National Planning Framework 3: monitoring report

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

4. A Natural, Resilient Place

“We will respect, enhance and make responsible use of our natural and cultural assets.” 

Map - A Natural, Resilient Place

The third theme of the National Planning Framework 3 focuses on the natural and built environment. It sets out an agenda for planning that reflects our environmental strengths and the distinctive qualities of all of our places. 

The strategy promotes a landscape scale approach to land use change, including water management and green infrastructure for communities. 

The National Planning Framework 3 emphasises that quality of life and resilience in city regions will be supported by green infrastructure. It recognises that rural areas have an important role to play in providing important ecosystem services. It also seeks to ensure that coastal and island areas capitalise on their world-class environment.

National developments

Three national developments aim to help deliver this part of the strategy - the Central Scotland Green Network, Metropolitan Glasgow Strategic Drainage Plan and the National Cycling and Walking Network. 

The Central Scotland Green Network (CSGN) continues to change the face of Central Scotland by restoring and transforming its landscapes. It is helping shape new development within the context of green infrastructure, enhancing the relationship between development and nature as part of placemaking. In line with the priorities set out in the National Planning Framework 3, the CSGN is seeking to also maximise its impact by focusing actions on areas with disadvantaged communities and where there is vacant and derelict land. 

Working across local authorities, the Metropolitan Glasgow Strategic Drainage Partnership has delivered green roofs, sustainable drainage systems, flood protection, invested £100 million in the Shieldhall strategic waste water tunnel and continues to raise awareness of the importance of long term infrastructure investment.

The National Walking and Cycling Network is a 6,400km network of strategic long distance paths and trails extending throughout Scotland, comprising Scotland’s Great Trails, the National Cycle Network, and Scottish Canal’s towpaths. Work has progressed on around 37 National Walking and Cycling Network (NWCN) projects. Development of the network is progressing well and since 2015 lead partners have spent £16.6M in creating and improving around 441km of strategic routes, with a highlight being the upgrading of the entire lowland canal towpath network. Based on evidence from recent monitoring[67], it is clear that the NWCN in Scotland is encouraging people to increase their level of physical activity, enabling active travel, supporting local economies and connecting millions of people with nature.

National Planning Framework 3 Actions

18. “We will take forward the provisions of the Cycling Action Plan and the National Walking Strategy.”

The second Cycling Action Plan for Scotland Progress Report[68] was published in 2016, showing that the vision of 10% of everyday journeys by bike by 2020 is unlikely to be met without rapid behaviour and resource change. The third Cycling Action Plan for Scotland[69] was published in 2017. 

The Government is committed to building an active nation, and to achieve this has doubled the already record level of investment in walking and cycling from £39.2 million in 2017-18 to £80 million per year in 2018-19 and 2019-20. This will allow us to invest in ambitious capital infrastructure projects and increase successful behaviour change and education programmes. In 2015, a competition was run for road space reallocation, encouraging new consideration of the priority given to users in the investment and design of our streets. 

The National Walking Strategy Action Plan[70] and Walking Infographic[71] were launched by Paths for All in 2016. The action plan was updated in 2019 and will continue to act as a key point of reference to organisations such as public bodies, local councils and charities who have committed to its delivery. The benefits of active travel for helping create friendlier environments, good physical and mental health, quality of life and promoting equality are now widely recognised and further work is underway to achieve a step-change in travel patterns. 

19. “We will implement the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy, including completing the suite of protected places and improving their connectivity through a national ecological network centred on these sites.”

Scotland’s Biodiversity – a Routemap to 2020[72] was published in 2015. Its first progress report a year later showed around 80% of actions on track[73]. In 2017, Scotland’s Biodiversity: Progress to 2020 Aichi Targets Interim Report 2017 identified seven goals on track, twelve showing progress but needing further action and one goal moving away from the target[74]

Scotland has over 380 Natura 2000 sites and over 1,450 Sites of Special Scientific Interest. As of March 2018, 79.7% of natural features on protected sites were considered to be in favourable condition, a very slight reduction from 2016 but an overall increase of 3.7% since 2014[75]

In 2016, the numbers of breeding birds were around 9% lower than in 2014 but in 2015 were around 2% higher than in 2014[76]. The fluctuation in numbers is affected by a variety of factors including habitat, farm management and climate change and demonstrates their vulnerability to change. 

