Part 3 - National Planning Policy, Productive Places
Eight policies are included under the Productive places theme.
Policy 16: Business and employment
We want our places to support new and expanded businesses and investment, stimulate entrepreneurship and promote alternative ways of working in order to achieve a green recovery and build a wellbeing economy.
Question 37 – Do you agree that this policy ensures places support new and expanded businesses and investment, stimulate entrepreneurship and promote alternative ways of working in order to achieve a green recovery and build a wellbeing economy?
Around 220 respondents made a comment at Question 37.
Overall, there were mixed views on the policy. While there was general support for its ambitions, including the linking of investment with the transition to net zero, supporting a nature positive economy and the focus on community wealth building, there were concerns that the policy, as it currently stands, will not achieve its aims.
In terms of issues that respondents wanted clarified, there was reference to what is meant by 'wellbeing economy', 'net economic benefit', 'green jobs' and 'community wealth building initiatives'.
There were also calls for guidance on how critical aspects of the policy, such as net economic benefit, could be demonstrated and assessed. Respondents observed that there is guidance on evaluating and defining housing land requirements, but there is no equivalent methodology for land for business and employment uses. It was also noted that in contrast to SPP there is no mention of business land audits as a tool for monitoring the delivery of new development on employment land.
Other general suggestions included that:
- The policy should be strengthened to clarify that land planning decisions and investment in new business and economic development opportunities are inextricably linked. Allied to this, there was a call for Policy 16, and NPF4 more widely, to be aligned to the NSET.
- Enabling localised approaches would allow for economic differences across local authorities, while also acknowledging land use pressures and the needs of their communities.
- The 'Seed Planning' planning and design approach could be referenced as a way of enabling a building to fulfil multiple uses throughout its life.
Other themes that respondents wanted to see covered under Policy 16 included:
- Digital infrastructure and connectivity, with links made to Policy 23 (Digital Infrastructure).
- The potential of mixed-use sites, including around increasing site viability.
- The role of businesses providing circular economy services.
- Support for agriculture and forestry, and allied processing facilities.
- Renewable energy provision, including the potential for businesses to investing in self-generation to meet the energy needs.
It was also suggested that Policy 16 should note that brownfield sites are not always a viable option for development without very significant long-term remediation or infrastructure investment. It was seen as important that the policy acknowledges that sustainability is about more than protecting greenfield sites.
a) Supporting a greener, fairer and more inclusive wellbeing economy
Most of those commenting agreed with this policy, although respondents were looking to have some terms defined, including 'greener', 'fairer' and 'inclusive wellbeing economy'. There was also a call for guidance and best practice on how 16(a) is to be supported by LDPs.
Other suggestions included:
- 16(a) could enable LDPs to better recognise the intermittent and dispersed nature of economic development in island and rural communities.
- Circular economy business models could be encouraged, including through a requirement for developers to set out how their building designs are intended to ensure longevity and adaptability.
- Complementary uses that aid employment and business areas, but which fall outside the employment use classes, should be considered.
- The food environment, in terms of internal catering in businesses, should be referenced. The wider food environment should also be considered.
- 16(a) should consider opportunities for creative industries and cultural workspaces, including film studios and artist studios.
b) Business and employment uses
Some respondents commented that it is not clear why 16(b) is asking for evidence of net economic benefits for business and employment uses on already allocated sites. It was also noted that assessing environmental impacts is part of determining a planning application, through the SEA.
It was also suggested that the reference to net economic benefit raises questions about how it would be assessed, who would carry out the assessment and whether or not developers would be required to prepare an economic appraisal of proposals?
Other comments were that:
- 16(b) does not refer to protecting industrial areas from non-conforming uses.
- There is overlap between 16(b) and (d), and this could cause confusion.
c) Home-working, live-work units and micro-businesses
There was overall support for this policy, including because of the growing importance of home and hybrid working, especially in the light of COVID-19. There was also support for the recognition that a flexible approach for rural areas will be required.
Respondents also commented on the importance of high quality digital and fibre broadband infrastructure for home working, including that this is generally a bigger issue for rural, rather than urban, areas. It was suggested that full internet and mobile phone coverage will be required if 16(c) is to be delivered.
In terms of suggested additions to the policy, the following were highlighted:
- A clear definition and/or guidance on home-working for planning purposes is required.
- Community and social businesses should be referenced, as should the crofting model.
Some respondents expressed concerns about the reference to live-work units, including that they can, in effect, become dwellings with all the resultant impacts. Similarly, it was suggested that while micro-business and home working should be encouraged, they could conflict with NPF4's Sustainable places aims if a business expands. It was also noted that incremental growth can be difficult to control.
d) Business, general industrial and storage and distribution uses
Comments on 16(d) included that 'other employment uses', 'area' and 'primary business function' all need to be defined. There were also suggested additions to the policy, including reference to Employment Land Audits.
Other comments included that supporting employment uses alone is too limited. It was noted, for example, that the current wording would not cover energy or data storage facilities.
It was also suggested that 16(a) and (d) could be combined, although there was also a concern that neither currently refers to protection for existing business and employment sites from alternative uses such as retail and leisure.
e) Site restoration
Although there was some support for this 16(e), with the proposal that site restoration should be set out in conditions considered helpful, it was also felt the policy could be more robust. There was concern that the wording is vague, in particular around what 'appropriate instances' might be.
It was also suggested that conditions are only part of the solution and that financial guarantees are needed to ensure restoration works can be implemented. Respondents requested more details on the mechanisms that would ensure restoration. A small number of respondents with experience from former mining activities cautioned that setting up the funding mechanisms to pay for restoration can be both challenging and time-consuming.
f) Business, general industrial and storage and distribution uses outwith areas identified for those uses
Comments on 16(f) included that it does not reflect the plan-led approach found elsewhere in NPF4. It was suggested that the policy is overly weighted in support of development proposals for business, general industrial and storage and distribution uses in areas. Other concerns were that it could undermine designated employment sites, risking the limitation of future development options. In response, it was suggested that a test or evidence that there are no other suitable or unallocated sites should be required.
Another perspective was that the policy is appropriate for urban areas but less so for rural settings. It was suggested that there be a reference to Policy 31 (Rural places) as this covers all developments in rural areas, including business and employment uses.
Other comments included:
- 16(f) provides some flexibility for new sites to come forward for development but does not mention sustainable economic growth. Sustainable economic growth was described as a principal policy for SPP, and there was a call for it to be carried forward into NPF4.
- The sustainability of location should be referenced. It was suggested, for example that if employees rely on private cars to get to their place of work, there is a conflict with a number of other NPF4 polices.
- The wording 'no unacceptable impacts upon the natural environment' is vague and raises the potential for disagreement. For example, the planning authority may have a different view to the community on what is unacceptable.
g) Other issues for development proposals to take into account
Some respondents questioned whether this part of the policy is required, with further comments including that it is not comprehensive and also duplicates 16(d) and (f), along with some other Part 3 policies.
In terms of issues that respondents wanted clarified, there was a question about what is meant by 'population health and wellbeing, including inequalities', and how this would be assessed.
Comments about the reference to environmental quality included that the impact on biodiversity and wildlife must also be considered. The inclusion of the historic environment as a consideration for development proposals was welcomed, although it was suggested that the reference is not necessarily consistent with other NPF4 policies.
There were also other themes that respondents wanted to see referenced, including:
- Rurality. It was noted that some planning authorities have specific business development policies for rural areas.
- 20-minutes neighbourhoods, and the potential for business and industrial estates to provide opportunities to promote sustainable travel.
- Traffic management and infrastructure development.
Policy 17: Sustainable tourism
We want our places to inspire people to visit Scotland, and to support sustainable tourism which benefits local people and is consistent with our net zero and nature commitments.
Question 38 – Do you agree that this policy will help to inspire people to visit Scotland, and support sustainable tourism which benefits local people and is consistent with our net- zero and nature commitments?
Around 230 respondents made a comment at Question 38.
Whilst most respondents recognised the importance of sustainable tourism and supported the key principles set out, many went on to comment on the detail of Policy 17.
a) Supporting the resilience of the tourism sector
There were mixed views about the proposal that LDPs should be used to support the tourism sector and identify proposals for tourism development. There was a query about how an LDP would identify proposals for tourism developments, while others suggested that it is not the role of the LDP to identify all tourism projects, including with the sector constantly changing in response to market forces and trends.
There was also a concern that 17(a) appears to be primarily focused on encouraging new tourism development. Other observations about 17(a) included that it is not clear which 'sector driven tourism strategies' should be considered. It was also suggested that definitions of 'support' and 'resilience' are required, and that reference should be made to the Scottish Tourism Alliance and Scotland Outlook 2030.
b) New or extended tourist facilities or accommodation
Some respondents commented that 17(b) should refer to landscape and other environmental considerations, along with the impact that tourism can have on them. It was noted that there is no mention of any requirement to mitigate against adverse effects on landscape and the environment, despite the necessity to balance the needs of the local economy and the protection of sensitive environments.
It was suggested that an additional criterion should be added, indicating that all proposals under 17(b) will be required to ensure compliance with other relevant planning policies. It was also suggested that stronger links should be made to other policy sections in the NPF4, including to the Distinctive places theme.
A definition of 'viability, sustainability and diversity of the local economy' was requested, along with details on how a planning authority or developer would demonstrate compliance.
There was also a comment that planning authorities would have to identify whether 17 (b) or (c) applies to their LDPs, as there are different approaches for pressured and non-pressured areas.
c) Environment/quality of life/health and wellbeing issues
Comments on the definition of 'environment' included that it should be expanded to cover both the natural and historic environment. It was suggested that this would reflect the importance of both to tourism in Scotland.
Respondents were also looking for more detail on how the impact on quality of life and the wellbeing of communities could be assessed. An associated comment was that those making a livelihood from tourism might have a different perspective from other local residents.
Other suggestions included that further information on 'adverse impacts', including how they would be measured and monitored, would be helpful. There were also questions about what would be considered as 'satisfactory measures' to alleviate effects.
Finally, there was a query about how upgrades in facilities, such as parking, would be paid for and if this would be the responsibility of developers, for example, through developer contributions. More generally, it was suggested that the 17(c) should also refer to infrastructure capacity as a consideration.
d) Proposals for huts
There was support for the inclusion of huts at 17(d). Reasons included that they could boost the supply of holiday lets, leaving other housing for local communities, and that they are an opportunity for investment in sustainable visitor accommodation. Other benefits cited were that hutting enables people to spend time in nature, develop a sense of community and reconnect with wildlife and the outdoors.
However, others were less clear about the benefits of 17(d), or expressed specific concerns. These included that:
- Huts are less for commercial tourism usage and are more leisure-focused. A related comment was that it is unclear why there is a national policy on huts and hutting development while other leisure pursuits are considered collectively.
