Development Department Research Programme
Model Policies in Land Use Planning in Scotland
A Scoping Study
MG Lloyd and DM Peel
The Geddes Institute, University of Dundee
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The main aim of the study was to scope the potential of model planning policies, and, in particular, to advise on the most advantageous types and forms of model planning policy. The research was conducted between August and December 2003.
- Model policies mean different things to different service providers and users. The processes of identifying model policies require clear definitions and robust evaluation criteria as to what makes for 'good' policy.
- There is no single universal type of model policy. Three families of potential model policies may be identified - international, national and local. Model policies may be appropriate for international and national designations where there is a strong legislative basis. Environmental and protectionist policies fall into this category. Model policies may also be appropriate in local circumstances where there is sufficient similarity of context and practice between authorities.
- Each of the model policy families exhibit very different characteristics. These inform how policies may be drawn up, where potential expertise may be tapped, and how relevant and applicable such policies may be on a pan-Scotland basis.
- Model policies could be identified through the current revision of national policy and be disseminated through Planning Advice Notes. Stand-alone guidance on effective policy-writing and local development control policies is appropriate, particularly where no national guidance exists.
- The significance of the idea of model policies is that there is added value both in sharing model texts that work, and in sharing the discipline in policy drafting and implementation. Thus, model policies can be understood both as a product and a process of sharing best practice.
- Policies cannot be read in isolation. The identification of model policies involves much more than the comparison of wording across a number of development plans. Understanding what constitutes a model policy requires a much deeper awareness of a policy's intention, context and setting. Understanding how a policy works in practice is critical to its effective transfer between authorities.
Model policies were suggested in the Review of Strategic Planning as a way of achieving greater consistency in development plan policy statements. Policy harmonisation across Scotland is perceived as a means of providing greater certainty for all the interest groups involved in the planning system. The development and use of model policies is also promoted as a way to speed up development plan preparation for service providers and users, and thus to secure efficiency gains.
For the purposes of this study, model policies are understood as a set of policies upon which councils can draw where there is a strong policy steer from the Executive, or which deal with issues common across most or all Scottish authorities. Importantly, their use would not be mandatory.
Model policies are intended to draw on best practice and to promote the sharing of current experiences in making difficult and sensitive policies workable. They could pull out the essence of commonly used policy wordings that could thus provide a common approach across Scotland. Model policies could thereby prevent duplication in effort in drawing up policy which is applicable to more than one area.
The scoping study considered different types of model policies and examined their potential applicability and relevance for local planning authorities across Scotland. It identified the practical concerns of users and service providers; and looked at how model policies might be drawn up. It also explored how model policies might remain responsive to change and the role of the Scottish Executive.
Evidence was drawn from a range of sources. The Digest of Responses to the Consultation Paper provided a rich data-set of ideas about model policies. The wider literature offered important insights into the practice of policy drafting and transfer. A sample of development plans generated evidence of policy wording in practice. A series of focus groups with users, partners and service-providers across Scotland offered opportunities for the exchange of ideas and concerns about the practicalities of model policies and existing good practice.
Types of Model Policies
A catalogue of some 60 potential topics for model policies emerged from the Digest of Responses. The nature and scope of these policies varied considerably and included policies as different as sustainable development and light pollution. These topics may be organised by type and as three families.
- International - This family includes codified or prescriptive policies, usually taking their authority from international legislation and European Directives. Here, local interpretation or departure is limited in practice. The emphasis is on policy harmonisation. Example policies relate to Ramsar sites and Natura 2000.
- National - This family covers national or strategic policy. These policies are characterised by limited local discretion. Policy variation might be appropriate at the local level. Examples include environmental and protectionist designations, or developmental policies, such as telecommunications.
- Local - This family embraces policies that are products of local circumstances and practice. They relate in the main to development control issues, and commonplace policy areas, such as light pollution or Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems. The development of a set of model policies offers the potential to serve the needs of a number of local planning authorities.
