This section sets out some general themes raised by respondents that were not specific to any particular question. Comments may have been made in general remarks or at one or more of the main questions. Respondents sometimes raised the same issue at a number of questions or cross-referenced between their answers.
Strategic hierarchy and relationships
A number of respondents commented on the inter-relationships between NPF4 and a range of other national, regional or local strategies or plans. A general observation was that NPF4 misses an opportunity to clearly state where it sits within the overall context of other Scottish Government plans and strategies.
At a national level, it was noted that the aims of NPF4, chiefly the just transition to net zero, adoption of place-based working and delivery of a wellbeing economy, are shared across a number of current and emerging strategies and statutory documents. Strategies referenced included the National Strategy for Economic Transformation (NSET), Heat in Buildings Strategy, Town Centre Action Plans, Land Use Strategy and the forthcoming Biodiversity Strategy.
Being clear about the relationship between NPF4 and these related strategies was seen as offering the best chance of success, with the quality of alignment seen as key. It was suggested that this is especially important when it comes to the successful delivery of those individual planning policies which cross over into other areas and where strategies have complementary aims.
An example given was the just transition to net zero, the Heat in Buildings Strategy, and Policy 11 (Heating and cooling). It was noted that this policy considers how Local Development Plans (LDPs) take Local Heat and Energy Efficiency Strategies (LHEES) and Heat Network Zones into account, as well as the infrastructure required to decarbonise heat generation. The Heat in Buildings Strategy underpins the entirety of this work, and will be fundamental to successfully decarbonising heat generation, but is not referenced in the policy or elsewhere in NPF4.
At a local or regional level, it was suggested that it would be helpful if NPF4 more clearly set out its connections with:
- LDPs, including some explanation as to how the various components of LDPs would interact with the content of NPF4.
- Regional Spatial Strategies, including the extent to which these have to align with NPF4.
Also at a regional level, there was a concern that there is insufficient reference to Regional Transport Strategies (RTSs), particularly given that they are the statutory transport policy documents which will shape and deliver changes to the transport system.
Structure of NPF4
Respondents also commented on the relationship between the different parts of the draft document, as well as its overall structure. One view was that the draft NPF4 is currently not as well framed as many LDPs. Specifically, it was suggested that the good practice that has emerged through the examination of LDPs by the Scottish Government's Planning and Environmental Appeals Division does not appear to have been adopted.
Suggested changes or additions to the document included:
- Setting out the interconnections across the national spatial strategy, national developments and policy handbook. It was suggested that it would be helpful if the framework could be presented in way that clearly articulates the interconnectivity between these, and what this means for planning processes.
- The use of schematics that illustrate how the different elements of NPF4 come together at different scales through a place-lens would be helpful. This would also help strengthen more collegiate approaches to development in line with the Place Principle. It was suggested that a stronger framing of this principle throughout the document is needed.
- Adding a statement in the early part of the document on how it complies with the various statutory requirements of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 (as amended), and other related legislation, would be helpful.
Part 3 - National Planning Policy Handbook
In addition to some general statements in support of the inclusion of the National Policy Handbook within NPF4, there were a number of general comments about Part 3 overall, and the importance of the policies contained therein. They included that the policies do not necessarily match the ambitions of the statements in Part 1. The concern was that they are either less onerous, or are so loosely framed that it would be easy for development to technically meet the policy while not complying with the main aims of NPF4.
Other comments considered the relationship between the policies themselves and included that there is no clear hierarchy, and that this could lead to slower decision-making and could jeopardise the successful implementation of the spatial strategy. There was a call for further guidance on how planning authorities should balance potentially competing policy areas in order to avoid the risk of costly and resource intensive challenges that can cause delays in delivering development.
Specifically, there was a call for greater clarity on the weight of the Universal Policies in relation to other policy areas. It was suggested that this would help establish priorities in planning decisions where there may be potential conflicts.
More generally, it was suggested that there is a clear need for internal consistency within NPF4, but that there are currently some issues. An example given was that the policy on greenfield developments (Policy 30, part (c)) cuts across other aspects of NPF4 and it is not clear how a decision-maker is supposed to grapple with this.
Another potential tension identified was whether planning authorities will want to adopt the policies set out in NPF4 in full, or may wish to adapt them for the circumstances within their local area. The extent to which planning authorities will have freedom to adapt the policies was said to be unclear. There was an associated call for far more clarity on the status of various aspects of NPF4 in terms of forming part of LDPs. It was suggested that it may be helpful to split policies into those requiring to be addressed in LDPs and those that require to be considered in each development application.
Finally, it was suggested that there appear to be some notable policy omissions, including on some of the matters of importance to the national economy. There was specific reference to air travel, oil and gas, the transition from fossil fuels, and nuclear energy.
Language used across NPF4
A frequently-raised issue, both in general observations and at a number of specific questions, related to the wording used across NPF4, and in particular in Part 3.
There were two main concerns, the first being the frequent use of 'should', particularly in a number of the policies. It was suggested that this is ambiguous, and it is not clear where this means that the relevant policy must be complied with. Further comments included that the meaning of planning policy, including development plan policies, is a matter of law rather than judgment and that legal meaning must be clear, and be able to be understood by all parties.
It was acknowledged that the Scottish Government explained the rationale behind the use of the word 'should' during a Scottish Parliamentary evidence session before the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee on 18 January 2022, but there remained a concern that the explanation will not be sufficient to provide the necessary clarity for those using NPF4 going forward.
The other concern was around references to development being 'supported' or 'not supported', and there was a question as to whether this means that development is to be approved or not to be approved? It was also noted that some policies use language to suggest that 'if X is not done, the application should not be granted'. linking back to issues around the hierarchy of policies, it was suggested that it is not clear from such language whether this is intended to mean that one or more policies will trump others in the development plan.
There was also a request to 'press the pause button' on the progress of NPF4. This was associated with some of the concerns outlined above, or in the analysis for Part 4 – Delivering our spatial strategy. They included that further work is required to clarify what the Scottish Government is seeking to achieve and to identify the means by which the core ambitions of NPF4 might be delivered. If the process were to be paused, the suggested next steps were to:
- Engage further with all key stakeholders to radically rethink the spatial and organisational framework for delivering NPF4.
- Establish a dedicated and specialised national agency with real expertise in the social, environmental and economic aspects of spatial development of housing and infrastructure at different scales.
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