Planning and Architecture

Eat haggis and come back full of new ideas! Six weeks as a visiting civil servant

May 28, 2019 by No Comments | Category Uncategorized

In Finland, government officials have an option of short-term exchange in their own administrative field abroad. The goal of the exchange is that both the sending and receiving organizations benefit from the exchange and new contacts, as well as professional development.

I work as a senior advisor at the Finnish government or in the The Ministry of The Environment that is responsible for planning and housing. After several major projects I thought it could be useful to recharge my batteries and to refresh my perspective.

Scotland was my number one choice for this exchange. Finland and Scotland have many similarities such as nordic and to some extent remote locations, similar populations, relatively high GDP on a European scale and many others. Scotland has a long and glorious tradition of planning and great ambition to develop a world class planning also in future. We knew of the ongoing reform of planning and the Planning Bill, and their clear and very modern ideas for making planning system more influential and effective.

I was encouraged to go to Scotland by my colleagues. They had a few conditions; eat haggis, and come back with full of new ideas, and try to take a look at what planning really means !

Six weeks in the Scottish Government passed quickly. People at VQ were friendly and real professionals. The work of PAD seemed very systematic, goal oriented and efficient and it was really good to follow the digital planning team who are working with zest and innovatively. The priorities were quite similar. In Finland, we have also launched planning reform and digitalisation is one of our biggest priorities.

I prepared a report about national planning comparing ideas between Finland and Scotland. I shared our methods for data, evidence and engagement. In Finland scenarios have been a very useful tool for exploring opportunities and recognizing threats. I emphasized the need to take into account an international dimension and develop polycentric and networking spatial structures, as well as the Finnish approach to developing a low carbon society.

There shouldn’t be a “one-size-fits-all” solution in spatial planning. However, Scotland offers many good ideas for Finland. I realized that Finland’s Government should work better as one entity and more strategically with common goals. We must also emphazise positive attitude in planning and have more ambition. We could have a stronger focus on ’place’ – the Scottish place based approach including place making, the place principle and the place standard are a most intresting way to develop planning. I agree that the planning system should lead and inspire change by making clear plans for the future.

Scotland shows that an influential national spatial plan is needed. We have to have strategic and visionary approaches to national planning that can help to create synergies between sectoral policies. The Scottish Planning Bill contains also many other instresting matters – for example a legal right for children and young people to be involved in planning should be starting point everywhere.

It has been great time to be in Edinburgh but it is also good to come back home. I can tell my colleagues that I have accomplished my mission. I return with a list of 15 new ideas for Finland. I have eaten haggis several times. Nobody has told me what it contains but it is really good. As for definition of planning ? I know certainly that it is not just matching different needs and solving problems. Minister Kevin Stewart said at a young planners event in Dundee that planning is about creating great places and seeking new opportunities. That was really good answer to take back home.

Thank John, Fiona, Graeme and other friends from PAD and special thanks to Eric. I hope we’ll keep in touch and to see you later in Finland.

Timo Turunen