- It is important to ensure huts are sited appropriately and used short-term due to the lack of amenities. It was suggested that the location of huts must comply with an LDP's development/spatial strategy and policy related to siting and design.
- Sensitive and important habitats such as ancient woodland should not contain new built structures, as the physical footprint of these structures and indirect impacts from human presence, could be harmful.
It was also suggested that Scotland's National Parks should be treated differently from other areas. There was reference to the high biodiversity importance of these areas meaning that huts could have a significant impact on sensitive species and could undermine attempts to halt and reverse the biodiversity crisis.
There was also a call for further detail on the requirement to comply with good practice guidance.
e) Short-term holiday letting
Some respondents supported 17(e), with further comments including that well-managed short-term lets are essential to tourism in rural areas. It was also suggested that the policy could alleviate some of the negative impacts of short-term lets on communities and local housing supply. However, others felt that 17(e) does not go far enough to tackle the reduction of available housing stock for local people, particularly in remote and island communities.
In terms of points or wording that respondents wanted clarified, the following points were made:
- 'Unacceptable impact' and 'local economic benefits' need to be defined.
- The difficulties in demonstrating that local economic benefits would outweigh the loss of residential accommodation need to be addressed. Some respondents were looking for guidance, but others expressed doubts about whether national guidance would be effective, given the varied contexts.
Other suggestions included that Short Term Let Control Area Orders (SLCAOs) should be further developed. It was also suggested that Planning Circular 01/2021 - which sets out the detail on SLCAOs, should be referenced.
Further suggestions included that:
- It is not clear when the use of residential properties for short-term letting (outwith SLCAO) becomes a material change of use. It was suggested that the NPF4 presents an opportunity to clarify this issue, including specifying the number of days a property could be let for without a material change of use.
- Consideration should be given to the potential negative impact on agritourism. It was suggested that there should be no further short-term let regulations until the cumulative effect of current licensing and control areas has been fully analysed.
- Second homes should be made the subject of a separate use class designation to allow communities and local authorities to control the numbers of second homes in their areas.
Concerns were also expressed about implementation and the resourcing challenges, particularly in relation to the monitoring and enforcement of 17(e).
f) Change of use of a tourism-related facility
Most of the comments on 17(f) were around points for clarification. They included that:
- What is meant by 'tourism-related facility' is unclear. It was assumed that it covers hotels and visitor attractions, but that it was less clear whether it is intended to extend to other venues including restaurants, licensed premises, and leisure developments such as cinemas, bowling alleys, entertainment complexes and theatres.
- 'No longer viable' will be challenging to assess without further definition.
g) Other issues to take into account in development proposals
Comments at 17(g) included that a definition for 'tourist facility' would be helpful. There were queries about what is meant by 'what hinders the provision of homes or services', along with how this will be assessed. It was also suggested that the criteria for how developments should contribute to employment and community wealth building should be more robust.
In terms of other issues that respondents would like to see referenced, the following were highlighted:
- The impacts of tourism on the historic environment.
- Infrastructure and its impact on the natural, built or historical environment.
- Carbon emissions and biodiversity.
Sustainable locations and accessibility by active travel.
Respondents were also looking for confirmation that restrictions on traffic generation from developments would also apply to tourist facilities and for more explicit statements on other transport issues, including around transport options in rural areas and the importance of the road network.
Policy 18: Culture and creativity
We want our places to reflect and facilitate enjoyment of, and investment in, our collective culture and creativity.
Question 39 – Do you agree that this policy supports our places to reflect and facilitate enjoyment of, and investment in, our collective culture and creativity?
Around 160 respondents made a comment at Question 39.
Many respondents welcomed the inclusion of a specific policy covering culture and creativity, including because of the recognition this gives to our important and diverse creative and cultural sector. However, some were concerned that the policy silos culture, and does not embrace the ways in which cultural activities can support the delivery of other NPF4 policies, including tourism, town centre regeneration and a sustainable, low carbon economy.
In terms of general issues that respondents wanted clarified, there was reference to:
- The expected role of planning authorities and which parts of the cultural and creative sector they are expected to engage with.
- The lack of criteria to be used when considering applications for new arts or cultural proposals.
It was suggested that Local Place Plans could play a role in identifying existing facilities, gaps and opportunities in local areas.
Respondents also highlighted a number of issues they would like to see covered, or given greater coverage, under Policy 18. These included:
- Alignment with A Culture Strategy for Scotland 2020.
- How children and young people can be involved in decisions about the types of cultural spaces available.
- The role of museums, including as a central part of the culture infrastructure.
- Parks, gardens and other green spaces, as cultural assets with an essential role to play as part of our cultural heritage.
- Grassroots music venues.
a) Opportunities for jobs and investment in the creative sector
Respondents who commented on 18(a) were often looking for further information on how LDPs should 'recognise and support opportunities for jobs and investment in the creative sector'. There were also questions about how representatives of the cultural sector can engage with LDPs.
There were calls for a clear definition of what 'recognition' and 'support' mean for land use policies in LDPs.
b) Provisions for public art
It was reported that it is difficult for the planning system to make provision for public art because of its non-essential nature and the need to satisfy the tests prescribed in Planning Circular 4/1998: The Use of Conditions in Planning Permissions and Planning Circular 3/2012 (Revised 2020) (Planning Obligations and Good Neighbour Agreements).
With specific relation to 18(b), some respondents commented on the lack of definition of 'public art' and queried why it was being limited to public open spaces. They noted that public art could be incorporated into buildings or other developments and be at any scale. Examples given included design detailing of a prominent building or reinstatement of a historic shopfront. Respondents were also looking for a definition of 'open spaces', along with detail on the scale and type of spaces being referred to.
Other respondents considered that consultation and engagement with communities should occur before public art developments are agreed, particularly where the development relates to a public or community space. It was suggested that development proposals should also consider how to consult the arts and creative community.
A small number of respondents suggested amending 18(b) to include heritage and history as well as public art, including provision for heritage interpretation where appropriate.
c) Creative workspaces and other cultural uses
There was general support for this policy on utilising vacant spaces and property, along with some comments on how the policy could be strengthened. The focus on temporary use was queried and it was suggested that opportunities for the reuse of land/buildings longer-term would benefit tenants and owners.
Other suggestions included that:
- 18(c) should include a requirement that proposals be balanced against any negative impacts, particularly on amenity and transport, based on assessment against other development plan policies.
- It would be helpful to have a locational test for site allocation, along with criteria for development management to assess applications.
- A definition of 'creative workspaces' would be helpful.
Respondents were also looking for guidance on 18(c), including around incorporation within the use classes order.
d) Loss of arts or cultural venue
Respondents were broadly supportive of the policy, but also queried some aspects of 18(d). For example, there was a question about which types of creative industries would be covered and how cultural activities would be distinguished from tourism activities. Respondents also asked whether developers would need to produce viability appraisals, and if so who would pay for them and assess them?
There were also suggested additions, including that 18(d) should:
- Include other community facilities that can make a significant contribution to the cultural life of places.
- Highlight that the need to protect arts and cultural venues should apply equally to the spaces used by community arts groups, such as village halls, scout huts and libraries. It could also note that the loss of public halls can contribute to poor cultural provision in rural areas.
- Reference loss or damage to assets of significant heritage value. It was suggested that heritage significance is reasonably well covered, but that cultural meaning receives less coverage.
Respondents also highlighted certain words or phrases that they wanted defined, or where they were looking for further information. These included:
- What constitutes an 'arts or cultural venue'? For example, does it include pubs and clubs which host live gigs?
- How would the 'loss or damage to assets or objects of significant cultural value' be defined, measured and assessed? Would a change of use which preserves the venue, but not the original use be acceptable?
- Further guidance is required on 'evidenced by consultation', including on the type and scope of consultation.
- 'Sustainable demand' should be defined. It was noted that at present it appears to focus on the market demand for culture.
- What level of evidence will be required to demonstrate that there is no longer a demand for the venue?
Some respondents queried the time period connected to the lack of sustainable demand. Connected comments included that the justification for the 12 months quoted at 18(d) is unclear and that a more appropriate timeframe might be three years. It was suggested that this longer timeframe would allow an adequate time for peaks and troughs in demand to be considered.
The inclusion of consultation with the community was seen as helpful, but there was a call for further direction on the type and level of consultation required. There was also a question about who is to be consulted – for example it is the public or those who might hire a venue. It was also noted that adaptation of a venue might be suitable for one user but not another.
There were a number of specific comments on the Agent of Change Principle, including that:
- It should be cross-referenced to the noise issues covered under Policy 14 (Health and wellbeing).
- The glossary definition of an Agent of Change should be amended. It currently limits the agent of change principle to 'residential development' rather than 'noise sensitive development' as described in Section 41A of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997.
- PAN 1/2011: 'Planning and Noise' and Circular 4/1998: 'The Use of Conditions in Planning Permissions' could be updated to reflect the 'Agent of Change Principle' and the requirements of Section 41A of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997.
Policy 19: Green energy
We want our places to support continued expansion of low-carbon and net zero energy technologies as a key contributor to net zero emissions by 2045.
Question 40 – Do you agree that this policy will ensure our places support continued expansion of low-carbon and net zero energy technologies as a key contributor to net zero emissions by 2045?
Around 310 respondents made a comment at Question 40.
In terms of an overall balance of opinion, respondents were relatively evenly divided between those who thought Policy 19 as drafted will meet the stated objectives and those who thought it would not. Some responses were both long and complex, suggesting significant or detailed amendments to the content or drafting of the policy.
Suggestions with respect to the title included that 'Green Energy' should be replaced with 'Renewable Energy', and that the title could be reworded to reflect the policy's focus on energy generation and storage.
Comments on the wording of the introductory paragraph included that the specific reference to the onshore wind sector could inadvertently reduce support for other renewables developments, such as the potential for offshore wind and tidal energy generation within the life of the framework. It was also suggested that it is not clear that onshore wind will play the biggest role in delivering the benefits identified. Clarification that onshore wind will be the predominant form of green energy within the parameters of NPF4 and the Scottish planning system was also suggested – off-shore wind energy being regulated by a separate, statutory marine planning process. A further suggestion was that, as well as support for continued expansion of low-carbon and net zero energy technologies, this paragraph should reference ceased support for the use of fossil fuels.
Other general points included that Policy 19 should be consistent with or should cross reference other plans, policies and strategies including:
- The Energy Strategy Position Statement.
- Renewable and Low Carbon Energy Policy.
- The proposed Heat Decarbonisation Implementation Programme.
- The Heat in Buildings Strategy.
- The Land Use Strategy.
- RLUP pilots and frameworks.
- The Scottish Hydrogen Action Plan.
- Other NPF4 policies, particularly Policies 2 (Climate emergency), 3 (Nature crisis), 5 (Community wealth building), 8 (Infrastructure first), 11 (Heat and cooling), 32 (Natural places) and 33 (Peat and carbon rich soils).
