National Planning Framework 3: monitoring report

Progress of the 30 key actions and 14 national developments listed in the third National Planning Framework.

2. A Successful, Sustainable Place

“We will create high quality, diverse and sustainable places that promote well-being and attract investment.”

Map - A Successful, Sustainable Place

The first theme of the National Planning Framework 3 focuses on economic and social development and associated infrastructure. 

The spatial strategy recognises that Scotland’s network of cities will be a focus for development and sets out key priorities for each of the seven city regions. It underlines the importance of continuing development and investment across rural areas, envisaging vibrant rural communities together with distinctive and high quality towns acting as hubs for homes, transport connections and services. It also seeks to ensure that coastal and island communities benefit from new investment. 

National Developments

Two national developments aim to help deliver this part of the strategy – Ravenscraig in North Lanarkshire and Dundee Waterfront. 

Since 2014, the redevelopment of Dundee Waterfront has continued to progress at pace. The award-winning masterplanned development includes new and refurbished infrastructure and buildings, together with a complete reconfiguration of the central waterfront area. Creating a new high quality civic centre and involving many local residents, this is providing significant opportunities for business and cultural development, including in the completion of the V&A Dundee Museum of Design, the opening of a new railway station and hotel, and construction currently underway on other commercial buildings. 

At Ravenscraig, 600 new homes have been completed and planning permission has been granted for a further 322, on which construction work has begun.  A 40 bed hotel opened in 2018, as well as a pub/restaurant. Access has also been improved with the completion of a road dualling project. Owner Ravenscraig Limited has been granted outline planning permission for a revised site-wide masterplan, which is hoped to help unlock further phases of development over the coming years.

National Planning Framework 3 Actions 

1. “We will work with planning authorities to maintain an up-to-date, easily accessible national protocol for Enterprise Areas.”

The protocol for enterprise areas is in place. In the Review of Enterprise Areas in Scotland[4], published by Highlands and Islands Enterprise in 2016, the consensus among stakeholders was that financial incentives were less significant than other available incentives, such as Planning Protocol, in attracting inward investors to locate on an Enterprise Area site.

2. “The Scottish Cities Alliance and local authorities will take forward the priorities set out in the City Investment Plans.”

City investment has progressed rapidly since National Planning Framework 3 was published. Perhaps most significantly, four city deals are now in place covering Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness and Highland, and Edinburgh and South East Scotland. Heads of terms agreements have also been signed for both Stirling and Clackmannanshire and the Tay Cities[5]. Economic development and supporting infrastructure are a key focus, with deals aiming to support investments with the potential to deliver transformational and inclusive growth. 

3. “The Scottish Cities Alliance will bring the City Investment Plans together into a shared investment portfolio brochure, communicating a consistent investment message across the cities network.”

Two versions of the Cities Alliance Pitch Book have been published, which provided investor information on development opportunities of scale in Scotland. This provided a portal for investors to access information about development projects in Scotland. 

From October 2018 this work has been superseded by the Scotland is Now Capital Investment prospectus[6]. This collaborative approach to capital investment led by Scottish Government and Scottish Enterprise is aimed at attracting capital investment to investor ready projects of scale through a joined-up package of public sector support. 

4. “As an early priority, we will examine current planning authority approaches to aligning planning and infrastructure investment to inform whether further advice on this is required.”

Research on aligning planning and infrastructure was completed in 2015[7] and subsequently recognised with a national Royal Town Planning Institute research award. The report set out a number of recommendations. Specifically in relation to spatial planning, the work recommended closer integration of planning with wider infrastructure investment programmes and a greater focus on achieving delivery through the development plan process. 

The work highlighted the importance of the planning system as a means of co-ordinating the funding and delivery of infrastructure and identified the challenges around front funding. The limitations of the system in using Planning Obligations to resource infrastructure requirements were also identified.

