Places Need Leaders – Part III: Better Leadership

©  Architecture and Design Scotland 2011 uk

Trevor Davies and David Adams
Professor David Adams holds the Ian Mactaggart Chair of Property and Urban Studies in the University of Glasgow.


This is part three of a short study which follows on from ‘Delivering Better Places in Scotland: learning from broader experience’.  Published in 2010, it investigated eight case studies elsewhere in the UK and Europe and from them provided valuable lessons about the process of delivering better places and set out a framework for action in Scotland.  It laid out three critical elements of that framework.  These were good leadership, the co-ordination of delivery and investment in the stewardship of place over time.

Places Need Leaders now looks at the first critical element: that of leadership.  Good leadership is first in order – but also first in importance.

This is not a definitive study, but rather sets out the scope of the issues. Part one is a summary. Part two asks why the quality of place is important to all of us and examines the nature and task of local leadership.  This part examines improvements we consider necessary if local leadership is to deliver successful places.

Our study suggests that good leadership asks, and answers, two deceptively simple and fundamental questions.  Part two looked at the first of those questions: “What do we want our place to be like?”

Now we turn to the second of those questions:

How do we get there?

At present, the answer is not at all well.

Our places, especially new ones, are not as good as they ought to be. Almost all the professionals involved in making or re-making the built environment in Scotland say that, by and large, the best and the average places in Europe are a very long way ahead of the best and the average places in Scotland. They work better for the people who live and work in them.

For instance, in 2008 the Scottish Government’s own Council of Economic Advisers, commented in its first annual report that ‘Too much development in Scotland is a missed opportunity and of mediocre or indifferent quality. There are a few examples of new or regenerated places which are well thought out, some fine new buildings and smaller projects that are to be welcomed but they are the exception rather than the rule.’

Why does it appear more difficult to build in Scotland places that are as good as elsewhere?

There are always beacons that shine out from the rest, but if most development, and therefore many places, in Scotland are ‘mediocre’, what is it in the way we do things here that allows mediocrity to happen or pushes us in that direction? Not all Scotland’s place-making is bad, but before we can think about improvements we do need to understand why it is that we so often get, and seem content with, mediocre places.

There is certainly an issue with leadership. If we’re not getting the successful places, and if leadership is fundamental to that, (as everyone and not just Delivering Better Places in Scotland says) then it follows that Scotland doesn’t have enough good place-making leadership.

Why is that? Are our people simply not good enough? Is there is a lack of knowledge, skills, ability or confidence among those who ought to be the place leaders at a local level? Is training and education and encouragement lacking? Or are the good people simply not in the right place?

Or should we look deeper? Is there anything holding back lively, skilled and competent people, both at a political and professional level, from even coming forward into local authorities and their place-shaping role in the first place?

Or do we have good people and they are being prevented from doing an excellent job by other factors? Do they, for instance, have the means to do the job?  Articulating values, creating a vision and deciding ‘what do we want our place to be like‘ doesn’t take special legal powers or way of doing things.  But if our place-making leaders don’t have sufficient powers and resources to co-ordinate delivery in the way that those leaders have elsewhere in Europe, or for some reason can’t adopt an effective way of working, there’s little point in creating the vision. Which is why we also need to question the environment local leaders work within: governance and culture and relationships.

Successful places come about through the effective co-ordination of many different actors. This task is essentially one of governance, which in its widest sense is defined as “the various ways through which social life is co-ordinated”.1 In the making of places the style of governance, which necessarily always includes government itself, has changed over the years – from hierarchical forms through to ‘governance-through-markets’ to the more recent forms of network governance.

The great success of the top-down hierarchical form of place-making in the UK in the post-war years was the creation by central government of 28 new towns across the UK with the intention of eventually housing some 2.8 million people.  But, with large-scale central direction, governments did not find it easy to pay enough attention to the quality of those places and there were significant examples of mediocrity in new towns and elsewhere.  Today, the remnants of that top-down hierarchical governance still hinders good place-making because there remains the strong expectation, though it is changing, that those at lower levels will adhere strictly to one-size-fits-all rules set at the top:  laws, statutory regulations, regulatory agencies and government circulars.

