Places, people and planning – A consultation on the future of the Scottish planning system
This is a joint response from YouthLink Scotland and Play Scotland. We have a shared interest in engaging children and young people, play and access to outdoor space.
YouthLink Scotland is the national agency for youth work. They are a membership organisation, representing over 100 regional and national youth organisations from both the voluntary and statutory sectors. Their vision is of a nation which values its young people and their contribution to society, where young people are supported to achieve their potential. Through engaging in youth work, young people are more resilient, optimistic for the future, consider risk, make reasoned decisions and take control.
The youth work sector has a workforce in excess of 75,000 – including over 70,000 adult volunteers. These workers reach in excess of 380,000 young people in youth work opportunities each week.
Play Scotland is the national organisation for play and playwork, working to make children’s right to play a reality in Scotland. Play Scotland works to promote the importance of play for all children and young people, and campaigns to create increased play opportunities in the community. They are a membership organisation with over 700 members, many of which are large play or childcare organisations. They have over 14,000 followers on social media.
Children and Young People’s Access to Space
“Children’s play and learning, their close relationships and social interactions are dependent on the quality of spaces and places they inhabit”. (Brooker and Woodhead, 2013)
The spaces available to children and young people have an important influence on their health and wellbeing and, therefore, impact on levels of health inequalities in Scotland. Whether a place nurtures good health or contributes to poor health depends on a variety of factors which also impact on play:
- Place – the buildings, streets, public spaces and natural spaces that make up the physical environment of neighbourhoods
- Communities – the relationships, social contact and support networks that make up the social environment of neighbourhood (The Place Standard)
In addition, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child gives all children the right to play, rest, leisure and access cultural life (Article 31). This means children have an internationally recognised, universal right to access outdoor environments that nurture their play needs. With this, the definition of play stretches beyond the provision of discrete areas such as playgrounds, to recognise that children play in a manner of ways and should have the ability to independently realise their right as they get older. The general consensus from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child is that the UK is struggling to meet these commitments with similar, but distinct issues also for children of different ages.
Both place and community are strongly influenced by planning, and a range of research points to the lack of understanding and ability to cope with children’s spatial needs throughout the system. Whilst this is not suggesting that children are deliberately excluded from planning decisions and outcomes, it is clear that there is a tendency throughout public services to frame planning as an ‘adult’ service, rather than the universal service it is. Furthermore, children and young people have the right to have a say in all matters affecting their lives (Article 12).
The declining freedom to roam for children in the past few decades is an indication of this wider structural problem (see Policy Studies Institute report on Children’s Independent Mobility), and greater attention to the diverse play needs of children would be highly influential in improving the spaces we all inhabit. As recognised by the city of Odense in Denmark, ‘to play is to live‘, and far from being a discrete activity taking place only in playgrounds, children and adults can benefit from a more generally playful environment. This is something also recognised in Rotterdam in the Netherlands where all space is play space unless otherwise indicated. This gives primacy to the innate will of children to explore and experiment, which can be constrained by modernist, car dominated environments.
Children and young people’s involvement in planning should also include school estates. It is important that school estates support usage beyond school hours and include community partners. This is becoming increasingly important in times of austerity. There is little funding available to maintain and improve community facilities, therefore the role of schools as a community hub is crucial to stop erosion of community space.
In 2016 YouthLink Scotland and Play Scotland produced Playing Together, a report bringing together both the play and youth work sectors to ensure children and young people have access to play. One of the significant areas highlighted in the report was the issue of the wider public perceiving young people at play or in public spaces as anti-social behaviour. Problems were identified when public play areas where designed for younger children, as a consequence young people were made to feel unwelcome.
Poverty, Health and Planning
It is particularly important to have access to play spaces (natural and purpose-built) for children and young people from low income households. Currently, children from deprived areas have less ready access to different types of play space in their local area which in turn will impact their physical and mental well-being, social skill development and resilience.
A recent report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Mental Health Foundation showed that “poor people are concentrated within communities that have a poor-quality built environment, housing that is substandard and insecure, and poor access to open spaces and green environments.”
Play and learning outdoors have been proven to have a myriad of positive outcomes for children and young people including lower stress impacts, improved behaviour, enhanced cognitive abilities and reducing ADD/ADHD symptoms. Conversely, the lack of outdoor play is a causative factor in increased mental health problems for children and young people.
Scotland-wide figures show that more than 28% of children and 65% adults are overweight and obese, with obesity having a negative correlation with socioeconomic status. Play opportunities can factor in here, allowing children to exercise both their minds and bodies without the need for structured activity.