This work subsequently informed the independent review of the planning system, which in turn proposed a renewed emphasis on an ‘infrastructure first’ approach to development. Further work has since been undertaken to establish the potential for an infrastructure levy in Scotland, and an enabling power now forms part of the Planning (Scotland) Act[18]. In addition, we have established an Infrastructure Delivery Group, involving public and private infrastructure providers and focusing on strengthening the relationship between planning and infrastructure delivery. Work to inform the work of the group and wider planning reform, continues to be progressed with the support of the Scottish Futures Trust.

5. “We will continue to implement and embed the regeneration outcomes as articulated in our Regeneration Strategy. As a priority, we will implement the Town Centre Action Plan, and take forward a series of demonstration projects including a programme of town centre charrettes.”

We are promoting and supporting the regeneration of Scotland’s towns and town centres, including small towns in rural areas. Through our Town Centre Action Plan[9], we are continuing to promote the Town Centre First Principle to ensure planning and investment support the regeneration and sustainability of towns and town centres. The principle is a call to central government, local authorities, communities and our institutions to put the health of town centres at the heart of decision-making processes. This drives public sector investment decisions, aligns policies, and targets available resources to prioritise town centre sites and encourage vibrancy and diversity. 

We fund Scotland’s Towns Partnership (STP) to provide information, support and services which contribute to the vibrancy, vitality and viability of our town centres and neighbourhoods; and to support the development of partnerships including Business Improvement Districts. 

There are a range of tools and resources to support how partners can understand, audit, plan and improve their town centres, including:

  • Understanding Scottish Places (USP)[10] is a unique and dynamic online tool which shows for the first time how every town in Scotland with a population of 1,000 or more is interacting with its surrounding settlements and performing against a range of indicators and interdependency relationships.
  • USP Your Town Audit[11], an STP add-on to USP, is a six-day study which provides the standard benchmark for measuring the health of a Scottish town. 
  • Town Centre Toolkit[12] features all the best ideas in sustainable streetscapes, design and planning guidance.
  • Place Standard[13] is designed to support communities, and the public, private and third sectors, to work efficiently together, as well as provides a framework to assess the quality of a place.

In 2018-19 we delivered another round of the Making Places Initiative which has provided support for a further 20 community-led design projects across Scotland[14]. Additionally, the Making Places Initiative has also provided support to 21 communities as part of the Place Standard Conversations element of the fund. The Place Standard Conversations fund offers support to communities to initiate discussions around their local area and develop capacity by using the Place Standard tool. The fund is aimed at removing barriers to participation and helping in the delivery of events within disadvantaged communities. These types of events are an important way of empowering people and enabling participation. Making Places represents a broadening of the charrette mainstreaming programme to support communities at all stages of their thinking. 

There will be a new ring-fenced £50 million Town Centre Fund for 2019-20 within the local authority capital settlement to drive local economic activity and to stimulate and support place-based economic improvements to town centres. The aim is to invest in inclusive growth which supports town centres to become more diverse and sustainable, creating footfall through local improvements and partnerships which encourage town centres to become more vibrant, creative, enterprising and accessible places for their communities. This will deliver against the themes of our Town Centre Action Plan including town centre living and supporting town centres to be vibrant, accessible and enterprising places, such as re-purposing buildings for retail, business, housing, social and community enterprise, services, leisure, and culture, tourism and heritage; and improving access and infrastructure.

We have worked with ten planning authorities on pilots to test approaches that could simplify planning in town centres and attract in people and investment. Case studies and ‘How To’ guides[15] to share the learning from the demonstration pilots are now available on Scotland’s Towns Partnership website. These include the Renfrew Town Centre Simplified Planning Zone, which has informed our proposals in the Planning Act. 

6. “We will work with housing providers and the development sector to support housing development and encourage innovative approaches to affordable housing.”

The last five years has continued to be a challenging time for house building in Scotland. House building rates fell in the years immediately following the economic crisis, although the most recent statistics show an increase of 4% to 18,391 completions in the year to end of March 2017[16]. The need to deliver more good quality homes was a key driver of the programme of planning reform and the appointment of an independent panel to review the system as a whole in 2015. 