‘Thatcherism’ and ‘Reaganomics’ then fundamentally changed the mode of governance by ‘rolling back the state’ and introducing market-based competition into what had previously been governmental hierarchies.  Those parts of government that appeared hostile to this governance-through-markets, like the Greater London Council, were closed down. Much of the state was ‘hollowed out’ by the removal of resources and powers, including local planning powers. Governance-through-markets produced its own distinctive places – convention centres, luxury hotels, executive apartments, up-market shopping malls and places of entertainment, designed to attract the urban well-off and reinforce the image of the city as an enthusiastic participant in the new global prosperity. Often little thought was given to the effective provision of urban infrastructure, such as transport systems, or to co-ordination between individual developments, and certainly not to the nurture of social capital; and municipalities had no powers or resources to ensure that it was. Today, neo-liberalism remains a powerful political philosophy. At a local level, Scotland’s councils still work within a ‘hollowed out’ framework of government and the dominant influence of private capital. As a consequence they compete with each other for scarce government resources. Mediocre places are often the result.

Neo-liberal market thinking about competition in public service led to a fragmented and complex range of government service providers, especially at a local level, so much so that academics have called it ‘the congested state’. In reaction, what is left of municipal government now seeks to co-ordinate agreement between the many local agencies made responsible for the delivery of services that once had been theirs.  Such ‘network governance’, or community planning as it has been enshrined in law, is complex and long-winded, exacerbated because the internal and external boundaries of the administrative city rarely coincide with those of the functional city.  Better places are now on occasion being delivered in Scotland through network governance, but it depends on uncommonly large goodwill, trust, time and resource, which the congested state is not well structured to deliver.

Inadequate and muddled systems of local governance are not the best environment in which to encourage and empower local leaders.  They have a detrimental and determining impact on the culture within which leaders must work.

Culture – or “the way we do things here” – is more difficult to define and to get to grips with.

The Scottish Government believes a significant avenue for securing the delivery of better places in Scotland is through ‘culture change’. It says Scotland’s local council planners in particular have too great a reliance on rules and regulations: they have a ‘compliance culture’ and it needs to change.  We need to ask if that is that right and if so – how did it get there?  Is it perhaps rooted in the way government itself, as part of a hierarchical system of governance, set up the rules and regards those who implement them? Or has it come from the professional institutes, whose rules may reinforce a particular way of thinking about the world and some of whose members use the cover of professional standards not to engage either with other professions, elected councillors or the needs of a place ? If so, do the rules need changing alongside the culture?

Or has this ‘compliance culture’ grown for other reasons?  There appears to be widely in the UK, not just in local councils, an unhealthy attitude to risk – we see it sometimes in what can be our over-zealous ‘health and safety’ regulations. What role does our general attitude to risk have in sustaining this compliance culture?  And is risk real and built into the rules and regulations for good reason or is it simply a perception, or a protective mechanism, which arises from other sources?

When compared with the European case studies In Delivering Better Places in Scotland, there also appears to be an underlying reluctance within the layers of  government, especially at a local level, to innovate or learn or step out of line.  Why do we have this sort of personal compliance culture?  Does it arise in any way from our wider governmental culture? Mark Twain once said “If your only tool is a hammer, all your problems are nails.” In other words, do our present laws and systems so box people into set ways of thinking they are discouraged from innovation and learning?

Local councils are created and largely funded by central government and work entirely with the laws and regulations made by the Scottish and UK parliaments. The governance and culture at municipal level are thus dependent in large degree on relationships with central government.

