National Planning Framework 4: statement by the Minister for Public Finance, Planning and Community Wealth

Statement by Minister for Public Finance, Planning and Community Wealth Tom Arthur on the fourth National Planning Framework (NPF4) in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday 8 November 2022. 

Presiding Officer.

Today marks ‘World Town Planning Day’ so it seems particularly appropriate to be publishing the fourth National Planning Framework – or NPF4 as it is known - and associated documents in Parliament.

Last year, when I published the draft Framework, the world had come to Glasgow for COP 26.

Right now, many of the world’s political leaders are in Sharm-el-Sheikh at COP 27 – some of them more willing participants than others, it seems. The focus is on the global imperative to reduce emissions and help society to prepare for, adapt to and mitigate climate change.

We have some very important decisions to make about our places locally, and about our contribution globally.

This framework demonstrates that Scotland will not shy away from that task.

It confirms that we support sustainable development in Scotland; we are not compromising; we are fully committing to tackling the twin crises of climate and nature.

We could not have anticipated Russia invading Ukraine, nor the extent of Westminster mismanagement amplifying the  crisis here in the UK.

However, Scotland’s fully devolved, reformed planning system is well-placed to play a key role in helping us to address all those challenges.

Presiding Officer, this framework creates the foundation upon which to build the fairer, greener Scotland we want to see, for the benefit of future generations.

Members will recall the extensive conversation and debate we have had on the draft NPF4, through public consultation and parliamentary scrutiny last winter.

I want to thank the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee for its thorough and constructive report, and for the wider input from across the Parliament.

I want to thank too, Cabinet members and Ministerial colleagues for their involvement in what has been a truly collaborative and cross-cutting government endeavour.

I especially want to thank the many people and organisations who gave their time, experience and expertise to engage with us and help create an NPF4 that reflects all our aspirations and will help drive change.

The wealth of evidence and opinion shared has guided our approach to revising NPF4, to produce the much clearer and stronger version that I have laid here today in Parliament.

We engaged, we listened, and we have responded.

As a result, the revised version looks quite different to the draft. These changes directly respond to Parliament’s recommendations and stakeholder responses to the consultation.

But the fundamental objectives have not changed, and the policy intent remains.

NPF4 is now more focused. Importantly, it is stronger where people told us it needed to be.

We have substantially re-worked the Framework’s ‘National Spatial Strategy’, which sets out how our approach to planning and development will help achieve a net zero, sustainable Scotland by 2045.

We have updated the strategy to reflect extensive comments on development priorities for different parts of Scotland. This recognises the unique contribution each part of our country can make, enabling this National Plan to be delivered appropriately, locally.

The Spatial Strategy is now set out across three themes – as ‘sustainable’, ‘liveable’ and ‘productive’ places – which better reflect the three pillars of sustainable development.

We have restructured NPF4’s ‘Policy Handbook’, to clarify expectations for local development plans and decisions on planning applications, and to bring greater confidence, predictability and consistency to decision-making.

We have also strengthened the language throughout the policies, directly responding to many people’s views that the use of words like “should” and “should not” was leaving the policy intent lacking the necessary clarity and direction.

This final version makes clear what is to be delivered, and how.

It is now clear through the weighting to be applied to different policies, that the climate and nature crises are the priority.

That is reflected in a new policy on ‘Tackling the Climate and Nature Crises’, which underpins all other policies in NPF4.

There is now a clear expectation on the role that planning must play in delivering the expansion of renewable energy needed to realise the just transition from a reliance on fossil fuels.

Parliament specifically asked us to reflect on the views of the renewables industry, and the revised NPF4 now reflects the need to get behind the delivery of renewable energy to achieve net zero.

The planning system has a big part to play in both protecting and restoring biodiversity. That is a cross-cutting theme in the revised NPF4, so that new developments can include appropriate measures to conserve, restore and enhance biodiversity – including the creation of strong nature networks.

