National Planning Framework 4 - draft: consultation analysis

Independent analysis of the responses to our consultation on the draft fourth National Planning Framework (draft NPF4), which ran from 10 November 2021 to 31 March 2022.

Part 3 - National Planning Policy, Distinctive Places

Nine policies are included under the Distinctive places theme.

Policies 24 to 27: Distinctive places

We want our places to support low carbon, healthier urban living.

Question 45 – Do you agree that these policies will ensure Scotland's places will support low- carbon urban living?

Around 255 respondents made a comment at Question 45.

Policy 24: Centres

a) Supporting sustainable futures

There were positive comments on the role of LDPs in creating sustainable futures for cities, towns and local centres, alongside the principles of 20-minute neighbourhoods. There was also support for the role of public transport, although it was suggested that it could be given greater emphasis.

It was also suggested that there would be many instances where the principle of 20-minute neighbourhoods cannot easily be applied, or where significant flexibility will be required. For example:

  • Some respondents noted that 20-minute neighbourhoods will not be realistic in many rural areas, and especially for commuter settlements.
  • It was suggested that there could be a standalone policy for city centres, as they present different challenges and are unique in scale, including because of the role they play in wider regional economies.

It was also noted that 24(a) could have cross-boundary implications, which should be acknowledged.

Respondents suggested that a definition for 'local centres' would be helpful, as would an explanation of what is meant by 'networks of centres'.

b) Improving vitality and viability

There was some support for the policy aim of expanding the range of uses in town centres, and acknowledgement that planning has a vital role to play in determining the right mix to ensure centres' long-term vitality and sustainability.

However, there was also a concern that the wording of 24(b) is unclear in places and would allow for different interpretations. A definition of the appropriate 'mix of types of development' was requested, and it was suggested that in its current form, the policy appears to be counter to Policy 25 (Retail).

Other comments or suggestions included:

  • There is no reference to town centre health checks, which may be helpful when considering the vitality and viability impacts of proposals.
  • There should be greater recognition of the role cultural assets can play in improving the vitality of town and city centres.
  • To avoid losing the fundamental functionality of a town centre, more guidance is required on the cut-off for residential development within town centres.

Policy 25: Retail

a) Development generating footfall

There was support for the presumption against edge-of-town and out-of-town retail developments, and the aim of preserving the landscape and revitalising town and city centres. However, there were concerns that 25(a) could potentially damage existing out-of-town centres. It was noted that these centres would have to be re-purposed, or they would have multiple vacant units and would become problematic.

It was argued that the policy takes a one-size-fits-all approach to retail development, with an urban-centric approach that fails to appreciate the challenges in smaller villages and towns across Scotland. The associated concern was that this could deprive communities in more rural locations of the benefits of new development. An example given was of an island community where appropriate development that supports the population is being considered, providing that the economic and social activity proposed does not conflict with other policies in the LDP.

Respondents were also looking for further information about:

  • Whether 'out-of-town' means out-of-centre or outside the urban area?
  • If plans would be required to define which areas are on the edge of the centre, and if they need to specifically support or preclude development in these locations?
  • How 'significant footfall' is to be assessed?

There was also a question about the types and scales of retail development that may not be appropriate for town centres. The specific example of garden centres was given as a destination usually located out-of-town.

b) Impact on character and amenity of an area

25(b) was described as essential to preserving the character of rural settings and designated conservation areas. Other comments included that a definition for 'acceptable impact' is required. Queries included:

  • How can a planning authority or developer demonstrate compliance with this policy?
  • How should acceptable impacts be addressed given the cross-boundary nature of these proposals?

It was also suggested that it is not clear whether a planning authority can refuse an application for a betting office or takeaway near other similar businesses, where it would result in the reuse of a long-term vacant premise that may otherwise continue to sit empty.

c) Avoiding clustering of some non-retail uses

In terms of the terminology used, there was a call for a definition of a 'disadvantaged area'. It was also suggested that guidance on the information to be used to assess whether an area is disadvantaged would be helpful and could support a consistent assessment approach across the country.

There were some issues and concerns about the concept of clustering, including a query about the degree of clustering deemed unacceptable. Other comments included that:

  • There is currently no means to provide blanket controls to limit specific uses such as betting offices and moneylending premises. There was a concern that this could result in the application of 25(c) being challenged.
  • It is unclear how the clustering of specific uses can be avoided without changes to current use class definitions and the underlying principle that competition is not a material planning consideration.
  • The policy could consider food vans in the vicinity of primary and secondary schools, as well as play and sports areas.
  • It should contain a clear presumption against drive-through retail.

Finally, it was suggested that 25(c) should be extended to prevent clustering of retail outlets that damage health and wellbeing outcomes, including where the sale of alcohol, tobacco or unhealthy food is central to the business model.

d) Neighbourhood shopping

Comments on 25(d) included that a more proactive approach could be taken to increasing the provision of fresh food, with priority given to outlets which support easy access to healthy, nutritious and sustainable food. It was suggested that this is particularly important in more disadvantaged areas. However, there was also a concern that it is a policy which would be difficult to implement in practice and that it is difficult to envisage how planning can influence 'fresh healthier food and drink provision'.

Other respondents commented that 25(d) should be expanded to include a broader range of businesses that negatively impact health outcomes and should be linked with a requirement for an HIA.

Respondents asked for further detail on 'proposals for neighbourhood shopping', and a 'sequential approach'.

e) Islands and rural areas

There was support for the ambitions set out at 25(e), although there were also queries about the type of businesses it is aimed at. It was suggested that the phrase 'ancillary to other uses such as farm shops' is unhelpful and too restrictive, raising questions as to whether or not other types of shops in rural areas are to be supported. It was also suggested that 'small scale' should be defined.

Policy 26: Town centre first assessment

a) Other uses which will generate significant footfall

There was support for the focus on town centres and the recognition of their importance in many aspects of placemaking, health and quality of life. The further restrictions on out-of-town shopping proposals were also supported.

Further comments included that:

  • Education and healthcare facilities are generally best located locally, at the heart of their neighbourhoods, and this may not be in a town centre. For these types of uses, referencing locations that support the 20-minute neighbourhood concept may be more appropriate.
  • Accessible business parks outwith town centres can provide appropriate and legitimate locations for new offices, and proposals within such existing parks should not have to undergo a town centre first assessment.
  • Some locations outwith the main centre have become 'mini town centres'. They can have a high concentration of footfall and activity, with a range of retail, leisure and food options, supported by car parking. 26(a) should address their future, especially where the neighbouring traditional town centre is declining.
  • Some planning authorities with small urban areas, such as in island settings, will not have edge-of-town designations.

It was also reported that the issues covered at 26(a) may have cross-boundary implications, and it was suggested that this should be acknowledged.

Some respondents raised particular issues about drive-throughs, including suggestions that the development of drive-throughs must be limited to prevent the cumulative effects of carbon emissions by vehicles. There was also a call for guidance, especially around drive-throughs becoming secondary to 'sit in' areas.

Other respondents raised issues about terminology or parts of the policy that they considered to be unclear. These included:

  • The policy appears to apply to non-retail uses. If this is intended, it should be explicit.
  • A definition of 'significant footfall' should be provided. Without an explanation, the term is potentially subjective and open to interpretation.
  • How will 'significant' be measured as it relates to 'vitality and viability'?
  • Is it for the planning authority to demonstrate that a proposal could be reasonably altered or reduced in scale? It was suggested that this will be difficult to establish and raises the issue about what is meant by 'reasonable'?

Some respondents were concerned that 26(a) would mean that all new development will require an assessment to ensure no significant adverse effect on the vitality and viability of existing town centres. Respondents commented that this seems overly restrictive, and that a threshold/trigger-based approach should be retained, removing the need for detailed planning assessment work on small-scale proposals.

Other respondents observed that, whilst proposals with high footfall are most appropriate in town centre locations, it is also essential to recognise that many existing town centre facilities are already pressured. It was noted that there is often no choice but to consider land on the periphery to deliver adequately sized facilities, such as medical centres and others. Similarly, it was suggested that the town centre first approach should not preclude the development of healthcare facilities, libraries or shops in existing edge of town developments if they contribute to making a residential area closer to being a 20-minute neighbourhood.

b) Relationship of the proposed development with a network of centres

Some respondents raised concerns about the requirement for the sequential test to consider 'supply chains' and whether local suppliers and workers are a 'viable option'. It was suggested that the extent to which this can be managed through planning consent is limited and that planning authorities are unlikely to have expertise on supply chains and how to assess them, or how to assess the environmental impact of the transportation of goods, staff and visitors. It was noted that being required to undertake such assessments would have resource implications for planning authorities.

In terms of points of clarification of further information, the following were highlighted:

  • How 'town centre first assessment' and 'economic impact' are being defined?
  • How the impacts on the town centre should be assessed, and what type of information should inform a town centre first assessment?
  • Whether it is a requirement on developers or applicants to prepare an assessment for the planning authority's review?

c) Community, education, health and social care, sport and leisure facilities

Comments on 26(c) included concerns that it may place additional requirements on the evaluation of planning applications at the development management stage. Other comments or suggestions included that:

  • 26(c) would be strengthened by stating that community, education, health and social facilities will be easily accessible to the communities they serve through walking, wheeling and cycling.
  • The policy is open to interpretation, and some of the language, such as 'flexibly and realistically', should be revisited.
  • The phrase 'consideration should be given' should be altered to make it mandatory to provide sufficient space for walking, wheeling and cycling.

Policy 27: Town centre living

a) Encouraging town centre living

Comments on 27(a) were often focused on the implications of making housing land available for town centre living. Some respondents felt that the policy should be revised. There were concerns that, as currently written, it could undermine a town centre's vitality and overall function. Further points raised were that:

  • For planning authorities to provide a proportion of their housing land in city and town centres is an onerous requirement. It was noted that no guidance on how an assessment should be undertaken is provided.
  • A definition of 'a proportion of the housing land requirements', and explanation of where the proportion is to be derived from, is needed. It was suggested that any sites identified must be required to meet the standard tests of deliverability, particularly on noise/parking constraints, surrounding use and access.
  • There is no cross-referencing to Policy 9 (Quality homes) and a lack of clarity on the role of both HNDAs and LHSs.
  • If the expectation is that planning authorities will use other powers to assemble sites and deliver development, this should be clearly articulated.
  • There may be challenges associated with ensuring that key community infrastructure, such as healthcare facilities and schools, have sufficient capacity.

Other respondents commented that allocating sites for residential development within town centres should not be at the expense of placemaking principles or amenities.

b) New residential development

There were some concerns that 27(b) could be open to interpretation. For example, how much scope is there to be flexible around the viability of a building and can planning authorities have control over the extent of what needs to be demonstrated?

Other comments addressed viability, and included that:

  • Its meaning should be clarified. It was suggested that it should not be limited to commercial considerations as this could threaten positive restoration.
  • What would viable mean for a non-profit culture venue? What value or viability would an existing use need to demonstrate?
  • A definition of non-viability is required, along with further information on how a planning authority or developer can demonstrate compliance with criteria and metrics.
  • Where a proposal for housing reuses a vacant town centre building, how is the non-viability of the former use to be demonstrated? Would this be through proof of marketing for a set period, with little to no interest based on its former use?

It was also noted that 27(b) would require developers to demonstrate that the existing use of a building is no longer viable in advance of residential use being supported. It was suggested that this is at odds with Policy 30 (Vacant and derelict land), which encourages the reuse of buildings.

c) Conversion or reuse of vacant upper floors for residential use

While there was support for the conversion of upper floors in town centre locations, it was recognised that there are often significant issues surrounding residential amenities that limit the viability of such development. This was said to be especially true in denser environments and when dealing with buildings that are not designed to be residences.