Supplying more homes has become a national strategic ‘Social Infrastructure’ priority, with the Affordable Housing Supply Programme[17] committing us to delivering at least 50,000 affordable homes by 2021. The More Homes Scotland[18] approach focuses on provision of affordable homes, delivering mid-market rent homes and supporting home ownership through the Open Market Shared Equity Scheme and the Help to Buy (Scotland) Scheme. 

We have provided funding for the construction of new homes, in particular since 2016 with the ‘Help to Buy (Scotland) Affordable New Build’ and ‘Help to Buy (Scotland) Smaller Developers’ schemes. Financial support for the ‘Open Market Shared Equity scheme’ increased to over £80 million. In addition we have identified £3 billion between 2016 and 2021 for the delivery of 50,000 affordable homes. These concentrate on providing homes for purchase or part purchase, but proposals for expanding mid-market rental accommodation are also important. 

Planning has a central role to play in housing delivery, this is a key theme of ongoing planning reform with the independent review of the planning system calling for national spatial planning to provide a clear steer on requirements for housing land across Scotland. This is a significant challenge for National Planning Framework 4 to address and work is ongoing to establish how this can be achieved. 

The Joint Housing Delivery Plan for Scotland[19] has driven forward 34 actions in the housing market to 2020. A wide range of actions relate to the housing sector, with planning, for example, prioritising the supply of affordable housing, supporting self and custom build opportunities and ensuring sufficient land is provided to accommodate a range of housing types within development plans. Town centre strategies also have significant potential to contribute to new housing provision. 

Infrastructure is also critical to the viability of housing proposals, and the delivery of housing can be supported and strengthened by ensuring there is also an emphasis on improving quality of place. Related challenges include tackling fuel poverty and improving energy efficiency, particularly in rural areas which are off the gas grid. The Energy Efficient Scotland Programme[20], launched in May 2018, aims to make Scotland’s buildings warmer, greener and more efficient. It has two main objectives; removing poor energy efficiency as a driver for fuel poverty and reducing greenhouse gas emissions through more energy efficient buildings and decarbonising our heat supply. 

In our 2018-19 Programme for Government, we made a commitment to plan together with stakeholders for how our homes and communities should look and feel in 2040 and the options and choices to get there. We completed our first round of stakeholder engagement in 2018, which provided a comprehensive dialogue around the future of housing in Scotland and has helped shape a draft vision and principles for 2040, which we published in July 2019[21]. We will undertake a full public consultation on our Housing to 2040 approach and, in 2020, we will publish our final vision and route map to 2040.

7. “In anticipation of longer-term change, we wish to see planning authorities anticipate the likely need for new housing, infrastructure and services resulting from investment in coastal and rural areas through a joined-up approach to marine and terrestrial planning.”

Development planning for island communities has progressed since the National Planning Framework 3 was published. A rural and islands housing fund has been launched, allocating £25 million to housing in rural areas and £5 million to the islands. 

In 2017 the Orkney Islands Council was overall winner of the Scottish Awards for Quality in Planning and the UK-wide Royal Town Planning Institute Awards for Planning Excellence[22] for its exemplary work in Stromness. Our simplified planning zone housing pilots include a project with Argyll and Bute Council, using a dual mainland and island approach to explore use of simplified planning zones as an upfront consenting approach to support delivery of rural housing and the potential it brings to sustain local services and businesses. 

Wider commitments to empowering the islands led to the introduction of the Islands (Scotland) Bill[23] to the Scottish Parliament in 2017 which received Royal Assent in July 2018. It includes a number of measures to ensure that there is a sustained focus across Government and public sector to meet the needs of island communities now and in the future. We are committed to supporting these communities and improving outcomes by creating the right environment for investment, empowerment and increasing sustainable economic growth. 

