Small Steps and Giant Leaps

SmallStepsFear of change can breed concern over development proposals but it may be the KIND of change, rather than the AMOUNT that is the real demon. Sadly, Planners are still blamed for 1960s tower block disasters, although the majority of us weren’t even on solids then. Creating a climate of confidence amongst communities is a challenge for us all.

It’s not just end users who need coaxing towards a new culture in planning. Our local authority colleagues are central players but find themselves mired in tight budgets, reduced income from planning fees and constrained private investment failing to deliver infrastructure and affordable homes. Now another challenge….

The new Scottish Planning Policy is the Scottish Government’s simplified statement on core planning objectives. It replaces a stack of unwieldy documents with a concise collection of aims any citizen can understand. That alone should be commended, as it immediately puts professionals on the back foot. Emphasis on the enabling role of planning is also welcome but it’s a subtle change in tone that local authorities must grasp quickly. How can they respond?

When Toyota introduced the fuel efficient Prius hybrid, it didn’t start from scratch. Toyota is famed for its ‘kaizen‘ strategy of continual improvement and the Prius was a logical evolution. With positive reviews and a popular model, Toyota put its foot on the accelerator. Unfortunately, the pedal stuck. We now know the brakes don’t work either. Presumably, kaizen is well and truly strapped in the back seat while Toyota pray the steering column isn’t next to fail. An unprecedented response was essential, hence the recall of millions of vehicles.

So, it may not be enough for Councils to roll slowly forward. Kaizen should be a constant companion for us all, but sometimes there’s a place for rapid transformation – the giant leap. Local authorities that fail to embrace change will find themselves squeezed from every direction – the Scottish Government, the private sector and ultimately their electorate.

We all need to play a part – including those in the development industry whose own acceleration saw them hit the wall so spectacularly. Last week, volume house builder Redrow stated with stubborn stupidity, “we will be returning to the old model as soon as possible”, which might be paraphrased as ‘we have learnt nothing and have no new ideas’. Redrow’s share price scrapes along at just 18% of its peak value over 3 years ago. What their shareholders make of this blunt and blinkered strategy is anyone’s guess. Meanwhile RMJM have taken on Fred Goodwin as a business advisor. It’s like Airbus asking Eddie the Eagle to design their next aircraft.

We need a leap into a new era of positive visions, responsive plans and sustainable change. Thankfully, some are already airborne. Others might need a leg up.

“Because I was born and raised in Ohio, about 60 miles north of Dayton, the legends of the Wrights have been in my memories as long as I can remember.” (First powered flight, 17 December 1903)

“Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed.” (First manned Moon landing, July 20th, 1969)

“We had hundreds of thousands of people all dedicated to doing the perfect job, and I think they did about as well as anyone could ever have expected.”

Neil Armstrong, Astronaut.

Richard Heggie