BEFS Director outlines how crucial it is that we evidence the benefits that arise for communities from investing in heritage, going into a new parliament.

This article was first published in The Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland’s Spring 2021 Magazine.

In a blog post from January this year, Ailsa Macfarlane, BEFS Policy and Strategy Manager, states: “Read any report, research output, press-release, or corporate statement involving heritage and ‘save’ will be prominent. Whether ‘saved’ for the nation, the community, or future generations – you can be certain that the heritage in question is to be made ‘safe’ from the evil it was perceived to be beset by. The funding has (sometimes) been found; the heritage has been ‘secured’ for the audiences. But such asks have unintended consequences – we’ve reinforced all sorts of notions about heritage. About it being ‘special’ and ‘expensive’ and ‘unique’ and ‘difficult’ and ‘old’. Suddenly heritage doesn’t sound like it has a role in a green recovery, a just recovery, a socially integrated recovery. Heritage doesn’t sound like it’s your house, your local street, the building your kids go to school in, the town-hall where the library is, the park you walked through on the way to work. Heritage can sound like it doesn’t offer what communities and politicians seek.”

Ailsa neatly captures how we as a heritage sector need to talk differently to our electoral candidates and soon to be newly elected members of the next Scottish Parliament. While restoring a decaying building back to beauty or preventing ugly window replacements may be a priority for you, elected officials will also be dealing with constituents who are now using foodbanks, are long-term unemployed or are unable to get a home of their own. If you were them, which would you pay more attention to? But these issues are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the former can be used to address the last two points. It comes back to a much wider and holistic understanding of why retaining our existing built fabric is beneficial and potentially transformative for communities.

In March BEFS joined the Royal Town Planning Institute Scotland, Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors in Scotland, Landscape Institute Scotland and Institution of Civil Engineers Scotland as signatories of ‘Building for Scotland’s Communities’. I confess that when we were initially invited to sign, my concern was that it could be seen as the professions seeking to secure a position in the rush to rebuild after Covid-19. But it is not. It’s a call for political leadership to work with the professions to deliver structural change that will: tackle climate change and achieve Scotland’s net zero carbon reduction targets; reduce health inequalities across Scotland; support a wellbeing economy, and; ensure a quality and affordable home for everyone who needs one.

These are people-centred aims. And heritage can also be part of delivering them. The joint statement was discussed at a relevant cross-party group, and of particular note was how all professions spoke of prioritising the maintenance of our existing built environment over building new; music to my ears. The retiring Convener, Linda Fabiani MSP, suggested it was time to end shiny new projects that fed egos and instead concentrate on investing public money where it can make a difference to more people that need it. Perhaps this idea could be extended to rebuilding lost Classical houses when we have so many existing buildings in use that need investment to remain wind and watertight.

It is crucial that we evidence the benefits that arise from investing in heritage and I would encourage you to look at the Advocacy Toolkit section of the Resources pages for our tips and ideas on how to do this. A new parliament is not a blank sheet, but it is a fresh opportunity to make the case for the historic environment. Ask your candidates what they think heritage can deliver in your area. More importantly, we need you to charm the newly elected MSPs with the many benefits heritage can deliver for their constituents.


BEFS Director shares his observations about the extended permitted development rights consultation process, motivations and unexpected outcomes. 

New, extended permitted development rights (PDR) came into force on the 1st April 2021 following two years of consultation. The new rights apply to digital telecommunications infrastructure, agriculture, peatland restoration and active travel (bicycle storage). 

You can read a more detail account from the Scottish Government on this here. There are some observations worth making about discussions had during the consultation process, motivations and unexpected outcomes.  

In early meetings about telecommunications apparatus the prime driver was clearly to improve the speed of the roll out of apparatus by removing the need for planning permission which was clearly deemed an impediment by mobile phone providers. Yes, most of us are glued to our phones and look forward to the roll out of 5G but what seems to be of less concern is the impact of the apparatus on the public realm. The provision of infrastructure for daily life has a long and positive design history – think of drinking fountains, post boxes, lampposts, telephone boxes, cast iron manhole covers, tram rosettes. A number of these features are a valued part of cultural heritage and the name of some of the designers and manufacturers may trip of your tongue. Contemporary telecoms infrastructure looks unlikely to become as valued, and at best attempts to be invisible or disguised. There seems to be no aspiration by the providers or public authorities to create apparatus that enhances the public realm, or even amalgamates a number of required pieces of infrastructure. These components are necessary for contemporary life and could contribute to good placemaking but remain an opportunity missed. 

A repeated refrain across all elements of the extended PDR discussion was for designated areas to be spared from them. I found this a very difficult argument to make, not because I am against considered decisions for designated areas, but because I am against ill-considered decisions and inferior design everywhere else. Everywhere deserves good quality placemaking and infrastructure not just conservation areas, world heritage sites, the setting of listed buildings etc and arguing otherwise sounds like preferential treatment for some places, and therefore some people, over others. Is it preferable to have fewer or smaller masts within a conservation of the trade-off is taller/more masts outside a conservation area?  