Our local places will need to support lower carbon living.  We have responded to queries about the practicality of embedding 20 Minute Neighbourhoods across Scotland, and have revised that policy to support a broader and more flexible approach to living well locally.

But tensions remain. They will always feature in planning to some extent.

There is a balance to be struck in relation to protecting landscape and promoting renewable energy developments. That will not be easy to achieve, and Scotland will look different in the future.

People want liveable places, with local services and thriving town centres – and as a government, we want to cut car kilometres travelled by 20% by 2030 to help cut transport emissions.  Yet, many developments – retail, health, learning estate –are still often planned and made out of town.

Perhaps the biggest tension that emerged during this process, and remains, is over housing.

Sustainable, liveable and productive places look and feel very different and mean quite different things, to different people and communities. 

That is perhaps most true when it comes to new housing, and how to support the delivery of quality, affordable homes.

Some argued we proposed figures that would lead to too much house-building, while others said ‘not enough’.

Presiding Officer, I want to assure members that I have considered all the views carefully during this revision process.

And I have determined to maintain a robust evidence-based process on housing policy and targets.

Let me be clear, this is about enabling development, not restricting it. The policy will ensure that housing delivery supports, and is supported by, democratically agreed local development plans.

There are many other changes made in this NPF4 and I encourage members to read the Explanatory Report, which explains these in detail, and sets out the rationale for those changes.

I hope that Parliament will approve NPF4, and I will of course make myself available to assist that process, including giving evidence to the Local Government Committee and engaging with any groups or members who wish to discuss its content.

We have already spent some considerable time as a Parliament and government to reform our planning system. And develop this policy framework. Now we must move to implementation.

I am pleased, therefore, to publish the first iteration of the NPF4 Delivery Programme today. This will be an evolving document, updated as delivery progresses, supporting strong alignment between planning, infrastructure and place-based investment.

The Programme sets out how we will monitor and evaluate NPF4’s impact and learn, progress and deliver over the years to come.

NPF4 does not stand alone, nor should it. It provides a crucial underpinning to strategic government objectives and policies.

Planning provides the base upon which to deliver on these priorities, but delivery cannot be the sole responsibility of government.

Many aspects require investment by a range of partners, including the private sector. NPF4 can and will be supported by a range of funding and finance solutions which puts the three pillars of sustainable development into practice.

Working together will be the key, so I can announce that a new ‘Planning, Infrastructure and Place Advisory Group’ will be established to build collaboration, realise opportunities, identify barriers to delivery and strengthen the alignment of NPF4 with our plans and investment in both place and infrastructure.

Presiding Officer, there is no doubt that delivering on this new framework will be challenging given the current severe financial constraints.

I am particularly alert to the pressures on planning authorities which will now be expected to take NPF4 and develop local plans that flow from it.

But this NPF4 will streamline current practice and make it more consistent, freeing up resource to take us in a new and bold direction. That shift in culture and approach will not be without its challenges, so it is vital that authorities feel supported and that we work together to deliver NPF4.

Let me be clear, though, our statutory and moral obligations to tackle climate change mean change is necessary, urgent and also desirable.

And there is international interest in what NPF4 represents and seeks to achieve for Scotland.

In June, I attended the World Urban Forum in Poland – a gathering of governments discussing the future of sustainable development.  Everyone is in the space we are in, but few are as advanced as we are in Scotland in putting planning and the sustainable development of our places, at the heart of all we do.

The planning profession is committed globally to addressing climate change and making better places for people to live, work and play, but planners cannot achieve this on their own.

Here in Scotland, we now have the framework we need, to enable planning to deliver the change we seek.

But only if everyone with an interest in the design and creation of the spaces and places of Scotland commits to delivering on its policies and outcomes.

Today marks the end of the beginning of a process which shows that Scotland will not compromise on climate change.

And that we are determined to plan differently now, so that future generations get to live in a fairer, greener Scotland.

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