With respect to transmission and distribution infrastructure it was suggested that, as these are referenced in the introduction but then not in the policy text, it is not clear whether they would be considered under Policy 19. Capacity issues were highlighted – in terms of grid capacity, manufacturing capacity and landscape capacity – with suggestions that it is not clear how the target of generating an additional 8-12GW of energy from renewable technology has been arrived at, or will be delivered. It was argued that the Scottish Government should set out the country's capacity for additional wind farms before setting any targets.
Some 'Energy-related supplier, developer, association or body' respondents expressed concerns that Policy 19 will not ensure continued expansion of low carbon and net zero energy technologies to the level envisaged in the draft Onshore Wind Policy Statement, or that Policy 19 as drafted is inconsistent with other Scottish Government renewable energy policies. It was argued that it will not deliver on the overarching climate change objectives unless delays in the consenting system are addressed.
Clarity of definitions
A lack of clarity around some of the language used in relation to Policy 19 was highlighted, with a suggestion that this could make for a longer and more unpredictable planning process for developers. Specific suggestions included alignment of terminology used in NPF4 with other climate change legislation. There were also calls for greater clarity on what constitutes:
- 'Renewable energy' and 'low carbon fuels'. Concerns were raised that lack of clarity on this point could lead to permissions for new wood-burning biomass plants.
- 'Small scale' generation.
- 'Unacceptable' impacts.
Other themes to be covered
Respondents also noted a number of other topics that they had expected or would like to see in Policy 19, including:
- Reducing demand via improved energy efficiency/conservation.
- Energy supply and adaptation for existing buildings.
- Hydrogen production, storage and distribution and hydrogen production specifically in association with windfarms.
- Production of low carbon gases such as bio-methane.
- Planning presumption against new medium-sized and large-scale wood burning plants.
- Phasing out the incineration of waste.
- Hydro electricity generation and pumped hydro storage.
- Offshore energy generation, including tidal stream and wave energy.
- Greater emphasis on geothermal energy.
- Support for small nuclear power plants.
- Explicit support for development required to provide supporting infrastructure for green energy developments.
- Support for port infrastructure to facilitate offshore green energy projects.
- Support for the sustainable redevelopment of existing carbon-based energy generating infrastructure and sites.
- Local wood energy.
- Growth and large volume roll out of domestic green energy.
- Heat pumps.
- Community ownership of renewables developments.
- Community benefits from a more equitable system of developer contributions.
- Consideration of cross-boundary issues.
- Improving resilience of the distribution and transmission network.
Striking a balance
It was also argued that Policy 19 lacks detail on how the planning system should support renewable energy development or the implications of such an approach where a range of planning considerations need to be balanced. Some respondents considered that, in the absence of a development management test that recognises the status of the climate emergency and the national importance of renewable energy developments, much of the approach will be 'business as usual', while others argued that Policy 19 could potentially represent a backward step when compared to the current national policy framework. Various changes to the policy were requested, including inclusion of a presumption in favour of granting consent for onshore wind farms outside National Parks and NSAs, and clarification that Policy 19 should take precedence over other NPF4 policies.
Specific text setting out that the climate emergency and emissions targets will be given great weight in deciding development proposals was also proposed. It was suggested that this should make clear that consent for development should be granted, unless any adverse impacts of the development would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits. It should also state that where other policies advise on particular topics or areas of recognised importance, these must be given weight in decision-making, but the test of acceptability for a development should be as set out in Policy 19.
An alternative perspective was that the wording used in Policy 19 is overly permissive and should be more heavily caveated. Respondents argued that increasing renewable energy generation should not come at a cost to landscape or biodiversity, or expressed a view that elements within the policy may have detrimental impacts on the aim of addressing the nature crisis. It was also argued that wider aims and objectives including sustainable tourism and access to the countryside should be taken into consideration. Negative impacts on some rural and island communities were also highlighted, and it was argued that the level of offshore capacity means that the need for onshore wind farms is substantially reduced.
It was suggested that the planning system should play a proactive role in the siting and mitigation of renewable energy developments. Some respondents argued in favour of a plan-led approach that recognises constraints on development, with a call for the current SPP requirement to produce spatial locational guidance at local authority level to be reinstated. There was disappointment that the current Spatial Framework for Wind has not been carried through into NPF4 as it provides a nationally-consistent framework and a strategic steer in terms of the environmental/ social considerations that must be taken in account.
There was also a call for a national energy plan, including a sectoral plan for onshore wind, showing how each energy component needs to be delivered, including contributions to be made by each type of generation. A national assessment of where renewable energy schemes can be installed with minimal environmental damage was also proposed, with a suggestion that this could feed into Regional Spatial Strategies and Regional Land Use Frameworks.
a) An area's full potential for electricity and heat from renewable sources is achieved
Some respondents welcomed the principle set out in 19(a), although noting there is no steer to ensure the adoption of consistent approaches across LDPs or on the role of Regional Spatial Strategies.
Others, including some 'Local authority' respondents, raised a range of practical issues with the text as drafted including that:
- Ensuring that an area's full potential for electricity and heat from renewable sources is achieved, is outwith the control of the local authority. While the LDP can provide support it will be up to others to deliver.
- Policy 19(a) appears to remove the Spatial Framework for Wind Energy as part of the development plan. This is a major change that will require further guidance. It was argued that the spatial plan for Areas Suitable for Wind from the SPP should be retained.
- The policy seems to require authorities to produce a capacity study for an area, or a spatial framework for all types of green energy but does not provide appropriate guidance. NPF4 should provide a clear statement on whether development of spatial frameworks at a local level is expected.
- It is not clear whether 'area' refers to a local authority area and that this is likely to be a cross boundary issue. The role of the Regional Spatial Strategies will be important, as will collaboration with non-City Region authorities.
- Definition of 'full potential' is required. If this refers only to the generation of renewables, rather than the utilisation of them, this should be clarified. Physical potential and feasible, deliverable potential may be different.
- A definition for 'repowering' would be helpful.
- As drafted, Policy 19 appears to support all development of renewables, irrespective of impacts and should be caveated by the need to recognise environmental and technical constraints. 'In principle' should be added to the end of the last sentence.
There were also comments with reference to landscape capacity, including that the most obvious and suitable sites have already been developed, and it was argued that the level of development pressure on some communities should be recognised. Other respondents sought guidance on the role of landscape sensitivity studies in the decision-making process and the weight that should be given to them. Views on the use of landscape capacity and sensitivity studies were also expressed, including that these are often outdated and should not form part of the LDP. It was argued these studies are subjective, and are being inappropriately interpreted as the most significant determinants of acceptability.
Respondents also highlighted a range of issues they felt should also be covered at 19(a) or in LDPs including that:
- Additional text should be included which acknowledges that renewable energy projects need to be located where they can connect to the grid.
- For consistency with the infrastructure first approach set out in Policy 8, 19(a) should incorporate a preferential planning hierarchy which prioritises: 1) repowering existing wind farms; 2) extending them; and 3) support for energy development clusters, before new development on greenfield sites.
- Community wellbeing and community wealth must be considered and that the text as drafted has no caveat that achieving an area's full potential must benefit the local community.
- There should be reference to ensuring that an area's full potential for the local use of electricity generated, for example through district heating systems, micro-grids and similar networks or technology, is achieved.
- LDPs should identify a range of opportunities for renewable energy development, without also seeking to define the environmental capacity for development, beyond reference to existing statutory designations.
- LDPs should identify areas where renewable energy potential can be realised, whilst at the same time identifying areas for safeguarding nature's recovery. They should identify, map and then safeguard areas for peatland restoration, with a strong presumption against any new energy development in these areas.
b) All forms of renewable energy and low-carbon fuels, together with enabling works should be supported in principle
Points raised with respect to Policy 19(b) included concerns that the wording is overly permissive and requires more meaningful caveats, and that there is no reference to the protection of local natural and landscape designations. Some respondents proposed that the criteria set out in 19(k) should be cross referenced at 19(b). However, it was also suggested that clarity is needed as to how 'in principle' support at 19(b) is compatible with the requirement for >50MW renewables development set out in national development 12 (Strategic renewable energy generation and transmission infrastructure) or how these considerations should be weighed in decision-making. It was argued that 'and given significant weight in the planning balance' should be added at the end of 19(b).
Other respondents sought a definition of 'renewable energy and low carbon fuels', often associated with a position that there should be a planning presumption against new medium-sized and large-scale wood burning plants. It was also argued that low-carbon hydrogen and gas used with CCUS should be considered as low-carbon fuels, and that 19(b) should recognise them as such. A specific reference to hydrogen and associated pipelines was suggested.
Other points relating to infrastructure included that network capacity constraints must be resolved to allow the electricity network infrastructure to support renewables developments, and that there should be support for infrastructure beyond the relatively narrow definitions of 'transmission and distribution infrastructure and energy storage'. Clarification that support extends to onshore infrastructure which is required to support offshore renewables was also requested.
c) Development proposals for wind farms in National Parks and National Scenic Areas should not be supported
Although some respondents welcomed Policy 19(c), it was also argued that the principle of the 'right turbine in the right place' should continue and that the policy should not be seen as an automatic acceptance of windfarms in other areas. It was noted that NSAs were not intended as the totality of areas of high-quality landscape in Scotland.
There were calls for similar principles to be applied to:
- Designated WLAs.
- Regional Scenic Areas.
- The UNESCO Biosphere.
- World Heritage Sites.
- Areas of high scenic value that attract high volumes of visitors, where such footfall supports remote communities.
- Other types of renewable energy developments.
Consideration of adjacent areas that impact views into, or out of, National Parks and NSAs was also suggested.
Another perspective was that the absence of wind energy development in National Parks seems at odds with the aim for Parks to be carbon neutral if they do so using renewable power generated elsewhere, and that this restriction could prevent large areas of the country from generating renewable energy, despite being well placed to do so. It was also observed that the protection of National Parks and NSAs means more energy is required from the remaining areas, and it was suggested a balance is needed with other rural land uses, including food production.
d) Outwith National Parks and National Scenic Areas development proposals for new wind farms should be supported unless the impacts identified are unacceptable
With respect to Policies 19(d) and (e), respondents argued that a definition or test of what constitute 'unacceptable' impacts is needed, including because the effect of onshore wind on landscape is a subjective issue.
Some respondents, predominantly from the 'Energy-related supplier, developer, association or body' group, saw the emphasis on acceptability as unhelpful, replicating current practice, or failing to capture the urgent need to accelerate the development of renewable energy projects. It was also suggested that, as drafted, the text is less supportive than the current Onshore Wind Spatial Framework, which states that wind energy schemes in Group 3 areas 'are likely to be acceptable'. Several amendments to the wording were proposed including:
- Changing 'supported' to 'afforded additional weight'.
