The Future is Local

20 minute neighbourhoods is one of the latest concepts gaining more attention amongst planners and policymakers. The idea centres on places being specifically designed in order for local residents to be able meet their daily needs within a 20-minute walk (10 minutes each direction) of their home; either through access to safe walking and cycling routes or via public transport.

There’s no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a profound, and likely lasting effect, on how we use our towns and cities to live, work and play. While this concept of 20-minute neighbourhoods in relation to urban development has been around for some years, it has developed rapidly in the minds of policymakers, politicians and the general public on a global scale over the last 18 months.

Around the world, various countries have made commitments or drawn up plans in support of this concept, though only a select few have actually taken the leap to make 20-minute neighbourhoods a reality. However, Scotland is among these. The Programme for Government 2020-21 commits the Scottish Government to working with local government and partners to take forward ambitions for 20-minute neighbourhoods across Scotland.

While a 20-minute neighbourhood should boast a multitude of features, some of the main ones outlined include local shopping centres, affordable housing options, local employment opportunities and green spaces/community gardens.

In terms of the planning policy and practice and partnerships that could aid in delivering the concept in Scotland, various reports recommend a range of areas of planning policy, development management and public service delivery which present opportunities to support the delivery of 20-minute neighbourhoods. The on-going planning reform in Scotland, including the implementation of the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 through drafting of the National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4), secondary legislation and guidance, provides an excellent opportunity to do so.

Some of the policy and guidance opportunity areas identified to promote and support 20 minute neighbourhoods include:

  • NPF4 and LDP policies including transport, density, services and green infrastructure;
  • Designing Streets policy statement;
  • Creating Places policy statement;
  • Open Space Strategies;
  • Woodland and Forestry Strategies;
  • Play sufficiency assessments; and
  • Digital Planning Strategy.

Some of the development management procedures identified include:

  • Pre-application process
  • Planning obligations
  • Outcome focused performance measures

Additionally, multiple physical interventions in the urban environment would require to be considered in order to support the implementation of 20-minute neighbourhoods, including: active travel interventions, public realm and greenspace enhancements, traffic reduction methods, service provision and considerations of densification. Whilst 20-minute neighbourhood type interventions are a relatively new concept, there is a growing body of evidence and real-world examples supporting them.

For example, analysis of the impacts of active travel and traffic calming interventions in Outer London during 2016-19 have shown a shift away from private vehicles, reductions in air pollution, improved health outcomes and reduced street crime. In addition, studies have also shown that residents who spend less time traveling by car generally spend more time engaging in community activities, enhancing social interactions.

The Victorian Government (Australia) have released a series of articles in relation to their policy and strategy and the success of creating inclusive, vibrant and healthy local areas in the 20-minute neighbourhood style. They recognised that while traditionally the focal point of many neighbourhoods were its high streets and local villages, modern shopping developments have impacted community life making 20-minute neighbourhoods a fundamental way to rectify this change while tying in with sustainable development goals.

So, could this work in Scotland? In Edinburgh the city authority rolled out new ‘Spaces for People’ measures which were initially introduced to help people within the city to physically distance, travel safely and exercise during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the implementation of this £5m investment included the development and implementation of segregated cycle infrastructure which has not been well received by many local residents. This has led to concerns over the implementation approach undertaken by the Council in giving communities a voice to raise questions and oppose further installation across the city.

To combat this, an exciting new type of plan which provides opportunities for communities to develop ideas and proposals for the development of where they live, may greatly aid in reducing future conflicts. Local Place Plans (LPPs) were introduced as a provision in the 2019 Planning (Scotland) Act. LPPs can help community planning and land-use planning achieve better outcomes for communities. RTPI Scotland believe there is a clear opportunity to integrate emerging Local Place Plans with the aspirations of 20-minute neighbourhoods, especially through the drafting of relevant guidance.

Both Local Place Plans and 20-minute neighbourhoods are focussed on making our neighbourhoods and environments better places to live, work and play. They can each help planners to communicate strategic and big-picture considerations and allow communities to plan priorities for interventions, with detailed local understanding. Many of these strategic considerations could be covered by several of the fundamental aspirations of 20-minute neighbourhoods and tailored to specific circumstance. Planners can in turn bring the vital links to other departments, agendas and organisations that help to navigate the system and turn community aspirations into reality.

While Local community-led planning has been around for many years in the form of Community Action Planning, there are a range of existing projects that could be tied into LPPs and 20-minute neighbourhoods. For example, ‘Sustaining Choices’ is a pilot project delivered by Paths for All and Planning Aid Scotland. The projects aim to produce a series of community-led active travel plans across Scotland and in future, similar approaches could further be integrated into the LPP process.

For LPPs to succeed there is a need for funding to be set aside to support communities and development. It has been estimated that each LPP could cost anywhere between £10,000 – £30,000 each, further to RTPI research, and there would also be an additional need to secure on-going funding for maintenance of any interventions identified. However, at present, there is currently no allocated funding in place nor has it been clarified where the funding costs will come from whether it be either planning authorities, Scottish Government, communities themselves or a possible contribution from all. Lastly, full consideration also needs to be made as to how a diverse range of age groups could be involved and how both geographic communities and communities of interest should be engaged in the LPP process.

Clearly there are a number of important factors that need to be clarified for these to have a successful implementation and long-term impact.

Let us know your thoughts on 20 minute neighbourhoods or Local Place Plans. Contact our team via to discuss in more detail.