The consultation on extending PDR for the residential conversion of agricultural buildings was also interesting. There was a slight urban perception that these were going to be rustic barn conversions or stone built steadings with delightful arcades when the reality could well be the conversion of steel sheds built before 5th November 2020 – it will be fascinating to see how this new right is actually used by land owners.  

There was broad support for PDR for cycle storage but one aspect still intrigues me. It was decided not to restrict the sizes of communal cycle stores to the rear of blocks of flats. That may be fine if the tenement has 8-12 properties but there are many tenements with far more and most properties would want to store more than one bike. Prepare for some big bike stores in your back green (and legal challenges over title deeds).  

The Scottish Government promised “more detailed guidance and advice early in the New Year, maybe it means 2022.  


Hanneke Booij, PhD researcher at the University of Stirling, provides insights on Norway’s approach to heritage policy.

Hanneke Booij is a second year PhD student at the Centre of Environment, Heritage and Policy, University of Stirling, in collaboration with the Glasgow Building Preservation Trust. This PhD is funded by the Scottish Graduate School of Arts and Humanities.

During the State of Heritage meeting organised by The BEFS on 4 February 2021, it was clear that many organisations are struggling with the economic and social consequences of the pandemic and are looking to explore new heritage futures. However, it can be difficult to think outside the proverbial box in a time of crisis. This prompted me to share a reflection on the recent Norwegian white paper on heritage (Meld. St. 16, 2020) to provide an insight into the Norwegian environmental perspective on heritage policy in the context of current societal challenges.

Scotland and Norway have experienced similar recent developments in the democratisation of heritage and an increase in community-based heritage policies. An increased awareness of social inequalities has led to a reconsideration of issues of representation, diversity, and social justice with both governments increasingly focusing on sustainability of heritage and society. Public funding in both countries has become more directly linked to societal benefits such as the current call by NLHF which prioritises wellbeing, inclusion, environmental sustainability, community activism, connection to place, and improvement of resilience in heritage organisations.

Norwegian heritage has been managed by Norway’s Ministry of Environment since 1972, along with nature management and physical planning, placing heritage firmly within landscape. Their physical community planning process includes a separately designed participation tool to give children and young people a voice in their local landscape. Responsibilities for heritage management have been in a process of decentralisation to county level since 2016 – 2017. The aim of decentralisation is to provide long term management of heritage within community and place to strengthen national policy and values. The heritage white paper 2020 introduces the term cultural environment as a new collective term, which includes cultural monuments, cultural environments, and landscapes. It emphasizes the importance of a holistic approach, aiming to make the connection to other climate and environmental policies clearer while also setting out to develop tools to measure how the cultural environment contributes to achieving the sustainable development goals. The paper presents three new national goals within the cultural environment policy: commitment, sustainability, and diversity. The white paper defines heritage as a common good and a societal resource.

Norway ratified the Faro Convention in 2008, emphasising the importance of people’s right to participate and the right to interpret the heritage of their choice. However, not only are heritage and culture participation defined as rights and heritage as a common good, they are also defined as a common responsibility for both the state and citizens, aiming for a high level of both inclusion and participation. Interestingly, another aim of decentralisation of heritage management is to improve collaboration with museums and the arts which are managed separately by the Ministry of Culture. The white paper stresses that collaboration between the cultural environment and museums and arts needs strengthening. In addition, it highlights that decentralisation needs better resourcing to carry out their relatively new duties relating to the cultural environment.

Norway’s cultural environment policy presents heritage as a positive resource and an active tool for development which could be beneficial from a perspective of societal and community needs, place-based identities, and participation. It will be interesting to see how the policy division between the natural and physical cultural environment on the one hand, and intangible heritage and culture, including “stories, objects and action-based knowledge” (Meld. St. 16, 2020, p. 2) on the other hand, impacts on heritage, communities, heritage organisations, and the societal challenges they intend to address.

My PhD investigates resilient and sustainable futures for small heritage organisations. I aim to explore the Norwegian approach to heritage policy (subject to funding) by making use of the University of Stirling’s partnership with the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU). This will enable me to place resilience and sustainability in small heritage organisations in an international context and explore any mutual benefit.

For those who would like to read the Norwegian Heritage White Paper 2020 here are the links to the summary report, or the full version.




Former BEFS Chair, Graeme Purves, compares approaches being taken by Wales and Scotland to highlight some strategic planning challenges.

As the initial consultation on Scotland’s fourth National Planning Framework (NPF4) draws to a close, the Welsh Government is preparing to publish the final version of the National Development Framework for Wales, Future Wales: the National Plan 2040.  Some of the issues raised during the Senedd’s final scrutiny of Future Wales are also of relevance for NPF4.  This blog compares approaches being taken by the two devolved administrations to highlight some strategic planning challenges.

