NATIONAL PLANNING FRAMEWORK FOR SCOTLAND
169. There have been profound changes in the rural economy, with long-term decline of primary and traditional industries, the growth of the service sector, diversification into new activities and the growing importance of leisure and tourism. Many rural areas can absorb more people without losing their environmental quality and modern communications technologies now make widely dispersed economic activity a practical proposition. The space and environmental quality which rural Scotland can offer is at a premium in the developed world. High quality natural surroundings offering opportunities for a wide range of recreational activities can provide attractive locations for creative and knowledge-based businesses, including those based on Scotland's distinctive environment and culture. The availability of broadband services is an important factor in realising this potential.
170. The future lies in economic diversification and environmental stewardship. The role of Planning is to enhance the value of rural resources and help create development opportunities at sustainable locations. This means reflecting the great diversity which exists in rural Scotland. NPPG 15: Rural Development explores that diversity as a basis for policy development and this will be developed further in the new Scottish Planning Policy on Rural Development (SPP 15).
171. To promote rural development and sustainable resource management the Executive has developed national strategies for agriculture, forestry, sea fisheries and aquaculture. Community right to buy and assistance from the New Opportunities Fund Scottish Land Fund is creating new opportunities for community-based development. The reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) agreed in June 2003 will allow the introduction of a new system of support under which payments are linked to economic, social and environmental objectives rather than agricultural production. The Executive will consult on the introduction of Land Management Contracts tailored to the agricultural potential, environmental character and economic opportunities in each part of Scotland and it is likely that different combinations of activities will be supported in different areas. It will be important to ensure that land management regimes and planning policies reinforce each other. In remote and economically fragile rural areas, including crofting areas, development which delivers economic and social benefits to communities with no significant adverse affects on the environment may be acceptable even on the best agricultural land, if no other option is available.
172. Higher education has a key role to play in developing the knowledge economy in rural areas. The confederal UHI Millennium Institute with its constituent colleges throughout the Highlands and Islands, the Crichton University Campus in Dumfries and Heriot-Watt University's Scottish Borders Campus in Galashiels are excellent pioneering examples. While each is pursuing a different development model, all three are building new centres of expertise and creativity, providing high-level jobs, offering opportunities for people to study locally, developing international links and attracting students from around the world.
173. Energy has an important part to play in the future of rural Scotland. Developing Scotland's very large renewable energy potential can offer important economic benefits and contribute to the sustainable development of remote and island communities. Development of onshore windfarms is currently proceeding apace, but the longer-term potential is likely to lie with new technologies such as offshore wind, wave and tidal power and biomass. Coastal areas will play a key role in Scotland's bid to become a world leader and exporter of marine power technology. New high quality jobs are being created through developments such as wind turbine and tower fabrication in a number of rural locations and the marine energy research centre on Orkney. The farming industry is examining the potential of biofuel crops and the harvesting of Scotland's forests will provide a source of fuel for heat and power generation. The UKAEA's facilities at Dounreay in Caithness are developing expertise in nuclear decommissioning and environmental restoration and are an important centre for fusion energy research.
174. While measures to secure the long-term future of white-fish stocks are currently putting pressure on Scotland's deep-sea fleet and major white fish ports, the prospects for local inshore fisheries based on shellfish are positive. Aquaculture continues to develop and Scotland has a valuable centre of expertise in marine biotechnology in the Marine Laboratory at Dunstaffnage. There is growing interest in the potential for farming species such as cod and haddock. Locational restrictions have been placed on the farming of salmon to protect wild fish stocks in the major salmon rivers flowing to the East Coast. However, this constraint does not apply to white-fish species. There may therefore be potential for the expansion of aquaculture to the East Coast, perhaps linked to established processing capacity. There may also be potential synergies between renewable energy development and fish stock management, with offshore installations doubling as fishing-free breeding refuges.
175. In the Highlands and Islands the challenge is to replicate in the remoter areas the successes already achieved in places like Skye and Mull. The deep water of Scapa Flow is a major strategic asset. Through the fragile areas programme, the enterprise network and local authorities are giving particular attention to the needs of the Western Isles, North Skye, the outlying islands of Orkney and Shetland, the Argyll islands and the remote west mainland. The Executive's Initiative at the Edge is supporting the growth of fresh ideas and aspirations in some of Scotland's most remote communities. The Executive is keen to improve access and connectivity by promoting innovation on existing ferry routes and new or shorter crossings to the islands.
176. A range of economic and demographic indicators identify the Western Isles as an area facing particular challenges. The population is declining and ageing markedly. Unemployment is high, activity rates are low and GDP per head is well below the national average. Economic performance is lagging significantly behind that of the rest of the Highlands and Islands and other parts of rural Scotland.
177. While the problems of rural peripherality are at their most acute in the Western Isles, their unique cultural and environmental resources are national assets with enormous potential. They are the principal heartland of Scotland's Gaelic culture and offer outstanding scenery and maritime habitats of international importance. There are large international markets for Celtic culture, built heritage and environmental tourism. There is considerable social capital, with high participation rates in community and voluntary activities. Climate and geography offer great potential for harnessing renewable energy, particularly wind, wave and tidal power. There are also likely to be opportunities to provide support services for the development of Atlantic oil and gas reserves. Realising this potential demands co-ordinated action focused on measures to support, diversify and grow the economy, create high value jobs, retain and attract population, improve connectivity and communications, develop links with communities on Skye and the mainland, and upgrade the electricity transmission system.
178. Priorities for the South of Scotland are the diversification of the economy and the creation of more high-value jobs, building on the rich environment and cultural heritage of the area, the large potential for renewable energy development, quality produce, and the design skills associated with the textiles and electronics industries. Continued improvement of transport connections to the Borders will create new development opportunities and allow the area to accommodate some of the household growth expected in the East. Links to Newcastle and the proximity of the Northumberland National Park offer additional opportunities, particularly in recreation and tourism.
179. The Southern Uplands Partnership is promoting the integration of environmental, social and economic land use policies to keep people living and working in the upland areas. Improvements in transport infrastructure may be needed to cope with the volume of timber generated by the increased levels of harvesting expected by 2020. Improving the environmental quality of the M74 corridor could open up significant economic and recreational opportunities related to this important gateway route.
180. Across rural Scotland the aim should be to develop a diverse, modern economy with an international perspective based on environmental and cultural resources and knowledge and expertise. There needs to be a commitment to creating opportunities and added value through long-term planning, careful resource management and attention to good design.