It was noted that determination would be dependent on other policies and circumstances, such as flood issues, which could make proposals unsuitable. It was suggested that 27(c) should include the phrase 'subject to compliance with other policies in the plan'.

Finally, it was noted that there could be issues around ownership and amenity, particularly for conversions of buildings or parts of buildings.

d) Residential use at ground floor level

It was suggested that this policy is not consistent with the 20-minute neighbourhood concept, including because businesses on the ground level provide more opportunities for residents to socialise, and their frontages result in more positive perceptions of public space.

There were concerns that if a ground floor unit is lost to residential accommodation, it is unlikely to be brought back into use as a shop or other public-facing business or facility. It was suggested that planning authorities should be able to apply discretion in the application of 27(d) so that the repopulation of a town centre does not come at the cost of its overall vitality and functional purpose. Other respondents noted that the policy does not include a presumption against the loss of retail units and raised the potential for speculative re-development, even if the current retail use is viable.

Finally, it was suggested that the meaning of the phrase 'undesirable concentration of uses', as it relates to housing, is unclear.

e) Residential amenity

Comments on 27(e) included that further policy details around hot food takeaway, cafes, bars and restaurants, and displays of advertisements would be helpful. It was also suggested that entertainment venues, where issues may be around noise, could be included in the list of uses for residential amenity.

It was noted that there is no mention of seeking to create a high-quality design, green space/public realm, or amenity for new developments. This led to some concerns that 27(e) may set a low bar for expectations of town centre living and residential proposals.

Policy 28: Historic assets and places

We want to protect and enhance our historic environment, and to support the reuse of redundant or neglected historic buildings.

Question 46 – Do you agree that this policy will protect and enhance our historic environment, and support the reuse of redundant or neglected historic buildings?

Around 245 respondents made a comment at Question 46.

Overall views on this policy were mixed. Many respondents welcomed the protection and enhancement of the historic environment, and there was support for the reuse of redundant or neglected historic buildings. However, there were also concerns that the current wording of the policy could prevent developments that address climate change issues from going ahead. Some respondents referred to SPP, and were happy to see elements retained in NPF4. Others felt it was essential to go beyond the status quo.

a) Identifying, protecting and enhancing historic assets and places

It was suggested that a critical omission at 29(a) is reference to the Historic Environment Policy for Scotland. Other comments or suggestions included that:

  • The definition of local, regional, national and international should be clarified.
  • The policy's wording should be amended to ensure that the delivery of public benefit is the ultimate goal of the identification, protection and enhancement of historic assets and places.
  • 28(a) should clarify that development proposals should result in positive enhancements, where possible offsetting harm to the cultural significance of heritage assets where harm is unavoidable.

b) Assessing proposals and projects

Comments at 28(b) included that it is not clear how a 'potentially significant impact' on historical assets or places will be determined. It was also suggested that the requirement for LDPs to consider 'whether further and more detailed assessment is required' is imprecise and could result in disproportionate levels of scrutiny.

In terms of how the policy might be strengthened, suggestions included that there needs to be an understanding that the cultural significance of historic assets should be the starting point for assessing proposals, even if the resulting impact of the development would not be 'significant'. An associated point was that this would reinforce the historic environment as an essential aspect of the local characteristics of a place.

Other suggestions included:

  • Ensuring that the assessment of value and meaning of historic assets engages all stakeholders, balancing the priorities of heritage with those of communities and place.
  • Being clearer on the mechanisms to establish a benchmark for assessment, including to ensure a consistent interpretation across each planning authority.

Respondents also highlighted other points that they wanted to see covered at 28(b), including:

  • The Historic Environment Records and their critical role in identifying and valuing local heritage (Section 140 of current SPP).
  • Planning Circular 9/2009: memorandum of guidance on listed buildings and conservation areas, and PAN 2/2011: Planning and archaeology.
  • Where proposals have proximity to listed buildings and are within a conservation area, they should be considered in terms of Sections 59 and 64 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997.

c) Demolition of listed buildings

Respondents made a number of detailed observations on 28(c), including that NPF4 offers an opportunity to strengthen the protection of listed buildings by detailing a stronger presumption against their demolition. An alternative view was that the policy should be expanded to include support for the demolition of listed buildings where development proposals contribute to net zero and deliver other regeneration, sustainability and placemaking benefits. It was noted that demolition incurs no VAT, while repairs incur the full rate of VAT, meaning that demolition of a listed building, rather than repair, can be more financially viable.

Respondents also made the connection between the protection of historic assets and the overarching aim of meeting climate and net zero goals. There was a concern that, where historic buildings and assets require retrofitting or adaptation to meet net zero targets, it could be argued that this would constitute 'works that adversely affect the special interest of a building or its setting' and would not be supported by planning authorities.

Other issues or concerns raised included that:

  • 'Exceptional circumstances' and 'all reasonable efforts' need to be defined.
  • The exceptional circumstances test is a high bar and could result in many renewable energy proposals, especially for new greenfield wind or repowering, being refused permission.
  • It is not clear how an impact on the setting of a listed building without any physical works to the structure would be dealt with.
  • 28(c) and (d) appear to overlap. 28(c) refers to 'development proposals for the demolition of listed buildings or other works that adversely affect the special interest of a building or its setting', and 28(d) covers 'development proposals for the reuse, alteration or extension of a listed building'. Respondents were unsure what constituted 'other works' under 28(c). They also noted that 28(c) has a proviso for 'exceptional circumstances' and 28(d) does not, making it essential to be clear about which policy a development would fall under.

d) Reuse, alteration or extension of a listed building

Those who commented often noted their support for 28(d), sometimes going on to make suggestions for changes or additions. These included that:

  • There could be more support for positive change to ensure that historic buildings can be appropriately adapted to the changing needs of the location.
  • There is an opportunity to recognise the historic environment's role in bringing benefits through sustainable development, jobs, homes and infrastructure, and supporting net zero.
  • There is an opportunity for 28(d) to promote new futures for listed building assets. Economic and sustainable futures for repurposed listed buildings should be encouraged.

Other respondents commented that there are challenges in bringing historic buildings up to compliance with energy efficiency regulations. It was suggested that this could be made explicit in the policy, with sensitive approaches to retrofitting supported. Others felt that some degree of relaxation is needed for the refurbishment and reuse of existing buildings.

Respondents also commented that it is not clear how an impact on the setting of a listed building without physical works to the structure should be dealt with. They noted that impacts on the setting of a listed building are the most frequent types of harm caused by development, and it was suggested that not having a clear and proportionate policy will be a barrier to development.

There was also the view that 28(d) should recognise that, in some instances, the loss of heritage assets may be acceptable to deliver more comprehensive economic and community benefits.

e) Preserving and enhancing the character and appearance of conservation areas

Comments on 28(e) included that it should acknowledge the statutory duties of planning authorities to preserve and enhance listed buildings and conservation areas. Clarity was sought in relation to whether 28(e) relates to development outside a conservation area that impacts the setting (outside the designated area) or developments inside the conservation area that affect the character and appearance of the conservation area (inside the area).

Other comments were that where appropriate, other NPF4 policies should refer to the character and appearance of historic assets as an important material consideration.

f) Demolition of listed buildings in a conservation area

Some respondents felt that the wording of 28(f) does not address the need to remove historic assets that are beyond repair, have no useful future or cannot be safely maintained. It was noted that retaining dangerous buildings can limit places and communities, rather than being an asset.

It was also suggested that the environmental impact of existing buildings should be assessed when deciding whether to reuse or demolish. Further comments included that this could include the identification of potential alterations which would improve climate resilience and biodiversity, and reduce carbon emissions.

g) Existing natural and built features

Some respondents noted that the protection of historic assets should be balanced against the protection of the environment, including any relaxation of historic protections, where the benefit to the natural environment is in the broader public interest.

Another view was that where a development is proposed, or occurs, outside the boundary of conservation areas or other heritage sites and will have a negative impact on the setting, this should be a material consideration.

h) Scheduled monuments

There were differing views around certain aspects of 28(h), particularly about removing the concept of 'integrity of setting' (as set out in SPP, paragraph 145).

One perspective was that the removal of the reference to the integrity of setting is positive, provided that the policy includes wording to clarify the level of impact on scheduled monuments that should not be supported. A contrasting view was that 28(h) introduces a more restrictive set of requirements and would mean that any development proposal that has any adverse impact upon the setting of a scheduled monument (no matter how minor) would be refused permission unless exceptional circumstances apply. The exceptional circumstances test was seen as an exceptionally high bar to overcome, and there was a call for the concept of 'integrity' to be reintroduced.

Other comments included:

  • Development critical to safeguarding against flood risk, or substantially contributing to action to combat the climate emergency, may have to take precedence over heritage considerations.
  • It should be clarified that development located outwith protected areas may impact scheduled monuments and that this will be a material consideration.
  • It should be made clear that demolishing existing buildings should be a last resort. Where it is impossible to reuse historic buildings, the focus should be on deconstruction to preserve materials.

i) Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes

A small number of respondents commented on 28(i), with points including that a development proposal does not have to be within the boundary of a garden and designed landscape to require consideration of its potential impact, in line with the intentions of SPP and as currently reflected in LDPs. It was suggested that NPF4 should set out measures to protect areas where development takes place close to the boundaries.

It was also reported that critical infrastructure can adversely affect views of sites listed within the Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes. It was suggested that an element of flexibility should be included for critical infrastructure, where it is evidenced that there are no suitable alternatives.

j) Inventory of Historic Battlefields

It was noted that there are different policy tests applied to (i) Inventory Gardens and Designed Landscapes and (j) the policy on Inventory of Historic Battlefields, with (j) considered weaker. Respondents asked for a consistent approach in the wording of both policy areas.

Other comments included:

  • A development proposal should not have to be within the boundary of a historic battlefield to require consideration of its potential impact.
  • The reference to protecting and enhancing a battlefield's significance could be strengthened to emphasise the conservation of battlefields.

k) Historic Marine Protected Areas

A small number of respondents commented on 28(k), including noting that it only applies to development proposals that extend offshore, and excludes certain development types, including those with no offshore elements, such as the construction of coastal defences. It was suggested that NPF4 should also cover these.

It was also noted that development located outwith these protected areas may have an impact on them. There was a call for this to be a material consideration, with development that is considered to have a negative result should not be supported.

l) World Heritage Site

There was a view that natural heritage sites, such as St Kilda, would be better covered under Policy 32 (Natural places).

m) Repair, enhance and bring back into beneficial use historic environment assets

The inclusion of the Buildings at Risk Register (BARR) was welcomed. However, other respondents felt that the BARR is limited in its scope and risks creating a barrier to investment in communities which may lack a conservation area or listed building. There was support for extending the policy to cover all historic buildings which are currently unused, rather than limiting it to those on the BARR.

n) Enabling development for historical assets or places that would otherwise be unacceptable

It was suggested that 28(n) should be supported by comprehensive guidance to allow a full assessment of project feasibility and viability. There was also a query about whether 'securing the future of a historic place' extends to the climate adaptions necessary to keep it listed and/or conservation area properties occupied and/or active? It was suggested that, if this is the case, it should be specified in the policy.

o) Avoiding adverse impacts

There were a number of suggested additions to 28(o), including:

  • A definition of non-designated heritage assets. This definition should ensure that land and buildings of particular significance to local communities, including children and young people, are considered.
  • A requirement for pre-determination evaluation. It was suggested that this would enable mitigation options to be explored in advance, and would support the deliverability of development proposals (as set out in detail in PAN 2/2011).
  • Reference to activities to provide public benefit. It was suggested that this should allow both planning authorities and applicants greater flexibility to agree on approaches to mitigation or compensation.
  • Details on the scope of non-designated heritage assets and the areas that the policy seeks to protect.