Post-Pandemic Recovery

Along with taking forward the pressing Climate Change agenda, one of the major challenges in both countries will be economic and social recovery from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the Scottish Government’s post-COVID Economic Recovery Implementation Plan reflects the neoliberal narrative set out in the Higgins Report, Towards a Robust, Resilient Wellbeing Economy for Scotland, Scottish Ministers do appear to recognise some role for strategic planning in recovery.  The Implementation Plan indicates that NPF4 will be brought to Parliament in September.  It also intends that the Regional Land Use Partnerships should have a role in regional economic development as well as meeting climate change goals.  In his foreword to the Position Statement on NPF4 published in November, Planning Minister Kevin Stewart states that the experience of the pandemic has highlighted the importance of a good local environment, with good access to open space and amenities, but post-pandemic recovery is not developed as a theme in that document.

In a report Go Big – Go Local published in October, the UK2070 Commission warned that the pandemic may exacerbate regional inequalities and have disproportionate impacts on the elderly and opportunities for young people. It recommended that strategies for recovery should place emphasis on investment in infrastructure with a view to building resilience and strengthening connectivity.

During committee scrutiny of the draft Future Wales in the Autumn of last year, the Welsh Minister for Housing and Local Government, Julie James, argued that the strategy it set out is sufficiently robust and flexible to respond to the societal changes arising from the pandemic and that experience over the past year had validated its focus on climate change, place-making and resilience.  However, the Senedd’s Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee has pressed for more.  Drawing on the work of the UK2070 Commission, it has called for Future Wales to include a clear statement reflecting the lessons learned from COVID-19 and explaining how the framework will help to further post-COVID recovery.  It has pressed for explicit recognition of the potential contributions of investment in infrastructure, housing, connectivity, heat networks and natural capital, and increasing capacity in the foundation economy.  There may well be similar calls in Scotland.

The Regional Dimension of Recovery

While the Higgins report played down the role of the public sector, particularly local authorities, in recovery, some of its recommendations were very much in tune with the thinking of the UK2070 Commission.  It called for an investment-led recovery.  It recognised the need to address regional disparities in Scotland and advocated a regionally focused model of economic development.

Future Wales has a strong regional dimension.  The Welsh Government will rely on strategic development plans for North, Mid, South-East and South-West Wales to take forward key aspects of policy development and implementation.  How enthusiastic the Scottish Government will be about a strong regional dimension to recovery strategy remains to be seen.  It has blown hot and cold over regions over the past decade.  In 2014 it reaffirmed its commitment to strategic development plans at the regional level, yet the planning review initiated by Alex Neil in 2015 led to a proposal to end regional agency and centralise strategic planning in the National Planning Framework.  As a result of opposition in the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Government was obliged to accord a role to Regional Land Use Partnerships.  The Position Statement for NPF4 states that “Our strategy will be informed by emerging regional scale spatial and economic strategies.”

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Stephen Barclay, announced in January that the UK Shared Prosperity Fund is to be disbursed from London.  This creates a real danger that Scottish discretion on spatial priorities will be significantly curtailed. The Scottish Government may count itself fortunate that its attempt to abolish regional strategic planning failed.  Without it, its flank might have been even more exposed to UK Government interventions than it is.  It will be important for the Scottish Government to build strong relationships with local authorities and work closely with regional partnerships on spatial strategies.

Barclay’s announcement makes it even more important to be clear about the relationship between strategic spatial planning and growth deals.  They reflect different ideological perspectives, and there is potential for them to pull in different directions.  The Position Statement on NPF4 states only that regional spatial and economic strategies “will align with city and regional growth deals.”  There is no indication that growth deals should reflect spatial strategies.  In Wales, the Senedd’s Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee has recommended to the Welsh Government that “Future Wales should explicitly state the need for a reciprocal and iterative relationship between strategic development plans and growth deals over time.”  Stakeholders should insist on the same relationship between spatial strategies and growth deals in Scotland.

Place-Making and Housing Delivery

There is contrast between the Welsh and Scottish Governments in their approach to place-making and housing delivery.  Future Wales accords the public sector the lead role in urban development, regeneration and the delivery of affordable housing, though the Welsh Government remains coy about specific delivery mechanisms.  In the NPF4 Position Statement, the public sector and local authorities barely get a mention.  The Scottish Government appears to prefer a developer-led model, with the role of planning authorities being merely to provide developers with “a steady pipeline of land.” While there is a lot of aspirational rhetoric about place-making in the Position Statement, the Scottish Government shows little inclination to empower the public sector to take the necessary lead.  Better places and 20-minute neighbourhoods are public policy objectives, but we are given no hint as to the mechanisms which will be used to deliver them.  There is no reference, for example, to the work the Scottish Land Commission has been doing on land value capture and sharing for several years now.