- Referring to 'significant adverse impacts'.
- Adding that development proposals 'will be supported unless any adverse impacts of what is proposed would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the need for and benefits of the development...'
- Replacing 'unacceptable' with 'overwhelming or overbearing'.
Replacement text was also suggested – both the development management test referenced under 'Striking a balance', or a statement that outwith National Parks and NSAs, development proposals for new wind farms should be supported unless the Landscape and Visual effects identified (including cumulative effects) substantially reduce the ability to appreciate and experience the special qualities of the landscape, and are not outweighed by the need for and benefits of what is proposed.
Other respondents argued that Policy 19(d) is contrary to the spirit of NPF4 and a plan-led system or that a spatial approach to location of onshore wind developments should be retained. While the protection afforded to National Parks and NSAs was welcomed, it was suggested that the meaning of 'recognising the sensitivity of other national and international designations' is unclear, and it was suggested that protection should be extended to include other areas or designations including:
- The UNESCO Biosphere.
- Local heritage assets.
Points made with respect to impact assessments included that the text may put too much emphasis on EIAs and Landscape and Visual Impact Assessments (LVIAs). Use of Landscape Character Assessments, Habitats Regulations Appraisals, Residential Impact Assessments, and Noise Assessments were also suggested.
e) Proposals to repower, extend and expand existing wind farms and for the extension of life to existing windfarms
Although there was support for Policy 19(e) it was also argued, as at 19(d), that the addition of a caveat around 'unacceptable' impacts is not helpful, and that there should be stronger support for repowering proposals. Some respondents suggested amendments, including that there should be support for, or a presumption in favour of granting permission to repower:
- 'Unless any adverse effects significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits'.
- 'Unless the effects identified (including cumulative effects) compared to the existing baseline (including the project to be repowered, expanded or life extended) are substantially increased'.
It was also suggested that additional weight should be given to the existence of operational renewable energy sources and extant consents for a wind farm on the same or neighbouring land, and that the presence of existing operational turbines will be an important material consideration. Including the 'extension' of projects by the post-construction addition of electrolytic hydrogen production and associated storage and pipelines, as well as battery storage options was also proposed. Encouragement of the use of low carbon materials, or the retention of existing materials by requiring developers to justify any decision not to reuse existing infrastructure, equipment and materials was suggested.
An alternative perspective was that applications should still be subject to full planning scrutiny, including as an opportunity for developers to re-engage with local communities. Opportunities for more direct community benefit to be built in to plans to repower or extend the life of existing windfarms were also suggested. It was noted that proposals under 19(e) might be significantly different from what already exists, and that other developments may have taken place which would impact on the considerations of such proposals. Respondents highlighted the implications of larger wind turbines for both the amenity of residents and for tourism, including impacts at the boundaries of National Parks. It was suggested that the policy should reference the capacity of the landscape and its potential to accommodate additional development.
Clarity with respect to terminology was requested, including what is meant by 'extend and expand', and with a suggestion that definitions should reflect the Onshore Wind Policy Statement. The methodology that a planning authority should use to determine whether impacts are unacceptable was also queried, and the absence of any reference to the role of spatial strategies or to the assessment of cross boundary developments was highlighted.
f) Small scale renewable energy generation technology
Comments on small scale energy generation included a suggestion that there is a significant opportunity to integrate green energy production with repopulation and rural development, and that explicit support for the local production and consumption of energy and micro-grid development would be welcome. It was also suggested small scale generation should be considered in conjunction with Policy 11 (Heating and cooling) and in the context of the Local Energy Policy Statement.
However, it was argued that even small scale technologies can have significant impacts and that any support should be 'in principle', 'where appropriate' or 'unless the impacts identified are unacceptable'. Respondents proposed both that the specific considerations outlined in Policy 19(k) should apply and that any non-compliance with planning conditions should be enforced.
Other issues raised included:
- That 'small scale' needs to be defined.
- That consideration of noise is important, particularly where there is permitted development.
It was also argued that this section should be removed as the support for renewable energy generation technology of all sizes is included in sections 19(a) and 19(b).
g) Suitability for use in perpetuity
Some respondents welcomed the concept of use in perpetuity, which was suggested to be in line with consent for other critical infrastructure. It was also argued that it provides an incentive for developers to invest in local skills and infrastructure, and an opportunity to develop hub locations for the repair, reuse and reprocessing of wind turbines and parts. There were also requests to:
- Provide clear direction to consenting authorities that it is appropriate to grant consents in perpetuity if this is sought in an application.
- Clarify what might be an 'acceptable level of amenity for adjacent communities'.
- Improve and streamline the process for determination of applications under Section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989.
Points were raised regarding what was seen as a potential contradiction in issuing time limited consent if the site may be used in perpetuity. Clarity was requested that the policy does not say that wind farms granted permission on these sites have automatic rights in perpetuity, but are still subject to time-limiting consents and must reapply for extensions or repowering applications.
Some respondents commented on the difficulty of foreseeing future advances in technology, or that future expectation of amenity can change along with technology. Associated suggestions included that:
- As an alternative to consents in perpetuity, there could be a minimum committed time scale, with priority to extend beyond this if it is still of value to: (a) the community and (b) local and national energy needs.
- The policy should be amended to allow re-assessment once a consent has expired.
Clarity was also requested with respect to whether the policy refers to consented sites or areas identified in a spatial framework and whether consent in perpetuity is legally enforceable.
h) Decarbonisation strategies
Many of the comments on 19(h) came from 'Local authority' respondents with requests for:
- Explanation of what is meant by 'appropriately abated'.
- Guidance on the method for preparing strategies, the criteria to be used to demonstrate compliance, and on monitoring.
- An indication of how such strategies should be assessed. It was argued that local authorities do not currently have 'in house' expertise and competency to do this, and that there will be resource implications for training or outsourcing.
It was also suggested that the policy appears to exclude applications for energy generation from fossil fuels, and that it should apply to all major applications for energy generation whether low-carbon or not. Although some respondents queried why applications for energy generation from low carbon sources should need a decarbonisation strategy, there was a view that the policy should explicitly include wind farms and solar arrays, which involve carbon costs in manufacturing, transport, groundworks and sometimes soil disturbance.
Other points on 19(h) included that it is unclear if this is referring to energy generation which is part of a manufacturing or industrial development, or if it is referring to energy generation as well as manufacturing or industrial developments, or that clarity is required to confirm what exactly is meant by a 'major application'.
i) Negative emissions technologies and carbon capture
Several respondents expressed concerns in relation to 19(i), highlighting the costs of developing CCS/CCUS technologies, their unproven nature, concerns around residual emissions, and the possibility they may never be implemented sustainably. It was also argued that negative emissions technology should not be used as a justification for the continued operation of high carbon activities, and that renewable technologies should be exhausted before opting for negative emissions technologies and carbon capture.
With respect to specific technologies, it was suggested that:
- Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage should not be viewed as a 'negative emissions' technology since burning wood for energy is not carbon neutral.
- CCS coupled with blue hydrogen can only be a transitional strategy because the process is not zero carbon. Furthermore, blue hydrogen production is reliant on infrastructures that do not currently exist.
There was also a view that CCS is not suitable for EfW incineration plants, given their small scale and dispersed locations. However, an alternative perspective was that EfW has a key role to play in supplying low carbon energy and that this section should link to Policy 20 (Zero waste) to ensure that local authorities and LDPs attach equal weight to Policy 19 when planning for and determining relevant waste management planning applications.
Other respondents suggested that a definition of 'emissions technologies', and criteria on how proposals are to be assessed, are both required.
Revisions to the text were also suggested, including a caveat 'unless the impacts identified (including cumulative effects) are unacceptable', and addition of support for both 'transport and storage'.
j) Solar arrays
General comments on Policy 19(j) included a query whether the considerations listed are intended to be additional to those in 19(k) and a suggestion that the policy requires both a definition of 'adversely affect' and guidance on how compliance should be demonstrated. It was suggested that LVIAs may help in this respect.
Some respondents suggested that 19(j) as drafted sets the bar very high and could mean even minor adverse impacts lead to refusal of consent for solar arrays. It was argued the text should be amended to make it clear that support for solar developments will only be set aside if adverse impacts clearly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, or that planning authorities should be satisfied that these would not 'significantly' adversely affect the factors listed. It was also suggested the policy should acknowledge the importance of, and give greater weight to, renewable technologies such as solar, which are available to deploy now.
Other comments on 19(j) included that it is too detailed and specific for NPF4, and that no other technologies have been singled out in this way. Specifically, it was argued that the detail regarding the mounting system for a solar generator should be deleted, as should references to glint and glare studies. Removal of the reference to historical assets was also suggested, since almost all solar arrays will have some adverse impacts on historic environment assets and a proportionate response is needed to avoid and minimise adverse impacts as much as possible.
However, the most frequently-made point on 19(j) was that the wording should be strengthened to ensure solar arrays do not adversely affect protected species and habitats. Other suggestions for addition to the list of factors to be considered included:
- Prime agricultural land, and that solar arrays may not always represent the best use of land to meet wider climate objectives.
- 'Landscape/visual interests', including in areas of National Parks, where there could be a significant impact from solar arrays.
It was also proposed that 19(j) should be extended to provide locational guidance relating to roof-mounted solar panels and to reference an agreed decommissioning process, in the light of concerns regarding pollution arising from decommissioned solar arrays.
k) Specific considerations
It was noted that the list of considerations at 19(k) essentially replicate those within current SPP paragraph 169. Many suggestions were made with respect to the prominence or wording of individual considerations or for further considerations to be added. In general terms it was suggested that:
- It should be made clear that considerations listed at 19(k) apply to all parts of Policy 19, or that it would be helpful to move this information to 19(b). Considerations should be cross referenced to relevant parts of Policy 19.
- It would be helpful to incorporate spatial infrastructure plans and locational guidance to support these considerations, to avoid creating unnecessary tension between nature, heritage and renewable energy developments.
- The process of applications and scoping would be sped up by introducing more quantitative parameters for the considerations listed.
- Taking these considerations 'into account' is not sufficient or consistent with Policy 3 (Nature crisis).
- The introductory statement should explicitly state that 'development proposals for renewable energy developments must take into account and ensure no unacceptable impacts in relation to' thereby aligning with the wording of 19(d).
- 19 (k) reiterates existing constraints, will place an excessive burden on small- to medium-sized projects, or will maintain the status quo, giving local authorities a vast list of reasons to reject renewables projects.
- Decision makers will require guidance in balancing these considerations against other NPF4 policies (particularly Policies 2, 6, 28 and 32).
Policy 20: Zero waste
We want our places to be more resource efficient, and supported by services and facilities that help to achieve a circular economy.
Question 41 – Do you agree that this policy will help our places to be more resource efficient, and to be supported by services and facilities that help to achieve a circular economy?
