Involve the young more in planning

30th May 2008 at 01:00
Dull, turgid and remote are how the majority of people view our national planning system, while young people regard it as irrelevant
Dull, turgid and remote are how the majority of people view our national planning system, while young people regard it as irrelevant.

But new legislation in Scotland is about to lead to the most radical overhaul of planning in 60 years, and will affect everyone, from a croft on the Western Isles to a tenement in central Edinburgh.

Planning matters to us all. Whether it's the location of a new school, the construction of a new hospital, or the development of a new housing estate, it is vital to everyone, especially young people who will have to live with the effects. Everyone interested in the future development of their neighbourhood should understand the importance of planning, how to get involved at the earliest opportunity and feel confident that the process has been meaningful.

The new legislation places an emphasis on pre-application consultation and will ensure that adequate engagement takes place between the developer and the community, prior to an application being lodged with the local authority. This also extends to the authority when it is shaping the development of an area.

There have always been opportunities for people to become involved in planning, but these have often been regarded as highly complex, remote and technical. Young people feel planning information is simply not targeted at them, and are put off by the complexity of the language and format.

Events we have organised for young people in Port Glasgow, on the future of community involvement in planning, attracted some under-16s, and it was clear from their responses that they were interested. But they felt excluded through ignorance and lack of opportunities to take part.

So when we talk about greater involvement in decision-making, we must ensure that all sectors of society, including young people, are involved. This means creating more opportunities for them to engage in an informal manner in places where they congregate, be it play groups, youth clubs, the shopping centre or outside the school gates. It means bringing the planning system to them, through innovative ways.

Education is the key. So we are developing a project which will encourage primary pupils to take an active role in the planning process. It will involve children, young people and families and raise their awareness of how planning affects their day-to-day lives. It will also support teachers in the development of A Curriculum for Excellence and explore links between social studies, science and numeracy. It could form a prototype for schools throughout the country.

The Planning to Act programme uses visual art, drama and creative writing to raise awareness, and is an exciting approach that can engage young people. As we extend it over the coming months, we hope to help them make informed choices.

The new legislation is a golden opportunity to ensure greater involvement by young people in this process. A radical change in culture will be required to ensure they play their part in delivering the best future for Scotland.

Petra Biberbach is executive director, Planning Aid for Scotland.

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