of this approach to supporting diversification of the rural economy by focusing on the underlying conditions allowing it to take place. As reported in Chapter 6, in the responses to Question 16 of the online survey – on types of development that might be particularly important in generating wider positive change for rural communities and businesses – housing was identified as a priority by both individuals and organisations. In this context, housing is potentially transformational in economic terms because the provision of adequate and appropriate housing helps to retain and attract the people who will deliver diversification of the rural economy. It is, of course, potentially transformational in wider social terms as well.

It is important to stress that a number of Scottish LDPs do already specify depopulation as a key threat to their area’s prosperity, and accordingly contain flexible housing policies that support growth in rural areas that are not only remote from larger population centres, but have the capacity and potential for growth (e.g. Aberdeenshire, Argyll & Bute, Shetland). It is useful to consider that the driver for Aberdeenshire’s strategy of allowing permissive housing policies around identified settlements was based on capacity in local rural schools. This is similar to the approach highlighted in a review of LEADER projects from across the EU that cited ‘place-marketing’ in the North-east of the Netherlands as a means of supporting development in areas where there is room in local rural schools. Clearly, then, attempts are already being made to consider how rural planning policies focused on housing can be used in creative ways to underpin other parts of rural communities’ infrastructure.

There is limited discussion within the research responses or the literature (beyond those already addressed in Chapter 6) of specific forms of diversification that could be better supported by planning. The examples noted in previous chapters that could be supported include further tourism opportunities, the expansion of crofting and extended permitted Development Rights for the diversification and redevelopment of agricultural buildings. While not addressing planning directly, the study of Northern Sparsely Populated Areas in Scandinavia shows that young adults are overrepresented in all municipalities where there are opportunities for higher education[176]. This illustrates the effects of proactive policies promoting education in rural areas, which of itself is likely to promote further diversification. Education was a topic that was also discussed at the stakeholder workshops.

Scotland’s Rural College has pointed to community landownership as a means to rebuild community capacity, confidence, increase employment, investment, housing and reduce out-migration[177]. Sarah Skerratt’s work on behalf of SRUC/the Prince’s Countryside Fund, also looked to land ownership or asset transfer as a means of community empowerment[178]. Land ownership was also mentioned by several of our community sector research participants in the context of diversification.

Some of these specific suggestions for diversification of particular aspects of the economy or for changes to asset management or ownership arrangements fall squarely within the remit of planning, while other do not. More generally, diversification can take many forms and it is therefore difficult to anticipate in a prescriptive way. Being overly prescriptive about the possible forms of diversification may in fact prove impossible. An alternative approach is to provide greater support for encouraging those underlying conditions that create a platform allowing diversification to take place. This could be a way in which planning in its current form could encourage greater diversification and experimentation within rural communities. One of the six key outcomes the new Planning Act seeks the National Planning Framework to contribute to is to increase the population of rural areas of Scotland. This is considered to be an important development as it will have implications for housing, an area that has been highlighted in the research as having potential to support greater diversificationPlace-based Approaches to Policy & Their Implementation

7.4 Place-based Approaches to Policy & Their Implementation

The section above has shown that planning support for successful diversification in rural areas may be about a process of recognising the value, difference and growth potential of such territories, while being proactive in helping facilitate projects. This could lead to an interesting shift in the practical work of Local Authority planners as they potentially become more community facing in order to try and implement and deliver local planning strategies. This may be more helpful in delivering diversification than setting out a prescriptive list of built developments through planning policy; the list approach being a simple extension of the control and restrict format that has been critiqued through this research.

Skerratt has noted that the adoption of a place-based approach in national policy-making in Scotland offers the opportunity to develop a more positive dialogue around the future of rural communities based on their wider range of economic, social and environmental assets and their often untapped potential.[179] In the potential shift noted above, the role of planners could become one where they are principally engaged in understanding what these assets are and in working with communities and businesses to determine how best they could be developed and used to the community’s benefit. The research supports this view of rural areas as places that provide resources and opportunities both for traditional activities and for more innovative use to support vital new functions. These functions offer a new economic base for a rural region and can provide sources of income and employment.