Gender, ability, play and independent mobility
Amongst both children and young people, there are concerns that boys get more exercise than girls, and also that boys are perhaps granted more independence in the local area than girls of the equivalent age. Evidence further suggests that the built environment provides greater opportunity for children interested in organised sports such as football, which tend to include more boys than girls. Other land uses such as skate parks can encounter similar issues, and there has been little done to approach the differing needs of children of different abilities and other characteristics. For instance, a review of inclusive play in Scotland suggested that there are many barriers to overcome in allowing disabled children the access to play opportunities that they are entitled to.
The ability of children of different characteristics to exercise their right to play and use public space has important impacts on their overall well-being, as well as other Scottish government policy goals. There needs to be greater attention to what different types of children and young people need from the environment, as well as generally improving the built environment for children and young people as a whole. As the next section details, this links with including more children and young people in decision-making, however actions can also be taken on the range of evidence that already exist about how children and young people use space.
Engaging Children and Young People in Planning
We are supportive of the move to increase engagement with children and young people in the Scottish planning system. We believe that, whilst linked, different approaches and methodologies may be needed for different age groups of children and for different types of planning engagement. We have therefore split this section between children and young people.
The youth work approach is particularly suited to participatory processes with young people. Youth work has three essential and definitive features:
- Young people choose to participate
- Youth work must build from where young people are
- Youth work recognises the young person and the youth worker as partners in a learning process
Utilising a youth work approach will ensure that young people’s involvement in the planning process is not tokenistic. In particular, it can address the issue that much of what is considered participation of young people, is in fact often more orientated towards their education with little chance for their views and ideas to take form. This can be the problem when participation exercises take the form of classroom style lessons.
Involving children and young people in the planning process would, if enacted effectively, have a positive impact on their rights. If their involvement is tokenistic or their views not listened to, this could damage future relationships and engagement opportunities between young people and planning systems.
In order to roll out the youth work approach in the context of the planning system on a national level, investment in the youth work sector is crucial. We recommend that existing youth work structures and organisations (both voluntary and statutory) are utilised to carry out this work. This will ensure a high level of professional competence in relation to working with young people and will also make use of an existing trusted relationship. Continued professional development for youth work practitioners about the planning system would ensure the workforce are prepared to lead young people’s participation specifically in planning. Additionally, learning for planning practitioners to understand children and young people’s rights and the importance of play and outdoor learning would be helpful.
Other ways of involving young people include using interactive games, such as Minecraft, and also soft GIS methodology in the maptionnaire system created by researchers in Finland. This has been used to some success in other northern European countries, and could provide fertile ground for greater involvement of a range of young people in the future.
In engaging with children, we believe that methods of playwork can be highly effective in eliciting their views and ideas. Play Scotland’s getting it right for play toolkit provides suggestions of how to go about this, and further examples from Wales provide suggested methodologies. For instance, in Wrexham when engaging with children about their satisfaction with play, they used a rating system and traffic lights to determine what they thought of their local area. Map-based methods are also useful, and PAS has developed tools for engaging primary school children in their charrette processes which have been used to present adults what children think about the area, and include their voice in town centre action plans.
Furthermore, greater investigation of how the Place Standard tool can be used for engaging both children and young people could be very valuable for local planning authorities. The introduction of an app and other children and young people specific resources, could be really exciting for children’s further participation.
This research was carried by a group of young people supported by the Poverty Alliance and Children in Scotland. The project was commissioned by Wheatley Group in June 2014 and took a participatory approach to understanding the needs of young people living in social housing in Glasgow and west central Scotland. Two groups of young volunteers were recruited: one of 14-17-year-olds and a second of 18-21-year-olds. Peer research training sessions were carried out before the young people were supported to design a research project, carry out fieldwork, analyse and disseminate their findings.
This report contains detailed findings covering a wide range of housing and community issues, however, more importantly, it provides examples of effective practice in engaging with young people.
There are also positive examples from the work of the Children’s Parliament, particularly their Streets Ahead Tranent project, where school-aged children worked together to present a mural of what they wanted from their area in the future. This provides both a fun process, and useful output that can communicate what children’s wider views and wishes for the area are.
Bridging Gaps – link
Galashiels Academy are working in partnership with Planning Aid Scotland, an educational charity that encourages everyone to get involved with their places through the planning system. Part of the project is the development of a digital tool that will support young people’s engagement with planning processes.
The Bridging Gaps project is the first of its kind in the UK encouraging a unique sustained partnership that will encourage and equip young people with the skills and tools of how to engage with planning their town and learn about decision making.
