Climate and nature at the heart of new Scottish planning framework

13.2.23 2 minute read

Climate and nature

The National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4) was approved by the Scottish Parliament on 11 January 2023 and will today (13 Feb) be adopted by the Scottish Government.

It’s the most significant shake up of Scotland’s planning system in years with the twin global crises of climate change and biodiversity loss at its heart. Writes Mark Myles, Head of Planning (Scotland)

From today, NPF4 will form part of the adopted Development Plan in Scotland - along with the Local Development Plan (LDP) which is applicable to a specific site/proposal. Existing adopted LDPs will continue to form part of the Development Plan alongside the new policies stipulated in NPF4.

With climate and nature forming the foundations of the NPF4 vision, these themes have influenced the spatial strategy as a whole, along with a range of policies that aim to improve people’s lives by making sustainable, liveable, productive places. This includes a new ‘overarching’ policy which states that “significant weight will be given to the global climate and nature crises” when considering all development proposals.

The emphasis is on reducing emissions as far as possible rather than eliminating all emissions and at this stage quantitative assessments are only expected for some national or major development proposals.

Further guidance (currently being prepared in conjunction with NatureScot) is expected to be published shortly to support the enhancement of biodiversity policy in practice.

A sustainable Scotland

Scotland’s Energy Strategy will also set a new agenda for the energy sector in anticipation of continuing innovation and investment. With NPF4 stating that Scotland’s future places will be net zero, nature positive places that are designed to reduce emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change, whilst recovering and restoring our environment will be priority.

Every decision on our future development must contribute to making Scotland a more sustainable place and within NPF4 significant changes have been made to the energy policy which now provides strong encouragement to the expansion of all forms of renewable energy generation, with wind farm developments in National Parks and National Scenic Areas being the only locations where renewable energy is not being supported.

NPF4 also sets out a distinct, fresh approach to planning for new homes across Scotland that aims to deliver more quality homes that meet diverse needs. The requirement for affordable housing has been strengthened, with policy now stating that proposals for market homes will only be supported where affordable provision is at least 25% of the total number of homes, although there are circumstances where other provision may be acceptable.

Many planning authorities had halted progress on their next generation of LDPs pending the publication of NPF4. LDPs must now include targets for meeting the housing needs of people living in the area, this is referred to in NPF4 as the Local Housing Land Requirement (LHLR) where a figure is given for each local authority or National Park Area. Clarification has also been added to the policies dealing with allocating housing land in LDPs, to make it clear that housing land requirements in LDPs will be expected to exceed the Minimum All-Tenure Housing Land Requirements (MATHLR) as set out in NPF4.

New timeframes

The Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 (as amended) requires planning authorities to prepare a new LDP for their area at intervals of no more than 10 years or whenever required to do so by the Scottish Ministers. It will now be important for the first round of the ‘new style’ LDPs to be prepared in a timely fashion as many LDP’s are rapidly becoming out of date.

Given the new 10-year time frame of future LDP’s, combined with the fact that NPF4 also states that housing development on land not allocated for housing in a LDP will only be supported in very limited circumstances, this has further highlighted the importance of ensuring land is allocated now for those with an intertest in housing development.

It’s therefore a good time for all landowners to consider and seek advice on the potential for promoting potential development sites and the opportunities for longer-term strategic housing land allocations across Scotland.


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Mark Myles

Partner, Head of Planning Scotland

Mark's 30+ years’ experience in public and private sector development management gives him a deep understanding of planning across Scotland.

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