Rural Repopulation

Finally, it is interesting that the repopulation of rural areas has re-emerged as an objective of spatial planning in Scotland and Wales, something we have not really seen since the strategic plans for post-Depression and post-War recovery in the middle of the last century.  In autumn 2018, Community Land Scotland successfully promoted an amendment to the Planning (Scotland) Bill which requires the NPF to consider the potential for rural resettlement.  The NPF Position Statement says that rural repopulation will be a key theme for emerging regional spatial strategies for the South of Scotland, Argyll and Bute, Western Isles, Orkney and the Highlands.  The Welsh Senedd’s Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee has called for Future Wales to include further locational guidance on addressing rural depopulation.  It has also pressed for the Welsh framework to recognise opportunities for people to live and work sustainably outside towns and cities.

by Graeme Purves



BEFS Policy & Strategy Manager reflects on the potential damage of the common narrative in heritage protection.

Read any report, research output, press-release, or corporate statement involving heritage and ‘save’ will be prominent. Whether ‘saved’ for the nation, the community, or future generations – you can be certain that the heritage in question is to be made ‘safe’ from the evil it was perceived to be beset by (options for evil forces can include, but are not limited to: neglect, weather, and misuse).

We don’t have the language to explain what is being done to heritage. This is a lie; we don’t have the time to explain what heritage needs. ‘Saved’ is seen as useful shorthand, but it doesn’t enable the more nuanced and detailed descriptions necessary to give heritage it’s full place at the table.

We’ve been so eager (understandably) to get any of the resources available that we’ve convinced those with access to the purse-strings that something needs to be SAVED. It’s a quick ask, it’s an urgent ask, it manifests the concept of loss, and no-one wants that…

So, our quick, effective, asks – to save – have been seemingly successful. The funding has (sometimes) been found; the heritage has been ‘secured’ for the audiences. But such asks have unintended consequences – we’ve reinforced all sorts of notions about heritage. About it being ‘special’ and ‘expensive’ and ‘unique’ and ‘difficult’ and ‘old’.

Suddenly heritage doesn’t sound like it has a role in a green recovery, a just recovery, a socially integrated recovery. Heritage doesn’t sound like it’s your house, your local street, the building your kids go to school in, the town-hall where the library is, the park you walked through on the way to work.

Heritage can sound like it doesn’t offer what communities and politicians seek:

  • skilled jobs, jobs which will support a green transition – adapting and using our existing environment;
  • a growing workforce for multiple traditional skills, unable to be automated – as we repair and maintain what we have;
  • an important link in the materials supply chain – supporting countless other industries;
  • a factor for providing more homes in existing places and communities, as buildings are brought back into use, or appropriately adapted;
  • a resource, energising local communities and supporting local services – through the extensive tourism offer;
  • a substantial focal point for regenerative strategies (high streets and town centres being only some of the story) – continuing the story of our places.

Saving is also a one-time ask, surely? It’s only a bad horror film where the protagonist needs rescuing again, and again.

Just as we’re trying to rewrite the narratives of fairy stories so little-girls don’t grow-up being shown how to manifest a learned sense of helplessness; we now need to rewrite the narratives for heritage.

Is heritage in need of ‘saving’? Or is it in need of resourcing – to prime the pump for the greater benefits that it can provide. It’s not ‘saving’, it’s an investment so our people and places can have the futures we haven’t even dreamt of yet.

Personal thoughts formed through researching policy responses, made more concrete due to the input of many well-informed individuals through the CHERF process (particularly the asks in relation to reframing the heritage narrative); and finally formed into something more concrete after reading a report from a home Nations organisation, where ‘saving’ was part of the current narrative.

Ailsa Macfarlane, Policy & Strategy Manager, Built Environment Forum Scotland 



BEFS Policy & Strategy Manager offers her thoughts on the Scottish Government’s NPF4 Position Statement released November 2020.

Rarely is a Statement released that so frequently states, reiterates, and supports, BEFS own policy positions made in previous responses to consultations.

A clear understanding of both the existing built environment as multi-faceted assets – capable of continuing to support our economic, environmental and social needs – but also as an essential part of the character and identity of places. This Statement takes into account the totality of our places, not just those considered special enough for Listing, Scheduling, or being part of a Conservation Area.

There is a strong thread of appropriate re-use, adaptation and appreciation of embodied carbon, an appreciation of our existing environment as part of our infrastructure. All the while being mindful of both the national strategy for the Historic Environment (OPiT) and giving the Historic Environment Policy for Scotland its appropriate policy role.

Aspects such as the UN-Sustainable Development Goals sit front and centre along-side the National Performance Framework and the aspiration for planning to support a Wellbeing Economy.

If there is an appropriate strategy or national plan – it is name checked, connected to this position statement, and the desire to ‘align’ strategic thinking across a raft of proposals is consistently reiterated. The Statement covers how it needs to link/interact/align to the following (this list is merely those that come to mind instantly… not all, by any means):

Infrastructure, Travel, Heat in Buildings, Place Principle, Place Standard, Housing, Developer Contributions, Health, sustainable Tourism, Climate, Nature and the Natural Environment, our Coasts, the Culture Strategy, Circular Economy, Rural Scotland, Town-Centre approaches, 20min Neighbourhoods Localism, and Design principles.

