Interview with Fiona Simpson and Andy Kinnaird, Experts from the Scottish Government
The National Development Strategy must integrate local development and spatial planning in consultation with the citizens
November 9, 2023
We interviewed Fiona Simpson, Chief Planner & Director of Planning, Architecture and Regeneration and Andy Kinnaird, Head of Transforming Planning in the Planning, Architecture & Regeneration Division for their vision for the National Development Strategy of Republic of North Macedonia. They both serve as experts in the development of the spatial planning and regional development sections of the strategy.
What are the most significant factors that need to be considered when creating a national strategy for urban and spatial planning?
In Scotland we were clear from the outset that our strategy aimed to address the global climate emergency and nature crisis – there has never been a more important time to do this. And we want to achieve that in a way that builds a green economy and addresses inequality in society. The priorities will vary between countries, but they key is about bringing together the wide range of programmes and strategies and applying spatial thinking to set out a clear vision for the future which can guide the development we want to see in the future.
Having a clear, overarching set of priorities and principles helped us greatly, so that the whole strategy could naturally build from that strong foundation. And deliverability was in our minds from the outset. That means building consensus and bringing the different sectors and parts of the country with you, especially those who will ultimately need to play an important part in the strategy’s delivery.
Could you please share some successful strategies used in spatial planning in your country and how these could potentially be of benefit to us?
In essence, our strategy aims to respond to the specific challenges and opportunities for each part of the country in response to shared national priorities. It has been important to identify long term and strategic opportunities for development and investment through our national developments and to ensure connectivity between our network of cities as well as to and from our rural areas. Providing a flexible framework for regional strategies and local development plans to progress further has also been important. Establishing a high status for our national strategy in legislation, sitting alongside the local development plans produced by our local municipal authorities, has given significant weight to these strategies and plans in shaping how decisions will be made about future development in all parts of Scotland.
The approach in North Macedonia will need to be tailored to the specific context for the country. Our impressions are that there are many special areas that should firstly be protected, such as the UNESCO World Heritage site at Ohrid and the special habitats, woodlands, and upland area. There are significant infrastructure projects that will shape opportunities for investment, including trade routes that connect the country with its neighboring markets. The plan could promote planned development across a network of cities and towns as an alternative to the continued growth of Skopje. It would also be timely to identify the country’s capacity to support investment in renewable energy generation, particularly solar, and it seems that solutions for water and drainage infrastructure will also be increasingly important.
How do you incorporate sustainability and environment-friendly strategies in your urban and spatial planning efforts?
In Scotland we identified the key sources of emissions and considered what could be done by urban and rural planning to support a path to net zero. For example, our plan strongly supports more renewable energy, and our policies discourage development that relies on significant levels of car movements. This has been embedded across all of our policies – for example our policy on new homes requires stronger local services to be provided, to support more local living, and we are promoting more green infrastructure to help us to adapt to the impacts of climate change. We are also protecting key assets including woodlands and peatlands which provide important carbon stores as well as biodiversity benefits.
What is the best way to involve the community in decision making processes for urban and spatial planning?
When we embarked on the development of Scotland’s fourth National Planning Framework, we set out to engage people across the country, to listen and to genuinely hear what they told us. People know their areas best, but they don’t all have the same needs or opinions, so we sought to reach out as widely as we could across different communities and interests. We found it important to engage people in ways and places and times that suited them, so we conducted a roadshow reaching out to communities across Scotland’s urban, rural, remote and island areas.
We used a range of different methods to involve a range of people – from politicians and professionals to members of the public. We found it is important to be clear about the outcomes we want to achieve and challenges we need to address to frame the engagement, while keeping it simple and using open questions that empowered people to tell us exactly what they think. We also used participative mapping to encourage people to imagine what their country could look like in the future.
Can you highlight some public participation mechanisms in your country's spatial and urban planning processes?
There have been many stages of public participation, and it’s important to start talking to people early in the process. One of our most successful approaches has been to ask people to think about the long-term future, and to draw their ideas on maps, rather than just using words – this helps them to express their views spatially. We also commissioned experts to write imaginative ‘think pieces’ imagining Scotland in 2050, to help spark a debate about the priorities for our plan. We worked closely with our local authorities and provided financial support to community groups to encourage them to hold their own meetings to discuss their views and feed into the consultation. Round table discussions involving development sectors and interest groups, as well as the planning profession, were also very useful.
When asking people to engage and share their ideas and aspirations with us, we found it important that they can then see how their views have been considered and reflected in the production of our strategy. We produced and published a detailed explanatory note, in which we set out what people told us and how we used their views, explaining the ways that opinions and ideas were, or in some cases were not, reflected in the final version of our strategy. In all Scottish Government public consultations, we also adopt a ‘We Asked, You Said, We Did’ approach, publishing a summary of how our decisions have been influenced by people’s responses to our consultations.
What advice might you give to cities in our country that are facing similar urban planning challenges as you have in your home city/country?
This is a difficult question as the solutions need to be tailored to the context in each case. In terms of the process of preparing a plan, listening to people, and using the evidence is a very good starting point. That way interventions, infrastructure and development can be prioritized and targeted where it is needed most. Spatial plans can become very complex and technical – we would recommend making it accessible to members of the public and stakeholders and keeping it simple.
How can urban and spatial planning prioritize the highest interest of public and common wellbeing, ensuring inclusive and sustainable development for communities?
We have taken a decision to respond to the global climate emergency and nature crisis and that has required some difficult choices to be made, but it also provides new opportunities for our economy and communities. We have also seen our plan as a vehicle for delivering on our national outcomes and priorities including to build a wellbeing economy, reduce inequality and improve public services. To achieve that, we needed to work with a wide range of people, be clear about the outcomes we wanted to achieve, and how we were going to get there. We recognize that not everyone will agree with the approach we have taken, but it is the role of Government to achieve better outcomes for future generations by upholding the key principles of the plan. That ultimately requires collaboration with a wide range of parties to deliver change.
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