It was also suggested that elements currently contained within SPP, but not pulled through into 28(o), should be reinstated. Concerns included that:

  • As written 28(o) appears to have the potential to undermine the current positions taken by planning authorities within their LDPs. For example, it was noted that at present it is the developer's responsibility to provide information on the nature and location of archaeological features, including details of any mitigation measures proposed, before determining the planning application.
  • There can be numerous non-designated assets in the vicinity of a wind farm development and 28(o) could result in the loss of development on sites that were previously considered appropriate.

Other comments included that 28(o) could be better aligned with NPF4's focus on the retention and reuse of existing buildings. Another observation was that non-designated historic environment assets are often suited to adaptation. There was a call for 28(o) to place greater emphasis on finding viable uses for buildings.

p) Reporting archaeological discoveries

Comments on 28(p) included that it will only permit identification and evaluation activities on known assets rather than previously unknown ones. It was suggested that the policy must ensure that pre-determination evaluation of archaeological potential is protected as a critical part of the planning process.

Other comments included that:

  • The role of Historic Environment Scotland should be acknowledged.
  • The policy affecting non-designated archaeology assets significantly weakens current planning policies. The existing SPP paragraphs 150 and 151 might be better retained and used instead of the current wording.
  • The policy does not acknowledge that archaeological mitigation can occur during development. There was a call for it to be reworded in line with the aims of paragraph 31 of PAN 2/2011 to cover unexpected discoveries of archaeological remains. It was suggested that the issue of enforcement and resourcing should also be addressed in any revision of PAN 2/2011.

Policy 29: Urban edges

We want to increase the density of our settlements, restore nature and promote local living by limiting urban expansion and using the land around our towns and cities wisely.

Question 47 – Do you agree that this policy will increase the density of our settlements, restore nature and promote local living by limiting urban expansion and using the land around our towns and cities wisely?

Around 300 respondents made a comment at Question 47.

There was general support for the use of green belts as a settlement management tool around Scotland's towns and cities to help to direct growth to the most appropriate, sustainable locations. Respondents welcomed their use to help regulate development outside urban centres and limit urban expansion and it was suggested that Policy 29 is generally clear on what is permitted in the green belt.

However, some respondents had concerns about Policy 29, including that it refers to green belt considerations rather than urban edges. The connected concern was that this may encourage planning authorities to adopt a brownfield-only approach.

Others noted that urban edges are potential locations for sustainable sites for housing and may be cheaper and easier to develop than greenfield sites. It was suggested that the policy should be revised to enable planning permission for developments on urban fringe sites, where these can achieve 20-minute neighbourhoods and contribute to net zero objectives.

There were a small number of specific comments relating to smaller communities and island settings. These included that:

  • Villages should not be allowed to expand incrementally around the edges without improved infrastructure or services.
  • For island communities, the green belt designated as the countryside has no protection and can lead to a 'develop anywhere' policy.
  • Urban edges in some areas (for example, crofting counties) are subject to other legislative processes, such as crofting law which influence the use of land and pattern of settlement.

Some respondents pointed to areas where more guidance or information is needed. These included in relation to:

  • The definition of 'urban edge' and 'green belt'.
  • The exceptions to green belt protection. It was noted that these are more extensive in NPF4 than in SPP, and there was a call for more information on their implementation.
  • Potential overlap with Policy 31 (Rural places). It was suggested that Policy 29 and 31 could cover the same land and that clarification is needed.

Other issues raised included that many developers see the lack of consistency around green belts as a planning risk, mainly where neighbouring local authorities take opposing approaches to the same green belt. It was also suggested that there is a policy tension between Policy 9 (Quality homes) and Policy 29's aim of limiting urban expansion.

There were a number of specific comments on the relationship between Policy 29 and climate resilience, biodiversity and natural habitats. These included that:

  • It fails to mention restoring nature and improving habitats. It was suggested that the opportunity to enhance green corridors and networks, ensuring connectivity between habitats, should not be missed.
  • The role of green belts in relation to climate resilience could be strengthened by requiring LDPs to consider how they can deliver multiple benefits, including reducing flood risk and supporting access to nature.

a) Using green belts in pressurised areas

There were a number of issues about which further information was sought, including:

  • The definition of 'urban density' or level of residential density - high, medium and low. It was suggested that an explanation of densities would help remove any uncertainty when planning authorities specify site requirements in LDPs.
  • What is meant by 'significant danger', 'peri-urban' and 'adequately demonstrated'?
  • How increased density of settlements can be achieved?
  • The evidence required when considering green belt designation. In particular, how would this justify green belt designation around the whole settlement?

There were concerns about green belts being directed towards the most accessible areas, including because these are the most sustainable in terms of public transport access. Other comments included that development in peri-urban areas, or on the fringes of settlements, is not inherently unsustainable as 20-minute neighbourhoods could be, and should be, easily introduced.

b) When developments on green belts can be supported

General comments on this policy included that there is no mention of biodiversity or linkages with the 20-minute neighbourhood concept. It was suggested that the list of exceptions which should be supported in the green belt should include those associated with biodiversity, conservation or enhancement, including nature networks. It was also suggested that it should be made clear that potential exceptions to 29(b) should be compatible with countryside or natural settings.

There was a call for statutory access rights to be referenced.

The remainder of the comments focused on specific proposals that could be supported within the designated green belt.

Housing for new or retired workers in primary industry

There were several comments on how this provision would work in practice. They included that the inclusion of new houses for retired workers seems inconsistent with the otherwise higher threshold for all but essential development in protected areas. A connected view was that the current policy on new accommodation is too general and permissive and should be strengthened by adding criteria on whether the type of business in which the worker is employed is an appropriate and viable rural business.

Other comments included that:

  • A definition of a 'primary industry' is needed.
  • Further explanation is needed on what is meant by 'no suitable alternative accommodation available' for retired workers.
  • Provision could be made to stop houses from being sold on the open market, for example when a retiree dies or moves elsewhere.

Horticulture, including market gardening and directly connected retailing

Some respondents expressed concerns that the reference to 'directly connected retailing' could justify sizeable retail garden centres with associated catering and retail developments, encouraging unsustainable travel rather than on-site horticulture or market gardening.

Recreation, outdoor sport, leisure and tourism uses

Respondents raised potential issues, including that this provision could open up the possibility of larger scale suburban development. It was noted, for example, that tourist cabins require facilities, access and servicing and it was suggested that this would erode the green belt.

Other comments included that an emphasis on compatibility with the countryside and natural setting is needed and that there is an opportunity to be explicit about access rights and the necessary infrastructure to protect these rights.

Flood risk management

It was suggested that, if assessments show that only intrusive protection measures can manage flooding, there should be a plan for how this is combined with blue and green measures to ensure adaptation, mitigation, and biodiversity.

National requirements of established need

There was a call for the phrase 'development meeting a national requirement or established need' to be defined.

Essential infrastructure that cannot be accommodated elsewhere

It was suggested that healthcare facilities should be included as 'essential infrastructure'.

Mineral operations and renewable energy developments

Comments on renewable energy included that 29(b) appears to require any renewables developments to be within an 'area of search', despite there being no reference to the designation of such areas within NPF4. It was also reported that there is no previous reference to this designation within the parameters for wind farm spatial frameworks set out in SPP.

Other concerns included that 29(b) appears to introduce stringent requirements on renewable energy developments that do not exist at present. It was suggested that this ignores the historical presence of wind farms in green belt locations, does not recognise that wind farm development can be compatible with the core purpose of green belts, and fails to recognise that the principle of the development will already have been established. However there was also a concern that 29(b) appears to be open to any renewable energy proposal without considering impacts.

Finally, it was noted that minerals can only be worked where they occur, which could be in the green belt.

Intensification of established uses

Comments included that there should be a requirement to make use of existing or replacement buildings whenever possible.

It was also suggested that it should be clearer whether 29(b) is referring to intensification within the boundary of an existing use, or whether it would permit increasing extent. The associated suggestion was that it may be appropriate to specify that this relates to intensification within the boundary of the established use.

Reuse, rehabilitation and conversion of historic environment assets

Respondents welcomed the inclusion of the requirement to safeguard historic environment assets. However, there were calls for stricter wording regarding appropriate uses.

One-for-one replacements of existing permanent houses

There was a concern that the position on 'one-for-one replacements of existing permanent houses' seemed very permissive if a net zero approach is being encouraged. It was suggested that 29(b) should include a requirement to justify the replacement of any dwelling, together with criteria to control the scale, size and character of proposals to avoid widespread replacement of smaller cottages with large houses.

There was a query as to why the provision is restricted to houses currently in occupation. It was suggested that a net improvement on the existing house - in terms of energy efficiency, design and impact on green belt character - should be supported in principle, and even if the property is unoccupied.

Other comments included that the policy should state that any replacement should be of a similar scale, footprint, character, height and massing to the dwelling being replaced.

c) Development proposals requirements

The requirement to provide a statement explaining the search area and the reason why a development requires a green belt location was welcomed by some respondents.

Others raised issues, including that the policy refers to the purpose of the green belt at that location, without stating what that purpose might be. It was suggested that all roles, uses and benefits given in the preamble to the policy, along with those mentioned in part (a) of the policy, should be considered 'purposes'.

Further comments included that the requirement to provide a sequential analysis showing why the location is 'essential', and providing details of other sites assessed and discounted, will be challenging. An associated suggestion was that planning applications should only be required to demonstrate the suitability of a development site to meet policy requirements, and that they should not and cannot look at alternatives. There was a particular concern that, as set out, 29(c) introduces more constraint on renewable development than is currently the case

Also with specific reference to renewable energy it was suggested that, where opportunities exist in the green belt, appropriate assessment criteria would be that they demonstrate how they can enhance the character and quality of the green belt, rather than insisting that they show there are no alternative sites outside the green belt. It was also suggested that 29(c) should be amended to make it clear that renewable energy projects are potentially acceptable green belt land uses and that there is no need for proposals to be located in 'areas of search'.

d) Other types of development on green belt

Comments on 29(d) included that it is not required.

Policy 30: Vacant and derelict land

We want to proactively enable the reuse of vacant and derelict land and buildings.

Question 48 – Do you agree that this policy will help to proactively enable the reuse of vacant and derelict land and buildings?

Around 310 respondents made a comment at Question 48.

There was broad support for this policy, which was seen as critical to protecting greenfield land and the reuse of underused land. A number of respondents noted the challenges associated with the reuse of vacant and derelict land and buildings, including around costs limiting the market's ability to develop sites. It was noted that public sector investment is often required, and also that many of the more straightforward sites have already been developed, with those remaining generally needing more significant remediation.

Other comments included that:

  • Vacant and derelict sites can be in areas of multiple deprivation and can have a negative impact on the area and the wellbeing of their residents.
  • There can be specific constraints on brownfield land, such as potential flooding, preventing development within or near town centres.
  • The policy does not acknowledge the situation in rural locations. For example, there can be brownfield sites located in rural areas which are not suitable for new development.

