Choose your battles wisely

Choose your battles wisely

by aurora planning

This time last year I took part in the Culloden Cycle Challenge, an event primarily aimed at raising money in support of the Highland Velodrome.  There are whole other blogs that could be written about that, and about planning for cycling more generally, but they are for another day….

The Culloden Cycle Challenge gives you the choice of three levels of challenge: the Big Battle (85 miles); the Wee Battle (42 miles); and the Skirmish (27 miles), the names reflecting the fact that each course starts at the Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre. Bonny Prince Charlie is not, however, the only one to have had a bruising experience at Culloden, with a high-profile battle (albeit one of a very different scale) more recently being played out over a proposed development of 16 new houses only 400m from the historic site, and the Culloden Challenge names could equally refer to this.  

Unfortunately, planning can often feel like a battle for both developers and communities, with high stakes on both sides.  Recognising this, the aims of the review of the planning system currently working its way through the Scottish Parliament include improving trust, encouraging different mindsets, and fostering a willingness to work with (and listen to the views of) others.  It remains to be seen how successful its proposals will be in terms of reducing conflict; I suspect it may just move the battlefield. 

But, as I was fighting my way around the Wee Battle, I reflected on what lessons we might learn from Culloden to help ease the pain in planning “battles”:

Do your homework/know your territory – Drummossie Moor (better known as Culloden) was an exposed and windswept boggy field; a hopeless place to fight a Highland battle.  The more you know about the proposed development you wish to fight for or against, the background to it, the people involved, the community in which it is to be located, and the policy context in which it is proposed, the better prepared you will be to argue your case on relevant and meaningful terms.

Ensure you have the right resources at your disposal – 5,000, ill shod, untrained and hungry Jacobites against nearly double the number of well fed and well equipped Hanoverians was always going to be an uneven fight.  But planning is not a pure numbers game. Rather, it’s about using whatever resources and expertise you have to best effect, focussed on material planning considerations.  That may sometimes mean spending some money on expert advice (whether that be planning, environmental or engineering consultants) but it can often be money well spent.  

Build appropriate relationships/alliances – the French helped lead Bonnie Prince Charlie to the Battle of Culloden but later withdrew their support.  Planning decisions can often take a long time to be concluded, so it’s important that your team is focussed on a common end, and is prepared to be committed for the long term.  Importantly, that common end should not just be to either stop a development or drive it through at all costs, but should be about maximising the potential benefits for all parties wherever possible. 

Understand when to beat a tactical withdrawal – Bonnie Prince Charlie left the battlefield before the fight was over and lived to tell the tale, albeit in exile in France.  Knowing when to withdraw, having given it your best shot, is important.  Planning “battles” can involve a huge emotional commitment, as well as time and resources, and can become all consuming, even when there is no realistic possibility of getting the outcome you desire.  It is also possible, given the nature of the planning appeal and judicial review processes, to win the battle but not the war.  And so, withdrawing during the battle may sometimes be the best course of action, rather than continuing to both metaphorically and practically throw good money after bad. 

Treat your opponents with respect – the Duke of Cumberland may have won the Battle of Culloden, but he has been left with the legacy of being known as Butcher Cumberland.  In planning, both the developer and the community must live together once the battle is over, and so treating each other with courtesy and respect for one another’s views and perspectives is important.  That is particularly so if both parties want to maximise the benefits of a development. 

And a key lesson for me is as C Joybell C wrote: “It's not winning battles that makes you happy, but it's how many times you turned away and chose to look into a better direction. Life is too short to spend it on warring. Fight only the most, most, most important ones, let the rest go.”   This year I’ve chosen not to the enter the battle (Culloden Cycle Challenge!), and sometimes that may also be the best option for you.

Or if you are going into battle and would like to find out about how aurora planning can assist you in any aspect of the planning process, please visit or email And, to receive future blogs and updates by email, please click here

Thanks for reading!

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