Following the approval by the Scottish Parliament of National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4) on 11 January 2023, the following provides advice on NPF4 becoming part of the statutory ‘development plan’ alongside local development plans (LDPs). We intend for this advice to support consistency in decision making ahead of new style LDPs being in place.
The Development Plan
In Scotland, the planning system is plan-led. From 13 February, on adoption and publication by Scottish Ministers, NPF4 will form part of the statutory development plan, along with the LDP applicable to the area at that time and its supplementary guidance. NPF4 will supersede National Planning Framework 3 and Scottish Planning Policy (SPP) (2014). NPF3 and SPP will no longer represent Scottish Ministers’ planning policy and should not therefore form the basis for, or be a consideration to be taken into account, when determining planning applications on or after 13 February.
On 13 February, Strategic Development Plans (SDP) and associated supplementary guidance will cease to have effect and as such no longer be part of the development plan.
LDPs already adopted will continue to be part of the development plan. For avoidance of doubt, existing LDP land allocations will be maintained.
LDPs within SDP areas will no longer be required to be consistent with the SDP. For proposed LDPs prepared prior to the adoption and publication of NPF4, it may be that there are opportunities to reconcile identified inconsistencies with NPF4 through the examination process. However there are clear limitations to this. The scope of an examination is limited to issues raised in representations and the process must remain proportionate and fair.
Whether an LDP has been adopted prior to or after the adoption and publication of NPF4, legislation states that in the event of any incompatibility between a provision of NPF and a provision of an LDP, whichever of them is the later in date is to prevail (Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 (”the 1997 Act”); section 24(3)).
Across Scotland there is a substantial amount of supplementary guidance associated with SDPs and LDPs. Supplementary guidance associated with SDPs will no longer have effect following adoption and publication of NPF4 on 13 February. Supplementary guidance associated with LDPs which was in force before 12 February (the date on which section 13 of the 2019 Act comes into force) will continue to be in force and be part of the development plan (1997 Act; paragraph 2 of schedule 1).
As the development plan system transitions to one without statutory supplementary guidance, the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 (Commencement No.11 and Saving and Transitional Provisions) Regulations 2023 provide for local authorities to continue to prepare and adopt supplementary guidance associated with LDPs until 31 March 2025. Supplementary guidance adopted under those provisions is to be treated as forming part of the development plan for the area to which the LDP relates.
The provisions of section 16(1)(a) of the 1997 Act require 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 be important for the first round of ‘new style’ LDPs to be prepared in a timely fashion. We expect that every planning authority in Scotland will have a new style plan in place within around 5 years of the new development plan regulations coming into force, which we anticipate happening this spring.
Legislation provides for planning authorities to prepare LDPs that include policies and proposals for development and use of land in their area. There is no legal requirement for LDPs to be directly ‘compatible’ with NPF4, although in preparing LDPs, there will be a statutory requirement under section 16(2)(a)(i) of the 1997 Act that planning authorities take the NPF into account.
Applying NPF4 Policy
Section 25 of the 1997 Act requires that decisions are made in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise. Application of planning judgement to the circumstances of an individual situation remains essential to all decision making, informed by principles of proportionality and reasonableness.
It is important to bear in mind NPF4 must be read and applied as a whole. The intent of each of the 33 policies is set out in NPF4 and can be used to guide decision-making. Conflicts between policies are to be expected. Factors for and against development will be weighed up in the balance of planning judgement.
It is recognised that it may take some time for planning authorities and stakeholders to get to grips with the NPF4 policies, and in particular the interface with individual LDP policies. As outlined above, in the event of any incompatibility between a provision of NPF and a provision of an LDP, whichever of them is the later in date is to prevail. Provisions that are contradictory or in conflict would be likely to be considered incompatible.
We expect that monitoring of the policies will particularly focus on new and developing policy areas, so that their application in practice can inform future guidance.
Below we have set out some more specific advice on individual policies.
Policy 1 – Tackling the climate and nature crises
This policy prioritises the climate and nature crises in all decisions. It should be applied together with the other policies in NPF4. It will be for the decision maker to determine whether the significant weight to be applied tips the balance in favour for, or against a proposal on the basis of its positive or negative contribution to the climate and nature crises.
Policy 2 - Climate mitigation and adaptation
There is currently no single accepted methodology for calculating and / or minimising emissions. The emphasis is on reducing emissions as far as possible, rather than eliminating all emissions.
At this stage, quantitative assessments are not expected for all applications and there are no defined thresholds that require different levels of information at this stage. Planning authorities will be aware that this is unlikely to be a key consideration for many applications, for example for smaller scale developments, householder applications or many changes of use. However, for other types of development proposals that may generate significant emissions, such as some national or major developments, we consider it to be reasonable to expect quantitative information to be provided. For developments that require an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), the impact of the project on climate (e.g. the nature and magnitude of greenhouse gas emissions) and the vulnerability of the project to climate change will have been considered as appropriate in the EIA Report. See Circular 1/2017 for further information.
