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Scottish Planning Policy Planning for Rural Development: Consultation Draft


Scottish Planning Policy Planning for Rural Development: Consultation Draft

  • Scottish Planning Policies (SPPs) provide statements of Scottish Executive policy on nationally important land use and other planning matters, supported where appropriate by a locational framework.
  • Circulars, which also provide statements of Scottish Executive policy, contain guidance on policy implementation through legislative or procedural change.
  • Planning Advice Notes (PANs) provide advice on good practice and other relevant information.

Statements of Scottish Executive policy contained in SPPs and Circulars may be material considerations to be taken into account in development plan preparation and development control.

Existing National Planning Policy Guidelines (NPPGs) have continued relevance to decision making, until such time as they are replaced by a SPP. The term SPP should be interpreted as including NPPGs.

Statements of Scottish Executive location-specific planning policy, for example the West Edinburgh Planning Framework, have the same status in decision making as SPPs.


1. This Scottish Planning Policy (SPP) replaces NPPG 15: Rural Development issued in 1999. The SPP draws on recent research funded by the Executive on the evaluation of NPPG 15. 1 The research report identified broad support for a national planning policy focusing on sustainable rural development. It laid particular emphasis on the need for a more aspirational planning vision for rural Scotland. For the purposes of this SPP, rural Scotland means the countryside and settlements of 3000 or less, although the guidance will have wider relevance as the links between rural areas, small towns and urban areas are also important. This SPP encourages a more supportive attitude towards 'appropriate' development whilst acknowledging the enormous diversity of rural Scotland. Advice will be presented in one or more Planning Advice Notes to accompany this SPP.

2. Scotland has a population of just over 5 million in a comparatively large land area including 100 inhabited islands. The population could fall below 5 million within 10 years although it is the policy of Scottish Ministers to reverse that trend. The bulk of the population lives in the central belt which is densely populated but still retains extensive areas of agriculture and forestry. Most of the remainder of rural Scotland has relatively few people. It is estimated that about a million people, 19% of Scotland's total, live in rural areas. 2 Against a 2% decrease in Scotland's population since 1981, rural populations have increased by 2%. But the increases have been selective and concentrated in more accessible areas and some remoter parts. Areas that have experienced significant increases in population have done so because of the quality of life on offer and their ability to diversify economically. An additional 260,000 households are forecast in Scotland by 2025. Rural areas have an important role in helping to meet this demand although most new development is likely to be located in or adjacent to existing urban areas.


3. Scottish Planning Policies (SPPs) and National Planning Policy Guidelines (NPPGs) apply across the whole country and set the scene for shaping a great deal of new development in rural Scotland. This SPP complements these policies but does not repeat their content. Nor does it restate the underlying core principles of sustainable development, economic competitiveness, social justice, environmental quality and design which are set out in SPP1 The Planning System. There is thus an umbrella of national guidance under which planning authorities must operate although they have discretion in interpreting and applying the guidance at the local level. The National Planning Framework, which the Executive expects to publish in the New Year, will provide a long-term spatial vision for the whole of Scotland, including rural areas.

SPPs 2, 3, 17 and NPPG 14 are particularly relevant.


4. Rural Scotland needs to become more confident and forward looking both accepting change and benefiting from it, providing for people who want to continue to live and work there and welcoming newcomers. Traditional ways of living will remain but new ones should function alongside. The intention is to have vigorous and prosperous rural communities, ranging from small towns and villages to dispersed settlements. The countryside should be able to absorb more people content to live and able to work there. Coastal areas too should play their part. The clear goal will be to maintain the viability of existing communities and bring new life to many places which have seen years of decline.

5. Scotland's rural areas are a unique resource with significant long term potential. This potential is replicated in only a few places in northern Europe and, arguably, nowhere else on this scale in the UK. Future lifestyle changes may well increase the demand for rural living and work.


6. NPPG 15 said planning authorities needed to be alert and sensitive to the likely increased demand for new types of development in rural areas. It emphasised that planning authorities and agencies involved in rural development should adopt a proactive approach to providing land for development. This message remains relevant. Although many diversification projects have been implemented, the research has shown that the proactive approach promoted by NPPG 15 has not been embraced everywhere. There was a concern that there is insufficient clarity about what the planning system is aiming to achieve in rural areas. In particular, it highlighted the need for a vision to help guide policy making and development control decisions.