8. “We will support the sustainable growth of the aquaculture sector, including through the continuing work of the Ministerial Group for Sustainable Aquaculture.”

Significant opportunities for investment and growth of our communities in coastal and island locations arising from the aquaculture sector were recognised in the National Planning Framework 3. 

This action is being progressed in forums that include the Farmed Fish Health Framework Working Group[24] and the subgroups delivering Scotland’s 10 Year Farmed Fish Health Framework[25].

An Aquaculture Industry Leadership Group was established in 2016 to regularly discuss opportunities for the sector and its sustainable long term growth. In 2017 the Scottish Government published a joint ministerial aquaculture policy statement reaffirming that an appropriate balance is struck between the sustainable growth of the aquaculture industry and regulating the potential environmental impacts.

Following an independent review of the consenting process for aquaculture (jointly commissioned by Marine Scotland and The Crown Estate), published in 2016, there is a longer-term recommendation to look at the potential for an alternative consenting regime. 

An Interactions Working Group will examine and provide advice on the interactions between wild and farmed salmon, and as part of this, a Technical Working Group (Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Marine Scotland and other public sector bodies - in consultation with the Interactions Working Group) is tasked with developing a risk-based policy framework on managing the interactions between marine cage salmon farms, sea lice and wild salmon and trout. The Technical Working Group will consult on its proposals this year. 

In 2015, we published Circular 1/2015 on the relationship between the land use planning system, marine planning and licensing, to assist with applications in the intertidal zone, where planning permission and marine licensing both have a role. 

Further Changes Since 2014


Scotland’s population has increased by around 90,500 since 2014[26] to 5,438,100 in 2018[27]. This increase arose from positive net migration. The population remains concentrated in the central belt of Scotland. The population density of Scotland has been generally stable. In 2014, there were 69 people per square kilometre, and by 2018 this figure stood at 70. There is significant variation between parts of Scotland, with the Western Isles and Highlands estimated at less than 10 people per square kilometre, compared to around 3,600 in Glasgow in 2018. Increasing numbers of council areas are experiencing population decline, with nine council areas experiencing depopulation in the year to mid-2014 and fourteen areas in the year to mid-2018. The council areas experiencing depopulation are mainly rural and island areas, as well as areas in the west of Scotland.

Our population is projected to keep growing due to migration in the years up to 2041[28] with the latest national population projections estimating an increase of 5% between 2016 and 2041, continued but slowing growth. Alternative projections published by National Records of Scotland[29] show that where European Union (EU) migration to Scotland falls to half of current levels, population growth would be 4% over the same period (2016 to 2041), and with no EU migration, population growth is 2%. These alternative possibilities are trend-based, but provide helpful illustrations of the possible effect on Scotland’s population changes as a result of EU in-migration (See also the section on ‘Rural Scotland’).


Scotland’s Economic Strategy[30] was published in 2015 setting out the ambition to create a more cohesive and resilient economy that improves the opportunities, life chances and wellbeing of every citizen in Scotland. It is based on two key pillars: increasing competitiveness and tackling inequality. The Strategy includes four priority areas: investment, innovation, internationalisation and inclusive growth. Building on the Strategy, the Economic Action Plan[31] was launched in October 2018, and sets out the range of positive actions this Government is taking to deliver inclusive economic growth. Achieving inclusive growth in particular will require a reduction in disparities in economic performance between regions and local areas, ensuring that the benefits of increased prosperity are distributed fairly.

In May 2016 the First Minister announced an end-to-end review to ensure that public agencies are delivering sufficient enterprise and skills support for Scotland’s young people, universities, colleges, training providers, businesses and workers. Phase 1 of the review identified 10 recommendations to establish a simpler, more flexible, coherent and cost-effective system of support. Phase 2 of the review commenced in November 2016, with nine projects taking forward these recommendations.