Model Policies as Product
One interpretation of model policies is in terms of common wording and the identification of a model text which has been tested at appeal and in practice. There is an interest in overcoming the perceived tendency by local planning authorities to reinvent the wheel when drafting policy. A number of studies exist which simply compare the wording between policies. This scoping study also undertook such a comparative study. There is considerable diversity in policy title, style, format, and classification of policies. There is also a differing practice over the use of generic policy groupings. Local planning authorities are currently engaged in processes of reducing the number of policies in development plans, but this does not follow a common pattern. This lack of consistency is unhelpful. However, policies are more than sets of words.
Model Policies as Process
The development of a set of model policies depends upon the identification and sharing of best practice. More than the sharing of a set of words, it is important to place policy drafting within the wider process of the policy cycle (Figure 1). Hence, understanding the problem to be addressed, policy interpretation and implementation, monitoring and evaluation are critical. Thus, the drawing up of a development plan policy may include the selection or adaptation of a model policy.
Figure 1: Policy Cycle
At present, policy writing tends to be informal and ad hoc, based on personal knowledge and networks. Improving the opportunities for the sharing of collective wisdom was identified as important in enhancing development plans. Critically, however, it was emphasised that planning authorities are looking for ideas and examples that can be tailored to meet their specific local circumstances. The current lack of a set of policies generally accepted as being models of good practice suggests that a formal approach to drawing these up is required. The focus group evidence highlighted the need for face-to-face meetings which would provide opportunities for drawing upon and learning from wider experiences across Scotland.
It was evident from the research that at present the principal onus for drawing up policies lies with local planning authorities. There is an opportunity for the sharing of policy insights from the wider range of stakeholders involved in the planning process. Such a partnership approach to policy drafting extended to include voluntary bodies, special interest groups, and the Scottish Executive.
Towards a Policy Discipline?
There is clearly evidence of increasing attention being paid to the policy discipline of preparing development plans that are consistent and concise, and which provide certainty to users. More opportunities are required to harness the strengths of existing examples of policies that work. Planning Advice Notes or appendices to Scottish Planning Policies could provide an important means to sharing what works.
Whilst short-term efficiency gains may be achieved through the development of a set of model policies, this should not undermine the need for a strong policy discipline which has regard to context, interpretation, implementation and evaluation. Model policies may support the streamlining of planning practice. Such policies might also serve to foster innovation and better fit local circumstances.
To support improved policy making, a resource bank of examples of development plan policies, studies of best practice, and approaches to policy making should be set up and managed by the Scottish Executive. Attention chould be paid to improving access for authorities and users to search good practice in policy making. Such a facility should be appropriately resourced and make use of new technology. Information needs to be clearly sign-posted and managed.
New technology could be harnessed to invite stakeholders to nominate examples of 'good' policies that work. The on-going monitoring of policies needs to pay attention to their performance in practice and at appeal.
The scoping study makes the following recommendations:
Model policies must be grounded in the policy-making cycle. Specifically, they must pay due regard to the policy issue being addressed; the wording of the policy statement and its format, context and style; the effectiveness of its interpretation and implementation on the ground; and its refinement through robust monitoring and evaluation arrangements.
The policy families identified suggest that in the first instance, model policies that derive their authority from international or national legislation or regulation be drawn up. The added value of a model policy approach could then be tested.
Model policies should be incorporated into sectoral Planning Advice Notes and clearly contextualised. They should be for illustrative purposes only and should not be prescriptive. There is scope for a specific Planning Advice Note on development control model policies.
A separate Planning Advice Note should also be prepared setting out a clear policy making discipline, drawing on the policy cycle. This process should involve consideration of guidance to secure a common presentation and format of policies. This would make plans more user-friendly, promote greater consistency, and ease the transfer of policies between authorities.
A resource bank of policies that work and effective approaches to policy making should be set up and managed by the Scottish Executive.
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