7. The Scottish Ministers ambitions for rural Scotland were set out in the document A New Approach. 3 The overarching policy aim is to have a prosperous rural economy, with a stable or increasing population which is balanced in terms of age structure and where rural communities have reasonable access to good quality services. The planning system can assist this by adopting a more welcoming stance to development in rural Scotland including the further refinement of the approach to diversification. The aim is not to see small settlements increase in size to the extent that they lose their identity, nor to suburbanise the Scottish countryside. Rather, it is to ensure that planning policy regimes are put in place to accommodate selective, modest growth. Most development should be foreseen, agreed and programmed to fit the local circumstances. It can be different in scale and kind to what has occurred in the past but it should not be unexpected or unplanned.

8. Wider economic and social objectives should also be considered as should Scotland's distinctive environment and heritage. This SPP sets out the approach, key messages and objectives which should underpin planning policies and decisions affecting rural areas. It also describes the increasingly important links between development planning and community planning. This SPP's objectives and main principles should also apply to protected landscapes, including National Parks, but in ways appropriate and sympathetic to their special context.


9. Planning's role in advancing the Vision is to enable and help create opportunities for development in sustainable locations wherever appropriate e.g. where infrastructure capacity and good access exist, or can be provided at reasonable cost, or to meet justifiable social and economic objectives. Rural and urban areas are recognised as interdependent e.g. rural areas depend on urban areas for a range of services while providing quality recreational and leisure experiences for the urban population. Rural diversification should be embraced to help businesses, land managers and farmers expand or start new enterprises in appropriate circumstances and at an appropriate scale. New development must be carefully planned if the character and quality of the countryside is not to be undermined. One of the Scottish Ministers' objectives 4 for the planning system is to assist in promoting a strong, diverse and competitive economy by providing land in sufficient quantity and quality to meet demand. The planning system helps to bring stability so that investment decisions are not undermined by inappropriate development. It is important therefore for planning authorities to be aware of new trends, pressures and opportunities and be ready to react positively but sensitively.


10. In the more accessible and heavily populated areas most new development will continue to be in, or adjacent to, existing settlements. Green belts, where designated through the statutory planning system, will continue to restrict most new development and play a key role in maintaining the setting and separation of towns and cities. The natural heritage also has to be protected. If the national Vision is to be realised, planning policies will have to enable development in some areas which, hitherto, have not been considered suitable for development. More opportunities, appropriate in scale, kind and location, should be identified by planning authorities. Even in the heavily populated areas there is potential. For example, areas able to accommodate some small scale housing development may be identified and businesses may be able to diversify further into new activities.

11. In the less populated areas there should be greater scope for having more innovative planning policies. Scottish Ministers see considerable potential for encouraging diversification, distinctiveness and individuality e.g. promoting new ways of working from home, using new energy technologies, delivering tourism projects and developing activities such as aquaculture, equestrianism and many others. Small towns should be self sufficient and able to maintain their function in the local economy. They have a key role in providing services to the wider catchment population. Agriculture and forestry will continue to be important defining elements of rural life. Prime quality agricultural land should continue to be protected, where appropriate, by planning authorities. It should not be eroded in a piecemeal way but only used to meet strategic development objectives e.g. as part of a long term settlement strategy set out in the development plan. In crofting areas there is perceived to be a need for making more land available for a range of developments.


12. The economic structure of rural Scotland has changed rapidly in recent years and this change is expected to continue. Differences in the way people earn their living between town and country are becoming less distinct. More people now live and work in rural areas without being part of the agricultural economy. The private car has increased the ease of access to rural areas and has influenced choice of location for many people. New communications technology also has potential in this regard although constraints in broadband access will have to be overcome in many areas. Changes in the age structure have had knock-on implications for the provision of local services. In particular, the loss of young adults, an ageing population and differences in the socio-economic make-up of rural areas threaten the vibrancy and viability of some rural communities.

13. Planning authorities should support a wide range of economic activity in rural areas and seek environmental enhancement through development at every opportunity. Aquaculture is now a major provider in remoter rural areas and will be brought under planning control. The EC's Rural Development Regulation will influence investment in new rural development projects and areas dependent on farming. It sets out a wide range of activities on which Common Agricultural Policy funds can be spent. Most of the measures are intended to help farm businesses build a more financially and environmentally sustainable future. Long established uses (such as quarries and garages) are essential but not always attractive environmentally. Nevertheless they form an important part of the local economy and have their own legitimate need for land. In some cases tree planting or landscaping may be required to mitigate their impact.

