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Getting the best from our land - A land use strategy for Scotland

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1 A land use strategy for Scotland's future

1.1 Our agenda for sustainable land use

The ways in which we use Scotland's land resources in the future will be critical to our economic performance, to our environment, to our sense of place and community, and to our quality of life.

This Strategy sets out a long term Vision towards 2050 with three clear Objectives relating to economic prosperity, environmental quality and communities.

In order to secure these Objectives, the Strategy identifies key Principles for Sustainable Land Use which reflect Government policies on the priorities which should influence land use choices. The Principles are relevant for everybody involved in planning the future use of land or in taking significant decisions about changes in land use.

Our Vision

A Scotland where we fully recognise, understand and value the importance of our land resources, and where our plans and decisions about land use deliver improved and enduring benefits, enhancing the wellbeing of our nation.

Our Objectives

  • Land based businesses working with nature to contribute more to Scotland's prosperity
  • Responsible stewardship of Scotland's natural resources delivering more benefits to Scotland's people
  • Urban and rural communities better connected to the land, with more people enjoying the land and positively influencing land use

Principles for Sustainable Land Use

The Principles below are in line with the principles of sustainable development. They also reflect Government policies on the priorities which should inform land use choices across Scotland. We expect that they will be used by public bodies when making plans and taking significant decisions affecting the use of land. We also strongly encourage individuals, businesses and organisations who have significant land management responsibilities to have regard to them.

a) Opportunities for land use to deliver multiple benefits should be encouraged.

b) Regulation should continue to protect essential public interests whilst placing as light a burden on businesses as is consistent with achieving its purpose. Incentives should be efficient and cost-effective.

c) Where land is highly suitable for a primary use (for example food production, flood management, water catchment management and carbon storage) this value should be recognised in decision-making.

d) Land use decisions should be informed by an understanding of the functioning of the ecosystems which they affect in order to maintain the benefits of the ecosystem services which they provide.

e) Landscape change should be managed positively and sympathetically, considering the implications of change at a scale appropriate to the landscape in question, given that all Scotland's landscapes are important to our sense of identity and to our individual and social wellbeing.

f) Land-use decisions should be informed by an understanding of the opportunities and threats brought about by the changing climate. Greenhouse gas emissions associated with land use should be reduced and land should continue to contribute to delivering climate change adaptation and mitigation objectives.

g) Where land has ceased to fulfil a useful function because it is derelict or vacant, this represents a significant loss of economic potential and amenity for the community concerned. It should be a priority to examine options for restoring all such land to economically, socially or environmentally productive uses.

h) Outdoor recreation opportunities and public access to land should be encouraged, along with the provision of accessible green space close to where people live, given their importance for health and well-being.

i) People should have opportunities to contribute to debates and decisions about land use and management decisions which affect their lives and their future.

j) Opportunities to broaden our understanding of the links between land use and daily living should be encouraged.

1.2 Why do we need a Land Use Strategy?

We should aim to make the best use of our land resources while also increasing the benefits that they can provide. Scotland's land resources provide us with a wealth of benefits - food, timber, clean water, energy, employment, transport links and recreation opportunities. In addition they form a key component of our national identity. Although land and the use which we make of it affects almost every aspect of our lives, there is scope for it to deliver wider, increased and more enduring benefits.

There will always be difficult choices to be made about how best to use land. Increasing demands and expectations often exert considerable and competing pressures. In the relatively recent past we have witnessed: changing consumption patterns; a growing acceptance that we need to adapt our lives and the way we use resources in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; pressures on productive land from built development; changes to weather patterns which impact on productivity and which increase flood risk.

At the same time we demand more from Scotland's land - more produce, more recreation, more carbon storage, more biodiversity. However our land resource is finite. That means we have to optimise the ways in which we use land and maintain the good health of the land so that it can continue to provide both the essential services we require and the other benefits we want. To achieve this we must increasingly think strategically about the capabilities and potential of our land resources and the way they are used now and in future.

The Land Use Strategy therefore has a crucial role to play in achieving sustainable land use across Scotland which will contribute to making us a prosperous and successful nation. It sets the long-term directions we need to pursue to get the best from Scotland's land. It is sensible that the Strategy should evolve over time and in dialogue with stakeholders so that it continues to reflect changing circumstances and improved mutual understanding. It will in any case be subject to review at intervals of not more than five years.

1.3 How does it relate to other Government strategies?

The Government's purpose is to create a more successful country, with opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish, through increasing sustainable economic growth. The Land Use Strategy provides a key element in support of this. In order to achieve the full benefits that can be secured from sustainable land use the Government will ensure that its own policies are aligned with the Strategy's Objectives and Principles.

This Strategy will sit alongside other Government plans and strategies - notably the National Planning Framework1, strategies for biodiversity, forestry, marine, soils and other resources, and for infrastructure such as transport and waste - all working to support the Government's purpose. It is fully integrated and aligned with our recent reports Low Carbon Scotland: Meeting the Emissions Reduction Targets 2010-2022 2 and Low Carbon Economic Strategy for Scotland: Scotland - A Low Carbon Society3

The Land Use Strategy provides a broad context for planning authorities on Government policies relevant to all land use. We therefore expect planning authorities to have regard to the Strategy in preparing their development plans. However, the principal policy framework for development plans continues to be provided by the National Planning Framework and Scottish Planning Policy 4. Planning decisions should continue to be made in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise. The question of what is material will depend on the circumstances of each case.

