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National Planning Framework for Scotland





6. Scotland lies in North-West Europe between the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. It is covered by three of the seven European regions established by the European Commission as a framework for transnational co-operation. The whole of Scotland lies within the North-West Europe Region and parts fall within the North Sea and Atlantic Regions. The North-West of Scotland also lies within the Northern Periphery co-operation zone (see Map 1).


7. The country has a land area of 78,000 km 2, a coastline of over 10,000 km and around 100 inhabited islands. Only 2% of the land area is classed as urban. Much of the country is of high environmental quality and 26% of the land area is covered by natural heritage designations (see Map 2). 98% of the land area is classified as rural. However, geology, topography and climate limit agricultural potential and only 6% of the land area is classed as prime agricultural land. The climate provides good conditions for growing trees and the last century saw a large expansion of plantation forestry. The past two decades have seen a move towards multiple objective rural land management, with social and environmental benefits more to the fore.

8. Scotland can be divided into four broad natural zones, the Northern Highlands and Islands, the Central Highlands, the Lowlands and the Southern Uplands (see Map 3). Settlement pattern (see Map 4) has been strongly influenced by land form. It is still largely based on the pattern of burgh settlement begun in the 12th century, modified by industrialisation and the depopulation of rural areas in the 18th and 19th centuries, and supplemented by the mid 20th century New Towns. Most of the population is distributed between six relatively small cities and a range of medium-sized and small towns. Much of rural Scotland is very sparsely populated by European standards.


9. Issues of connectivity and environmental quality need to be addressed if Scotland is to meet the challenges of the 21st century. In parts of the Lowlands, particularly in West Central Scotland, the closure of older industries has left poor environments and significant areas of vacant and derelict land, some of it contaminated. Over 100 km 2 is classed as vacant or derelict, 30% of which is in Glasgow and North Lanarkshire. Much progress has already been made in addressing this issue. Major land reclamation in former mining areas and projects such as the Central Scotland Forest and the Millennium Link restoration of the Forth and Clyde and Union Canals have improved the environment and opened up new opportunities for economic development and recreation. But more requires to be done to ensure that the communities of the Central Belt are attractive places to live and work, enjoying the quality of environment and infrastructure which allows them to make a positive contribution to Scotland's success as a competitive place.

10. Although they have distinctive identities, the Northern Highlands and Islands, the Central Highlands and the Southern Uplands have some key similarities. They all have low population densities, sparse settlement patterns and valuable natural heritage and cultural resources. Primary industries such as farming and fishing have declined and opportunities for economic diversification are being pursued. They have also supported substantially larger populations in the past and their capacity to absorb more development without damage to the environment is considerable. The success of parts of the Highlands and Islands in creating new economic opportunities and reversing long-term population decline points to the potential of our remoter rural areas.

11. The landscape of Scotland has been shaped by human activity since prehistoric times and that cultural landscape and the historic fabric of our cities, towns and rural areas form the backdrop to the spatial planning issues addressed in this framework. The historic environment provides a sense of place and cultural identity and is a rich resource for many aspects of modern-day Scotland: tourism, leisure, education and lifelong learning, and as a driver for regeneration. The framework reflects its value and promotes its sustainable management.