20. “We will help planning authorities to take a more co-ordinated approach to planning for environmental and habitat improvements for the Forth Estuary.”

A guide to help developers and regulators meet the requirements of Habitats Regulations Appraisal on the Firth of Forth was published by Scottish Natural Heritage in 2016[77]. Local initiatives are supporting conservation and enhancement, for example the Inner Forth Futurescapes project[78], overseen by RSPB, involves wetland improvement for wildlife and flood risk management in the area. 

21. “We will increase new woodland creation to an average of 10,000 hectares per year from 2015, and take action towards delivering the proposal in Low Carbon Scotland (RPP2) to increase the rate of peatland restoration to 22,000 hectares per year.”

Woodland planting and peatland restoration have many environmental and cultural benefits. We have set targets for woodland creation and peatland restoration in the third Climate Change Plan, which covers the period 2018 to 2032 and supersedes the Report on Policies and Proposals 2. The ambitions in the Plan include:

By 2032, Scotland’s woodland cover will increase from 18% to 21% of Scottish land area. The ambition is to increase the rate of woodland creation to 15,000 hectares per year by 2025; and

By 2020, 50,000 hectares of degraded peatland will have been restored, with another 250,000 hectares restored over the following ten years

A new grant scheme and streamlining of the grant application process have led to an increase in woodland creation activity, indicating that annual woodland creation targets will be met in the near future.

22. “SEPA will publish the second round of River Basin Management Plans in 2015. National and local flood risk management plans will be published in 2016.”

The second round of River Basin Management Plans were published in 2015. They set a target for 87% of our rivers, lochs, coastal waters and groundwaters to be in ‘good’ condition by 2027. Around 80% of ground water bodies and half of rivers are in good condition[79]. SEPA continues to manage the Water Environment Fund, currently around £4.5m per year. This aims to remove barriers to fish passage and restore urban rivers, creating associated social and economic benefits for communities.  

There are 14 Local Plan Districts for flood risk management in Scotland. In 2015, Flood Risk Management Strategies[80] for each Local Plan District were published. Local Flood Risk Management Plans[81], published in 2016, provide a local delivery plan for these strategies, together setting out actions to be undertaken between 2016 and 2021. 

In 2015, we published research and mapping looking at the area that would be most disadvantaged by flooding[82], showing that climate change is likely to increase the frequency of flooding and exacerbate its impact, based on the first National Flood Risk Assessment. 

In 2018, SEPA published Scotland’s Second National Flood Risk Assessment[83]. This gives us the clearest picture yet of flood risk in Scotland, and embeds climate change and a comprehensive range of social, environmental and economic impacts into a single assessment. We now understand that there are around 284,000 homes, businesses and services across Scotland at risk of flooding from rivers, surface water and the sea. Climate change is projected to increase the numbers at risk by an additional 110,000 homes, businesses and services, across all sources of flooding by 2080. 

23. “We will take action based on the outcome from our consultation on Opencast Coal Restoration: Effective Regulation.”

The collapse of Scottish Coal and the legacy of large abandoned surface coal mines was a significant concern at the time the National Planning Framework 3 was published. The report of the Opencast Coal Task Force ‘Surface Coal Mine Restoration – Towards Better Regulation[84]’ was published in 2015. A programme of mineral related topic training, funded by the Scottish Government’s Planning and Division and co-ordinated by the Improvement Service, has been taken forward. This was made available to all local authorities and the industry. 

In 2015, a Coal Restoration Working Group was established and a Scottish Coal and Minerals Forum was created in 2016. New regulations for opencast mine monitoring fees came into force on 1st January 2018. 

24. “Planning Authorities will support VisitScotland’s Tourism Development Framework in their development plans.”

In 2016, the Tourism Development Framework[85] was updated along with a list of projects relevant to its delivery with this regularly highlighted as a consideration for strategic and local development plans to take into account.