“A place-based approach to rural development, building on existing assets and evolving within a more diverse pattern of land ownership and changing land use can help to deliver positive change.” (Dr Calum MacLeod, Policy Director, Community Land Scotland)

“We need communities to be much more at the heart of planning. Community-led plans. We need to involve communities and understand what they need. There is a need to listen to the community and then to have a discussion with the community, to strike a balance between what the community says and other priorities and concerns. Sometimes priorities may be greater and sensibly over ride the community view but that view must be sought and regarded.” (Professor Russell Griggs, Chair, South of Scotland Economic Partnership)

Delivering the more holistic approach to diversification that is outlined above could be helped by the two further provisions of the 2019 Planning Act, i.e. the provision to extend the statutory review period for Local Development Plans from 5 years to 10 years and the provision for community bodies to be empowered to produce Local Place Plans.

Dealing with the first of these, it is useful to reflect on early work as to its purpose. It was the independent review of the Scottish planning system in May 2016, which was undertaken as a prelude to the Bill being lodged, that first suggested this frequency for LDP reviews. The reason given for this was that:

“Local Development Plans should set out a 20 year vision and focus on place, rather than policy. The preparation process should be streamlined to a 2 year period, leaving the remainder of the time to focus on implementation and work with local areas to build in community led plans.”[180]

This approach – especially the focus on implementation and work with communities – seems to align with the holistic approach to diversification set out above.

The provisions set out in the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 imply that Local Place Plans and Local Development Plans will be informed by each other, providing an additional mechanism for promoted place-based development.

If the 2019 Act seeks to free up officer time, allowing them to focus on implementation and work with local communities, it is important that there is an understanding of the best way to get the most from this change. This would mean encouraging planners to reconceptualise what rural communities are, and work alongside communities and others to realise diversification opportunities. As noted in the previous section, the Autumn 2018 Rural Planning Summit discussed the need for closer agency/ private/ public sector working; a greater role for community planning; and, an approach to planning that is outcome focused rather than overly concerned with detail. This was essentially a discussion of place-based approaches to planning.

Atterton and Skerratt[181], following Barca, define place-based approaches in the following way:

“A place-based policy is a long-term strategy aimed at tackling persistent under-utilisation of potential and reducing persistent social exclusion in specific places through external interventions and multilevel governance. It promotes the supply of integrated goods and services tailored to contexts, and it triggers institutional changes. In a place-based policy, public interventions rely on local knowledge and are verifiable and submitted to scrutiny, while linkages among places are taken into account… this strategy is superior to alternative strategies that do not make explicit and accountable their territorial focus….”

Place-based initiatives promote the participation of people and communities, and focus on building on local assets. They promote joined-up partnership-working with communities and public, private and third sector organisations working to tackle issues together.[182] In the EU, there has been a shift in the last two decades from emphasising the challenges facing rural areas towards a more positive assets-based approach that asks what support is needed to enable rural communities to fulfil their potential.

“Integrated service provision, things around the place principle. Emerging thinking from local place plans is that you maybe need a broader local outcome plan or a community action plan that pulls in outcomes from a number of community engagement exercises not all about planning or land use”. (Robbie Calvert, Policy and Practice Officer, Royal Town Planning Institute)

“Identifying why residents, would-be residents, land owners, businesses, investors, and visitors value each specific area/place, agreeing together what the values are and jointly identifying ways to use these tangible or intangible assets/values to attract appropriate sustainable investment and development (with Advice from specialists) . Those values could be related to culture, history, sense of place, nature, views, jobs, health, economy, agriculture, traditions, community cohesion, architecture, safety etc.” (Anonymous)

In addition to positive characterisations of rural Scotland arising from the research of Scotland’s Rural College[183] and in the OECD’s New Rural Policy: Linking up for Growth[184], Hopkins and Copus’ work on measuring wellbeing at the community scale[185] notes that remoter rural areas perform well in relation to quality of life, safety, life satisfaction, environmental quality and political engagement. Remote rural areas have the second highest household income of any region, and figures for jobs and earnings and education are strong. In remote small towns, a relatively high proportion of housing is low cost therefore offering opportunities for new residents and entrepreneurs. These observations are echoed in their work on mapping disparities[186].

The James Hutton Institute’s work on Scottish Sparsely Populated Areas is similarly upbeat, suggesting that SPAs have the potential to become new “engines of prosperity”[187]. The OECD’s Rural 3.0 Framework for Rural Development looks ahead and recognises that rural areas will be critical to addressing the challenges of the 21st century, which include developing new energy sources that meet climate challenge, innovation in food production for a growing population, and the provision of natural resources that will enable the next production revolution[188]. ESPON’s paper on Shrinking Rural Regions in Europe[189] points out that these territories in fact offer a natural ‘green’ advantage due to the decreased pressure on the environment, increases in green spaces and decreases in pollution.