This Position piece is a veritable nirvana of built environment policy. Improved, well-designed, places enabling 20min neighbourhoods, building back our local and national economies for a carbon-neutral future, with infrastructure fit for the time-ahead we can only imagine.

Of the detailed, 45 page document, a scant two and a half pages are spent on Delivery of this appealing vision. This is understandable, it is a position statement -it is not the NPF4 – that, we are told, will come with a Delivery Programme.

For the future to look as bright as this document enables our dreaming to be, the ‘ground work’ needs to be started imminently. The evidence bases, appraisals, and skilled agents of all kinds across the planning, assessment, community and design sectors need to be in place, and resourced so any of these excellently intended plans can move past the ‘drawing board’ stage.

The final paragraph of the Delivery section, and the final part of the document not addressing the consultation it starts, leaves us with Masterplan Consent Areas – they remain presented as a useful, proactive tool; and perhaps this hints at the where the onus may lie in terms of delivery. Are Planning Authorities resourced to deliver the scale of vision set out here?

The numerous strategies and national plans mentioned demonstrates a real leap of connected – and connecting – thinking. This is what numerous organisations have been calling for, over many years. If it comes to fruition, it could enable our place (be that local or regional, rural, or city centre, coastal or mountain top) to fulfil its potential delivering both preventative-spend benefits, but tangible improvements to the lives of every citizen.

This statement suggests so much, perhaps too much. Whilst, the importance of planning cannot be understated, how the hierarchies of strategies/plans and investment shake-down in reality could leave planning with too much of the economic heavy-lifting, without it itself being resourced and skilled appropriately across the social, economic and cultural facets it seeks to deliver.


BEFS looks forward to working with Members in relation to the consultation on this in the new year.



Nick Wright outlines how community-led planning is an opportunity to influence public services and future development of land and buildings.

This blog was originally published by Nick Wright on 24 November 2020 on his website here.

Communities sometimes ask: what’s the point of a community-led plan?  Why sit around talking about a plan?  Why not just get on with what needs to be done?

There are two answers to this.  The first answer is: how do you know what needs to be done if you haven’t done a Community Action Plan?  That’s because a really important part of Community Action Planning is asking the local community what’s important for them. Without asking people, the community won’t know what’s dearest to people and what could have most impact on their community.

For example, some folk might say that improving the local play area should be the number one priority, others might say build a swimming pool. Or different folk might say what’s needed are better health care, homes and jobs.  The truth is that there’s no way of knowing without some kind of survey or research – like a Facebook survey or simple interactive map, for example.

The second point of doing a Community Action Plan is because it helps to unlock money and support. Whether for improvements to a park or something else, any project is likely to need a combination of:

  • Money – from external funders or local organisations
  • Time – from local volunteers, whether to put funding bids together or to do work on the ground
  • Permission – from the owners of the park.

If a project is a priority in your Community Action Plan, it’s more likely to get the support it needs to happen.

And with Local Place Plans on the horizon, there’s the opportunity for Community Action Plans (which have a lot in common with Local Place Plans) to influence land use planning policy and public sector service delivery too. That means that community-led planning is an opportunity not just to progress the community projects, but also to influence public services and future development of land and buildings.

Let’s give some real examples – real success stories that other communities have achieved through Community Action Plans that I’ve been involved with over the last few years:


The local community did their Community Action Plan a while back now, in 2011.  Some of the projects in the Plan were things that the community could do themselves, like painting fences to smarten up the village.  Others relied on the goodwill of others like the Council and the National Park Authority.  The community took the attitude that they would simply get on with what they could do without waiting for others, whilst challenging others to step up to the mark.

It worked.  Within days of the Community Action Plan being published, the National Park committed £15,000 to refurbish the public toilets.  That might sound mundane, but they are an important reason for people to stop in the village whilst travelling between the Central Belt and the West Highlands.  A few months later the local authority agreed to give the community control of a prominent disused railway yard in the very heart of the village, offering a 10 year lease to the local Community Development Trust.  With local volunteers, the Trust quickly converted the yard into a visitor car park with picnic tables and attractive landscaping, encouraging visitors to stop and use the shop, cafe, bar and hotel.

crianlarich path network openingOne of the bigger projects in the Community Action Plan was to create a signposted path network around the village – another part of the Plan’s strategy of encouraging visitors to stop in the village (and spend money!).  Since much of the path network was on land owned by the Forestry Commission and it needed investment of over £100,000 to build new paths, the project took five years of hard work.  But the end result was a network of new signposted paths which give local residents an opportunity to have safe walks away from traffic, and give visitors another reason to stop or stay.  The success of the project also encouraged more local folk to get involved in the Community Council and the Development Trust.