In terms of general suggestions, the following were made:

  • There should be funding for community groups and organisations to empower them to come up with creative and innovative solutions and enable their views to be taken into account.
  • The potential for vacant and derelict land to provide strategic and local blue and green infrastructure should be explicitly recognised. Over time, vacant and derelict sites can become a resource to both wildlife and communities, and this should be protected where appropriate. For example, by conversion to allotments or possibly by being incorporated into a green network and allowed to regenerate naturally.
  • There should be an explicit policy for developing vacant and derelict land into productive greenspace, providing community benefit.
  • As well as supporting a more proactive approach to site remediation, an approach to minimising sites becoming vacant and derelict should be identified.
  • The policy title should be amended to clarify that it also applies to vacant and derelict buildings, not solely land.

There was also a general query as to whether only sites on the Vacant and Derelict Land Register would be required to comply with this policy, or if it would apply to any site deemed vacant or derelict by the planning authority.

a) Reuse of vacant and derelict land and redundant buildings

Some respondents noted that the home building sector relies on greenfield, brownfield and vacant and derelict land to meet housing needs. A connected concern was that 30(a) gives no evidence to support why planning authorities should always prioritise vacant and derelict land at the expense of releasing potentially more suitable greenfield sites.

It was noted that there could be valid reasons why land or buildings are not in use for a period of time, for example associated with port authorities, railways, and agriculture. It was also suggested that the wording of 30(a) could make it clear that some vacant sites may 'naturalise' to a condition where reuse is no longer considered necessary, particularly where there are biodiversity benefits.

Other comments on 30(a) included that tackling vacant and derelict land and buildings is challenging, but that there is no funding strategy offered to assist with the delivery of sites. Also in relation to the support required it was suggested that a clear commitment to compulsory purchase powers and sales orders is needed.

b) Permanent or temporary reuse of vacant or derelict land or buildings

Those who commented generally offered their broad support for 30(b), although it was suggested that there should be a distinction between urban and rural brownfield land, along with how proposals for each will be considered.

Other suggestions included that a definition of 'temporary' is needed, along with guidance on suitable timeframes.

As more generally, it was also noted that not all vacant and derelict sites are in sustainable locations.

c) Greenfield sites

Comments included that housing delivery to meet future housing needs will rely on an appropriate blend of greenfield, brownfield, vacant and derelict land coming forward through LDPs. It was suggested that 30(c) would benefit from a definition of 'sustainable brownfield alternatives' and guidance on who will define this. It was also noted that this guidance will be particularly important given that the higher costs associated with brownfield sites are often cited as a barrier for developers.

Other comments included that:

  • The potential high biodiversity value on some brownfield sites should be considered. It was suggested that 30(c) should include a requirement for a full assessment of the contribution existing brownfield sites make to biodiversity and that the biodiversity value should inform the approach to any development of the site.
  • Where greenfield sites are allocated for development there should be no need to demonstrate that there are no suitable brownfield alternatives, as this assessment will already have been made.

However, other respondents were looking to have 30(c) removed. Reasons given included that:

  • Brownfield sites are more likely to have physical and financial constraints, meaning that they often they cannot be delivered with certainty and/or promptly.
  • Eliminating all greenfield sites would result in the most deliverable sites not always being brought forward and would have a negative impact on housing delivery rates.

There was a call for a more nuanced approach that would consider developments on greenfield sites where an assessment determines them to be more viable than brownfield sites.

d) Unstable or contaminated land

Comments on 30(d) included that it needs to provide further information on appropriate remediation of contaminated or unstable land. Other comments included that:

  • It is not clear who will have to ensure that the land is, or can be made, safe and suitable for any proposed new use, or the extent of the evidence that will need to be provided.
  • Land contamination can be present on many sites. Rural areas considered 'greenfield' may have had local uses that have resulted in contamination, such as sheep dips and residential oil heating tank leaks. It was suggested that 30(d) should apply to all developments and not just those on vacant and derelict land.

e) Reuse of existing buildings

Some respondents suggested that 30(e) would benefit from a standard requirement for justifying a building being demolished rather than reused. In terms of the evidence required, a structural survey identifying that refurbishment of an existing building to tolerable standards is not achievable was an example given.

Other respondents proposed that 30(e) should be cross-referenced with requirements on carbon life cycle assessment. It was suggested that this would create incentives which could see the retention and reuse of historic buildings, and especially non-designated ones. There was a call for a stronger emphasis on demolition only as a last resort, including because of the carbon that is embedded in buildings. It was suggested that this would give a clear message on how the planning system addresses the embodied energy and carbon in existing buildings.

However, there was also a view that 30(e) as it stands is overly restrictive, and it is not clear why demolition should always be the 'least preferred option'. It was suggested that the requirement for this clause is not clear, and that it should be deleted.

Other comments on 30(e) included that:

  • Brownfield sites may also be important archaeological sites. The impact of developing these sites must be assessed at an early stage, so that appropriate selection and or mitigation is put in place.
  • Brownfield sites may have high ecological value. The impacts of developing these sites must be assessed at an early stage, and adverse consequences avoided and/or mitigated through site layout and design.

It was also noted that other policy frameworks throughout NPF4 deal with the reuse of existing buildings and their associated demolition. For example, Policy 28 (Historic assets and places).

Policy 31: Rural places

We want our rural places to be vibrant and sustainable.

Question 49 – Do you agree that this policy will ensure that rural places can be vibrant and sustainable?

Around 275 respondents answered Question 49.

Some respondents welcomed the inclusion of a policy specifically for rural places, or indicated support for the intent and ambitions set out. However, it was also suggested that the policy is weak, confusing, vague, too broad, or that the support for new development in rural areas risks undermining sustainability and climate change objectives.

There was also a view that, as drafted, the policy will not deliver the outcome of increasing the population of rural areas set out in Section 3A(3)(c) of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997. It was suggested that, particularly with respect to housing, the categories of acceptable rural development in Policy 31 are too narrow and that the policy should be reassessed. A more flexible and specific approach to planning policy in rural areas was requested, and there were calls for a presumption in favour of both rural development and community-led development which builds significant community wealth.

Other general concerns included that:

  • NPF4 has not been effectively 'rural proofed' and that new and updated policies need to be tested in the rural context.
  • Policy 31 fails to recognise the role rural areas will play in helping to deliver additional generation of renewable energy and that some aspects of rural places will inevitably change as a result. It was argued that the interaction with Policy 19 (Green energy) should be recognised.
  • Clarity is needed with respect to how Policy 31 relates to Policy 29 (Urban edges and the green belt).

With respect to terminology, it was suggested that it will be important to clarify what is meant by 'rural areas' and 'rural places', and clarity on whether these can include green belt sites, or countryside areas close to large urban areas was sought.

Respondents also commented on topics they would like to see included in Policy 31 or where they felt that greater focus or more detail was needed. These included:

  • Improved mobile and digital connectivity.
  • Wider land use and agricultural policies.
  • Aquaculture.
  • Post Common Agricultural Policy agricultural transition in Scotland and Good Food Nation legislation.
  • Links to the Land Use Strategy and the Biodiversity Strategy.
  • Linkage with Housing to 2040 and the Rural and Islands Action Plan.
  • More direction in relation to isolated coast and uninhabited offshore islands.
  • The role rural places can make to the transition to a net zero, nature positive society and economy.
  • Support for community-led development.
  • Rural-specific housing such as housing clusters, rural housing groups and smart clachans.
  • Crofting, woodland crofts or hutting.
  • Tourism or the sustainability of tourism.
  • Protection of landscape character.
  • Specific needs of creative businesses.
  • Provision for safe active travel in rural areas.

a) LDPs should set out proposals to support the sustainability and prosperity of rural communities and economies

Comments on 31(a) included that it will be important to establish what is meant by 'accessible', 'intermediate', 'remote' and 'areas of pressure and decline' and to be clear which form of the Scottish Government's Urban/Rural Classification is to be applied. The importance of a consistent approach across local authorities was highlighted and inclusion of a map to identify relevant areas was suggested. It was also suggested that the text should make clear that proposed development under Policy 31 will still be assessed against other appropriate policies in the development plan.

Other views included that:

  • The requirement at 31(a) for LDPs to 'set out an appropriate approach to development in areas of pressure and decline…' is undermined by later sections that set out the approach, irrespective of local conditions.
  • There should be greater recognition of the need for a spatial strategy for the area to be developed through the LDP in collaboration with the variety of communities and stakeholders involved.
  • The wording in this section is too subjective, and that what constitutes an 'appropriate approach to development' needs to be clarified. Requirements or examples should be provided to give local authorities a clear direction about what they must achieve through planning for development in rural areas.
  • The range of rural spatial concepts should be rationalised to ensure deliverability, and those producing LDPs should have flexibility to use appropriate policy tools, but not be required to use all of them.

b) Resettlement of previously inhabited areas

Differing opinions were expressed with respect to support for resettlement of previously inhabited areas. While some respondents supported the approach, others highlighted a tension between the resettlement of previously inhabited areas and sustainable placemaking, or raised concerns that the policy may conflict with reducing carbon emissions. It was also suggested that supporting development only where climate change mitigation targets are being met could act as a veto on almost all proposals for resettlement, and that such a test should not be applied to small scale rural housing proposals.

There were calls for clarification of what by is meant by 'previously inhabited areas' including: at what point in history; how long; what types of habitation; and whether this refers to areas or individual sites.

Some respondents proposed additional factors that should be taken into account before supporting resettlement including:

  • Protection of biodiversity and regard to Policy 32 (Natural Places).
  • Consideration of the historic environment and Policy 28 (Historic assets and places).
  • Landscape character and recognition of the value of attributes such as remoteness, absence of human infrastructure, relative wildness and the predominance of nature.
  • Access to services and infrastructure capacity.

c) Development proposals in rural areas

General points on 31(c) included that it is not clear which criteria apply mutually or exclusively, or how they relate to points in 31(d)-(f). Consideration of the issues of lighting, its effects and dark skies was also suggested.

As noted previously, some respondents proposed that rather than conditions for development, there should be a presumption in favour of rural development. There was also a call for renewable energy development to be considered acceptable in principle, or for an exception at 31(c) with respect to infrastructure and renewable energy development. An additional bullet was suggested, supporting proposals where the development will 'provide energy generation from a renewable source, where the proposal supports a zero carbon electricity system'.

With respect to support for development to reflect development pressure, it was argued that policy should be based on evidence of a need for development rather than 'development pressures' that could be unsustainable or contrived through a succession of submissions for unacceptable development. It was also suggested that 'community needs' should be added to the list. Particular concerns were raised with respect to development pressures in the context of National Parks.

With respect to reuse of 'redundant' or 'under used' buildings, it was suggested that definitions are required, including to establish how long a building has to be unoccupied to be considered redundant.

While appropriate use of a historic environment asset was welcomed as a consideration in rural development, it was also noted development can impact buried archaeological remains and addition of a requirement to carry out appropriate assessments as part of the development proposals was requested.

Comments on reuse of vacant and derelict land included that supporting such development only where a return to a natural state is not likely is overly restrictive, and that equivalent wording does not appear in Policy 30 (Vacant and derelict land). It was also argued that:

  • Redevelopment of derelict or brownfield land should be caveated, as it could lead to unsustainable development across the countryside and encourage landowners to let land fall into a derelict state in order to benefit from the policy.
  • Many areas of derelict land and brownfield sites could be used for community projects such as allotments or sensory gardens, but this is unlikely to be financially viable to a landowner/developer.
  • Most sites will naturalise at some point, so the text could be amended to 'can be demonstrated that it will not return to natural state in the short to medium term without intervention'.
  • 'Open mosaic habitats on previously developed land' is a priority habitat where much of the value is provided by an artificial mosaic of substrates, hydrology etc. that stops vegetation returning to a natural state. There should be site-by-site consideration of all vacant and derelict land, and where biodiversity value potentially exists, an open mosaic habitat assessment should be requested.