The Phase 2 report of the Enterprise and Skills Review[32] formed an Enterprise and Skills Strategic Board to align and co-ordinate the activities of Scotland’s enterprise and skills agencies, supported by bespoke analytical services. The Board will seek to maximise the impact of the collective investment that Scotland makes in enterprise and skills development, helping to create conditions that are conducive to delivering inclusive and sustainable growth. It published its Strategic Plan[33] in October 2018, setting out a series of actions and recommendations to drive greater productivity and inclusive growth through the enterprise and skills system in all parts of Scotland.

A new South of Scotland Economic Partnership has been created, focusing on inclusive growth and acting as a forerunner to a South of Scotland Enterprise body (to be operational from April 2020). The Scottish Government has committed to growth deals covering all of Scotland. The forthcoming Borderlands Growth Deal straddles Carlisle City, Cumbria, Northumberland, Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders council areas. 

Work is ongoing in the Ayrshires, Argyll and Bute, Falkirk, Moray and the Scottish Islands to develop and refine growth deal proposals. In addition to this, Regional Economic Partnerships are forming across Scotland, bringing local authorities, the private sector, enterprise and skills agencies, education and the third sector together into partnerships which seek to align resources and priorities to advance inclusive economic growth. 

The Scottish Government has committed to growth deals covering all of Scotland. Progress has been reported in the ‘City Investment Plans’ action update earlier in this report. City and regional growth deals are in place or in development across Scotland. Significant progress is being made towards Heads of Terms for the Ayrshires and the Borderlands Growth Deals[34]. Discussions continue for growth deals for Moray, Falkirk, Argyll and Bute and the Islands.

Growth deal investment has been a catalyst enabling a new network of Regional Economic Partnerships to form across Scotland. These partnerships, where local authorities collaborate with businesses, enterprise and skills agencies, academia and the third sector, are an opportunity to identify key areas for growth. Some Regional Economic Partnerships are already in place and formalised, building on the collaboration required in order to obtain and deliver growth deals.

In addition, the Scottish Government has committed to a range of actions in its response[35] to the work of the expert advisory panel on the collaborative economy with a focus on platforms that deliver fair work and contribute to inclusive growth. The nature of retail and town centres is also changing, with potential impacts on development patterns. Evolving economic conditions suggest our long term spatial planning approach will need to be revisited. 

Health and Wellbeing

In 2018 the Scottish Government and COSLA jointly published public health priorities for Scotland[36] as part of the wider reform of public health. One of the six priorities is about healthy places and communities with the planning system also influencing some of the other priorities.

Scotland’s health, including mental health, is also a key policy driver of relevance to the success of our population and places, with new data having emerged since National Planning Framework 3 was published. The mental wellbeing of the population as a whole has remained relatively stable between 2009 and 2017[37] and remained closely linked with both age and area-based deprivation. The Scottish Health Survey (2017 edition)[38] provides important insights into trends over time, between places and in relation to demographic differences. Mental health is one of the priority areas for the public health reform programme[39]. We want to create a Scotland where we have good mental wellbeing and where all people can thrive across their lifespan. Our guiding ambition for mental health is simple but, if realised, will change and save lives – that we must prevent and treat mental health problems with the same commitment, passion and drive as we do physical health problems. 

The Scottish Health Survey shows that levels of physical activity vary geographically and socially, with fewer adults living in the most deprived areas meeting the guidelines on recommended level of physical activity (56% in the most deprived areas compared to 72% in the least deprived areas). The Mental Health Strategy[40] supports actions that improve the physical health of people with mental health problems and that improve the mental health of people with physical health problems. Actions need to happen at population community levels, in primary care services, in specialist mental health services and in specialist acute services. There should be holistic services around the individual with the addressing of inequalities being built in.

The Fairer Scotland Action Plan[41] set out 50 actions to tackle poverty, reduce inequality and build a fairer, more inclusive Scotland. Planning can facilitate the actions in many different ways including: supporting community involvement and empowerment; making provision for affordable housing; directing development and regeneration towards areas where there are concentrations of people with significant disadvantage, and supporting the delivery of a wider agenda for improved public health.