Moffat might be a little bigger than Crianlarich, but the lessons are just as relevant.  Their Community Action Plan had lots of priorities: eleven ‘game-changers’ emerged through the community engagement process, as you can see in the plan.

One of the immediate successes of the Community Action Plan was to get the local authority, Dumfries and Galloway Council, to the table.  The local community had long been concerned that Moffat didn’t get much attention from the Council.  Whether this was perceived or genuine doesn’t matter: the point was that within days of publication of the Action Plan, senior Council managers had agreed to come to a “Town Summit” in Moffat to discuss how to work together to deliver what was in the Plan.  That was a big step forward for the community.

At the same time, specific projects highlighted in the Action Plan also began to move forward more quickly.  Within weeks, the Action Plan helped to secure funding to replace a worn-out play area in Burnside Park near the centre of town.

A couple of bigger projects also began to move forward: the Community Council secured major funding from Sustrans to redesign the High Street less traffic-dominated and more accessible and attractive for pedestrians (especially for older and disabled people).  And the idea of a Business Improvement District to support local businesses is being developed.

Both of these bigger projects are being taken forward jointly with the local authority, which is why the Town Summit was so important.


The final example is Johnstonebridge, between Moffat and Lockerbie – a tiny place that proves you don’t need to be a big community to make use of a Community Action Plan.

During the community engagement for the Action Plan, the community’s big concerns were the need to keep local services (school, healthcare and village hall), have things for young people to do, and for community organisations to work together.  When a local resident who was qualified as a youth leader saw the Community Action Plan’s recognition of how little there was for young people to do in the village, he offered to set up a youth club with local kids.

They jumped at the chance!  Inclusion of the idea in the Community Action Plan meant that the club could quickly get money to pay for a weekly rental in the village hall and buy equipment.  In a village of less than 400 people, having a weekly youth club attended by 30+kids with its own equipment and funds is a big deal.

You can see the Johnstonebridge Community Action Plan here.  It’s short and succinct, and worth a look to get you thinking about what a Community Action Plan for Kirkfieldbank might look like.  What I think is good about it is that it sets seemingly small actions, like restarting the youth club, as part of a bigger picture – retaining population, public services and quality of life.

johnstonebridge strategy diagram

The common lesson…

Each of those three communities relied on local folk involved in a group to take things forward.  In Johnstonebridge, all it needed was one local volunteer who used the Community Action Plan to get the necessary support.  In Moffat and Crianlarich, the Community Councils (with the Development Trust in Crianlarich) took the lead in delivering the Community Action Plan – taking forward projects themselves and chivvying others along.

What’s important to remember is that, in all three places, projects only happened because they emerged as community priorities through the Community Action Planning process, and because the Community Action Plan showed how important they were.

That’s the point of Community Action Planning: it makes things happen.

Nick Wright of Nick Wright Planning.




BEFS newest member, The Ridge Foundations CIC, a construction company & social enterprise, describe their invaluable work in the local community.

Apprentices in the stocks © The Ridge Foundations

Apprentices in the stocks ©TRF

The Ridge Foundations CIC (TRF) is a construction company/social enterprise, part of the Ridge SCIO charity. Our core focus is to provide high quality training in traditional skills, and supported employment for those who would otherwise struggle to access or sustain either.

Based in Dunbar, we offer opportunities to local people, in an area of geographical isolation. Opportunities to access training, entry-level jobs and support services are largely situated at least 2 costly bus journeys and a couple of hours away at the far end of the county, or in Edinburgh. For those already struggling to cope with day-to-day life, the additional barriers can prove insurmountable. And in this way, the potential of individuals is so often missed, with catastrophic negative impacts for the individuals themselves, for their families, the wider community and for the taxpayer, as their reliance on a range of services spreads and deepens.

The fabulous Dunbar Conservation Area is at risk, in large parts, of permanent loss, due to decades of neglect. This impacts on how local people feel about the place where they live, and about themselves. It also inhibits the local economy, deterring visitors and new businesses alike, limiting the massive potential of this Scottish Burgh Townscape, two harbours and castle, alongside the rich history of the place.

At TRF, local people learn high quality skills to help reverse this situation. Traditional stonemasonry and joinery skills are taught by skilled and experienced trainers, supported closely by Historic Environment Scotland (HES). As a CITB-registered company, and SQA centre, we offer Modern Apprenticeships (7 currently) for our trainees, alongside qualifications such as the National Progression Award in Construction (Craft and Technician) for local school pupils and for unemployed adults. Working in close partnership with East Lothian Council and the Jobcentre Plus, we provide access to this training to individuals from across the county as well as Dunbar locals.

The grants which support our work are increasingly supplemented by commercial contracts. This also improves the range of experience of trainees, of both the practical elements of their trade and the ‘real world’ of working for customers. The rest of the time, they are either in college, or working on our own projects, including Black Bull Close, just off Dunbar High Street.