It follows that if potential place-making leaders do not have the necessary powers and resources to make successful places compared with their European counterparts, then we need to look again at the relationship between local councils and all the agencies of central government that operate at a local level.  We all like the idea of ‘local’ – but we all dislike the mindset of ‘parochial’ and that’s perhaps why central government intervenes so often at a local level.  How do we deal with the problems that this intervention creates? It often seems ‘central’ and ‘local’ in government are in some sense opposites.  They are not.  But we do need to think through their relationship and perhaps search for that old thing ‘parity of esteem’. Perhaps we can think that the task of central is to improve, challenge and develop the capacity of local?  And the task of local is to deliver all that is necessary in the locality and to inform, challenge and hold accountable central government – and in particular to help it understand that the unevenness of places must be taken into account if central objectives are to be achieved?

The private sector contributes enormously to making places in Scotland and development wouldn’t happen otherwise. However, speculative developers don’t always deliver the best places.  Is there something dysfunctional in the relationship between the public and private sectors when it comes to place-making? Is there either too much reliance upon or too much exclusion of the private sector?  Could the public sector find ways to ameliorate private development risk, particularly in house-building, and so encourage quality and innovation? Can the public and private sectors learn from each others skills and shortcomings?

The challenge for all of us is to look closely at all the bad habits that damage our place-making, sometimes enshrined in governance or law or policy. They have become ingrained and we need to summon up the courage of leadership to think afresh and make some changes.

How could we get there?
In the future……?

Delivering Better Places in Scotland tells us it is vital for place quality to see a re-emergence of effective municipal leadership – so how do we get there?  Because what we have at the moment mostly does not deliver the places we want. The first task is to take a close look the local place-making leaders we have in Scotland and at the instruments, powers and resources they currently have to do their job.

But first some definitions.

When we say ‘place-making’ we are not just talking about brand new places – like a new housing development or the re-development of one whole area of a city.  We are also talking about regeneration projects, both big and small.  And we are talking too about all those small scale regular changes, both public and private, to streets or parks, workplaces or meeting-places which contribute to whether a place improves or gets worse.  ‘Place-doctoring’ – mending those places which are no longer serving the needs of the local community – is just at as important, and perhaps even more difficult, than starting from scratch.  So, for us, ‘place-making’ includes ‘place-doctoring’.

One term often used is ‘Place Leadership’ which means ‘communal leadership at the level of place’. This concerns the role of Council Leaders and others in running local services and developing their area. One good example is the English initiative to bring budgets together under the heading of ‘Total Place’.

What we are talking about is nearer to ‘place-making leadership’ – but when we talk about place we must be careful we are not just talking about the built environment. Rather we mean that whole interaction between the quality of the built environment and all the other social, economic and environmental improvements that politicians and others seek.  We consider the ‘place-making leadership’ to be that which shapes the lively positive relationship between the physical surroundings and the social and economic wellbeing of the people and institutions which use them.

To put those two paragraphs another way we make the distinction between the creation of the capital of place on the one hand – and the servicing of the capital of place on the other. What we are concerned about is the leadership of the sourcing, fixing and arrangement of the capital resources which create a place – capital resources which are physical, economic, social and environmental.  What ‘place leaders’ in the broader sense are also concerned about is the servicing of that capital – that means good stewardship of the physical place as well as the provision of place-based services and activities.

There’s a difference too between management and leadership – and both functions are often carried by the same individual. Managers cope with complexity by instilling order and consistency, they plan and budget to achieve immediate goals, they organise and manage staff and structures, they solve problems and put limits around the risks of failure. Leaders, on the other hand, cope with and even thrive on change and uncertainty, they frame and articulate values and long-term visions, communicating with people across and beyond the organization, and they motivate, inspire and keep people on track, helping them to live up to common ideals.  As John Adair says, management is prose, leadership is poetry. Here we’re working with the poets.

But leadership is more than individuals.  The leadership we are talking about is exercised by both individuals and organisations, each supporting the other. Leadership is often distributed within the organisation and crucially, if a particular individual moves on elsewhere, the organisation provides the mechanism by which someone else can be recruited to replace the individual who has left.  Occasionally it will encompass private developers of the enlightened sort and the organisations within which they operate, but mostly place-making leadership comes from within public organisations.