Answers to specific questions:
Making plans for the future
Q3a. At present the only policies that give advice on children’s use of space and participation are non-statutory, and often ignored. There are examples where planning authorities allow applicants to remove play areas or place them in inappropriate areas because no statutory policy protects children’s use of space. Greater alignment between policies around children and play and planning would be highly beneficial. It is also essential that children’s play is not seen as an optional extra, but an inherent part of the planning system that works.
Q4a/b/c. Yes, provided that they are truly evidence informed and take equalities considerations as a main port of call, rather than retrospective assessment after the plan is close to finalised. Supplementary Planning Guidance can be removed provided the plan covers the range of issues required, and there is scope to update the plan when new information comes to light.
People make the system work
Q9a. These plans should inform the development requirements specified in the statutory development plan.
Q10. In line with the proposal to improve the links between community and town planning, we believe that this could increase the attention to children and young people’s participation and play, provided that community planning partnership groups are supported and encouraged to recruit a diverse membership that should children and young people.
Q11. See above Engaging Children and Young People in Planning.
Working with colleagues from the play work, youth work and wider Community Learning and Development (CLD) sectors would enhance the participation of whole families in the planning process. CLD encompasses youth work, adult learning and community development. Where possible engagement should take place as close to any proposed development as possible, to enable people to visualise the place and give an informed view.
Q11a. Continue to develop a ‘children and young people’ friendly version of the place standard, currently being piloted by Planning Aid Scotland, and ensure accessibility of this and other tools.
Alongside methods to support the involvement of children and young people in planning, planning authorities should also record the views of children and young people and demonstrate how their input has influenced outcomes. In turn this should be fed back to communities in way that is accessible to all (content and where it can be found inaccessible from). Good practice would follow a “you said, we did” model.
Q12/12a. Yes. Current standards mean many are unaware of what is happening and unable to comment and most consultation processes are particularly inaccessible for children and young people. For major developments there needs to be some provision to actively get children’s views as they can be equally, if not more impacted by large developments in their area.
Building more homes and delivering infrastructure
Q.23. Section 75 agreements should be protected – some developments have agreements e.g. to provide community play space in the original planning applications and then it is ‘lost’ as land is sold on. If there is a development of housing for families it should be ensured that there is playing space near to the homes, which is then adopted and maintained in some way by the council or through a factor charge.
Stronger leadership and smarter resourcing
Q27. We believe that the most suitable people to engage directly with children and young people are youth work and play work practitioners. For planning professionals an understanding of children and young people’s rights and knowledge about the youth work and play work sectors would be beneficial to working in partnership.
Q28. Yes – engaging with Community Planning Partnership groups – need to develop greater collaboration between services that can co-deliver programmes with planning e.g. working with play and youth work teams to engage children on planning issues. Aberdeen City Council Environmental Services have a procedure of collaborating on provision on play space by consulting with local children and children’s play teams on plans for development of play spaces. The Aberdeen Play Forum team also co-wrote planning guidance on play spaces.
Q30/30a. Yes. We believe it would be useful to use the Place Standard (and potential children and young people’s version) as a monitoring tool and measure whether changes reflect the needs of those living in the area.
Q34. Standardise e-planning and improve search function. Children and Young people may have useful input on this as they are often better with online systems and technology.
See above Engaging Children and Young People in Planning.
Child Friendly Places, CERG http://childfriendlyplaces.org/resourcekit/
Child in the City http://www.childinthecity.org/
Play Scotland (2012) Getting it Right for Play Toolkit: A toolkit to assess and improve local play opportunities http://www.playscotland.org/getting-it-right-for-play/
Action 9.6 (Play Strategy for Scotland: Action Plan) Playing with Quality and Equality, Inclusive Play Review, November 2015 http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2015/10/1795
UNICEF Child Friendly City (2004) Building Child Friendly Cities: A Framework for Action http://childfriendlycities.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/pdf/BuildingCFC_AFrameworkforaction_en.pdf
For further information please contact Emily Beever, Senior Development Officer (Policy and Research) firstname.lastname@example.org or 0131 313 6815 or Cherie Morgan (Strategy and Development) email@example.com
 Mental Health Foundation, Poverty and mental health: A review to inform the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Anti-Poverty Strategy, 2016, p. 63
 Education Scotland, Outdoor Learning: practical guidance, ideas and support for teachers and practitioners in Scotland, p. 9-11
 Mental Health Foundation, Poverty and mental health: A review to inform the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Anti-Poverty Strategy, 2016, p. 64