Around 235 respondents commented at Question 41. In terms of an overall balance of opinion, respondents tended to support the policy, although often with calls for greater clarity.
General comments included calls to strengthen the language used in Policy 20, for example using 'must' rather than 'should' or removing 'aim to'. Other points raised included that:
- Implementation and delivery will rely heavily on other plans and initiatives and some aspects appear more applicable to building control. The societal behaviour change needed was also suggested to be a task beyond the planning system.
- Planners are likely to need guidance and training in application of the policy. Planning services will need to be properly resourced and guidance, or examples, would help consistent decision-making.
- It would be helpful to set out how compliance is to be demonstrated.
- It is unclear how Policy 20 relates to other NPF4 policies, for example in relation to promoting the use of brownfield sites.
- Particular challenges in achieving policy objectives in remote rural and island areas should be acknowledged.
- Given the potential cross boundary nature of the proposals, adjoining local authorities should work together where appropriate.
Respondents also highlighted issues they felt should be included or should have a greater focus in Policy 20, most frequently referencing the need for stronger support for developing a circular economy. It was argued that, as drafted, the policy focuses largely on waste management, but should reflect wider issues including the reuse of materials and avoiding the creation of waste and shortening supply chains. Reuse of existing buildings was highlighted as an important element of the circular economy that currently has limited coverage. Suggestions included that it might be preferable to draft a circular economy policy, with zero waste as a component part, or that a standalone circular economy policy would allow many other aspects to be explored more fully.
Other topics that respondents suggested should be covered in Policy 20 included:
- Food and agricultural waste.
- Reducing soil waste and promoting the reuse of soils.
- Fly tipping and litter.
- The recycling of turbine blades.
a) LDPs should identify appropriate locations for new infrastructure to support the circular economy
There was support for 20(a), although also a view that cross-sector and cross-agency working will be crucial, and that the Scottish Government will have a key role in co-ordination and leadership. Taking a strategic approach through Regional Spatial Strategies also recommended.
It was noted that designating locations through LDPs does not necessarily result in the development of facilities, as developers are still required to bring forward proposals and that investment support may be needed.
With respect to what constitutes an appropriate location, it was suggested that:
- Research will be needed to identify what infrastructure is required and both resources and guidance will be needed.
- Waste management facilities should be as close to the community using them as practicable.
- An assessment of the carbon impacts of transporting waste material should be carried out and that plans should not be approved if overall carbon impacts increase as a result of the development.
- Communities should have a voice in decision-making.
It was also suggested that 20(a) should be substantially reworded or should be combined with section (f).
Whether planning authorities are required to identify EfW sites for the LDP was queried.
b) Development proposals should aim to reduce, reuse, or recycle materials in line with the waste hierarchy
There was a request for greater clarity and guidance on how the requirements of 20(b) are to be demonstrated, including what evidence is required and how this is to be assessed. Specific points included that:
- It will be important to ensure that reuse is appropriate, either in the policy or supporting guidance.
- Embodied emissions are very difficult to calculate, and planning authorities will not have the resources to do this.
- If the waste hierarchy and the lowest embodied emissions choice for materials diverge, the lower embodied emissions option should be preferred.
- NPF may not provide the best mechanism for regulating embodied carbon in detail, but it is useful to set the direction of travel and to create an expectation that developers should seek to understand, and minimise, embodied carbon.
A number of respondents, including from the 'Development, Property or Land Management Company or Representative Body' group requested guidance on the use of materials with the lowest forms of embodied emissions and the level of detail that will be requested at planning application stage. It was suggested that lack of clarity risks causing delay and uncertainty to the planning system.
There was also an argument that failure to consider the impact of emissions both in use and at end of life, risks a project or development increasing overall emissions.
With respect to construction and demolition methods, it was suggested that greater clarity about the requirements on developers would be beneficial. The policy was seen as an opportunity to advocate deconstruction approaches.
Other points raised on Policy 20(b) included that:
- Current regulations prohibit the reuse of some construction materials.
- A lack of waste recycling infrastructure in Scotland, particularly in relation to metals, can result in wastes being shipped overseas for processing, resulting in higher emissions as well as loss of economic value.
- It is not clear that developments that fulfil the criteria listed, will actually have any further weight in the planning balance.
It was also suggested sections (b) and (c) could be combined.
c) Development proposals within the categories of national and major developments should take into account circular economy principles
As noted above, there was a view that circular economy principles should be applied more widely, rather than being restricted to national and major developments. Use of the phrase 'where appropriate' was also thought to weaken the requirement or to make enforcement more challenging for local planning authorities. There were also concerns that:
- As drafted the policy could encourage applicants to submit multiple local scale developments instead of a single major planning application.
- 20(c) could be read as suggesting that planning authorities are expected to monitor how a development handles its waste for the life of the development, and that clarification on monitoring the performance of the circular economy is needed.
There were requests for:
- Substantial guidance on how developments should take circular economy principles into account.
- More direction on the material requirements of all national development projects, particularly those which are material intensive, such as construction, energy transition and manufacturing.
An additional bullet to reference circular economy principles with respect to soils was suggested.
The requirement to reuse existing buildings and infrastructure was welcomed, although there was also a suggestion that the policy should highlight more of the positive carbon capture that can be achieved by retaining historic assets, and that there should be explicit support for repurposing and reusing existing buildings. It was also noted that in most circumstances there is nothing to stop demolition prior to application.
In terms of how to incentivise reuse, it was suggested that strong countryside policies which restrict development to the reuse of existing buildings of note could provide a tool, or that the Scottish Government's mechanism for material costs could be changed, so virgin materials have a higher tax. However, there was also a query as to how the planning system can enforce the reuse of materials. It was also argued that it may not be possible to remediate some buildings to a suitable performance level, and that there may be cases where demolition and replacement is the best option for the whole life costs of a development.
Clarity was sought with respect to what is meant by 'adaptability and flexibility'.
d) Development proposals that are likely to generate waste when operational, should include provision to maximise waste reduction and waste separation
Points with respect to 20(d) included that terms such as 'maximise' and 'minimise' are too broad, and that the policy should clarify both the requirements and how they are to be measured. It was suggested that development proposals should not only be required to comply with current regulatory requirements, but also include future proofing of storage and collection arrangements, allowing for the potential for further requirements regarding segregation of waste. It was also argued that:
- Residential development proposals should be 'supported by' appropriate recycling and localised waste management facilities rather than including 'provision for', which was seen as indicating that an on-site solution is required.
- 'Extractive waste' (materials which are disturbed and handled in the course of quarrying) should be distinguished.
e) Development proposals for waste infrastructure and facilities
General comments on 20(e) included the importance of adopting an infrastructure first approach to development of waste infrastructure and facilities, taking account of existing infrastructure. Why landfill and EfW plants should be excluded was also queried.
While the inclusion of consideration of environmental impacts on the historic environment under 20(e) was welcomed, it was suggested that the policy should also apply to both built and natural environments, and that impacts on tourist assets should be included. An additional criterion relating to impacts of transport to the site on the local area was also proposed.
Other points included that clarification is needed with respect to:
- Who will set and monitor acceptable limits for environmental impacts relating to noise, dust, smells etc.
- What is an 'acceptable level' or an 'adequate' buffer zone. It was suggested that the provisions relating to buffer zones set out in SPP paragraph 191 should be retained.
The importance of applying buffer zones to new developments that are proposed close to existing waste management facilities was also highlighted, with a suggestion that development such as housing should be prevented from encroaching within 200 metres of existing facilities or allocated waste sites.
Guidance was sought with respect to assessing offset emissions.
f) Development proposals for new waste infrastructure
Although the provisions of 20(f) were supported, it was also suggested that: criteria set out at (e) should also apply at (f); Policies 20(e) and (f) should be combined; or that Policies (a) and (f) should be combined.
It was reported that local authorities often allocate industrial/employment land within LDPs as suitable for waste management development, rather than making specific land allocations (or criteria) for such development. It was recommended that LDPs should make specific provision for waste management development within industrial and employment land. An alternative view was that allocating waste infrastructure to the classes listed, encourages bad neighbour development in locations that may already be experiencing environmental problems, and that waste should be managed as close to source as possible.
Other points or requests for clarification included that:
- LDPs may wish to identify which business and industrial areas are suitable for waste use and which are not.
- Waste infrastructure may not be an acceptable use in strategic economic locations, and that it is unlikely that major waste infrastructure developments could be accommodated in traditional urban industrial locations.
- Support for development should be subject to a needs and demand assessment for industrial/business/storage uses.
g) Development proposals for new or extended landfill sites
It was noted that the Scottish Government's current waste targets are for 2025 and that it is important NPF4 considers the future policy direction beyond this date to determine capacity requirements. A requirement for accurate and useable capacity provision and need data was also highlighted.
Whether there should be support for new landfill sites under any circumstances, and how his approach aligns with the Scottish Government's goal to stop landfill by 2030 were both queried. Criteria for new developments similar to those set out in Policy 19(k) were also suggested, or that there should be a general requirement for new or extended landfills to comply with other relevant policy, including providing biodiversity enhancement.
h) Proposals for the capture, distribution or use of gases captured from landfill sites or waste water treatment plant should be supported
Comments on 20(h) included that capture of gas from landfill should be mandatory, not just supported, and it was questioned whether there should be caveats, similar to those in 20(i). It was also noted that, since the landfill of biodegradable municipal waste will be banned from 2025, the amount of landfill gas produced will be increasingly limited.
i) Development proposals which involve the recovery of energy from waste
Some respondents welcomed the independent review of the role of incineration in the waste hierarchy in Scotland, while others argued that incineration is not acceptable in any context, with negative impacts on emissions targets, recycling targets and public health all cited. However, it was also suggested that the use of waste material to generate energy for both electricity and local heating should be more actively supported and encouraged.
With respect to the provisions of 20(i) it was suggested that it is not clear whether the first bullet point means a site allocated as a specific proposal, or just where it would be in broad compliance with LDP policies. There was a view that it will be hard to identify sites in the absence of specific proposals because the environmental assessment will be too difficult, and the costs of doing so may not be proportionate. Specific suggestions included that this bullet should be amended to reflect the proximity principle, or to allow EfW facilities within established areas for planning use classes 4, 5 or 6, rather than having to be subject to an allocation within a LDP.
Other comments on 20(i) included that:
- The absence of combined heat and power networks for operating incinerators suggests stricter measures are required. It was argued that these should include agreements with heat network partners for the development of heat networks at the time planning consent is given.
- The effectiveness of heat and power plans will depend on whether planning officers have appropriate technical knowledge to assess them.
- There is no guidance on how decarbonisation strategies should be prepared, or what the criteria for judging a strategy would be.