Then there is the important distinction we’ve already touched on which must be made between what might be termed the internal qualities of leadership and the external qualities, between the individual personal qualities and the surrounding social and institutional qualities. We shall term these two different issues ‘leadership ability’ – the skills, knowledge and competence of individuals to lead –  and ‘leadership capacity’ – the resources, processes and legal powers through which the leadership ability of individuals within an organisation is either facilitated or hindered.

From all that we have seen, Scotland lacks both the local place-making leadership ability and the local place-making leadership capacity.  If Scottish place-making is to be improved then ability and capacity must be developed together.  Although a good deal could be achieved through better local leadership ability within the current framework of law, process and resources, developing one aspect of leadership and ignoring the other, improving ability but not capacity, will not produce sustained long-term results; they are two sides of the same coin.

That double-sided understanding leads to two questions. How should we look first at developing the leadership ability for place-making in our people? And, then, how should we re-design the governance structures within which they work, the instruments which they have available to them and the resources which they are able to acquire and manage – all of which make up the leadership capacity in our system? Those two questions will lead us on to many more.

Improving leadership ability

Individuals and their skills and talents make a real difference. So where can we seek improvements in the numbers and abilities of individual leaders?

Sourcing local leaders

What kind of people are there now in potential place-making leadership positions?  And how do they get there?  What do they understand about their roles?  Do they think they are doing them well enough?  Do other people think these leaders are doing their jobs well enough?

What about the political leaders?  Are good people getting to leadership positions?  If not, what are the hindrances? Are the hindrances questions of ability (the quality of the available people) or of capacity (the lack of sufficient power to be effective dissuading people of ability)? And what can be done to remove those hindrances? Are there even issues about our broad political culture which need to be addressed?

What about the professional leaders?  We need to ask the same questions of ability and capacity about them.

And the potential place-making leaders from the local community – what is it that will encourage more people to take a leadership role and learn what needs to be learnt? Often people become involved through anger and protest – can we do better than that?

Educating local leaders

Local place-making leaders need real personal knowledge and understanding to do their job well.  If our places are not as successful as they ought to be, it suggests that our current leaders do not have the right kind of knowledge and understanding. What they need is knowledge and understanding of their own place – what makes its economy work (or not), what the key social characteristics are and what kind social capital needs rebuilding, whether its environment is healthy and sustainable. They also need a knowledge of other places, especially the more successful ones.  And they need knowledge and understanding of what signifies or comprises a successful place and how those who have made such places have done so. Since much of the capital of a place, either new or renewed, is provided by private sector interests through the operation of the market, they need to know very much more about the real estate market and how to use it and shape it.

Is it possible to delineate and describe what all this knowledge and understanding might be in more detail? At the highest professional level what would an MBA in place-making comprise?  What is the appropriate level of practical knowledge and understanding for political and community leaders?

For professionals, the strongest of hindrances to acquiring such knowledge and understanding are often the boundaries of their own profession. These boundaries – or at least the perception of them – can become barriers and then the professions often end up in operational and conceptual silos, separated from one another and from the democratic structures which surround their employment.  Is there a way in which the local benefits of good professional work and professional standards can be retained while breaking down cultural barriers and opening minds to new possibilities?

For political and community leaders, the fundamental understanding they need is that the quality of their place affects every other local objective they may have and that it is possible to improve it.  How can we bring the whole notion of the importance of the quality of place and place-making up to the top of the political and community agenda? Often we struggle to find the right language to express these ideas.  Do we need to devise new metaphors and new sets of ideas and new words to convey what is meant in an emotionally compelling way?  And thereafter, what more detailed knowledge and understandings of place and place-making do these leaders need to acquire to become effective?  And what methods can we devise to impart this knowledge and grow this understanding?

As well as good knowledge and understanding place-making leaders also need a whole range of personal skills. What are the personal skills that individual place-making leaders need?  Are they different from more generic leadership skills commonly taught? Or are they simply those generic skills applied within the special understanding and knowledge of making successful places?