14. Tourism is of vital importance to the social, economic, environmental and cultural well being of rural Scotland. It accounts for 8% of Scottish jobs, rising to nearly 20% in the Highlands. 5 Many areas depend on it for jobs and infrastructure. Planning authorities should give support with appropriate policies on siting and design of new development. Large scale mixed use projects, such as those combining a golf course with housing and commercial development present a particular challenge. The quality of the final product is crucial and planning authorities will have to carefully weigh the economic benefits with the environmental and social impact. Planning authorities also need to be aware of market growth areas such as business tourism and sustainable tourism. They should be supported by the provision of appropriate facilities at key locations including the National Parks.


15. Many landowners, including farmers, have already diversified some of their activity away from traditional farming and forestry. Many other rural businesses are also expanding into new areas. Further diversification of the rural economy should be encouraged and there is enormous scope to exercise initiative and creativity. Planning policy has to be in tune with this fundamental economic reality. Planning authorities along with others can support diversification in ways that benefit the economy and lead to good development on the ground. The LECs have a good idea of the type of business development likely to succeed in an area and where there may be market potential for further development. Planning authorities should liaise closely with these organisations to help promote and support targeted business opportunities in their development plans.

16. Diversification is often most successful where activities are complementary and carefully targeted. In many cases a new enterprise will be connected to an existing business . It will likely be linked to local suppliers and markets and have strong ties with the community in terms of employment and service delivery. The formation of some new businesses can depend on having new build or conversion housing, for sale or rent, providing early funding. Development plans should identify areas where housing and business opportunities can be advanced together. There are some good examples where allowing a limited amount of housing has led to the creation of innovative business opportunities, the re-use of existing buildings and significant employment generation

17. Diversification is likely to be most appropriate in locations where access, particularly by public transport, drainage capacity and IT infrastructure exist or can be provided at reasonable cost. Developments with the added value of employment generation or community benefits should be encouraged, particularly where they involve the re-use of derelict buildings. A Planning Advice Note on Rural Diversification associated with this SPP provides some examples of this type of good practice.


18. SPP3: Planning for Housing remains the first point of reference on the general policy for housing. This SPP advances policy in respect of small scale rural housing developments; including clusters and groups in close proximity to settlements; replacement housing; plots on which to build individually designed houses; and holiday homes. The overall message is that there is considerable scope for allowing more housing developments of this nature and that this should be expressed in development plans, either as part of general settlement policy or as a separate sub-set on rural housing policy.

19. SPP3 states that development plans should allocate sufficient land to meet housing requirements including affordable housing. In most rural areas innovative and flexible approaches will be required to deliver affordable houses in suitable numbers. Additional affordable housing is provided primarily by Registered Social Landlords, with the assistance of subsidy through Community Scotland's development funding programme, or by developers. Communities Scotland currently agrees investment priorities in partnership with local authorities and, in future, those priorities will be set out in Council Housing Strategies. Where the management of development funding has transferred from Communities Scotland to the local authority, the investment will be routed through that authority. Where it is appropriate to do so, developers may be asked to make a contribution to the supply of affordable housing.

20. One option is for development plans in areas with a known shortage of affordable housing to identify specific sites perhaps as components of mixed use sites. A number of further options and mechanisms on supporting delivery of affordable housing either directly through, or indirectly with the help of, the planning system are currently being considered. 6 The Forestry Commission are also keen to sell surplus land to registered social landlords for the purposes of building affordable social housing in rural areas and to promote the use of timber products as part of the process.

21. The amount and location of housing that can be developed in rural areas is determined by a number of factors. These include: proximity to services e.g. schools, shops (ideally within walking or cycling distance); ease of access (from an existing road and footpath and to a rail station or bus route); drainage and sewerage capacity (e.g. from combined septic tanks or potential link to public systems). Fit in the landscape and design will also be important planning considerations. The impact of badly designed and sited houses is often particularly important in rural areas because of their visibility over large distances. Design standards should comply with published advice, use sustainable materials where appropriate and be energy efficient. These criteria should be consistently applied in planning policy and development control.

22. Some new housing, particularly in the remoter countryside, takes place on land not identified in local plans. Whilst this can help keep land prices down and allows a wider range of people to access the market, planning authorities should set out the criteria in their plans for the circumstances where this type of windfall development, outwith the main settlements, is likely to be acceptable. Parameters should be established as to the number of houses that might be allowed in any given area. Small clusters and groups of dwellings could be feasible in many places helping to meet a demand which has, hitherto, been unsatisfied. Occupancy conditions tying the dwelling units to agricultural and forestry use will no longer be relevant to such developments.