Last year the Scottish Government published carbon management guidance for projects and programmes. Whilst this is aimed at larger scale projects within city region and growth deals and a fully quantified approach is only likely to be proportionately applicable to larger scale proposals, at least whilst practice and methodologies develop over the coming years, the guidance includes useful information and highlights established methodologies which may be of assistance to applicants and planning authorities. Published research on the Lifecycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions of NPF4 Proposed National Developments, also offers an example of a high-level approach to identifying direct and indirect effects of proposals on GHG emissions which can be embedded into statutory Environmental Assessment obligations.
Policy 3 - Biodiversity
To support this policy in practice, NatureScot previously consulted on new ‘Developing with Nature guidance’ to accompany NPF4 Biodiversity policy 3c), which is to be applied to certain local development. A final version of the guidance will be available shortly. We are committed to developing guidance to accompany wider NPF4 policy 3, and – recognising that currently there is no single accepted methodology for calculating and / or measuring biodiversity ‘enhancement’ – we have commissioned research to explore options for developing a biodiversity metric or other tool, specifically for use in Scotland. There will be some proposals which will not give rise to opportunities to contribute to the enhancement of biodiversity, and it will be for the decision maker to take into account the policies in NPF4 as a whole, together with material considerations in each case.
Policy 16 - Quality homes
NPF4 sets out a distinct, new approach to planning for new homes across Scotland that aims to deliver more quality homes that meet diverse needs. Policy 16, Quality Homes, promotes a plan-led approach.
New style LDPs must 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). The LHLR will be informed by the Evidence Report and Gate Check process. It is expected that the LHLR will exceed the Minimum All-Tenure Housing Land Requirements (MATHLR) set out in NPF4.
Proposed Plans will allocate sites to meet the LHLR and, in doing so, we expect there to be greater emphasis on delivery. Policy 16 looks to incentivise delivery of allocated sites, as they will have been considered and agreed through the comprehensive and participative LDP preparation process. If an LDP reaches Examination without sufficient sites identified to meet the LHLR, a planning authority can be required to prepare another Proposed LDP under new legislative provisions in section 19ZA of the 1997 Act.
Once adopted, the delivery of new style LDPs will be monitored and supported through the Housing Land Audit and the LDP Delivery Programme. New guidance on Housing Land Audits will be prepared this year, in collaboration with key stakeholders. The new guidance will seek to ensure a consistent approach is adopted in the preparation of new Housing Land Audits. If needed, collaboration on the LDP Delivery Programme can assist in early consideration of bringing forward longer term sites.
Policy 16 is applicable to decision making when NPF4 becomes part of the statutory development plan. As outlined above, SPP(2014) will be superseded and not form part of Scottish Government planning policies, including: the requirement to maintain at least a 5 year supply of effective housing land at all times, shortfalls in supply indicating LDP policies are not up-to-date, the ‘presumption in favour of development that contributes to sustainable development’ and the concept commonly known as the ‘tilted balance’. Consideration must be given as to whether provisions in LDPs are incompatible with provisions of NPF4. Where there is an incompatibility, such as between a housing exceptions policy in an LDP and Policy 16(f) of NPF4, the latter will prevail.
Policy 23 - Health and safety
We understand that there were some concerns about references within NPF4 to suicide risk, including recognition that LDPs should be informed by awareness of locations of concern for suicide. We would draw your attention to Creating Hope Together (Scotland’s Suicide Prevention Action Plan 2022-2025) which was published last year by the Scottish Government together with COSLA. This recognises the importance of the National Planning Framework in reflecting the role of planning in suicide prevention. Further resources are referenced in the action plan and have been produced by Public Health Scotland.
It may also be useful to see guidance produced by the Welsh Government, which emphasises a pragmatic approach, suggests that suicide prevention should ideally be built into the design of projects and should be compatible with creation of good places. It also references further available practical advice on this.
Policy 27(d) - Drive through developments
During the Parliamentary scrutiny of the draft NPF4, there was some debate about the meaning and application of Policy 27(d), which states that “drive-through developments will only be supported where they are specifically supported in the LDP”. The intention of this policy was to ensure that this type of development is considered as an integral part of the wider development plan, and is not (as has been erroneously reported) a moratorium or ban on such developments.
In applying policy 27(d) and whether such developments are supported, planning authorities may regard wider uses that are compatible with the drive through function to be included, as there is no single class of development that this relates to and may sometimes be considered as sui generis. Suitable locations may include for example those allocated for Class 1 shops or Class 3 Food and drink, depending on the nature of the proposal involved in each case. In looking at the potential impact of the development as a whole, as always, decisions will depend on the facts and circumstances of each individual case and regard should be given to wider policies within NPF4, including those relating to reducing emissions that contribute to climate change and to wider policies that aim to improve town centres and support local living.
Looking forward, we will include guidance on drive throughs and the relationship to Policy 27(d) within the forthcoming local development plan guidance, which will be published this spring to support implementation of the new arrangements for LDPs.
Further planning guidance and advice
In the NPF4 Delivery Programme, we have given our commitment to progress work on a new suite of guidance and advice that will support activity to deliver the policy intent of NPF4. We will do this alongside careful monitoring of the implementation of policies. With some substantial changes being made through the reform of our planning system, both through legislation and in NPF4, there will now be some discrepancies in existing planning guidance and advice as a result. Nevertheless, there will remain aspects which will still be useful for reference through the new planning system and policy approach. Over time, we will review that historic advice as appropriate.
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