Supporting local leaders

If local leaders are left in isolation they will find it more difficult to do their work, more difficult to do it well and more difficult to extend that leadership role to others in their place.  Supporting local leaders is an important and continual task. What form should this support take?  Is it simply the idea that ‘you are not alone’ and that others everywhere face similar issues – so let’s get together? Or is there something beyond this simple networking – perhaps an organisational way for persuading people to change so that local leadership becomes more effective?

It is probable, if appropriate delivery vehicles were established, nationally and locally, to educate and support local place-making leaders, that these would uncover ways to help in the sourcing of them too.  As people realize the excitement of the potential for improving their place, more might step up to the mark. So should we think of sourcing, educating and supporting local leaders as a group of tasks that can be undertaken by a single vehicle (or related and co-ordinated group of vehicles)? If so, what is the shape and size of such a vehicle? What tools, materials, networks, institutions and events can be developed? In doing so, do we need to distinguish between the professionals on the one hand and political and community leaders on the other? Is there a role for central government in supplying and managing such a vehicle?  For Architecture + Design Scotland? For the Universities?

Improving leadership capacity

The supply and abilities of individual leaders are important.  But just as important is the environment within which those individuals work.  This environment is wide – everything from the culture and forms of governance of their organisations to the laws, procedures and resources which either constrain or lend strength to their actions.  This is what we mean by the capacity for leadership – it’s different from the ability of individual leaders but just as important.  If leadership capacity is not improved, then improving leadership ability will count for something, but not very much.
Places are made through the interaction of public and private institutions and interests, through the state on one hand and the market on the other.  So we organise our examination of where we might seek improvements in our leadership capacity by looking at ‘state’, ‘market’ and ‘state-market relationships.



Place-making is more than planning, certainly more than the work that is done by most Scottish council planning departments. Planners might take the lead, but making successful places involves, in some way or another, most people who work for the Council and many outside. For the planners, the quasi-judicial basis and culture of our planning system is not well suited to the more holistic, even more entrepreneurial ways of thinking needed to lead the making of successful places. In the European examples examined in Delivering Better Places the leadership of place-making was located at a more central and more senior position in the municipality. How would we make similar changes in governance here? And would that imply any changes in planning law and process?

The point of making the leadership of place-making more central and more senior in the local authority is that it is a cross professional activity.  What new governance models can we invent to see that this cross-border and cross-budget activity takes place in a creative way to the benefit of place? And do that in a way which still retains proper accountability?  What good Scottish examples can we find to convince professionals that working collaboratively outside their silos delivers better outcomes for their own profession as well as for the people and places they serve?

The place we might expect to look for firm co-ordinating leadership is the now common, but not universal, adoption of the ‘cabinet and scrutiny’ model of political governance in most Scottish councils. Yet it is not delivering. The departmental and budget silos are still well fortified and the planning function, because of its quasi-judicial function, is often excluded from cabinet. Are there changes to the broader governance structures within Scottish councils that would make the cabinet system co-ordinate cross-professional working more effectively?

One of the characteristics of State activity at the local level is that it is now highly fragmented.  Over the decades, local government has been ‘hollowed out’ and there are now many state ‘actors’ on the stage of the local place, each with their own priorities, their own forms of governance and accountability, their own assets and their own budgets.  It is well recognised that one actor’s objective might be better met by actions by another actor.  For instance, many desirable health outcomes are best achieved by action from the housing agencies (of which there are several) or from the sports promoters.  Attempts at co-ordination through ‘community planning’ have some beneficial effects at the service level, but few when it comes to creating or maintaining the capital of place. What can be done, for instance, to bring all publicly owned land in a single council area into one pot?  What can be done to adjust the financial requirement always to get the best price for the selling agency when land is sold, rather than best benefit for the place? In other words, to change the rules and attitudes so that land is seen as a communal investment asset rather than an opportunity for short-term capital receipts. Could there be a different way of realising, even increasing, value for the agency over time if making successful (and therefore valuable) places became the over-riding priority? Do we really need central government to create new organisations or special delivery vehicles to regenerate large areas or deliver infrastructure when this simply adds one more actor to an already crowded local stage?