There was a request for clarity on what 'a small site that may not normally be used for housing' means and a concern that affordable housing on small sites could be supported with no consideration for location or the type of rural area. It was also argued that such sites may be of high biodiversity or landscape value. Suggestions included that only appropriate locations for rural housing should be supported, and that support for development should have regard to accessibility of services and facilities. A role for LDPs in identifying suitable locations was envisaged. The importance of community-led development was also highlighted: there was a suggestion that this provision might be extended to cover a site that is not within the LDP but where it can be shown that there is a significant unmet local need for affordable housing, as well as community support for the site being used.

A majority of respondents who commented on 20-minute neighbourhoods highlighted the challenge that this concept presents in rural areas or argued it is inappropriate for rural areas. It was suggested that flexibility in this respect should be applied when considering development proposals. However, concerns were also raised that this could lead to undesirable housing developments being promoted in small villages, with a request that if the intention is to promote rural services rather than housing, this should be restated more explicitly.

Suggestions included that for a rural context:

  • The 20-minute criterion should be removed.
  • 20-minute neighbourhoods could be considered as more of a network of neighbouring places in close proximity.
  • The policy should refer to contributing towards sustainable settlements and local living.
  • The text should be reworded as 'contribute towards sustainable communities, the provision of local services, or innovative small-scale rural settlement patterns'.

d) Development proposals that contribute to the viability, sustainability and diversity of the local economy

Queries in respect of 31(d) included whether these provisions are intended to apply geographically.

Several respondents proposed additions to the list of types of proposals that should be supported at 31(d) including:

  • Renewable energy development.
  • Small scale renewable energy – for example community projects.
  • Projects which build community wealth.
  • Tourism developments.
  • Proposals that positively consider the requirements for sustainable transport and do not increase the reliance on the petrol/diesel car.

Comments with respect to diversification included that the first two bullets in 31(d) are broad and require definitions of the types of diversification and businesses that would be covered. A caveat that development should be 'commensurate with the rural environment and host community' was suggested and there was also a view that there should be a presumption against the development of croft land. Clarification of the meaning of 'good quality land' was requested, and whether this means prime agricultural land or is open to a wider interpretation.

Among types of diversification development suggested were:

  • A modern form of crofting focusing on local living and local housing associated with small areas for food production.
  • Woodland crofts.
  • Diversification and extension of existing tourist facilities and accommodation.
  • Solar and other renewable technologies.

Policy support for agricultural development in addition to support for the diversification of farms, crofts and other land use businesses was also suggested.

It was argued 'diversification of existing businesses' should be expanded for introduction of new businesses to rural areas. However, concerns were raised that diversification could promote types of business that would be more sustainably located within settlements already linked by transport networks.

Comments with respect to critical infrastructure included that this should be expanded to include catchment management and flood risk management. There were also requests to emphasise the importance of transmission infrastructure and to include housing as critical infrastructure, the latter on the premise that there is less justification for infrastructure in rural areas in the absence of housing and a local population to use it.

Community hubs were seen as providing important facilities for local employment, transfer of ideas and community activities and avoiding the need for longer distance travel to access services. Addition of a reference to live/work units was suggested. However, caution was also suggested that 'small scale developments that support new ways of working such as remote working, homeworking and community hubs' could essentially be housing in the countryside.

Support for development to improve or restore the natural environment was welcomed, although it was argued that such development should require that a high level of biodiversity is achieved. It was also suggested that improvement or restoration of the historic environment should be added.

e) Proposals for new homes in rural areas outwith existing rural settlements

Some respondents argued policies at 31(e) and (f) are too conditional and limiting to make a significant impact on rural populations. However, it was also suggested that criteria could be more prescriptive in parts. There were requests for definitions of 'accessible areas' and 'areas of pressure'.

With respect to living at or near a place of work, it was suggested there should be consideration of nearby existing suitable accommodation in the first instance. It was also argued that living at or near a place of work is desirable in reducing travel and associated emissions, and that 'essential need' should be redefined to assess the degree to which a new home will facilitate the adoption of a low-carbon lifestyle.

There was support for the development of a home for the retirement succession of a viable farm, although it was suggested there should be a requirement to demonstrate that there is no suitable accommodation for a retiring farmer within a settlement before considering a new dwellinghouse in the countryside. There was also a view that more than one property should be permitted, and that retirement from other types of rural businesses should also be included. Clarification of the intention of these points was also sought, as was an indication of what provision can be made to stop houses for retirement succession subsequently being sold off on the open market.

It was argued that the subdivision of an existing dwelling should only be supported where it can be appropriately situated, and does not result in impacts on neighbouring properties in terms of amenity, sufficient garden ground, access and parking. It was also suggested limits might be added – for example with respect to how many subdivisions would be acceptable.

Similar issues were raised as at 31(c) with respect to historic environment assets, although why this section uses the term 'cultural heritage asset' was queried.

With respect to reuse of redundant or disused buildings it was suggested that clarification on when buildings are considered to be redundant is needed. There was a view that modern agricultural buildings should be excluded since such a building could be erected quickly to create an opportunity for a home in its place. It was also suggested that the permitted development rights which would apply to many proposals for homes in the countryside should be referenced to highlight that planning may not always have a role to play in such developments.

The implication of the text as drafted that the reuse of redundant or disused buildings in accessible or pressured areas would not be supported was queried, since this could be the most sustainable use of such buildings.

f) Development proposals in accessible or pressured rural areas

Comments on 31(f) included that, as drafted, this policy would mean most rural development is conditional on the use of public transport. It was argued both that this is not realistic, and that increased working from home and improved digital infrastructure are already contributing to the sustainability of living in rural areas. While car use will inevitably be higher in rural areas, it was suggested providing new homes can help to sustain and grow local services and create greater economic justification for the funding of public transport. It was also observed that no detail is provided with respect to how local authorities determine which developments do and do not lead to unsustainable growth in long-distance car-based commuting.

Other points included that:

  • Community priorities, such as lack of affordable housing in pressured rural areas, should be reflected in development that is supported.
  • As drafted the policy does not allow for any windfall housing development within accessible or pressured areas, which is more restrictive than Policy 29 (Urban edges and the greenbelt).
  • Restricting development which may encourage long-distance car use, could have the unintended consequence of limiting tourism development.

g) Development proposals in remote rural areas, where new development can often help to sustain fragile communities

Definitions of 'remote rural areas' and 'sustainable development' were requested. It was also suggested that 31(g) should be amended to reference repopulating communities and building community wealth.

Other points raised included that:

  • There should be explicit reference to crofting and creation of new crofts since crofting has a record of supporting and sustaining fragile and dispersed communities.
  • There should be a reference to self and custom build or co-housing.
  • It is unclear what is meant by 'addressing issues of location' etc. and how this policy would be able to maintain consistency of patterns of development that form the character of rural areas.

h) Development proposals on prime agricultural land, or land of lesser quality that is culturally or locally important for primary use

General points on 31(h) included that this section could be moved to Policy 33 (Soils) or that prime agricultural land should be a standalone policy. Whether a proposed development on agricultural land in a predominantly urban area would be exempt from this policy was queried. It was also suggested that it would be helpful to clarify and provide examples of what might be defined as 'land of lesser quality that is culturally or locally important for primary use'. The phrase was seen as entirely open to interpretation. Some respondents thought that that it will be difficult for rural areas that have no prime agricultural land to argue that a particular piece of land has sufficient cultural or local significance to prevent development.

Also with respect to terminology it was suggested that most areas in Scotland have been mapped according to the James Hutton Institute soil type classification and, to be consistent with this, it would be preferable to reference 'good quality agricultural land' rather than 'land of lesser quality that is culturally or locally important for primary use'. With reference to the final bullet, a definition of 'good quality land' was requested.

Some respondents expressed concern that the policy does not do enough to protect agricultural land, or that the exceptions may be exploited as loopholes, resulting in gradual attrition of an important resource. It was suggested that the absence of agriculture and forestry from the planning process leads to an imbalance between land uses, and that an all-inclusive approach to land use planning is needed to ensure agriculture and forestry are valued alongside planning for other land uses. The need to ensure linkages across other policy areas was highlighted, including with respect to Good Food Nation legislation, and it was suggested 31(h) could usefully reference food security. It was also noted that areas of 'good quality' agricultural land have significant capacity to contribute to food security.

There was a suggestion that the definition of 'prime agricultural land' should be judged in the context of the local area, and in relation to the available supply in that area, rather than in a national context.

With respect to the exception for essential infrastructure, there was a request that this should be defined and that what is a 'suitable' site should be clarified. Some respondents argued that housing should be recognised as essential infrastructure and allowed on this basis, with the proviso that there should be an established need and no suitable and available brownfield or non-prime agricultural land in the local area. An additional bullet that permits support for allocation of prime agricultural land to reflect an identified development need was suggested. It was also suggested that use of prime agricultural land for development should take account of the local context and whether the loss could be offset by the wider social and economic benefits of redevelopment. There was also a view that agricultural land should never be used for housing development.

Points on generation of renewable energy or the extraction of minerals included that these are very separate issues that should not be in the same bullet. With respect to generation of renewable energy it was suggested the bullet should be expanded to include transmission and storage of energy from a renewable source. The potential for agrivoltaics - installations designed to the maximise the production of renewable energy and food from the same land – was also highlighted. However, it was noted that the reference to generation of renewable energy only in the context of prime agricultural land, leaves a policy gap for sites not located within prime agricultural land. There was also a view that prime agricultural land should not be used for renewable energy development but should produce food to enable the UK to become more self-sufficient. It was noted that as wind energy development is currently built 'in perpetuity' prime agricultural land would never be returned to its former status.

Clarity was also requested that the final section of 31(h) that refers to demonstrating that the layout and design of the proposal minimises the amount of good quality land that is required as far as possible, is in addition to use complying with the earlier bullets.

Policy 32: Natural places

We want to protect and restore natural places.

Question 50 – Do you agree that this policy will protect and restore natural places?

Around 320 respondents commented at Question 50. In terms of an overall balance of opinion, respondents were relatively evenly divided between those who broadly supported the policy and those who sought extensive changes.

Many respondents supported the wording of the introductory text that acknowledges the importance of the natural environment and the need to restore, protect and enhance Scotland's natural assets. However, it was also argued that the policy as drafted does little to improve on protections provided by NPF3 or to indicate how restoration or enhancement of natural places will be achieved. There were calls for:

  • Greater focus on protecting all biodiversity, not just designated sites.
  • Greater emphasis on avoiding harm and following the mitigation hierarchy.
  • Stronger, plan-led action.
  • Investment in data gathering and development of reliable indicators to help produce a more complete national picture of biodiversity.

With respect to the relationship between Policy 32 and other parts of the draft NPF4 comments included that:

  • The fit with Policy 3 (Nature crisis) is unclear and that there are significant inconsistencies with Policy 19 (Green energy).
  • It will be important to cross reference Policy 3 which contains proposals to extend nature networks and deliver positive effects for biodiversity.
  • As well as Policy 3, Policy 32 should reference those relating to quality of place, blue green infrastructure and vacant and derelict land.

Why a policy as important as this is positioned so far through NPF4 was queried.

