1 National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4) will be a long-term spatial plan to 2045 that sets out where development and infrastructure will be needed to support sustainable and inclusive growth. It will guide spatial development, set out Scotland's national planning policies, and highlight regional spatial priorities. NPF4 will incorporate Scottish Planning Policy, so that spatial and thematic planning policies will be addressed in one place. It will have the status of development plan for planning purposes. This is a change to the current position and will mean that its policies should inform day to day decision making as decisions in the planning system are made on the basis of the development plan.
2 To support the Spatial Strategy, NPF4 designates as 'National Developments' certain developments or classes of development for which Scottish Ministers have established the need in principle. The National Developments as set out in the revised Draft NPF4 are as follows:
1. Energy Innovation Development on the Islands
2. Pumped Hydro Storage
3. Strategic Renewable Electricity Generation and Transmission Infrastructure
4. Circular Economy Materials Management Facilities
5. Urban Sustainable, Blue and Green Surface Water Management Solutions
6. Urban Mass/Rapid Transit Network
7. Central Scotland Green Network
8. National Walking, Cycling and Wheeling Network
9. Edinburgh Waterfront
10. Dundee Waterfront
11. Stranraer Gateway
12. Digital Fibre Network
13. Clyde Mission
14. Aberdeen Harbour
15. Industrial Green Transition Zones
16. Hunterston Strategic Asset
17. Chapelcross Power Station Redevelopment
18. High Speed Rail
3 In compliance with the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 (as amended), more commonly known as the 'Habitats Regulations', the draft NPF4 was the subject of a Habitats Regulations Appraisal (HRA). The aim of the HRA was to establish whether the adoption of NPF4, including its spatial and thematic policies and National Developments, could result in adverse effects on the integrity of any 'European sites', either alone or in-combination with other plans and projects.
4 Prior to publication of this HRA Record, the following HRA work was completed:
- the methodology to be adopted during the HRA of NPF4 was set out in the Habitats Regulations Appraisal of National Planning Framework 4 – HRA Methodology (AECOM, 2020)
- a baseline data gathering exercise was completed and is reported in the Habitats Regulations Appraisal of National Planning Framework 4 – Baseline Information Report (AECOM, 2021a), and
- the potential for likely significant effects to arise on the qualifying habitats and/or species of European sites from the national planning policies and National Developments of NPF4 was investigated during the 'HRA screening' stage. This is reported in the Habitats Regulations Appraisal of National Planning Framework 4 – Initial HRA Screening Record (AECOM, 2021b).
5 The purpose of HRA screening is to determine, in view of best available scientific knowledge, whether a plan (or project), either alone or in-combination with other plans or projects, could have likely significant effects on the qualifying features of a European site. In relation to NPF4, the objective was therefore to 'screen out' those elements of the plan – including policies and National Developments – for which it could be stated, without more detailed appraisal, that significant effects are not likely on any European site (either alone or in combination). Where likely significant effects were identified, or if there was reasonable scientific doubt, then a policy or National Development would be 'screened in' to the next stage known as appropriate assessment.
6 Although NPF4 contains numerous policies which promote or support types of development that have the potential to result in likely significant effects, the policies themselves do not make specific allocations or commitments to a specific quantum or location of such development. NatureScot guidance (SNH, 2015) states that where effects on a given European site cannot be identified because a policy is too general, for example where it lacks any spatial definition, likely significant effects can be screened out. Therefore, following this guidance, the draft Spatial Strategy and National Planning Policy elements of NPF4 were screened out of further assessment.
7 No likely significant effects were identified for 7 of the 18 National Developments, and these were screened out of further assessment. These were:
- Strategic Renewable Electricity Generation and Transmission Infrastructure
- Circular Economy Materials Management Facilities
- Urban Sustainable, Blue and Green Surface Water Management Solutions
- Urban Mass/Rapid Transit Networks
- Central Scotland Green Network
- National Walking, Cycling and Wheeling Network, and
- Digital Fibre Network.
8 No likely significant effects were identified from these National Developments on any European sites, either alone or in-combination with other plans or projects. In accordance SNH (2015), this is because:
a) they are intended to protect the natural environment;
b) they will not themselves lead to development or other change;
c) they make provision for change but could have no conceivable effect on a European site;
d) they make provision for change but could have no significant effect on a European site; or
e) effects on any particular European site cannot be identified, because they are too general or lack any spatial definition.
9 These National Developments were therefore not be taken forward to the appropriate assessment.
10 Likely significant effects could not be ruled out for the remaining National Developments. These were therefore screened in and were subject to further appraisal as part of the appropriate assessment stage of the HRA. At this stage, consideration is given to the requirement for mitigation to ensure that the projects brought forward under these National Developments do not adversely affect the integrity of any European sites.
11 An initial appropriate assessment of the Draft NPF4, completed in March 2022, concluded that, subject to detailed design and the implementation of avoidance and mitigation measures, including further study and assessment where necessary, projects brought forward under each National Development could be delivered without adverse effect on the integrity of any European site, either alone or in-combination with other currently known plans or projects, with the exception of:
- Quay and handling facilities for ultra large container ships in Scapa Flow, proposed under Energy Innovation Development on the Islands, and
- Land reclamation for port expansion at Dundee Waterfront.
12 For these two classes of development under Energy Innovation Development on the Islands and Dundee Waterfront it was not possible, on the basis of information available at this stage in the planning process, for the initial appropriate assessment to conclude that relevant projects could be progressed without adversely affecting several European sites situated around Orkney and in the Firth of Tay, respectively. As a consequence, the following changes were made to the revised Draft NPF4:
- The class of development including quay handling facilities for ultra large container ships in Scapa Flow was removed from Energy Innovation Development on the Islands, and
- The class of development 'land reclamation for port expansion' was removed from Dundee Waterfront.
In addition, subsequent to the initial appropriate assessment of the Draft NPF4, other minor changes were made to several of the National Developments. These changes were reviewed and appraised for their potential to result in adverse effects on European sites not previously identified by the initial appropriate assessment. No such effects were identified. Therefore, with the changes described above made to the Energy Innovation Development on the Islands and Dundee Waterfront, it was concluded that all of the National Developments of NPF4 could be delivered without adverse effects on the integrity of European sites, either alone or in-combination with other plans or projects, so long as mitigation measures are adopted where necessary.
13 The conclusions of the Habitats Regulations Appraisal of NPF4 must be subject to HRA at future stages of the planning process, including at development plan and project level, when more information should be available to inform the assessment since it is conceivable that the detailed design of a particular proposal may identify issues that cannot be identified or assessed based on the level of detail provided in NPF4. As such, the conclusion of the HRA for NPF4 does not mean consent for any National Development will be granted, nor does it replace the more detailed project-level HRA that will be required in order to determine any planning applications.
14 Recommendations are given in this HRA Record for specific mitigation measures in relation to individual National Developments. These provide an initial starting point for incorporation into development plans or projects when taking forward proposals for National Developments. However, these will almost certainly need to be refined once more detail on relevant proposals is known further through the planning process. Moreover, a requirement for additional mitigation measures not suggested at this stage may also be identified based on the precise nature of relevant proposals and/or the occurrence / distribution of qualifying features in relation to the development.
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