In creating the capital of place, or even doctoring an existing place, infrastructure and the infrastructure providers are part of the route to success.  And yet there appears to be no law or governance structure which allows the co-ordination of their investment with that of the place-makers.  Water and drainage are fundamental, yet the means of co-ordination with place investment are flimsy.  What can be done to bring these two activities together? The same question applies to transport provision.  Lack of capacity to provide public transport as cities and towns develop is one reason behind the car-based urban sprawl we see today.  What can be done to bring land development investment and public transport investment together? For roads, the current system of road construction consents can undo good urban design. And we all see the utility companies digging up roads and pavements leaving behind a potential pothole or a splodge of asphalt where good paving stones had been.  Is there a new set of powers or new governance arrangements which would allow place-making leaders to control and co-ordinate these road and public realm activities?


Does local place-making leadership have sufficient powers?  Does it use what it has well enough? Or is its capacity for leadership diminished by lack of sufficient place-making instruments?

The instruments which most people experience, and most often complain about because they restrict the choices available, are local regulations, such a development control, highways regulation or design approvals.  When people complain are they simply annoyed at the personal restrictions placed on them in the public interest? Or is there a real scope for lightening regulation or at least making it clearer, more consistent and the procedures faster?  And if this were done would this improve the quality of place anyway? We learn from European examples that fast and co-ordinated regulatory approvals are key to creating successful places.  What are the hindrances to this in Scottish councils and what can be done to improve things?

The basis of much of this regulatory work is the local development plan. The final approval for all local plans lies with Scottish ministers and this encourages many landowners and developers not to engage with the local plan-making process but to wait until it is reviewed by Reporters on behalf of ministers, when legal representation is usual. This removes from local people and local councils the confidence to assume full control over the spatial framework for their own place.  Should the ministerial power to finalise the spatial framework in every local plan, powers that remained when Scotland overhauled its planning system in the Planning etc (Scotland) Act 2006, now be moved from Scottish ministers to local councils? Should we even take a deep breath and replace the various Scottish Planning Acts by a Place-Making Act?

Place-making leaders also have what might be called ‘stimulus instruments’ used to make some actions more – or less – rewarding to others involved in making places.  It is here that there are significant restrictions on Scottish local leadership capacity compared with those in other parts of Europe. And we’ve already seen how they make places better than we are able to.   Would our places in Scotland be better if local leaders had more powers to intervene directly at a site-specific level – to assemble or divide land parcels, to invest in environmental improvements, to build public spaces or transport access, even to exercise effective ownership power in some form?  Would our places be better if local leaders had stronger instruments by which they could, in the interests of place quality, adjust the prices which various actors have to pay by raising taxes or making subsidies, providing tax breaks or giving grants? Would our places be better if local leaders could influence or adjust the levels of risk which other place-making actors might have to assume through, for instance, demonstration or market-testing projects or direct investments?  Would our places be better if local leaders had the instruments to hand, such as municipal bonds, whereby they could themselves raise capital for infrastructure investment, and secure a return from it?  And could that same bond finance be used to offer investment, on favourable terms, to developers willing to invest in place quality, with the return to the bondholder coming from a share of the uplift in value that better places create?


Criticism is often made that local authorities are risk-averse, learning-averse, innovation-averse and fixed within process and professional boundaries.  This is  not true everywhere, but we need to ask what can be done to counteract those negative cultural attributes where they exist.  What measures – such as training, job swaps, learning visits, external champions – might be used to develop the human capital within the organization as a whole? What actions might be taken to extend knowledge and understanding and expand mindsets and possibilities across and beyond the council boundary through networks, knowledge exchanges, public events? And what might be done to challenge or reframe conventional wisdoms at all levels?  What practical even legal measures might be adopted to reduce the impact of risk on the work of councils?