“Resource pressures could bring more opportunities for collaboration in many areas such as between local authority and the private sector in bringing forward strategic development.” (Gavin Mowat, Policy Advisor – Rural Communities, Scottish Land & Estates)

The promotion of local place-based networks to champion rural assets was historically pioneered by the OECD, which through its 2006 New Rural Paradigm[190] positioned rural policy as an investment strategy to promote competitiveness among rural areas. In emphasising the great potential of rural areas, it recognised that successful policies for rural areas require a multi-sectoral approach; no one sector is sufficient to bring about rural development on its own. This approach represented a radical departure from the typical subsidy programmes of the past, aimed at specific sectors (particularly agriculture). It promoted a bottom-up approach in which local engagement is key, contrasting with the top-down strategies that have traditionally been favoured. At its core, the New Rural Paradigm focused on the positive attributes of rural places as contributing to wider societal goals, rather than on the fragility and perceived deficiency of such areas. Andrew Copus’ work on the OECD approach[191], highlights that it necessitates the promotion of rural business development and diversification. The current perceptions of planning’s focus on ‘land based industries’ discussed in the previous section, seems to align more readily with a vision of rural areas being ‘in need’ rather than having ‘potential’.

Jane Atterton’s various analyses of the OECD approach highlight particularly how it deals with places rather than sectors, recognising that rural places are all different and that accordingly one approach will not work for all[192]. A place-based approach may, for example, highlight that some areas need specific infrastructure, while some would benefit from strengthened urban-rural linkages, and others should remain important places for agricultural production. This all needs to be reflected in different development strategies which need to extend beyond planning and into any number of different policy areas depending what the particular local assets happen to be.

Fundamentally, the OECD approach encourages economic growth across the board, and promotes innovative forms of joint service provision in order to deliver this. These approaches may be quite different from those traditionally favoured in protective planning policies where the potential for increased rural productivity may not lie at the core of the approach toward local development management.

“Diversification – we need more start-ups, and more businesses using tourism as an opportunity to provide a range of services, lumping things together, such as laundry, showers, food, retail, bike hire”. (Camille Dressler, Chair, Scottish Islands Federation)

In 2016, the OECD published Rural Policy 3.0 which finesses the New Rural Paradigm approach and emphasises that policies should focus on enhancing competitive advantages in rural communities, and should draw on integrated investments and the delivery of services (rather than subsidies), adapted to the different needs of different rural communities[193].

Even where depopulation and shrinkage is accepted, ESPONs work on Shrinking Rural Regions in Europe[194] points to place-based strategies as offering ways of managing such change positively. This would include diversifying the local economy to capitalise on local resources and comparative territorial advantages (e.g. natural capital, local heritage, renewable energy, tourism opportunities). It would include measures to increase resilience and adaptive capacity by downsizing less sustainable components within the local economy, where appropriate. It would include improving environmental sustainability and ensuring access to basic services and infrastructure in order to improve live-ability and the quality of life.

Organisations such as Scottish Rural Action have repeatedly noted that communities should be funded and supported to undertake planning and visioning work for their own local areas[195]. The workshop report by National Council of Rural Advisors also highlights the value of place-based approaches where local communities devise solutions to the issues they face, offering encouragement and support to local businesses and people[196].

The empowerment of people to take decisions for their community is a defining feature of place-based strategies. Dubois and Roto note that improving local entrepreneurial culture will have substantial leverage effects on local economies, and by extension diversification. This aligns with the discussion of ‘social innovation’ in the preceding section[197].

“If the local businesses could grow and develop there is also an opportunity for special vocational education and training for rural businesses. This is not the same as training in urban businesses because employees in rural businesses need to be more flexible and multi skilled.” (Anonymous)

“Self-reliance, with 'local economies' supporting small enterprises” (Sebastian Tombs, Chair, Lismore Community Trust)

“I believe that what we have achieved at Standingstone is a model which has interesting lessons for other places, and while I don't think we have a 'cookie cutter' model I do think we have a lot to say about how to arrest and reverse depopulation.” (Anonymous)

The SRUC report on the Implications for Rural Areas of the Christie Commission Report on Delivering Public Services was positive in its evaluation of the readiness of rural Scotland for place-planning techniques[198]. It considered that rural communities have high levels of capacity to engage with place-based approaches, and that rural areas may offer ideal sites for the exploration of innovative approaches to joint delivery, the use of digital technology, and public-private-third sector collaboration. Some are already doing this. The report highlighted that rural areas are likely to have stronger social networks and contacts than in urban communities, and thus higher levels of engagement and social capital, which make place-based approaches to planning more appropriate and likely to succeed.