There were also calls for linkages to be made between this policy and the Biodiversity Strategy; the Natural Environment Bill; and Government guidance on environmental principles in the European Union (Continuity)(Scotland) Act 2021.

Other subjects that respondents suggested should be included were:

  • Reference to marine and coastal natural places and relevant policies within the National Marine Plan and regional marine plans.
  • Improved landscape protection.
  • Geodiversity.
  • The role of a circular bioeconomy as a form of nature-based solution.
  • Positive effects of community-led approaches and agroecology on natural places.

a) LDPs should identify and protect locally, regionally, nationally and internationally valued natural assets, landscapes, species and habitats

Points raised with respect to 32(a) included that guidance will be required to identify the assets, landscapes, species and habitats referenced and to clarify the safeguarding that corresponds with the different levels of status. There was also a view that LBAPs and other green network strategies may be better placed than LDPs to identify and protect some natural assets at a more detailed level.

Respondents also argued that:

  • Wording needs to be clearer and that 'valued' is an ambiguous term.
  • Changing 'valued' to 'designated' would provide clarity that the policy relates to designations.
  • Non-statutory sites such as nature reserves should also be protected.
  • Wild land should be viewed as a nationally important natural asset.

While the commitment to establish and grow nature networks was welcomed, there were calls for greater clarity on how these will be delivered and for a strategic approach to a National Network. It was suggested Policy 32(a) should: include a requirement to identify and protect areas contributing to a nature network; set out the core components of a nature network; provide guidance on development; and incorporate policy to protect the nature network and opportunities for growth.

It was also suggested there should be a specific reference to protection of geodiversity.

b) Development proposals that would have an unacceptable impact on the natural environment including biodiversity objectives

The majority of comments here related to the need for a definition of 'unacceptable impact'. Guidance on the assessment method and on who would make the decision was also requested. Similar points were raised with respect to clarifying 'biodiversity objectives'.

Some respondents argued that the text should be amended so that adverse impacts on the natural environment must demonstrably outweigh the project benefits if a proposal is to be refused permission. Other suggested changes included addition of '…taking account of the development's contribution to net zero targets' or '…unless suitable mitigation is demonstrated and can be delivered' at the end of the sentence.

Other points on 32(b) included that:

  • More robust language should be used – 'must' rather than 'should'.
  • There is a risk this policy conflicts with general environmental protection under Policy 3 (Nature crisis).
  • All public bodies have a legal duty to further the conservation of biodiversity and this must be reflected in this policy.

c) Development proposals likely to have a significant effect on an existing or proposed European site

It was suggested that clarity is needed on how development affecting European sites will be considered within the planning system, and that although legislation is referenced, specific legislation is not stated. A strong presumption against development that is damaging to European sites was requested. Further suggestions included:

  • Addition of 'regardless of proposed mitigation'.
  • Inclusion of protection of natural World Heritage Sites at either 32(c) or (d).

d) Development proposals that will affect a National Park, National Scenic Area, Site of Special Scientific Interest or a National Nature Reserve

Comments on 32(d) included that the language used should be strengthened, and that 'significant adverse affects' should be explained. It was also argued the protections do not go beyond current requirements and that this section lacks ambition. There were specific requests to:

  • Give NSAs equal status with National Parks.
  • Amend the wording to state that all European, Ramsar and SSSI sites must be identified and protected.
  • Include WLAs.
  • Recognise UNESCO sites such as the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere.
  • Give protection to Geological Conservation Review sites at an equivalent level to SSSIs.

However, it was also argued that rather than a blanket ban there should be some scope for mitigation to address impacts within designated landscapes; it was suggested that the text should be amended to add that the weight to be given to adverse effects will depend on the status of the receptor and the importance of the benefits. Greater flexibility was also suggested to support the delivery of critical national infrastructure, where it is evidenced that there is no suitable alternative.

It was noted that Policy 19(c) only references National Parks and NSAs as areas where proposals for wind farms should not be supported.

e) Development proposals that would be likely to have an adverse effect on a protected species

It was noted that although Policy 32(e) refers to protected species, it is not clear what these are or what legislation is being referred to, and there is no explanation of the 'relevant statutory tests'. Some accompanying text to explain the level of protection provided by the legislation was suggested.

Other suggestions included that:

  • The text should be strengthened to provide greater detail for decision makers, to ensure the importance of protected species is considered as early as possible in design, as well as the obligation on developers to provide sufficient information and carry out survey work.
  • Protection should be extended to vulnerable species or should apply to noteworthy species, from internationally red listed through to locally important.
  • It should cover species that have been present at a site to avoid any incentive to remove a species before application.

A different perspective was that a more nuanced approach is required that allows decision makers to consider significance, acceptability and the extent to which a proposal will help address the global climate emergency. It was also argued that the policy wording should make clear that adverse effects on protected species should be assessed at the population level.

f) Where non-native species are present on a site developers should take into account legislation on non-native species

Comments on Policy 32(f) included that, as this clause is required by law, it may not be necessary to repeat it within NPF4. It was also argued that that the legislation should be signposted, and that the requirement should be to abide by legislation not take it 'into account'. Other points include that:

  • The reference should be to 'invasive' non-native species.
  • As drafted the policy lacks detail and provides no clear direction or advice.
  • A preference for the use of native species of a local provenance wherever possible should be included.

There was also a call to amend 32(f) to reflect risks posed by non-native conifers, which are exempt from the definition but can cause significant issues through self-seeding.

g) Development proposals that affect a site designated as a Local Nature Conservation Site or a Local Landscape Area

Some respondents welcomed 32(g) as allowing planning balance and weighting to be applied on a case-by-case basis, although it was suggested that the failure to differentiate between the weight that should be afforded to effects on nationally and internationally designated assets compared to local sites could present a barrier to directing development toward less sensitive environments.

However, other respondents raised concerns, including that, that as drafted, 32(g) provides insufficient protection for LNCSs and that, over time, the biodiversity value and importance of these local designations will be diminished.

It was argued that any provision of benefit can be deemed locally important and that the phrase 'should be supported' can be seen as an emphasis in favour of development. Several forms of amended wording were proposed to strengthen protection of LNCSs including that development proposals:

  • Will 'only be acceptable if in compliance with policy criteria'.
  • 'Will not be supported where they would have adverse effects on the integrity of the area or the qualities for which it has been identified unless it has been demonstrated that the mitigation hierarchy has been followed and any such residual effects are clearly outweighed by social, environmental or economic benefits of local importance'.

h) Planning authorities should apply the precautionary principle

Comments on application of the precautionary principle included that this is welcome, although also that its inclusion in previous planning policy has not always prevented approval of development that resulted in damage to designated areas. Stronger wording was sought to encourage planning authorities to apply the precautionary principle more frequently than at present.

Specific suggestions included that:

  • There should be a strong presumption against development where impacts on nationally or internationally significant landscapes or natural heritage assets are uncertain.
  • The principle should be applied to all natural heritage assets, not just to those of national or international significance.
  • It should also apply to historic environment assets.

It was also suggested that the text should be amended to remove the reference to landscape, since it will always be possible to assess landscape impacts.

However, concerns were raised that the text as drafted could lead to disagreements on the likelihood of damage or on requirements for additional research to reduce uncertainty. It was argued that requirements must be proportionate to the potential impact, and that the wording contained within current SPP should be retained.

Specific concerns were raised with respect to potential impacts of the policy as drafted on:

  • Critical national infrastructure.
  • Finfish developers.

With respect to the latter, it was suggested that the text is of particular concern to salmon aquaculture since it relates to potential impacts which currently do not have an appropriate metric of evaluation. It was argued that planning determinations for salmon farming should be based on scientific rigour, rather than 'sound evidence'.

j) Development proposals in areas identified as wild land

Some respondents expressed strong views with respect to development in WLAs, often tending to one of two very different positions:

  • Support for a presumption against development on wild land, or a view that the text as drafted should be strengthened further.
  • Concern that the text as drafted will effectively embargo development in WLAs, with negative impacts for both wind energy development and for the rights of rural dwellers to local housing and sustainable development.

Some respondents who sought to increase protection for WLAs argued that the phrase 'cannot be reasonably located outside of the wild land area' is open to differing interpretations, with suggestions that: LDPs should protect WLAs; WLAs should be added to the list of nationally important natural assets; and that wild land should become a statutory designation. A recent report was said to have found that the rate of loss of wild land appears to be increasing as the scale of development has increased. There were also calls to consider the impact of major developments on landscape quality immediately adjacent to the boundaries of WLAs and to create buffer zones in which development should not be permitted, if this would affect the landscape or wild quality of land within the WLA.

Respondents who were concerned by the extent to which development in WLAs could be restricted argued that the requirement that development 'cannot be reasonably located outside of the wild land area' imposes a sequential test that will be impossible to satisfy, thus amounting to a de facto ban on commercial scale wind energy development in WLAs or preventing meaningful repopulation proposals in these areas. It was argued that Policy 32(i) undermines Policy 19(d), and represents a significant barrier to the level of onshore wind deployment aspired to in the draft Onshore Wind Policy Statement and, by extension, to meeting legally binding emission reduction targets. It was also noted to represent a fundamental change from the policy approach in current SPP paragraph 215 which states that 'in areas of wild land, development may be appropriate in some circumstances'.

Respondents expressing concerns with respect to the limitations imposed by 32(i) suggested:

  • Section 32(i) should be removed entirely.
  • The policy should be rebalanced to ensure onshore wind proposals can be acceptable in WLAs, subject to an assessment showing how the effects on the qualities of the areas have been mitigated through design. Further guidance could be provided around developments that create minimal or positive impacts and NPF4 should recognise that renewable energy development and peatland restoration are compatible. Greater support should be provided for the delivery of critical national infrastructure where no other option is viable or suitable.
  • Section 32(i) should give significant weight in the planning balance to the extent to which a proposed development would provide benefits in terms of the Climate Emergency and the 2030 interim and 2045 Net Zero targets.
  • Criteria relating to wild land and landscape should explicitly state that they only apply to development proposals within WLAs.
  • WLA boundaries should be revisited with a view to reducing their geographical coverage.
  • Policy should not preclude resettlement of WLAs for example through creation of new crofts.
  • The requirement for 'a site-based assessment of any significant effects on the qualities of the areas is undertaken' should not be a barrier against a rural family keen to initiate a self-build project.

Policy 33: Peat and carbon rich soils

We want to protect carbon rich soils and preserve and restore peat.

Question 51 – Do you agree that this policy protects carbon rich soils and supports the preservation and restoration of peatlands?

Around 230 respondents made a comment at Question 51.

There was broad support for Policy 33 and those who did not think it will meet the desired objectives tended to think the policy should go further in protecting peatlands. A small number of respondents set out detailed suggestions for amendment to the policy as drafted.

General comments included that Policy 33 should cross reference related NPF4 policies including Policies 2 (Climate emergency) 3, (Nature crisis) and 34 (Trees, woodland and forestry). It was suggested that at present, Policy 33 does not comfortably align with Policies 2 and 3 due to the intrinsic loss of carbon and biodiversity that occurs with peatland disturbance.

Some respondents highlighted aspects they considered to be missing from Policy 33 including that it should be strengthened in terms of peatland restoration and that, as drafted, there is no information on restoration of peatlands that are not the subject of development interest. It was argued that a proactive approach to restoration should be adopted and that landowners should be encouraged to undertake peatland restoration (and to apply for available grants to aid carbon sequestration efforts).