Central to local government relations

Place is local.  But most state power resides in central government, not at the place level. We need to explore whether or not this contributes to today’s widely-acknowledged inadequate place-making.

There are a plethora of central government bodies, both UK and Scottish, whose decisions impact on the quality of place, from the Transport Commissioner to Historic Scotland, from the Office of the Rail Regulator to the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency.  All these bodies are able to intervene locally, influence, and even over-rule, decisions of the place-making leaders in local authorities. Of course, they act in accordance with their own principles and priorities, but these may or may not include the well-being of the local place. Is this right?  Why are these powers located at national level? And does their central government location encourage local authority professional staff to look upwards to the single-service regulators, rather than sideways to their colleagues and outwards to the quality of their place? Is this contributing to the lack of effectiveness in cabinet level co-ordination in Councils? Should some or all of these powers be returned to the local level in the interests of expanding the capacity for place-making leadership?

Do Scottish ministers, in their strategic decision-making role always pay sufficient attention to the quality of local place, even though their policy statements emphasise its importance? Some evidence may suggest they do not. Should ministers always be sure to consider the impact of their strategic decisions on the quality of local places? Is there way in which active place leaders could become core advisers to ministers in a way parallel to the Council of Economic Advisers?


Understanding the real estate market 

Much of the capital resource for building our towns and cities comes from the real estate private sector. Real estate markets are characterised by energy, dynamism and turmoil precisely because of their constant, but often elusive, search to create and capture value. Successful places have high real estate values and the prospect of future value can be harnessed to attract the investment necessary to make places successful. Place-making leaders must therefore have a very good understanding of the real estate market, in particular the creation of real estate value, and seek to turn it to broader advantage.

In particular they’ll understand it is important not to regard real estate markets as some abstract force beyond human control, but rather as a locus for human interaction, which reflect society’s rules and conventions. Markets are social constructs – either by design or accident – and it follows that they can be shaped by human intent. For place-making leaders, shaping places thus involves shaping markets to make them more economically efficient, socially just and environmentally sustainable than they might otherwise be. This consequently enhances their own capacity to produce places of social, and not merely private, benefit.

What means can be devised and established to educate place-making leaders about the workings of the real estate markets and to keep them up to date with the events, actors and analysis?  What role is there in this for universities and the real estate actors themselves?

State – Market Relations

It is in the interaction between state and market that successful places are made or not made.  And yet the single key tool that place-making leaders seem to have at the moment is regulation.  What is really necessary – and what we see in successful European comparisons – is the ability to shape the market. If we were just thinking about the planning system as the lead component to successful place-making, we would say that what we want are ‘plan-shaped markets’. What we appear to have now is ‘market-led plans’, sustained on one hand by the dominant planning tool of regulation of market-led proposals and on the other by the ability of private interests in the market to exert powerful influence over the final Reporter stage of development plan approval.

With ‘market-led planning’ we end up with what has been called ‘default urbanism’ – the familiar, low-risk layouts of catalogue houses or lookalike apartment blocks, with few neighbourhood amenities, that so many house-builders provide and so many planners approve. Interestingly, the Princes Foundation2 found that this kind of development has less market value than the more sustainable urbanism of mixed use, mixed type, higher density neighbourhoods – neighbourhoods that are walkable, with good public transport and integrated open space.  In other words, the bad places that market-led planning builds have less market value than the successful places it could build!

Why is that?  And can it change? Is there the capacity in Scotland for local leaders to shape the real estate markets and play a crucial role in breeding confidence, reducing risk and transforming developer attitudes and behaviour towards place-making? Could their existing leadership and shaping powers be deployed better?  Or are there new powers and new instruments, parallel to those enjoyed by their European counterparts, which would enable them to change the rules of the game by which real estate markets operate?