- The requirement for new EfW plants to consider CCS is welcome, but also that it is untested for operational EfW plants in the UK. Caution around reliance on CCS to reduce the carbon emissions from EfW was advised.
- It is not clear what the community benefits referenced might be, or why they should only apply to EfW proposals.
Several respondents commented on the final sentence of Policy 20 stating that 'development proposals should not be supported if they would, either directly or indirectly, limit the operation of existing or proposed waste management facilities.' Some welcomed this provision but suggested it should be presented as 20(j). There was also a view that this could seen as stifling innovation and competition within the sector, and that the text should be removed from the final version of the policy.
Policy 21: Aquaculture
We want to support investment in aquaculture and minimise its potential impacts on the environment.
Question 42 – Do you agree that this policy will support investment in aquaculture and minimise its potential impacts on the environment?
Around 140 respondents made a comment at Question 42.
Most of those commenting on Policy 21 supported the focus on the sustainability of aquaculture, including the minimising of environmental impacts. However concerns were raised around achieving the balance between supporting industry and minimising environmental impacts. It was suggested that the policy is too focused on supporting investment and does not give sufficient priority to the environment. There were calls for a stronger approach to dealing with the environmental impacts associated with aquaculture, including suggestions that Policy 21 should:
- Require the aquaculture industry to further explore less harmful farming techniques, to improve sustainability and welfare standards.
- Be extended to consider those environmental impacts associated with accessing aquaculture infrastructure.
Others suggested that the policy could be more supportive of growth in the aquaculture industry, with some of the view that the potential negative impacts associated with aquaculture development are over-stated, and not supported by the available evidence. The economic benefits for local communities associated with aquaculture were also referenced. Respondents also noted that aquaculture planning applications are often for the rationalisation and improvement of existing fish farms and wished to see the planning system support these improvements.
Widening the scope of the policy to include a range of aquaculture activity such as seaweed farming, multi-trophic aquaculture, microalgae culture and recirculating aquaculture systems was proposed. Respondents pointed to the potential for new aquaculture activities to develop and wanted to see NPF4 ensure that these will be supported by the planning system. This included calls for encouragement for research, development and innovation in the sector.
Some respondents referred to the recent review of aquaculture regulations and wished to see this taken into account. Respondents were also looking for alignment with the Scottish Vision for Aquaculture currently in development. There was a concern that that there is no reference to the SPP requirement that planning regulation and guidance should avoid duplication of legislation relating to aquaculture, and it was also noted that the number of regulators with responsibility across different parts of the aquaculture industry can lead to uncertainty for stakeholders. There was a call for Policy 21 to clarify where different agencies' responsibilities lie.
a) LDPs should guide new aquaculture development to locations that reflect industry needs and take account of environmental impact
Many of those commenting on 21(a) supported the reference to aquaculture development being sensitive to environmental impacts, including cumulative impacts. While some comments highlighted the potential for aquaculture development to be delivered without impacting biodiversity, others noted that aquaculture development has the potential for significant negative environmental impacts. There were suggestions that optimal locations for aquaculture are rarely the most sustainable sites due to potential impacts on landscape and visual interest, the environment, and other marine users. Minimising these impacts was seen as a priority.
Some also disagreed with the balance between industry and the environment, expressing concern that the 21(a) draws on the now outdated National Marine Plan, which was said to be in need of updating. Many of those commenting felt that the policy appears to place a greater emphasis on industry 'needs' and presents environment impacts as a secondary consideration. For example, it was noted that the introductory text to 21(a) refers to locations that reflect industry needs without any reference to environmental impacts. There was also a view that the reference to aquaculture development 'taking account' of environmental impacts does not reflect the urgency of response required by the climate and biodiversity crisis. Respondents also suggested that this approach is not consistent with other parts of NPF4 which identify climate change and biodiversity as key considerations, nor with the current Ministerial Review of aquaculture regulation, which aims to deliver a sector which is environmentally and economically sustainable.
In addition to the balance between industry need and environmental impact, some respondents also raised concerns around the approach to spatial planning set out. These respondents highlighted the complexity of spatial planning for aquaculture development and suggested that it is not feasible for LDPs to direct development as suggested. In part, this reflected concerns that some planning authorities are unlikely to have the specialist knowledge, technical expertise and capacity to support effective spatial planning for aquaculture. However, it was also suggested that the complexity of environmental and economic criteria involved, and the dynamic nature of marine and coastal environments, mean that longer-term spatial planning is not appropriate for the sector. It was noted that this is reflected in the approach taken by planning authorities to date, which has primarily been based on criteria-based policies.
Some suggested that 21(a) should be reframed to ensure that new aquaculture development minimises environmental capacity and biodiversity impacts, including the cumulative impacts of existing fish farms and other marine activities. There were calls for a clear statement that environmental objectives should be prioritised over economic considerations, and for reference to the need to secure a 'thriving environmentally and economically sustainable aquaculture sector'. There was also thought to be a need for further guidance on the spatial planning approach for aquaculture, recognising the complexity involved.
Respondents also raised concerns around the assessment of environmental impact, including the reference to taking account of the environmental impact of other existing and planned aquaculture developments. These concerns reflected a view that impact assessment for aquaculture is highly complex. Respondents made specific reference to a need for guidance on the assessment of environmental impact, including the range of impacts to be considered, the evidence that should be included with proposals, what are considered to be acceptable environmental impacts, and what action should be taken where impacts are not acceptable.
Other amendments suggested included:
- The SPP reference to LDPs making positive provision for aquaculture development should be included in NPF4.
- Reference should be made to the role of National and Regional Marine Plans in informing LDPs in relation to the location of aquaculture development.
- Full EIA, undertaken by a reputable marine research institute, should be required for aquaculture development proposals.
- 'Planned aquaculture development' should be defined to clarify at which point in the planning process other development should be taken into account.
Scotland's Marine Assessment 2020 was cited as evidence that there are insufficient ecosystem monitoring sites, and it was suggested that this must be resolved before further aquaculture development is supported to ensure environmental impacts can be properly assessed and minimised.
It was also noted that aquaculture is a key link between terrestrial and marine planning, with some suggesting that NPF4 could do more to recognise this. These respondents suggested that, as a minimum, 21(a) should highlight links with Policy 35 (Coasts).
b) Further salmon and trout open pen fish farm development on the north and east coasts should not be supported
Many of those commenting were in favour of action to limit open pen fish farming to protect migratory fish species. These respondents cited evidence on the range of environmental and ecological impacts associated with open pen fish farming, including concern that the environmental carrying capacity of marine environments is already being exceeded. In addition to impacts on migratory fish species, there was reference to negative impacts on the seabed, marine pollution, and impacts on other fish and marine mammal species. Respondents also highlighted the economic impacts of harm caused to migratory fish species, given the role of wild salmonid populations for the viability of fishing industries.
There were also calls for 21(b) to be expanded to protect migratory fish species in other parts of Scotland – primarily the west coast. Respondents noted that the west coast accounts for the majority of fish farm development and is already seeing significant pressure on wild salmonid populations. It was also suggested that prohibiting open pen farming on the north and east coasts could increase pressure on the west coast for aquaculture development. There were calls for further evidence on the reasons for limiting 21(b) to north and east coasts, and for a detailed SEA to be conducted before any further fish farm development is considered on Scotland's west coast.
Other issues and suggested amendments included that:
- SEPA must be given responsibility for managing risk to sea trout, as part of the risk-based tool to manage risk to wild salmonids.
- Future priorities for marine planning could change if closed pen aquaculture approaches prove commercially viable on the north and east coasts.
c) Aquaculture development proposals should be supported where they comply with the LDP, National and Regional Marine Plans
Comments at 21(c) included support for the role of the National and Regional Marine Plans as part of the decision-making framework for aquaculture development, although it was noted that the latter are still under development. In advance of Marine Plans being put in place, some wished to see planning authorities engage with bodies likely to be involved in Marine Planning Partnerships in order to aid interpretation of policy and ensure consistency of decision-making.
However, some raised concerns around the adequacy of the plans cited to protect wild fish populations. It was reported that a review of the National Marine Plan is overdue, that Regional Marine Plans are not currently in place, and that LDPs may be up to 10-years old. Some wished to see reference to the role of Local Place Plans in relation to aquaculture development.
Reflecting comments at 21(a), some suggested that the phrasing of 21(c) is too focused on industry growth, rather than ensuring environmental sustainability. These respondents wished to see it clearly set out when aquaculture development proposals should not be supported, including reference to other policy and regulation that should inform planning decisions on aquaculture development. Specific reference was made to Marine Protection Areas (including calls for aquaculture development to be prohibited in these areas), SEPA's Aquaculture Sector Plan, the Scottish Government's Aquaculture Vision, the review of aquaculture regulation, the Future Fisheries Management Strategy, and the Blue Economy Action Plan. Reference was also made to the role of the Statutory Harbour Authority and Maritime and Coastguard Agency in relation to aquaculture.
d) Fish farm proposals should demonstrate that operational impacts comply with the regulatory framework
Some respondents expressed support for the control of operational impacts at 21(d), including management of cumulative impacts. Some of these respondents referred to their experience that planning decisions often fail to give proper regard to these wider impacts. In this context, it was suggested that 21(d) should be expanded to include shellfish and seaweed farming proposals.
Others felt that 21(d) does not set sufficiently robust standards for aquaculture development proposals to support the health of Scotland's coasts and wild salmonids. There was reference to terms such as 'acceptable' and 'appropriately' as being open to interpretation and there were calls for NPF4 to be more explicit about how these terms should be applied to planning decisions.
Respondents also suggested that 21(d) should focus on considerations not covered by other regulatory regimes, including through specific reference to visual amenity and the potential conflict with other users of marine and coastal environments.
In relation to the planning and regulatory framework for aquaculture development, some noted that the reference to regulatory compliance is not consistent with the SPP statement that planning should not duplicate other legislation. However, others wished to see NPF4 implement tighter monitoring, regulation and enforcement of environmental standards, including specific reference to the Salmon Interactions Working Group recommending a risk-based approach to planning for aquaculture development. Further detail was also sought on why finfish and shellfish developments are exempted from the requirement at Policy 3 (Nature crisis) to demonstrate the conservation and enhancement of biodiversity.
Other comments focused specifically on operational impacts, and the siting and design of aquaculture development. In relation to the NPF4 requirement that operational impacts should be acceptable and comply with the regulatory framework, the following points were made:
- There was thought to be need for better evidence on the operational impacts of aquaculture, including cumulative impacts. Respondents highlighted a range of potential operational impacts, including some that are not specifically referenced at present. These included impacts associated with dissolved nutrients, sea lice, pesticide discharges, predator control and interaction with other species, impact on wild salmonids, seabird entanglement, impacts on other coastal and marine users, impacts on local communities and natural heritage, and impacts on the historic environment. Some expressed particular concern around the impact of sea lice on marine environments, noting that there is currently no regulatory framework to protect wild migratory fish. Reference was also made to a need for a better understanding of the capacity of marine environments to absorb these impacts.