23. Opportunities which allow the replacement of old housing by new design using new materials should also be embraced. Planning authorities should not unreasonably constrain such modernisation within the original footprint or height limit unless there are compelling design reasons for doing so. They should adopt a reasonable and supportive approach and ensure that new development fits in the landscape. There is an unmet demand for plots on which unique, individually designed houses can be built in rural locations. Consideration should be given by planning authorities to formulating supportive policies in their local plans where such developments may be permissible. The availability of new, original, top of the range housing and plots should help to encourage entrepreneurs and investors to live in rural Scotland and to start new businesses. In addition, local contractors, using local materials, should often be able to benefit.

24. There is also a large demand for holiday, weekend and second homes in some rural areas. In recognition of the significant economic role which these can play, planning authorities should allocate land in their development plans to help meet this demand in addition to other housing requirements. One of the factors influencing community vibrancy is the ability of the local area to accommodate and absorb such developments. Buildings can range from those of sophisticated design, in areas of high demand. to simple low impact, wooden, chalet-type developments. Similarly, issues of capacity, accessibility, sewerage, drainage, landscape and marketability will dictate the scale and location of development. Design standards must be made clear.


25. It is sound policy to focus most additional housing, employment, retail, leisure and other services at accessible locations. Major facilities will continue to be concentrated in the larger settlements. This is helpful to people who don't have the use of a car by allowing them to access several services in one visit. Development plans should be realistic about the availability, or likely availability, of alternatives to access by car. Planning authorities can allow development where the impact of vehicle movements on the local road network would not be significant. Developer contributions, to meet improvements to access requirements, can reasonably be sought to facilitate new development. Community run services have an important role to play in remote rural and island communities where there is limited potential for provision of public transport and they should be encouraged where possible.


26. There are many areas of rural Scotland which are special in terms of the built and natural environment where change has to be managed with great care. The quality of the country's natural heritage is especially high. It is a valuable national asset and will prove to be of increasing value in the years ahead. Many areas, such as those containing protected habitats and landscapes, are special in European and national terms and they have to continue to be cared for as part of the general good stewardship of the wider countryside. Even those places which have no national or local designations can still have high environmental quality. Some parts of these valued environments can, if used very carefully, contain opportunities for sustainable developments. National planning policy and advice emphasises the importance of fit and design of new development in the built environment and landscape. This is often the key to making development acceptable and requires more emphasis in development plans. Some places cannot absorb any substantial change but for many others there can be some scope. Development plans must recognise potential but they must also address constraints.

27. Planning authorities should take a positive approach to innovative, modern designs that are sensitive both to their immediate setting and define the characteristics of the wider local area. Positive policies on rural design should
be prepared building on themes such as countryside character, village plans
and design statements. Local communities should have an input. These policies should guide developers towards good quality design appropriate to the location. Design criteria should also be applied reasonably and consistently in development control.


28. There are some parts of rural Scotland, particularly the small former mining areas in the central belt and fishing towns along several parts of the coast which are in urgent need of environmental improvement and economic stimulation. Generating development in rundown areas where demand is low is one of the biggest challenges facing those charged with the task of upgrading. There is also the issue of acquiring funding of the scale necessary to make an impact and co-ordinating the regeneration activity with the other agencies concerned. Working in partnership with other organisations, planners can play an important role in this activity by highlighting in development plans the areas needing attention. By doing this they will influence the wider policy agendas of the other partners.

29. Funding streams for enhancement are available e.g. urban regeneration and European Community initiatives. To access these it is often necessary to adopt
a strategic and long term approach to regeneration, one which balances progress on the social, economic and environmental objectives to improvement. Success has a lot to do with timing and phasing of programmes which, if done in a co-ordinated way, can lead to benefits spreading from the more affluent urban areas. It is imperative however that the environmental aspects of regeneration do not fall behind the economic and social as has happened in some areas. Tree planting and landscaping can have an immediate impact in improving amenity particularly in the bleakest of settlements and landscapes.


