It’s now one year on since planning reform was introduced. We’ve also seen the first 100 days of the UK coalition government which came to power promising reform and the “Big Society” agenda. There might not immediately be an obvious link between the two anniversaries but they both came about because previous systems were not responding well to rapidly changing economic, social and environmental changes.

PAS also understands about responding to and creating change as we move towards a social enterprise model, sharing our training, services and planning knowledge to benefit more people. We recently published new guidelines for our free advice service to include, in some cases, business start-ups, social enterprises and development trusts. This recognises their vital role in economic growth and the need to have access to professional advice at the earliest opportunity.

In terms of planning reform the enabling legislation we now have in place means a more strategic, balanced and open system, where everyone – from developers and builders, to planners, lawyers, politicians, communities, individuals and interest groups – is expected to take a more responsible approach towards the use of Scotland’s land.

Reforms introduced in Scotland on mandatory community consultation for certain development proposals are also reflective of the wider issue of the type of civil engagement that our planning system promotes and are in turn about the type of society we create.

The UK coalition government has an expectation of the public and community groups to take more responsibility for public services. Privatisation and outsourcing of public services are nothing new but as the budget crisis strikes there are some potentially innovative (as well as controversial) models taking place both north and south of the border in this respect.

In England the coalition is also advocating referendums that would require 90% community support before new, small-scale development can go ahead in villages. A new campaign group down south says that instead of referendums, parish councils should be able to initiate small community-led developments “within a reinvigorated and localised planning system designed to meet local needs”.

The PAS mentoring scheme, launched before the ‘Big Society’ was even beginning, is a good example of where initiatives from the grassroots can transform communities. The project works towards an enabling planning system, one which is not just about objecting, but is about community groups such as development trusts, creating their own places.

Knowledge transfer

From a village wind turbine, to allotments, community centres and any other community asset, this is all very much about the transfer of knowledge and embedding skills in communities not just for an individual case but also for the future.

What links all of this together, be it coalition government policy, planning reform or PAS, is the challenge for reformers to achieve culture change. Sometimes this can be elusive and it needs continually to be explored and debated. But we can’t consider reform in isolation from the wider shifts in thinking taking place in Scotland, the UK and beyond. It’s not just about statistics and policy, it’s about people’s lives – and including everyone in the process is the only route to success.