The policy framework for management of the marine environment is provided by the marine planning system. Future reviews of the Strategy will have regard to marine plans developed under the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 5 and marine plans will similarly have regard to the Land Use Strategy as a statement of relevant Government policy.

1.4 How will it work in practice?

The Land Use Strategy sets out the changes we need to make in our thinking, our decision-making and our actions to make our Vision a reality. It sets the agenda for public, private and third sector alike, guiding our approach to land use and ensuring that we remain focused on achieving sustainable land use across Scotland; optimising the way we use land and ensuring that it continues to provide us with the benefits we need, now and in the future.

The key to this lies in achieving a more integrated approach which enhances our capability to derive wider benefits from the land whilst also ensuring that fundamental resources are cared for and continue to provide for current and future generations. Most land already has multiple functions and delivers multiple benefits, but there is considerable scope for improvement. The most significant gains will be made by first ensuring that we are as clear as possible about Objectives for land use at the national level. It is right that detailed plans and decisions about land use should continue to be made at a local level to reflect local needs and circumstances. The Strategy sets a framework which will inform these local processes.

The Strategy has three Objectives relating to the economy, environment and communities - the three pillars of sustainability. For Scotland to prosper these Objectives must be given equal weight at the national level, and the Strategy provides this context. At a more local level the balance between these considerations in relation to given situations can quite properly vary.

This first Strategy sets out Objectives at a national scale. It also provides broad Principles to guide policy and decision making. The Government's role is to assist land managers to make choices about how they use their land so that those decisions are more likely to contribute to the achievement of the national Objectives. The Strategy is not the place to define which parcel of land should be used for which purpose in a prescriptive way and it does not seek to do that.

The Strategy recognises that different individuals may have different legitimate interests and priorities for the use of individual areas of land and also that the main factors influencing land use and land use choices can vary considerably from area to area. This is why decisions are generally best made by those closest to the land - by individuals, land managers, communities and businesses.

The Government already has clear policies across major land use sectors, for example through the statutory planning system and in relation to flood management or forestry. The Principles for Sustainable Land Use reflect Government priorities and should guide and influence land use choices.

Clearly some of the Principles will be more relevant than others in certain circumstances or parts of Scotland, but it is not an option to continue to look at a narrow range of interests when making decisions about land. In order to optimise the benefits we get from use of our land resources we must think and act holistically in making plans and decisions about land use. The Principles set out in this Strategy are the key to achieving a better integrated approach which will secure real benefits in practice.

We expect that these Principles will be used by public bodies and by the private sector when they take significant decisions about the future use of land and we strongly encourage all others who have land management responsibilities to have regard to them as well. We expect the public sector to lead the way in demonstrating through their plans and decision-making how the Strategy can be delivered and in considering whether and what changes to existing systems are needed.

1.5 What will the Strategy achieve?

The Strategy will help us all get more from the land. It will build the capacity of land managers to increase and sustain their returns, of communities to understand and enjoy the land and its benefits, and of the natural environment to thrive and adapt to a changing world.

This first Strategy is the beginning of a process. It paves the way for a significant shift towards a more integrated approach to land use. It will take time for the results of the changed approach set out in the Strategy to become fully apparent. However, neither the Strategy nor the Government alone can deliver sustainable land use.

There is wide consensus that we are not yet getting the best from our land. By building common goals, mutual understanding, recognition of diverse objectives, and corresponding alignment of public sector policies, this Strategy helps us all play our part in achieving more benefits today whilst maintaining the future capacity of Scotland's land.

1.6 Next steps

There are a number of Proposals throughout the Strategy and the Government with its SEARS6 partners will lead on their delivery. The Proposals will take effect over the five-year period following publication, and we will develop an action plan to show how they will be taken forward. Wider delivery of sustainable land use across Scotland will require improving our approach to land use and working in partnership - further detail on delivery is set out in Chapter 5.

1.7 Proposals

Proposal 1

Publish an action plan following publication of the Strategy.Before end 2011.

We propose to publish an action plan as soon as reasonably possible after publication of the Strategy. This will set out further detail regarding how and when the Proposals identified in the Strategy will be delivered. The involvement of stakeholders is important to the implementation and delivery of the Proposals. Following publication of the action plan we will examine how best to further involve stakeholders, and what form that involvement might best take.

Proposal 2

Provide an annual progress statement on the Land Use Strategy.Mid 2012 and annually thereafter.

We also propose to publish an annual statement which will monitor and record progress against delivery of the actions. This statement will provide an opportunity to take stock of the success of the policies and Proposals set out in the Strategy. In doing so, it will enable us to consider whether we need to supplement or refocus our actions.

The Strategy represents a new approach and we therefore consider that the first annual statement should be used as an opportunity for stakeholders to engage in a broader debate about the Strategy and the progress achieved, for example through a national conference or similar event.