Acknowledging Diversity

30. There is a wide variety of local circumstances across Scotland and different sets of planning policies have evolved. For this reason a typology of rural planning is seen as being particularly appropriate. One 'countryside' policy is unlikely to be suitable for the whole of a sizeable rural area. Even commuter areas can contain places of very different character e.g. a green belt area may include settlements with high unemployment where there will be a need to stimulate development, whilst there will be a presumption against development in the wider area. This diversity has to be addressed in the development plan.

Expressing a Vision

31. A vision for a rural area needs to be presented clearly and concisely in the development plan. It should reflect and develop the national Vision in the local context. It should be focused, inspirational and complement any other forward looking aims in the community plan.

Evidence based Policies

32. Policies in development plans should be evidence-based and integrated with other plans and programmes. They may use criteria and/or be area specific. It is important that criteria based policies make it clear how the planning authority will react to a proposal. A list of factors that the planning authority will take into account in reaching a decision will be insufficient.


33. Increased public involvement in preparing development plans is a key priority for the Scottish Ministers. Development plans will set out the land use strategy for the area and identify priorities. They should link into the community plan and deliver those elements that have a land use component. Rural communities can play a direct role in deciding the future course of development in their areas. Low population densities, travel distances and isolation can make effective engagement and consultation in rural areas particularly difficult but there are examples of innovative and effective approaches to public involvement in planning in such areas.

34. It is important to ensure that a wide spectrum of community views is heard and local initiatives aimed at building community capacity are required. The community planning process has a key role by acting as a framework for making services responsive to, and organised around, the needs of communities. It aims to ensure people and communities are genuinely engaged in the decisions made on public services which affect them and that organisations work together in providing better public services. It should also result in the better integration and co-ordination of existing plans and community consultation. The right to buy legislation has opened up new opportunities for local communities to benefit from the development potential of their areas.


35. The overarching themes and vision in this statement should be increasingly reflected in planning policy and decisions. They will also influence a multiplicity of individual and corporate decisions. Planning authorities have a particular responsibility to promote opportunities for rural development through improved and more focused policies in development plans i.e. structure and local (development) plans. These plans, once approved and adopted, will, in turn, guide decision making on planning applications. Planning permission should be granted for developments which conform to the principles and objectives as described in this statement. In some cases alterations to plans and supplementary planning guidance will have to be prepared quickly to ensure that development plans accord with this SPP.

36. Other stakeholders will also be responsible for implementing the policy objectives. These include the Executive, national government departments and agencies, particularly the LECs, Homes for Scotland, entrepreneurs, businesses, farmers and individuals. Grant regimes for projects will continue to be administered by SEERAD. Where possible, Scottish Water will link in with other agencies spending plans e.g. those of Community Scotland, to address severe housing supply problems. However, their legislative obligations in relation to public health and environmental requirements will remain priorities.


37. A more positive approach to development in rural Scotland must be accompanied by effective regulation. It will be particularly important that a consistent approach to decision making is adopted so that individuals, communities, conservation and development interests are clear about what will be allowed and the standards that will be sought in terms of siting and design. Equally, it should be clear what will not be permitted.


38. Scottish Ministers believe that issuing practical advice on rural development is very important in obtaining the right types of development in rural Scotland. Related to this SPP will be a Planning Advice Note describing good practice in Rural Diversification. A research report on Rural Planning Typologies will also be published and may form the basis for another PAN. An updated PAN on Housing in the Countryside will also be published.


39. Rural areas are evolving in response to changes in the global economy. Planning policy needs to keep pace with this change and has to be realistic, relevant and sensitive to the processes underway. The aim is to plan in a way that reflects current and anticipated economic, social and environmental changes. The diversity and distinctiveness of many places needs to be recognised and policies tailored and applied accordingly. This means appropriate development in the right places. It also means that planning has to embrace innovation and entrepreneurship whilst protecting what is valuable through good stewardship.

40. Planning authorities should ensure that development meets the test of 'appropriateness' to the circumstances in their area. What will be suitable in one part of the local authority territory may not be in another. Location, scale, design and sustainable transport have to be addressed. Rural planning typologies, a local vision and an evidence-based policy approach are essential elements for guiding and promoting sustainable rural development.


41. Enquiries about the content of this SPP should be addressed to Tom Hardie, SEDD Planning, Area 2-H, Victoria Quay, Edinburgh EH6 6QQ (0131 244 7554) or by email to tom.hardie@scotland.gsi.gov.uk Further copies can be obtained by telephoning 0131 244 7543. This SPP and other SPPs, PANs and a list of Circulars can be viewed on the Scottish Executive web site: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/planning .