Having given birth to a daughter at the beginning of this year, I find myself wondering about the world she will grow up in, the challenges facing this, and what planning might do to address some of these… In particular, extreme weather events over the past few weeks since she was born make it impossible to ignore the climate crisis we’re facing, and the increasing impact that this is likely to have on the places where we live. And then there’s the importance of living somewhere she can grow up to be healthy, and with access to the education and opportunities that she needs to succeed in life. So, what role can (and should) planning play in all this?
Climate change – the potential for good planning to help climate change was expressly recognised in the Scottish Government’s Programme for Government 2019 – 2020, which set out a bold ambition for Scotland to be at the forefront of global action on this. In this regard, it is important to not just look at designing places to cope with the changing climate (by, for example, incorporating flood defences and designing streets to provide shade in hotter summers) but also at using planning as a tool to directly address underlying causes of our changing climate. It is envisaged that the fourth National Planning Framework will help to radically accelerate the reduction of emissions, with planning seen as vital tool in leveraging the changes needed to transform Scotland’s cities, towns and rural areas into places that support lower emissions lifestyles and businesses.
While good planning has the potential to transform the places we live though, this will need to be accompanied by significant culture change if lower emissions lifestyles and businesses are to become a reality. And that’s something we can all take a bit of responsibility for, planners and non-planners alike.
Health – there is some irony in writing this as I am sat hunched over my laptop with a sleeping baby in one arm, but we are an increasingly sedentary society, in particular spending an increasing amount of time in front of screens. In turn, this is resulting in a whole host of health issues, both physical and mental. And, whilst planning might not be able to drag people away from their screens, it can facilitate the means to encourage more healthy lifestyles by, for example, designing places that prioritise pedestrians and cyclists, and where our homes and our places of work are close enough together to make these viable options on a daily basis. At the same time, opportunities for both formal and informal recreational activity are also important. On which, I am rapidly becoming an expert on what play facilities are available where in my local neighbourhood! And these are not just places for children to have fun, but also where they learn, where they make friends, and around which communities are formed. In other words, the importance of having access to good quality play equipment cannot be underestimated, with that arguably applying to adults as much as it does to children. As someone wise once said, we don’t stop playing because we get old, we get old because we stop playing.
Education – wherever new residential development is proposed, one of the big concerns is often the pressure this will put on local schools, with this usually addressed through the payment of s75 contributions toward the building of new schools, or the extension or reconfiguration of existing ones. While this is effective at creating the school capacity needed to accommodate new development, my greater concern at this stage in my parenting journey is nursery provision, demand for which seems to outstrip supply. Should this be something that is assessed in the same way as school capacity is when looking at what infrastructure is required to support new development? I would say it perhaps should, at least for statutory childcare provision!
These are of course just a few of the issues that the world will need to face as my daughter grows up, and there are many others that are equally important or even more fundamental to the quality of life of future generations, including, for example, access to high quality and affordable housing, and fulfilling employment opportunities. Ultimately, it is impossible to predict what the future holds, but there is certainly a lot that can be done in the present to make her world a better place, and good planning is key to that.
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Thanks for reading!