Building 4 (as it is romantically known) of Black Bull Close is being restored with support from HES, via  generous funding and close technical supervision, as we aim to deliver a simple restoration, which is also fit for modern purposes. Every aspect of the project is an opportunity for skills training and for wider learning. We aim to include the local community as far as possible in the process, including running Community Archaeology and heritage engagement events.

There was deep scepticism locally at the outset, and many people believed it would be a waste of time to try and save the Close ruins. This has now been inverted, and the local community is thrilled with the transformation to date. The wider impact has been that other local buildings previously despaired of, are now being viewed as viable. The power of a positive, visible model!

For us, the process has deepened our passion for the built environment, and its potential to change lives. We are really keen to be part of and to contribute to the dialogue at a national level, in particular around how traditional skills can be mainstreamed and their benefits accessed without barriers. We aspire to being part of a national network of traditional skills training centres and feel that BEFS membership would be a great forum for discussing this and engaging with like-minded individuals and organisations nationally.


BEFS Director, Euan Leitch, outlines how the Draft Infrastructure Investment Plan for Scotland impacts on built heritage.

The Scottish Government published the Draft Infrastructure Investment Plan for Scotland 2021/22 to 2025/26 on 24th September and while it may not immediately seem to have news for Scotland’s built heritage the principles it is proposing are worth attention.

The Government’s draft plan is responding to the Infrastructure Commission for Scotland’s recommendations, which were published in two parts, Key Findings in January and Delivery Findings in July. The Key Findings are noteworthy to many both for its wide definition of infrastructure and the attention it pays to the maintenance and reuse of Scotland’s existing infrastructure and certainly raised expectations – it is no longer about great big shiny new pieces of national kit.

The Draft Plan is framed by three priorities:

  • Enabling the transition to net zero emissions and environmental sustainability
  • Driving inclusive economic growth
  • Building resilient and sustainable places

While some of us might feel uneasy about “growth” there can be no denying that these are imperative.

The Scottish Government has taken on board the Commission’s recommendations, the definition of infrastructure being as follows (italics mine):

“The physical and technical facilities and other fundamental systems necessary for the economy to function and to enable, sustain or enhance societal living conditions. These include the networks, connections and storage relating to the enabling infrastructure of transport, energy, water, telecoms, digital and internet, to permit the ready movement of people, goods and services. They include the built environment of housing; public infrastructure such as education, health, justice and cultural facilities; safety enhancement such as waste management or flood prevention; and public services such as emergency services and resilience.”

But more interestingly is the proposal of a shift in investment priorities with a “new common investment hierarchy – enhancing and maintaining existing assets ahead of new build”. This is something that the heritage sector, conservation movement and environmental sector have been recommending for… a long time. BEFS and others have submitted evidence to the work of the Commission at the consultation stage and in a workshop, banging the maintenance drum. It is therefore good news to see the Scottish Government finally adopting this approach. The hierarchy of investment structure proposed:

The Scottish Futures Trust has been tasked with preparing guidance for public organisations when developing asset management strategies, considering whole-life approach including cost and build resources alongside the new investment hierarchy. In looking at the above it is interesting to ponder, were this hierarchy to have been applied 10 years ago would the same decisions on replacing schools, healthcare facilities and housing have been made?

Annex B, Capital Maintenance: The Economic Benefits of the document is worth reading as it makes many of  the points BEFS repeats on the benefits of maintenance, including the wider spread of employment to SMEs but notes the lack of “quantitative evidence on the relative economic impact of capital maintenance as compared to building new infrastructure but evidence suggests that capital maintenance does have as high a rate of return.” There is research currently being undertaken by the Fraser of Allander Institute on this and we hope to see a report in November.

The draft plan is also making the right connections with the forthcoming National Planning Framework and National Housing Delivery Framework as well as other relevant strategies addressing climate targets, and following the Place Principle.

There are a host of financial commitments to be delivered in the draft 5 year strategy, some highlighted below, and while the sums appear large, they will not go far as we would like once applied across 32 local authority areas.

Word searching the draft Infrastructure Investment Plan may not reveal words we hope to see but the investment hierarchy proposed, if implemented and delivered, would make a substantive difference to Scotland’s existing built environment.

BEFS will be working with its Members on the consultation which closes on the 19th November.

The following commitments outlines in the draft plan may also be of interest:

  • Investing £1.6 billion over the next five years to decarbonise heat in buildings, including £55 million new investment in energy efficiency and £95 million programme to decarbonise the public sector estate.
  • Doubling investment in bridge and roads maintenance, enhancing safety with a programme of around £1.5 billion over 5 years
  • Investing £525 million to deliver the next five years of £5 billion city region and regional growth deals.
  • £30 million in delivering the National Islands Plan, supporting a range of areas, including tourism, infrastructure, innovation, energy transition and skills.
  • Investing £275 million to support community-led regeneration and town centre revitalisation as part of a new Place Based Investment Programme
  • Invest over £2.8 billion in direct capital grant funding, over 5 years, to deliver more affordable and social homes, continuing to ensure the right types of homes in the right places reflecting and supporting Local Housing Strategies and regional development priorities.
  • Together with Councils, fund an ambitious £2 billion Learning Estate Improvement Programme, using an outcomes based revenue finance approach.