- Some raised concerns around how operational impacts are measured, including what was seen as an urgent need for new guidance for planning authorities on the assessment of cumulative impacts. It was reported that existing aquaculture development can degrade the marine environment, such that the impact of further development appears less significant. This 'shifting baseline' approach was seen as preventing ecosystem recovery.
- It was suggested that, where the risk of harm associated with aquaculture development is not well understood, the precautionary principle must be used in the determination of development proposals. It was noted that this is in line with the recommendations of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform and Rural Economy and Connectivity committees. There was particular concern that the presumption against new open pen farms on the north and east coasts should not be interpreted to mean that caution is not required when considering aquaculture development proposals in other locations.
- Clarity was sought around how the acceptability of operational impacts is to be assessed.
In relation to the siting and design of cages, lines and associated facilities, the following points were made:
- Some respondents expressed their support for the control of the siting and design of cages, lines and facilities. Further comments included that that fish farms have already been sited in unsuitable locations, such as Marine Protection Areas, NSAs and adjacent to WLAs.
- Clarity was sought on what constitutes appropriate siting of cages, lines and associated facilities – and what should be considered inappropriate siting?
- It was suggested that development proposals should include decommissioning and reinstatement plans, adhering to fish farm consolidation and rationalisation policy, if existing fish farm infrastructure becomes redundant.
In relation to siting and design of land-based facilities, some noted that the different planning requirements placed on land-based facilities can mean that planning decision timelines can differ from those for marine proposals. There were calls for greater flexibility in response to this.
Policy 22: Minerals
We want to support the sustainable management of resources and to minimise the impacts of extraction of minerals on communities and the environment.
Question 43 – Do you agree that this policy will support the sustainable management of resources and minimise the impacts of extraction of minerals on communities and the environment?
Around 160 respondents made comment at Question 43.
Many noted their broad support for the policy approach set out, albeit they often went on to refer to particular aspects they wanted to see changed, or to additions or points of clarification for which they were looking.
General reasons given for supporting the policy included that there is a need to ensure an ongoing supply of minerals. It was suggested that without a steady and adequate supply of the essential minerals and mineral products, the delivery of housing, infrastructure, other developments and manufacturing cannot be assumed. In relation to the role of minerals, comments included that:
- Aggregates are essential for construction, while industrial minerals supply construction and manufacturing.
- The supply of minerals needs to be planned for, monitored and managed. There was a call for policy makers to make the link between development and the materials needed to build for the long term. Connected to this was a concern that NPF4 as currently drafted does not give sufficient consideration to how the building materials required to fulfil its ambitions will be sourced.
Other comments included that the policy broadly reflects that which has been used to assess minerals development proposals to date. It was suggested, however, that it should be made clear that proposed development to which this policy applies will still have to comply with, and be assessed against, other appropriate policies in the LDP.
The intention to apply the precautionary principle to mineral extraction was welcomed, along with recognition of the need to protect biodiversity, the natural environment, sensitive habitats, the historic environment, landscape and visual impacts.
Others had broad concerns, including because there does not appear to be an assessment of the level of need for the products extracted. The lack of cross referencing to Policy 29 (Zero waste) was highlighted and there was a call for more emphasis on minimising the use of new minerals, and maximising the use of recycled materials in line with the principles of a circular economy. In connection to the circular economy, it was suggested that developers should seek to avoid the need for new materials, and that Policy 22 would be strengthened by including a requirement that proposals demonstrate their compatibility with a circular economy, or why suitable minerals are not available through a circular economy. Further, the policy should include a requirement to consider whether demand can be met through the use of secondary materials, or those already available on site, prior to the extraction of new minerals.
In terms of general points for clarification, there were queries about the range of minerals and extraction covered under the policy. Specific issues raised included that:
- References seem to be confined to aggregates and fossil fuels. An associated concern was that this could open the door to irresponsible mineral extraction.
- No reference is made to development of new mineral opportunities, other than in relation to aggregates and fossil fuels. Elsewhere, the draft NPF4 makes reference to the importance of increasing deployment of low carbon and net zero technologies. The draft does not, however, recognise the role that critical minerals will play in the production, and ultimately the rate of deployment, of these technologies and the positive impact of an indigenous supply chain on renewable energy.
- There is no explicit reference to building stone extraction, despite it being a ubiquitous traditional material. It was suggested that poor availability of indigenous traditional building materials poses a risks to the long-term health of the historic environment and should be considered in NPF4.
In terms of other aspects which the policy could address, suggestions included:
- The strategic role of Regional Spatial Strategies.
- That mineral permissions should be temporary and time limited.
- The site selection process, with a hierarchy of preferable locations, which could then be considered for introduction in the LDP. There was reference to: existing mineral sites; underlying a proposed development site, where minerals can be worked ahead of a future land use; extension of an existing operational site; re-opening of a dormant mineral site; and new minerals sites.
Finally, in terms of general points, it was noted that minerals covers a specialist area of planning, requiring specific skill sets and expertise. It was suggested that planners are likely to need specialist help when assessing developments.
a) Local development plans should support the 10-year landbank
Although some noted their support for this approach, there were a number of issues raised, or calls for greater clarity around what is intended. Points included that it would help to be clear about what 'the 10-year landbank' is. It was reported that SPP refers to a landbank of permitted reserves for construction aggregates of at least 10 years at all times in all market areas. Other queries included:
- Whether the 10-year landbank relates to gravel or hard rock aggregates?
- Whether the 10-year landbank should include all sites, or only major active sites?
- If it is a minimum or maximum landbank?
- What is meant by 'relevant market areas'?
- What materiality a proposal would have if the 10-year landbank cannot be demonstrated?
There were also queries about who would be responsible for collecting the required data. There was a concern that the requirement will be challenging given past experience of site operators' reluctance to share market information essential for this purpose. There was also a concern that there is a lack of resources to maintain and monitor relevant data sets, and it was suggested that a national database and monitoring exercise would assist. A specific suggestion was that the Scottish Government should instruct the British Geological Survey to provide each local authority with a review of the relevant minerals within its area. This information could then be used to inform the LDP.
Other comments included that it would be helpful if the approach was based on the maintenance of at least a 10-year landbank, rather than setting 10 years as a target. It was suggested that this would have the benefit of encouraging longer-term provision where possible. In terms of the benefits of longer-term provision, observations included that:
- Good quarry development requires significant capital expenditure. The need for a long-term approach is likely to be accentuated by future investment decisions for low carbon transition, such as electric plant and facilities or further rail connections.
- Mineral operators and mineral planning authorities should be encouraged to take a long-term approach to mineral planning permissions to ensure a steady and adequate supply of minerals to meet demand.
A very specific point was made in relation to existing permissions for mineral workings granted under the Town and Country Planning Act 1981 under which, where no end date could be specified, a proxy end date of February 2042 was attributed. It was suggested that, to avoid any future disruption in continuity of supply, this needs to be addressed through NPF4 as it falls within the plan period.
Other points made about the landbank included that this is a strategic issue that would be best addressed through Regional Spatial Strategies.
b) Fossil fuels
A number of those who commented on this aspect of the proposed policy welcomed the statement that the exploration, development and production of fossil fuels will only be supported in exceptional circumstances. There was also a view that further clarity, and a better definition, will be required to assist development management decision-making processes. In particular, it was suggested that guidance is required around what might constitute exceptional circumstances.
Others thought that the exceptional circumstances qualification should be removed, with an associated suggestion that any case could be considered as an exception based on other material considerations, and it should not be written into policy.
However, there was also a view that it is unrealistic to depend exclusively on renewable energy sources and that some dependence on fossil fuels will be essential to enable the transition to net zero. The example given was in relation to supporting existing offshore wells, and in the continuing development of the cleaner use of fossil fuels through carbon capture. It was suggested that the continued need for future oil and gas supply needs to be recognised, not only to meet demand for hydrocarbon based products such as bitumen, rubber and plastics, but also to minimise dependence on imports.
c) Unconventional oil and gas in Scotland
There was support for the unequivocal statement in this policy that the Scottish Government does not support the development of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland. However, there was also a view that this does not equate to policy, but rather represents the view of the Scottish Government, and it would be better, and in line with other policies, to simply state that the development of unconventional oil and gas is not supported.
Others suggested that 22(c) should be worded more robustly and state without any hint of equivocation that such development is effectively prohibited.
d) Extraction of aggregates
In relation to 22(d), there was a concern that the current wording may have the unintended consequence of not supporting the extraction of non-aggregate materials, such as dimension stone. It was suggested that, as the extraction criteria set out are relevant for all types of minerals, the reference should not be only to aggregates.
Some welcomed the emphasis on minimising potentially adverse impacts on a range of environments, but there were also some suggested changes or additions. These included that:
- The policy should require biodiversity net gain, not just no adverse impact.
- Proposals should be required to demonstrate how adverse impacts will be prevented prior to planning permission being granted.
Other comments included that the reference to adverse impacts needs to be qualified, and should be amended to refer to 'significant adverse impacts'. It was reported that all developments have some form of adverse impacts, but it is well understood in EIAs that all potential effects and impacts should be identified, then consideration given to mitigation and the significance of any residual impacts.
A similar comment was that, while the reference to ensuring adverse impacts on the historic environment are considered, the wording is not proportionate or workable. It was suggested that what is needed is a considerate and proportionate response to managing the impact on those assets, by avoiding and minimising adverse impacts as far as possible, and offsetting any unavoidable harm with public benefits, such as new knowledge gained through archaeological investigation of assets.
Other respondents highlighted the opportunity for aggregate and mineral sites to have great potential for biodiversity enhancement and diversification, including through the emergence of new SSSIs.
Comments in relation to providing an adequate buffer zone included that this seems to be being left to local authorities to determine, and that further detailed guidance is needed on who defines the zone and what is considered adequate.
Other comments on 22(d) included:
- Regarding the impact of noise, nuisance and potential pollution, there is limited further environmental regulation in this sector, and there may be scope to involve other agencies such as SEPA. There were also concerns regarding how acceptable levels of pollution can be defined. It was suggested that standards will be required.
- Stronger statements about protecting and sustaining the quality of the water environment would be welcome.
- Guidance is required on who pays for ongoing maintenance and how this is to be controlled.
Regarding financial guarantee options, there was general support for this concept as a safeguarding measure and a suggestion that financial or secured bond evidence should be monitored regularly, for example on an annual basis.
However, it was also noted that it is unclear if financial guarantee options are expected to be used for every mineral extraction site. It was reported that in some areas mineral extraction sites are typically small scale, and the use of financial guarantees has the potential to make the operation of a site unviable. In an island context, there was said to be a need to balance the environmental and economic costs of importing minerals from the mainland if there are no local mineral extraction sites operational.