Using existing powers to shape the market

The existing rules of the game for local place-making leaders are concentrated in the planning system.  Could these powers be better used to create ‘plan-based markets’? They could certainly make their vision and intentions clearer and provide them well in advance of the time when developers begin to think about seeking regulatory approval. Could they also alter development locations to promote more compact development?  Could they seek to expand, through effective policy, the types of buildings developers produce and so achieve more varied places? Again, through policy, could they transform the quality of development to produce environments that last longer? Could they use the plan to improve and sustain existing places, rather than starting again elsewhere? Could they write planning policies which make best use of scarce resources and reduce pollution? Could they set out longer planning horizons to provide developers with more certainty about the longer term? Could they find ways to help developers consider the existing wider community and not just those who might purchase their product? Can they even, through planning certainty and fast decision-making, aid the quantity and speed of development thus relieving the housing shortage?
All that would be useful, and local place-making leaders should certainly be using the planning system better; but places are more than plans.  Are there essential additional tasks that new instruments and new powers for local place-making leaders could address?

New instruments to shape the market

1. Provide collective goods in advance.

Our European local authority counterparts are able to provide infrastructure, public transport, public realm and open space in advance of the input of private capital to new and renewed places.  Until recently the only means of doing this in Scotland was through government grant or the mis-named ‘planning gain’ contributions, mostly later in the process, from the developer. Early ‘Tax Increment Finance’ projects are now being put in place.  Is this enough? Are there more flexible and more wide-ranging institutions and powers that we might copy from our European counterparts which would fit with Scottish law and enable local place-making leaders to provide these collective goods in advance and then regain their investment, and more, through the uplift in land and development values which would later result?

2. Obtain site ownership

One of the lessons of Delivering Better Places in Scotland is that ownership power over the development site, if used wisely, can make all the difference between creating a mediocre and a successful, more valuable place. Can we devise Scottish institutions and powers whereby local place-making leaders might be able to take significant development sites into at least temporary ownership before allocating land for development?  Should we increase the powers – and if so how – to allow local place-making leaders to assemble land in different ownerships with more ease and sub-divide it again at a later stage?

3. Create spatial frameworks

Typically, in our European counterparts, more time is spent on thinking and planning and less time on the more expensive process of building.  That helps to get things right.  But who will fund those upstream costs, especially when public resources are being reduced? Good successful places are a public benefit and their planning, for reasons of accountability and democracy as well as quality, should not be left to the private market. So can we devise a means to increase the public resources for creating the upstream spatial and other frameworks for development, by allowing those costs to be recouped from the uplift in site and development value that comes from successful places?

4. Reduce risk, increase certainty and enhance value

The creation of the capital of place takes large resources over a long term.  Risk can be substantial. But the development industry, which provides much of that capital, is by its nature volatile and unstable with often exaggerated business cycles.  What institutions, local or national, can be devised to increase certainty, spread risk, level out (even take advantage of) the development cycle and enhance and realise the long-term increased value that comes from making successful places?

If the capacity of our place-making leaders to lead is to be sufficient to the task, then they may well need new powers and new institutions. The practical limit of their powers at the moment is the development plan and its supplementary policies. In a planning system actually designed to deliver successful places, a development plan would set out precisely how the actions and investments of the State would connect to actions and investments by market actors to deliver successful places – and therefore the well-being of all of us who inhabit them.  Successful places require good leadership and good leadership requires the capacity to act. We need to summon to ourselves the will to re-assess our laws, our institutions, our processes and our resources in Scotland to deliver that capacity.

Without that we may well be able to answer the question ‘what do we want our place to be like?’ but we are unlikely to be able to say ‘how do we get there?


“Delivering Better Places in Scotland” was funded by the Scottish Government, with the participation of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors in Scotland, the Scottish Centre for Regeneration and Architecture and Design Scotland.  On publication its findings were fully endorsed by them.  It was written by a team at the University of Glasgow.  It can be found at Resource/Doc/336587/0110158.pdf

1. Heywood, A. (2000) Key Concepts in Politics Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan

2‘Valuing Sustainable Urbanism’ (2007)The Princes Foundation for the Built Environment