Heather Claridge, A&DS, introduces a new report on how the design of our towns, cities and landscapes can help combat the climate emergency.

©Richard Carman/A&DS
©Richard Carman/A&DS

©Richard Carman/A&DS

One of the most important drivers for change of our time is undoubtedly the climate emergency. It impacts almost every aspect of our lives. We are already experiencing this through increased rainfall events, warmer seasons and rising sea levels. This is both a challenge and opportunity to rethink how our places are planned, delivered, adapted and used. If we do this well and at pace, we help to futureproof our villages, towns, cities and regions from the more extreme and costly impacts of climate change. In turn, we can help to support places to be healthier, happier, just and thriving.

In 2019, the Energy and Climate Change Directorate of the Scottish Government asked Architecture and Design Scotland to help implement Scotland’s Climate Change Plan and Act at a local level. Over the last decade, A&DS has collected intelligence on sustainable design. However, with the introduction of a target to be a net zero carbon society by 2045, we recognised we could both support and gain more understanding of the practical and creative ways places can help achieve this ambition. We established a pilot phase of the project which was underpinned by a ‘learning by doing’ approach.

Pilot Phase

During this phase we supported 4 Local Authorities to progress spatial plans prioritising decarbonisation. This included the redevelopment of Knab in Lerwick, Shetland; Elgin Town Centre Masterplan; Strathard Land Use and Rural Development Framework; and Glasgow South Central Local Development Framework. These Authorities were selected due to their variation in geography, project scale and stage. However, each of them shared an aspiration to explore how to position climate change as a key driver for change.

In addition to the work with the Authorities, we collected a series of blogs ranging in aspects from energy, food growing, brownfield reuse, mobility to behaviour change. We curated a public sector client forum online on the theme of climate, health and place. The learning from the combination of these activities helped to shape the content of a Carbon Conscious Report, launched on the 6th of October 2020.

©Richard Carman/A&DS

©Richard Carman/A&DS

Eight Principles of Carbon Conscious Places

The report offers examples, principles and illustrations to help guide and inspire people to support a whole place approach to reduce, repurpose and absorb carbon and adapt to the impacts of climate change.  The eight principles identified are interconnected and are not intended to be used as a definitive set of solutions instead they outline important concepts to consider when shaping places.

  • Principle 1 is a ‘place-led approach’. This involves understanding, appreciating and working with existing assets, the surrounding landscape and the place identity. Using the right type of intervention, at the right stage, scale and location.
  • Principle 2 is a ‘place of small distances’. This encourages the creation of complete and self-sufficient neighbourhoods with everyday services and facilities within a short walking or cycling distance.
  • Principle 3 leads on from the previous and is a ‘network of small distance places’. This involves connecting complete neighbourhoods to provide a network of places that support greater self-sufficiency and low carbon living. Enabling people to live, work and play without generating unnecessary carbon emissions.
  • Principle 4 is a ‘place designed for and with local people’. This involves placing people’s needs at the centre of decision-making, service provision and investment in our places and ensuring they are actively involved in key stages of the design process.
  • Principle 5 is a ‘place that reuses, repurposes and considers whole life costs’. This supports the retrofitting of existing structures and brownfield sites first, giving consideration to embodied carbon in place. This principle supports viewing structures as ‘material banks’ with components which are demountable, rebuildable and reusable and considering the cost of the entire lifecycle of a structure rather than only its initial capital costs.
  • Principle 6 is a ‘place with whole and circular systems’. This involves enhancing, repairing and joining up the different systems which support a healthy, carbon conscious place.
  • Principle 7 is a ‘place that supports sharing’. This encourages the sharing of assets and services in places to enable lower carbon living and connects people to their neighbourhoods. This can range from sharing tools, bikes, electric vehicles to accommodation and education facilities.
  • Finally, Principle 8 is a ‘place designed in time.’ This involves ensuring the place planning and delivery process considers the dimension of time from long term visions to short-term approaches to test ideas.

Different Scales

Within the report, we have considered how these principles can apply at four settlement scales – an urban neighbourhood, a city centre, a town and a rural community. Through this we are able to consider different ways to address all scopes of carbon emissions and impacts of climate change. This will help to deliver on a Carbon Conscious Scotland by 2050 and deliver on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Shifting Scotland’s reliance on carbon intensive developments, services and modes of transport, requires a whole place approach on a national scale. The Carbon Conscious Places report is a resource which can be used by different places across Scotland to work across sectors to design for a changing climate.

The report is available here.