With respect to restoration and aftercare, there were suggestions that more needs to be said regarding what constitutes a 'high standard'. Some suggested a strengthening of the wording to prioritise biodiversity and nature-based solutions, including those new habitats that have evolved as a result of the extraction process. It was suggested that:
- Proposals for restoration should be focused on biodiversity enhancement, including, where appropriate, capitalising on any valuable habitats that have been created through the operation of the scheme, such as shelter plantations or wetlands.
- There is an opportunity to specify the creation of a nature reserve as a preferred option for end use of extraction sites rather than reverting to agricultural use.
e) Borrow pits
Although there were relatively few specific comments about borrow pits, issues that were raised included:
- They should only be supported where there is very clear justification, particularly on grounds of sustainability. The case for borrow pits is understandable in remote developments where hauling material from an existing consented quarry could have significant CO2 and financial costs. Elsewhere, however, temporary borrow pits can undermine the investments made by mineral operators at established permitted sites adhering to high operational standards.
- The requirement for borrow pits to be subject to their own restoration bonds is of concern. This seems unnecessary when borrow pits for construction would be tied to a specific project and be time limited.
- The basis of applying a separate criterion is fundamentally undermined by the requirement to comply with the mineral extraction criteria set out in 22(d).
Connected to this last point was the suggestion that 22(e) should be amended to decouple the assessment of borrow pits from 22(d), and should set out an alternative test requiring the avoidance of unacceptable likely significant adverse environmental effects.
Policy 23: Digital infrastructure
We want our all of our places to be digitally connected.
Question 44 – Do you agree that this policy ensures all of our places will be digitally connected?
Around 180 respondents made a comment at Question 44.
Most of those commenting on Policy 23 supported its focus on ensuring that all of Scotland's places are digitally connected, and felt that the policy provides a positive framework against which delivery of digital infrastructure can be assessed. There was also support for the particular focus on areas with no or low connectivity, reflecting a view that existing initiatives have not done enough to improve digital connectivity in remote and rural areas, although some wished to see a more universal approach across Scotland.
Respondents highlighted the importance that all parts of Scotland have access to suitable digital infrastructure, with reference to the negative economic impacts of poor digital connectivity, particularly in rural areas. Specific reference was made to the importance of universal access to digital connectivity to support homeworking and 20-minute neighbourhoods, and to the vulnerability of some communities to loss of digital connectivity. Comments also highlighted potential for poor digital connectivity to undermine rural repopulation and economic growth. In this context, there were calls for Policy 23 to highlight links with Policy 7 (Local living) and to ensure digital connectivity is resilient to adverse weather events. Some also wished to see a firmer commitment to eliminating the digital divide between Scotland's communities, including a particular focus on ensuring rural development supports this, and a suggestion that the Scottish Government should treat digital connectivity as a right.
While it was acknowledged that policy support will remove some barriers to provision of digital connectivity, respondents also highlighted the risk that insufficient funding and investment could undermine delivery of the policy. Potential for the cost of infrastructure development to limit the roll-out of digital connectivity, particularly in sparsely populated, remote rural areas was noted.
Respondents wished to see detail on how the investment required to support the policy will be secured. This included specific calls for public funding, reflecting a view that developer contributions alone will not be sufficient for policy delivery. Respondents also wished to see reference to the IIP and National Development 6 (Digital Fibre Network), and to links with other policies and strategies such as the Digital Planning Strategy for Scotland, Housing to 2040, and Building Standards.
Other suggested amendments included:
- Recommending using other development as opportunities to improve digital infrastructure, for example ensuring that ground works such as burying of cables or pipes incorporates fibre. It was also suggested that major infrastructure developments should be required to demonstrate how they contribute to digital infrastructure.
- The policy should consider demand, for example by requiring planning authorities to anticipate future digital needs and signalling this to developers and infrastructure providers.
There was concern that there is no reference to 5G connectivity, reflecting a view that this should have a significant role to play for digital connectivity in the short to medium term.
a) LDPs should support the delivery of digital infrastructure, particularly in areas with gaps in connectivity and barriers to digital access
Many of those commenting on 23(a) welcomed the role of LDPs in supporting delivery of digital infrastructure, although some noted that this is likely to have the greatest impact for new development. Respondents also highlighted that this will require LDPs to identify communities with poor connectivity, to inform delivery of necessary infrastructure improvements. It was suggested that LDPs should be required to include an assessment of current digital infrastructure.
Several respondents sought further detail on specific 'barriers to digital access' that should be overcome, including how these relate to planning policy. Comments included specific reference to:
- Barriers to more efficient upgrading of masts to 5G.
- Barriers to multi-operator sharing of sites to support the Shared Rural Network, requiring developers to include full fibre with all new development.
- The guarantee period for roadworks reinstatement.
- The complexity of wayleaves, and practical issues around access to premises for providers.
There were also calls for further guidance on the specific planning policy that LDPs should include to support Policy 23, including concern that some parts of 23(a) are outwith the remit of the planning system. In this context, the importance of a partnership approach to the delivery of digital infrastructure was highlighted, including alignment of infrastructure provider priorities. There were calls for Scottish Government support to ensure that service providers fully support the policy.
b) Development proposals should incorporate appropriate, universal and futureproofed digital infrastructure
While support was expressed for the delivery of universal and futureproofed digital infrastructure, respondents were also concerned that 23(b) does not include sufficient detail to ensure the consistent assessment of development proposals required to deliver this infrastructure. There were also calls for clarification of terms such as 'appropriate', 'universal' and 'futureproofed', to inform its implementation. This included a perceived need to include guidance on how planning authorities should assess whether digital infrastructure will be appropriate and futureproofed, and calls for specific metrics or criteria against which development proposals should be measured.
Reference was made to the speed of technological change in digital connectivity in the context of futureproofing development and some respondents suggested specific requirements to ensure proposals are appropriately futureproofed. These included calls for all digital infrastructure to be gigabit capable fibre optic from exchange to premises, (including reference to barriers to replacement of existing copper cable in rural areas), and for all new development to include full fibre or ultra-highspeed connectivity.
Other issues and amendments suggested included:
- NPF4 should provide assurance that planning authorities can refuse development because it does not make provision for digital infrastructure without fear of this being overturned.
- Clarity was sought on whether 23(b) should be interpreted to require that rural development should only be supported where sufficient digital infrastructure is in place, or can be provided, as part of any development.
c) Development proposals delivering new digital services or improvements should be supported, particularly in areas with no or low connectivity
Many of those commenting on 23(c) expressed support for the delivery of new infrastructure and services, and the focus on areas with no or low connectivity. Respondents highlighted the potential for gaps in connectivity to act as a barrier to local investment and inclusive economic growth, particularly in rural areas.
There were also calls to include specific reference to the role of affordability in ensuring access to digital services, including suggestions that the policy should prioritise areas affected by deprivation. Respondents also highlighted potential for digital exclusion to reflect limited access to, or ability to use, digital technologies and wished to see this acknowledged.
There was concern around preventing planning authorities from questioning developers. Respondents acknowledged the need to support delivery of digital infrastructure and noted that the designation of a significant element of telecoms development as permitted development already limits the role of planning authorities. However, some suggested that 23(c) is overly permissive and does not address potential for the policy to result in adverse environmental impacts. This was reflected in calls to recognise that delivery of digital services and improvements must take account of potential adverse impacts on amenity, landscapes and local communities. This included suggestions that further guidance is required to help planning authorities balance digital connectivity benefits with other planning considerations, and calls for better evidence on gaps in digital connectivity.
Respondents also referred to a need for wider guidance to inform assessment of proposals' alignment with local or national policy objectives and it was suggested that developers should be required to justify specific proposals against local and national objectives.
d) Telecommunications development proposals should minimise visual and amenity impact
Many of those commenting on 23(d) supported a focus on minimising the impact of telecommunications development proposals, particularly visual and amenity impact. Respondents also welcomed reference to the shared use of existing sites to minimise adverse impacts, noting that this has been the approach used in the delivery of 5G infrastructure. However, some wished to see NPF4 explore how this can be further encouraged, to avoid the proliferation of single operator facilities.
Respondents acknowledged the need for telecommunications development, but there was also concern that planning must ensure that telecommunications infrastructure is sited to avoid adverse impacts on streetscapes and natural environments. Several respondents noted the potential for this kind of development to have significant localised impacts, particularly in the context of larger masts required for 5G connectivity, and the extension of permitted development rights to include larger installations. There was also concern around the potential impact of development in areas of local or national significance, including a particular focus on protecting these to support the response to climate change and nature recovery. It was suggested that the requirement to minimise visual and amenity impacts should apply to all digital infrastructure.
Discussion of visual and amenity impact included particular reference to the potential for telecommunications development to have a negative impact on biodiversity and the natural environment (including in National Parks and areas of scenic importance), the historic environment, residential areas (including restriction of walkways), and schools. There were calls to more explicitly acknowledge this, and to cross-reference with other relevant national policies. It was suggested that 23(d) should set out a hierarchy for the deployment of telecommunications, to ensure that new development does not take place without proper consideration of the potential for replacement of existing infrastructure, or mounting on existing sites or structures. There were also calls to support the use of below ground infrastructure in urban areas or sensitive landscapes.
Some respondents saw a need to acknowledge the technical constraints on infrastructure providers, and limits on the extent to which siting and design can minimise adverse impacts. This was thought especially important in areas of particular landscape value or sensitivity where minimising impact can be particularly challenging. It was argued that planning decisions in these areas should balance adverse impacts with social and economic benefits to local communities.
e) Development proposals likely to adversely affect the operation of existing digital infrastructure or strategic roll-out plans should not be supported without appropriate mitigation
Respondents welcomed the requirement for development proposals to mitigate any adverse impacts on digital infrastructure.
Some saw a need for further efforts to ensure that all of Scotland's places will be digitally connected, including a requirement to address what was seen as failure of the market to support isolated households and small communities. However, others raised concerns around the potential for 23(e) to result in digital infrastructure having an adverse impact on their surroundings, particularly on sites that have already been designated for development in the LDP. There were calls to set out further detail on how the protection of existing digital infrastructure should be balanced with other considerations.
Further guidance and examples were sought to support planning authorities' assessment of development proposals and mitigation measures. This reflected concern that planning authorities may lack the technical knowledge and expertise required to assess impacts on the operation of existing digital infrastructure or delivery of roll-out plans. It was also noted that information is not readily available to enable planning authorities to identify which developments are likely to affect existing infrastructure, and there were concerns that authorities may be reliant on those proposing new development. Suggestions to address this issue included:
- A requirement that development proposals include an evidenced statement that proposals will not affect existing infrastructure.
- Planning authorities should consult with network providers and/or apply the Agent of Change principle for development near existing infrastructure.
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