It was also noted that the policy largely concerns peatland and makes little reference to other carbon rich soils. It was argued there should be greater emphasis on other soils and on other ecologically important habitats including grasslands. Protection of prime agricultural land under this policy was also suggested.

Definitions of 'peatland' and 'carbon rich soils' were requested, with a suggestion that a report 'Carbon-rich soils, deep peat, and priority peatland habitat - Expert views on project level assessment', commissioned by Natural Power should be used to clarify how peat, peatlands and carbon rich soils are defined within NPF4. The importance of a consistent approach was highlighted.

Other topics respondents suggested should be covered under Policy 33 included:

  • Protection of carbon rich soil, and deep peat in particular, from tree planting and rectifying the effects of historical forestry plantation on peatland.
  • Reference to the archaeological value of peat and carbon rich soils and to the importance of assessment and mitigation of effects on the historic environment.
  • Handling of soils during construction.

a) LDPs should protect locally, regionally, nationally and internationally valued soils

Respondents who commented on Policy 33(a) often agreed that LDPs should protect valued soils. There were calls to define 'valued soils', including in an international context. How the soils listed would be identified was queried, including whether there is existing mapping, whether local authorities would be expected to identify such soils to inform LDPs, or whether the value of a soil would be determined at the time of a planning application. It was also suggested that it would be more useful to refer to all soils, as all soils have value.

b) Minimise disturbance to soils on undeveloped land and protect them from damage including erosion or compaction

It was suggested that the wording of this section is unclear, including in terms of the type of soils covered, and that it also requires clarification and guidance on how damage would be assessed and by whom. Following the mitigation hierarchy was proposed, such that development proposals are supported only if they are designed in a way that avoids disturbance to soils on undeveloped land and protects them from damage, including erosion or compaction.

c) Development on peatland, carbon rich soils and priority peatland habitat

Some respondents expressed significant concerns with respect to 33(c), calling for the language to be strengthened. It was argued that, as drafted, there are too many exceptions, too many loopholes, or too much leeway for developers. There were concerns that the cumulative impact of development could be significant, and that the exceptions could undermine the effectiveness of this policy in protecting peatlands. It was suggested that if climate recovery is to be a key principle of NPF4, protection of carbon rich soils and peatlands must be a priority, and that peatlands should receive the same level of protection as afforded to ancient woodlands, native woodlands and hedgerows by Policy 34.

Other respondents welcomed the absence of a blanket ban on development, or saw the criteria listed as offering a balance of land use, taking account of the needs of agriculture, rural communities and peatland restoration. A small number of 'Local Authority' respondents argued that development must not be precluded in areas with a high proportion of carbon rich soils. It was suggested that the approach should be proportionate, taking account of the prevalence of carbon rich soil and the scale of proposed development, with LDPs identifying where development is acceptable. A statement of hierarchy that could drive development to areas of lower value carbon rich soils was also suggested.

With respect to the proposed exception for essential infrastructure, comments included that the definition in the Glossary appears to apply only 'in a flood risk area for operational reasons' and that this should be clarified. It was suggested that the text should be modified to read '…unless for essential infrastructure, including transmission and distribution infrastructure, where there is a locational need.' Guidance was also sought on whether housing is regarded as essential infrastructure.

Comments on the exception for generation of energy from a renewable source included that developers should avoid peat where possible, and that deep peat should be safeguarded from new development.

Other respondents welcomed recognition that generation of energy from a renewable source on peatland can be supported, with several 'Energy-related supplier, developer, association or body' respondents arguing that there should be greater recognition that renewable energy projects provide an opportunity to restore peatland and improve other carbon rich soils. Some of these respondents also referenced their own peatland restoration projects or peatland management work. It was suggested that many peatland environments have been modified by human activity and that a large percentage of Scottish peatland is degraded to some extent.

Some respondents argued that there will need to be clear guidance on what is acceptable under a particular exception and on how decision makers assess what are acceptable impacts on peat.

A detailed site specific assessment

Policy 19(c) specifies that a detailed, site specific assessment will be required to identify depth, quality and stability of soil and the effects of the development on peatland, including the likely effects of development on CO2 emissions. A range of queries were raised about how this should be carried out and who should assess the results.

In terms of an assessment method, it was suggested that the policy should specify that this should be 'in accordance with the Scottish Government/SNH/SEPA Peatland Survey Guidance (2017) or updated national guidance'. It was argued that there should be a requirement to use the SNH Carbon and Peatland map to guide developers away from the most sensitive sites. The burden that the requirement for detailed site assessment could place on small scale development in fragile rural communities was also highlighted, with a suggestion that a sense of proportionality and scale should be applied.

Several respondents noted that the policy makes no reference to the carbon calculator that is currently used in the assessment of windfarms of 50MW and above. While there was recognition that the carbon calculator needs to be updated, it was argued that its use would strengthen the policy. In the absence of accurate carbon assessments it was argued that there should be a policy presumption against development at a site or, specifically, that large-scale development proposed on deep peat should be refused planning consent.

The importance of monitoring and measuring the impact of development on peatlands was also highlighted.

d) Development proposals for new commercial peat extraction, including extensions to existing sites

Some respondents took a view that there should be no commercial peat extraction and no exemptions, or expressed concerns at the number of exemptions proposed. Others argued that the policy in not specific enough and will leave potential loopholes to allow peat extraction. There was a call for local authorities to be required to review all existing permissions and to end extraction on existing sites as soon as possible, ensuring that sites are restored in line with the requirements of the original permission.

Specific concerns were raised with respect to the proposed exception for peat extraction to support 'an industry of national importance to Scotland'. It was suggested that this should be clarified, or that detail should be provided on how 'national importance' would be determined and that examples might be given. It was also suggested that if this provision is intended to be for the benefit of the whisky industry, the policy should say so, to avoid ambiguity. It was proposed that any permission for peat extraction granted to a particular industry should be subject to conditions, including a requirement to demonstrate that they have taken steps to identify a 'reasonable substitute', and a stipulation that precludes peat being used for other purposes, including export.

It was also argued that extraction of peat for horticulture should never be supported, and that the horticultural peat industry should not be considered of national importance.

Other points on peat extraction included a number of comments on the requirements that a residual depth of peat of no less than one metre should be retained across the whole site. It was argued that:

  • Leaving a depth of over 1m across an extraction site may not guarantee successful restoration of bog habitat and that this requirement should be revisited.
  • The requirement to retain a residual depth of no less than 1m across the site would cause some sites used by the whisky industry to be undevelopable in future, potentially leading to requests to extract peat from sites that are in better condition and with greater capacity to store and assimilate carbon.

Policy 34: Trees, woodland and forestry

We want to expand woodland cover and protect existing woodland.

Question 52 – Do you agree that this policy will expand woodland cover and protect existing woodland?

Around 275 respondents[1] made at a comment at Question 52 and a further 1,481 respondents supported a Woodland Trust petition seeking strengthening of the language at 34(b).

In terms of an overall balance of opinion, a majority of responses expressed support for the policy.

General comments included both support for inclusion of this policy and that its acknowledgement of the importance of trees and woodland in meeting climate targets and reversing biodiversity loss is welcome. It was also suggested that the protections provided could be strengthened further, and the importance of preserving native woodland was emphasised. There was also a view that that the policy could be more ambitious in terms of proactively encouraging woodland expansion or could reference the Scottish Government's woodland planting targets.

Alternative perspectives were also expressed, including views that:

  • The proposed protections go too far in protecting woodland at the expense of development needed to deliver net zero. It will be increasingly important that windfarms can be constructed in forested areas as the percentage of tree cover increases and that there is no reference to development within commercial forestry and woodland.
  • Development that could have biodiversity net gain may be restricted.
  • Since Scotland's native woodlands have been in decline for several thousand years, it can be argued that the natural vegetation type for much of the Highlands is now open moorland and bog with disjunct woodland and that this habitat could be fragmented by tree planting.

Respondents also highlighted a range of issues they felt are missing from the policy or should have a greater focus including:

  • The importance of urban trees. It was noted that individual trees and groups of trees in urban areas can have a great impact on many peoples' daily lives.
  • Protection for individual trees or groups that do not form part of a wider woodland.
  • Potential for food production in wooded areas and support for woodland crofts, including more flexibility for related small-scale development requiring some woodland removal.
  • Recognition of the role of trees and woodland in providing timber for construction in Scotland and for sustainable forestry as part of a circular economy. It was suggested it would be beneficial to set out situations in which new forestry should be approved.
  • Reference to historic environment assessments and mitigation.
  • Improved forestry management for social, economic and tourism requirements.
  • Reference to the social benefits of forest or the value of woodlands to local communities.
  • Greater emphasis on protecting the species that benefit from woodland.
  • Reference to Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs) or to preservation of trees in Conservation Areas. TPOs were reported as one of the only protections for individual trees and groups of trees in Scotland, and there was a view that removing these without any replacement could prove highly damaging.
  • Tree health.
  • The importance of natural regeneration.
  • A focus on use of native species for woodland creation and a greater focus on delivering the right tree in the right place.
  • No support for creation of new monoculture plantations, both because of their poor biodiversity and to protect peatland. Gradual replacement of existing plantations with biodiverse woodlands.
  • Recognition that most woodland development and regulation is outwith the planning process.
  • Guidance on tree planting in regions with large areas of peat and carbon rich soils, where planting could result in more carbon being released into the atmosphere than stored.
  • Planting riverside trees to provide shade to mitigate rises in water temperature.
  • Potential cross boundary implications, opportunities for collaboration and the role of Regional Spatial Strategies and RLUPs.

It was also suggested that a definition of woodland is required.

Some respondents commented on resource implications of the policy for local authorities, and others argued that resources should be provided for biodiversity and tree officers to be associated with planning departments.

a) LDPs should identify and protect existing woodland and potential for its enhancement or expansion

There was support for 34(a), although in some cases this was qualified by a requirement that expansion of woodland should be sensitive to other habitats of high diversity value, including long-established grasslands.

It was also argued that:

  • 34(a) should be a policy requirement.
  • There is no need to identify all woodland on the proposals map since protection is provided by this policy and that a policy framework which protects without actually identifying all relevant woodland is appropriate.
  • A clearer holistic approach and mention of land use strategies could ensure effective implementation.

The reference to the 'The Right Tree in the Right Place' was welcomed although it was suggested that the document needs refreshing and could be re-badged as 'The Right Woodland' rather than 'The Right Tree'.

A number of points were raised in relation to Forestry and Woodland Strategies (FWS) including that the relationship between the requirement set out in 35(a) and the statutory requirement in relation to FWS needs to be clarified. It was also argued that the expansion of woodland and protection of existing trees is outwith the remit of FWS, and that planning authorities should develop targets using more progressive global metrics such as Tree Canopy Cover, or that it would be more appropriate to identify new woodland priorities as a form of opportunity mapping.

b) When development proposals should not be supported

The wording of 34(b) was seen as improving the protection afforded by current SPP, although there was also a call to strengthen this further by stating that development proposals must not be supported in the situations specified. A different perspective was that the proposals are too restrictive or disproportionate, and that blanket protection fails to allow negative impacts to be balanced with the benefits of a development. It was suggested that there should be reference to mitigation or to exceptional circumstances that might allow proposals to be supported.

It was also argued that 34(b) could be seen to imply that 'every day' trees not covered by the specified protections are not of value and that the description of trees and woodland considered important and to be protected, needs to be expanded to reflect the role that trees of local importance play in the environment.