The Scottish Government’s first Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan, Every Child, Every Chance, published in March 2018[42], set out a range of new actions to support families with children living in poverty, as well as ongoing activity to improve the lives of families living in disadvantaged communities. This strategic focus on tackling poverty is now supported by the ‘Fairer Scotland Duty’ set out in the Fairer Scotland Action Plan, which requires public sector bodies to tackle social and economic disadvantage (poverty) in local areas when making key decisions. The Scottish Government has provided resource to the Improvement Service to offer support to public bodies covered by the Fairer Scotland Duty, to help share best practice and deliver training. 

Community Empowerment

The way in which communities engage with the planning system has emerged as a significant theme which the Planning Act is seeking to address. The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act (2015)[43], by creating new rights for community bodies and new duties on public authorities, strengthens the voices of communities in decisions that matter to them, making it easier for local people to develop their own economies, wellbeing and environments. A review of local governance is also now underway, providing a further opportunity to support and develop local democracy. 

The quality of our places has a central role to play in supporting inclusive growth, health and wellbeing. The Place Standard is an easy to use tool that can help anyone to evaluate the quality of a place and supports communities, public authorities and industry to work together to create places that deliver a high quality of life. The tool, which is a partnership between Scottish Government, NHS Health Scotland and Architecture & Design Scotland, with support from Glasgow City Council, is helping to support the development of effective place-based working across Scotland. The 2018-19 Programme for Government commits to building on the success of the tool and expanding our support for community-led design and ensuring early involvement by communities in shaping development in their area.

Rural Scotland

EU Exit will bring new and significant challenges for different parts of Scotland. The Scottish Government’s analysis shows that failing to remain in the European Single Market or to secure a free trade agreement with the EU will damage Scotland’s economy, reducing GDP by between 2.7% and 8.5%, up to £12.7 billion in 2016 cash terms by 2030, compared to full EU membership[44].

The scale of this impact will depend on the final outcomes of ongoing negotiations. Loss of a consistent regulatory framework and freedom of movement of people will be a significant challenge for Scotland. The impact on our workforce is of particular concern given reliance of some of our key sectors on EU citizens to ensure competitiveness and offset the impact of a long term ageing population. 

A new approach to spatial planning will provide an opportunity to consider how planning can address the impacts of EU Exit on the rural economy. The National Council of Rural Advisors published their interim report ‘Potential Implications of Rural Scotland of the UK Leaving the EU[45] in 2017. To address concerns about availability of labour force for key sectors, the report suggests a number of options for retaining a local workforce:

  • Promote rural areas as centres of excellence for sectors not traditionally seen as rural, for example advanced manufacturing.
  • Address digital connectivity concerns and promote remote working opportunities, for example through the provision of shared workspaces.
  • In the Northern and Western Isles, North West Highlands, Dumfries and Galloway, and the former heavy industry and coalfield areas of the Central Belt, Fife, Ayrshire and Lanarkshire policy and delivery will replace structural fund arrangements, and as a result these areas will require a particular policy focus.

The 2018 report ‘A new blueprint for Scotland’s rural economy: Recommendations to Scottish Ministers’[46] sets out five principles considered by the National Council of Rural Advisors fundamental to shaping a vibrant future and which underpin the recommendations made. The leading recommendation is:

  • A vibrant, sustainable and inclusive rural economy can only be achieved by recognising its strategic importance – and effectively mainstreaming it within all policy and decision-making processes.

That would be supported by a published Rural Economy Framework aimed at a number of outcomes including; highly valued, flexible, adaptive and skilled people; to have improved and inclusive access to rural housing solutions; and to have robust infrastructure, with improved and inclusive access to services, mobility and connectivity.

Long term change adds a further dimension to the pressures arising from EU Exit. Recent work by the James Hutton Institute[47] has highlighted demographic decline in the most sparsely populated rural areas, further underlining the significance of the challenge for rural Scotland and the need for a positive planning response.



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