“In our experience, communities are responding to all these challenges in various ways - often turning negative issues into opportunities.” (Development Trusts Association Scotland)

“There needs to be a clear line first for what we are trying to achieve. Perhaps rural communities do need to do more stuff themselves in order to support these places. If there is going to be Local Place Plans, maybe there needs to be business plans too” (Derek Logie, Chief Executive, Rural Housing Scotland).

In terms of implementing place-based approaches in the specific context of planning policy, Atterton and Skerratt’s work provide a starting point in identifying the ways in which general rural policy has adapted from a top-down strategy to address ‘need’, into a bottom-up strategy to capitalise on ‘potential’[199]. Their study cites the change in language used in the EU Rural Development Programme between 1996 and 2006 as evidence for this. This offers encouragement for supporting a similar shift of focus in planning policy in the coming years.

Elsewhere further encouragement may come from an examination of the OECD review of rural policy in Scotland and England that was undertaken by Atterton and Rowe[200]. Examination of the English review highlighted that many of the principles of the New Rural Paradigm were in evidence, with policy interventions tilted more towards investment than subsidy. More broadly the review of English practice found positives on the broad-based approach that was seeing rural policy go beyond farming. It is significant that English planning practice includes the creation of Neighbourhood Plans as a means of empowering communities. This can be used as an additional vehicle to the Local Plan to specifically express local development aspirations. It follows that the creation of a system for producing robust Local Place Plans could help Scotland’s rural areas alter their fortunes and undertake positive diversification too.


It is worthwhile reflecting briefly on the obvious challenges to adopting a place-based approach to planning for rural communities.

Firstly it seems instructive to consider planning lawyer Neil Collar’s reflections on the overall evolution of Planning Law in Scotland.

“A criticism frequently made of Statutory Planning is that it has consistently promised far more than it could hope to deliver.”[201] (Collar, 2016)

In her 2018 paper[202], Atterton sets out a list of suggestions for how a coherent, coordinated rural policy could be formulated in order to (among other things) sustain and diversify rural economies. This list is worth reflection in considering how planning might enable diversification in the future using more place-based approaches.

  • Building a more positive narrative about rural Scotland;
  • Taking a networked approach to rural development;
  • Ensuring an accurate, up-to-date evidence base exists to inform policy;
  • Ensuring an integrated approach to rural policy;
  • Rethinking the value of rural proofing;
  • Taking a place-based approach to policy;
  • Strengthening rural communities;
  • Recognising the breadth of economic activities and contributions across rural areas
  • Placing rural areas at the forefront of future opportunities and challenges
  • Acknowledging and strengthening rural-urban linkages.

Given the collegiate approach central to place-based approaches, it is acknowledged that planning would not have to take responsibility for all of these. Nevertheless issues of: resourcing data collection; coordination and ongoing engagement with stakeholders; and, allowing adequate officer time to input to the process across multiple communities, would be very challenging.

Atterton and Skerratt[203] note that underlying this place-based approach is a need for accurate and up-to-date evidence about all aspects of rural areas and the actors within them. They caution that without a full evidence base, appropriate policies cannot be shaped for different places.

The capacity of local people to engage in activities is essential if such an approach is to be taken. While some rural residents might relish the opportunity to engage in community planning, it is likely that some will not – one of the comments received from the Moffat stakeholder workshop, for example, was that communities are suffering from consultation fatigue.

In terms of officer time, and notwithstanding the implementation of a ten year LDP cycle, and a possible shortened 2 year LDP preparation process, the size of Scottish Local Authority areas (some of the largest by area and population in Europe) could make effective officer engagement in this process across many rural communities very challenging unless staff numbers can be increased or officers can be deployed in radically innovative ways.

Finally the place-based approaches here assume a key role for policy planners, given their roles may evolve as a consequence of the change in the frequency of LDPs. This would not directly address issues of development control that are the cause of much documented anxiety in terms of roads standards and delays to decision making on individual applications, for example. One potential resolution for this would be if Local Place Plans, delivered through place-based approaches, were to evolve into Masterplan Consent Areas that have also been included as a new provision in the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019. If they did, then this could provide a solution that would allow developments that diversify local land use to be delivered more quickly as long as they conformed to the requirements of the Masterplan Consent Areas.



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