Whilst the digital world is ever dynamic with endless opportunities, some of which are identified here; it is also critical that in applying digital tools, planners and the planning profession remain aware of the implications and ethics of such technologies. The need to build and maintain trust in the digital era is one recognised by the Scottish Government who have since sought to develop and apply best practice. This is to ensure that through digital adoption:

“…ethics sits at the front and centre of our decision-making, across government, private sector, civil society and as citizens…” (Scottish Government Nov 2022, Building Trust in the Digital Era 85)

This approach is consistent with the Scottish Planning system which as its central purpose states/defines that the purpose of planning is to:

“… manage the development and use of land in the long-term public interest where that contributes to sustainable development and achieves the national outcomes, consistent with the Community Empowerment Act 2015….” (National Planning Framework 4, Scottish Government)

Interwoven through such definition/s and linked to each of the Scottish Planning Authorities’ policies, strategies and governance frameworks is a need for transparency and public interest alongside all digital planning practices. This handbook has set out potential tools and approaches that can be applied and accessed digitally to enhance the performance of the Scottish Planning System but also to make it more accessible and perhaps more flexible, to the respective needs of users.

RTPI Scotland, as the professional body representing town planners across the UK and abroad, recognises the role of professional ethics in published ‘probity’ guidance dated January 2020. This states:

“… A defining feature of the planning profession is the duty “to advance the science and art of planning (including town and country and spatial planning) for the benefit of the public under the RTPI’s Royal Charter. Delivering this duty by acting in the public interest has historically been defined in terms of protecting public health, public amenity and the environment from ‘harm’. Today, RTPI Members serve a range of interests. Acting in the public interest involves having regard to the expectations of the local community and politicians as well as future generations.”

It therefore follows that the adoption of digital planning tools, including those listed within this handbook, implies the need for ethical decision making to still be ensured through human processes. At all times checks and balances should be retained reflective of the regulatory role that local Planning Authorities and Governments hold. It is also important to recognise continually that whilst digital tools help to inform, gather or manipulate data, planning decisions are often subjective and must reflect our evolving places, people, businesses and society.

To conclude this handbook, it is therefore important to pose some key questions and areas for further consideration by users and decisions makers as these digital tools are adapted and applied. Moving forward, it will be important for town planners to acknowledge these risks and potential downfalls of digital planning and to mitigate against these.

Some potential disadvantages of relying on digital:

• Could digital take over the role of planning staff and lead to job losses, if there were not to be a replacement of the human knowledge that would be lost?

• Can digital approaches allow for the same level of creativity in planning once systems are built?

• The subjective nature of planning and importance of place and how people view their own places could be diluted through digitisation.

• Digital technology has the potential to only be as good as the inputs that are provided and therefore the accuracy of outputs could vary significantly.

Digital exclusion is also important to consider. There is potential for groups in communities particularly to be marginalised further in the planning system, through greater digitisation e.g. the Gypsy/Traveller community. Literacy levels within this community can be low, with often little or no digital awareness or interest. Similarly, there remain physical constraints with digital connectivity or the availability of technology across some areas of Scotland and across many of our deprived communities. Planners themselves must therefore remain the guiding force for the future of our villages, towns, cities and the land areas in between.

Overall, this handbook has served however to present the opportunity. The opportunity to convey and collaborate, to be more productive, to utilise real time and dynamic data publicly and to monitor outcomes for people, businesses or places – thereby acting in the public interest for Scotland. Digital tools can be, where applied correctly, an enabler, not a substitute. They can aide towards improved transparency and compliment other public policy and social initiatives such as community empowerment and localism. Ultimately, however, the digital tool still recognises and respects the autonomy and authority of the user/s in addition to providing an opportunity for the collective enhancement of skills, interest and involvement in planning across Scotland.