Any loss of ancient woodlands, ancient and veteran trees or adverse impact on their ecological condition

This provision was welcomed, and it was argued that to allow compliance with the policy it will be important to update the Ancient Woodland Inventory and to provide an ancient and veteran tree inventory, such as that created by the Woodland Trust.

Other issues raised included that consideration should be given not only to the trees and their age, but also to the historical use and quality of the land itself. The particular importance of preserving ancient semi-natural woodland and Scotland's rainforest were highlighted.

However, it was also argued that the policy bar of 'any loss' is too high and that, rather than a specific exception, ancient woodland should be treated in the same way as native woodland in the second bullet.

It was also suggested that 'adverse impacts' should be defined.

Adverse impacts on native woodlands, hedgerows and individual trees of high biodiversity value

It was suggested that landscape value should also be referenced in this context.

It was also argued that this provision is too stringent since it fails to recognise the possibility of mitigation and will make it very difficult for any projects to be supported, even if the impacts are only very minor. It was suggested 34(b) should be rephrased to 'impacts should be reduced as far as practicable'.

Fragmenting or severing woodland habitats unless mitigation measures are identified and implemented

It was argued that this section should be strengthened since the damaging effects of habitat fragmentation are well understood, and also that the policy should make clear that, in line with the mitigation hierarchy, fragmentation and severing of woodland habitats should be avoided, before any mitigation is considered.

c) Development proposals involving woodland removal

The most frequent comment on 34(c) was that this requirement should be compulsory. It was also suggested that:

  • The reference should be to trees rather than woodland.
  • The text could be strengthened in various respects, including by adding 'and where the development could not be located elsewhere or designed to avoid woodland removal' at the end of the first sentence, or by turning the sentence around to read that a development proposal 'should not be supported unless it would achieve significant and clearly defined additional public benefits…'.
  • Greater clarity is required on the 'additional public benefits' which might justify removal. It was argued both that the benefits should include social benefits for the local community as well as environmental benefits, and that housing should be explicitly excluded.
  • There should be a presumption in favour of retention, and acceptable proposals should be handled by exception.

With respect to compensatory planting, some respondents argued that 'generally' should be removed so that such planting is always 'expected', or that clarification on situations where woodland removal does not require compensatory planting are needed. It was also suggested that there are circumstances where compensatory planting may not be the most appropriate action – for example where peatlands were previously planted with commercial forestry and restoration to healthy functioning peatland has greater benefits than re-planting woodland.

There was a query as to how compensatory planting will take into account the age, condition and habitat provided by the original woodland, including the carbon stocks held in vegetation and soils, and that more emphasis could be given to potential enhancement in compensatory planting proposals. A specific suggestion was that standard practice should require that three trees are planted for every one removed. It was also argued that the emphasis on protecting native woodland is crucial because it is very difficult, if not impossible to recreate the ecology of native woodland, and that it takes many years for replacement trees to be an effective carbon store.

Some respondents suggested that there should be a reference to the Scottish Government's Policy on Control of Woodland Removal, although also that this requires updating to reflect understanding of the impacts of climate change, biodiversity loss and the land reform and community empowerment agendas. On the last issue it was argued that it is currently very challenging for a community to make even very small areas available for forest buildings or woodland crofts and that the cost implication of compensatory planting may make it impractical for communities.

Some respondents argued parts (b) and (c) of the policy should be more closely aligned.

d) Existing woodland or land identified as being suitable for woodland creation

Suggestions for strengthening the text at 34(d) included:

  • Requiring all developments to integrate new woodlands into their design, not just those that include areas identified as being suitable for woodland under Forest and Woodland Strategies.
  • Opportunities should be 'prioritised' rather than 'considered'.

It was also proposed that this section should reference the need to consider the impact on local communities and economies of afforestation and woodland creation proposals, and that replanting must not have unintended consequences on those living and working in an area.

e) Sustainably managed woodland

Points raised with respect to 34(e) included that, as drafted, the policy appears to state that a development proposal should be approved if it provides sustainable woodland: clarification that this would be subject to complying with other policies was requested. It was also suggested this section could be expanded to include a reference to active management of woodlands through planning obligations and management agreements. The absence of any reference to non-woodland trees was seen as a missed opportunity.

It was also suggested that parts (d) and (e) could be combined, or that the statement that 'planning applications should be supported where they enhance, expand and improve woodland…' would be better moved to the beginning of part (d).

Policy 35: Coasts

We want to help our coastal areas adapt to climate change and to support the sustainable development of coastal communities.

Question 53 – Do you agree that this policy will help our coastal areas adapt to climate change and support the sustainable development of coastal communities?

Around 170 respondents made a comment at Question 35.

Respondents tended to support the policy, although concerns were raised with respect to some of the topics that are not covered in the text as drafted.

It was suggested that the introductory section of the policy should place more emphasis on the immediate and short-term climate change risks at the coast, or that it should reference strategic and local transport points/nodes and the important role of ports and harbours. Creation of an additional, dedicated ports policy was also proposed.

Other general comments included that it is not clear how Policy 35 relates to other policies that will be relevant in coastal locations - such as Policy 31 (Rural places) Policy 8 (Infrastructure first) and Policy 19 (Green energy).

Among other elements that respondents thought the policy should include were:

  • Wider and earlier acknowledgement in the document of other relevant plans including: National and Regional Marine Plans; Dynamic Coast and Coastal Change Adaptation Plans; Shoreline Management Plans; Coastal Character Assessments; and the Future Fisheries Management Strategy.
  • A greater focus on protecting the marine environment and on protecting and restoring blue carbon habitats as a nature-based solution. Recognition of the role of coastal habitats as carbon sinks, and of their high biodiversity value and susceptibility to fragmentation.
  • A greater focus on communities – including creating and supporting sustainable coastal communities. Support for such communities in the form of being a national development priority and new funding for measures to adapt to climate change.
  • Recognition of the landscape and recreation value of the coast and the role of beaches and foreshore in providing recreational, amenity, play and health benefits. The importance of the coast to Scottish tourism.
  • Action to reduce coastal litter.
  • Protection of public access to and along the coast.
  • Reference to access and connectivity challenges for coastal communities and risks to coastal transport infrastructure.
  • Protecting existing settlements, managed coastal retreat or the concept of 'coastal roll-back'.
  • Permitting a landowner to implement coastal defences, at their own cost and subject to satisfying appropriate criteria.
  • Reference to historic environment assessments and mitigation.
  • Support for renewable energy including onshore coastal infrastructure associated with offshore wind development and reference to the economic potential of renewable energy development in coastal areas.
  • Protection for other coastal industries such as fishing and tourism from negative impacts of offshore wind.

There were also calls for definitions of 'coastal location' and 'coastal area' and for clarification with respect to:

  • The nature-based solutions which are referred to throughout the policy.
  • Areas where the policy applies, for example whether along inland firths. Reference to 'coasts and estuarine environments' throughout the policy was also suggested.

a) LDP spatial strategies should consider how to adapt coastlines to the impacts of climate change

Comments on 35(a) included that this is not a development management criterion, or that it seems beyond the remit of LDPs. It was also thought unclear if LDP spatial strategies are required to identify developed and undeveloped coast or whether this would be assessed on a case-by-case basis with reference to guidance. Other suggestions included that:

  • This section should reference the Dynamic Coast Project and the Coastal Change Adaptation Planning process and should take account of relevant Shoreline Management Plans. The importance of regional working was also highlighted.
  • Climate-related increase in the extent and rate of coastal erosion should be acknowledged.
  • It would be helpful to clarify how the policy would apply to areas which are already, or likely to become, at flood risk, and how adaptation measures would be addressed through the planning system.
  • Language around nature-based solutions should be strengthened to direct planning authorities to use nature-based solutions where possible. However, proposed nature-based solutions could impact the historic environment and mitigation must be considered.
  • There should be a presumption in favour of development which is required for economic sustainability to support reduction in emissions and global resilience, including sustainable port development.

b) Development proposals that require a coastal location should be supported in areas of developed shoreline

It was suggested that greater clarity is needed as to what 'require' a coastal location means, and whether developers should have to demonstrate that a coastal location is required. Explanation of what is meant by 'developed shoreline' and 'coastal protection measures' was also requested. Other suggestions with respect to 35(b) included that:

  • It should state that development proposals that require a coastal location should be supported in areas of developed shoreline, with a separate policy strand to address development resulting in increased coastal erosion and/or flood risk.
  • As drafted, the developed shoreline concept could prevent growth of a community unless not at risk and not dependent upon new coastal protection measures.
  • The need for further coastal protection measures should not preclude development of the developed shoreline where the risk to people of coastal flooding or coastal erosion is not increased.
  • The policy is too restrictive and should be amended to enable certain development where it is considered necessary or essential.
  • The requirement for development not to 'result in the need for further coastal protection measures' should be clarified. It should not apply directly to mitigation features embedded within development proposals.
  • The reference to development with 'a very short lifespan' at 35(c) could be mirrored at 35(b).
  • A balance needs to be struck between directing development proposals to already developed shorelines and maintaining the character of coastal communities.

c) Development proposals in undeveloped coastal areas

Points in relation to 35(c) included that the language needs to be strengthened to use 'must' rather than 'should'. A definition of 'undeveloped coastal areas' was requested, as was making a clear distinction between undeveloped coastal areas and settlements that are located in coastal areas.

Other issues raised included that caveats in relation to the blue economy, net zero and community regeneration will need to be clarified to assist decision makers. The possibility that these caveats may be too broad was highlighted, particularly with respect to 'economic regeneration or wellbeing of communities' and it was argued that they could undermine the intention to support development in previously developed areas. A suggested alternative was replacing 'or' with 'and', so that a proposal would only be supported if 'necessary to support the blue economy, net zero emissions and if it would contribute to the economic regeneration and wellbeing of communities, etc.' It was also suggested that the policy should recognise that undeveloped coastal areas will rarely be an appropriate location for new development, and that there should be a stronger presumption against development in such areas.

Further points on 35(c) included that:

  • The list of developments that could be supported should include works to increase climate change resilience and biodiversity enhancements/ conservation.
  • Developers could be required to justify why development is required in an undeveloped coastal area.
  • Clarity is needed with respect to how sea level rise, flood risk or erosion should be factored into consideration of development at the undeveloped coast.

With respect to the second paragraph in this section, there was a view that supporting development 'with a very short lifespan' is not a sustainable approach since it makes it more difficult to refuse similar development on the same site in future. It does not encourage an environmentally sustainable approach to the use of construction materials. It was also suggested that there could be a requirement for development proposals with a short lifespan to detail subsequent restoration or removal.

d) Development proposals for coastal defence measures

With respect to 35(d) there was a request to make clear whether all of the bullet points need to be satisfied. It was also suggested that a net zero assessment should be part of any appraisal since current hard defence measures are typically high in embodied carbon.

Other issues raised included that:

  • Local Flood Risk Management Strategies and Plans should be included in the list of documents with which a proposal should be consistent.
  • Examples could be provided – both of nature-based solutions and the evidence needed to demonstrate that hard defence measures are necessary.
  • 'Essential assets' could be defined and there could be a requirement to evaluate moving such assets.

e) Long-term coastal vulnerability and resilience

Several comments on 35(e) referenced what was seen as a lack of clarity of language, with the terms 'may impact on the coast', 'appropriate issues' and 'long-term vulnerability' all thought too vague. Clarification or guidance was also requested with respect to:

  • How it is intended that this policy is met, when it would apply, and the issues that should be considered?
  • How it would be assessed?
  • How this requirement interacts with the rest of the policy?



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