Tourism continues to make a significant contribution to the economy. In its first year the North Coast 500 route was reported to have drawn more than 29,000 additional visitors to the Highlands[86], contributing some £9 million to the economy. However, in recent years additional pressure on remote and island communities arising from tourism have become a significant issue. 

Whilst many of Scotland’s leading attractions are in our cities, our world-class landscape continues to be a draw for visitors from the rest of the UK and overseas. Localised but significant issues have been reported in some areas as a result of higher than expected numbers of visitors, suggesting the need for careful planning and management of infrastructure in environmentally sensitive areas such as Orkney and Skye. 

These are issues that the Scottish Government has also addressed through measures such as the establishment of the Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund and the setting up of the Short Term Lets Delivery Group to consider whether further measures are required in this area given the potential impact on communities.

25. “We will take forward the actions in the Climate Change Adaptation Programme.”

Scotland’s first five year Climate Change Adaptation Programme[87] was published in 2014. Since then, there have been five annual progress reports setting out where there has been progress and two independent assessments by the Adaptation Committee of the Committee on Climate Change helping to identify next steps.

Many of the initiatives to date aimed at improving understanding and action on adaptation can be utilised by planners at national and local level. Examples include improved data on coastal change with Dynamic Coast[88] - Scotland’s National Coastal Change Assessment; emerging collaborative partnerships on climate change adaptation such as Climate Ready Clyde and Edinburgh Adapts; Flood Risk Management; public body reporting on climate change adaptation; and Historic Environment Scotland’s climate change risk assessment. 

New Climate Change Projections[89] (UKCP18) were launched by the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in November 2018, updating the previous projections published in 2009. UKCP18 forecasted similar climate trends to the 2009 analysis, but with much greater local detail, and signalled that higher sea level rises are forecast, with implications particularly for coastal communities.

A further iteration of the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment was published in 2017, in so doing activating the statutory requirement to address the risks in preparing the next adaptation programme.

In 2019 the Scottish Government engaged with stakeholders across Scotland to understand their views, experiences and priorities for adapting to climate change, in order to develop a second climate change adaptation programme. The Scottish Government held digital engagement events, stakeholder engagement events and Climate Change Adaptation Climate Conversations across Scotland. A public consultation was held and a report on consultation responses was published in May 2019[90]. The new programme was published in September 2019[91].

The planning system has significant potential to support future climate change adaptation delivery. Climate change risk assessments are becoming better understood and climate change data is improving, collaborative partnerships approaches are emerging, and responses are required across all sectors. Planning policy and practice will need to continue to develop, by considering, for example, the weight to be given to climate change data in risk assessments for major developments in the face of uncertainty and addressing the needs of communities and businesses at risk of flooding. As we tackle matters such as domestic climate justice, there will be particular challenges in considering which reasonably fall within the remit and scope of planning. 

Further Changes Since 2014

Place Quality

Almost all adults in Scotland (95%) rate their neighbourhood as a very or fairly good place to live. Neighbourhood rating varies depending on area deprivation. Adults in less deprived areas are more likely to rate their neighbourhood as a very good place to live[92].

Quality of place, health and wellbeing are interlinked and the planning system has an important role in ensuring that future development is supported by high quality green infrastructure. Green space covers 54% of the land area of urban Scotland[93]

The 2017 Scottish Household Survey[94] found that most adults (65%) live within a five minute walk of their nearest green space, although this is down from 69% in 2014. More than a third of adults (37%) visited their nearest area of green space at least once a week, which has been around the same proportion since 2013, when comparable figures were first collected. Those living within 5 minutes’ walk of green space are more likely to use it than those living 6-10 minutes’ walk away. Most adults (74 per cent) were very or fairly satisfied with their nearest area of green space, a similar proportion to 2016.

Just over half of adults in the Scottish Household Survey (52%) visited the outdoors at least once a week in the last year, an increase from 48% in 2014. In the most deprived areas of Scotland, 41% of adults visit the outdoors at least once a week, compared to 63% of adults in the least deprived areas. Whilst only 6% of adults living in the least deprived areas had not made any visits to the outdoors in the last twelve months, this figure stood at 20% of adults living in the most deprived areas.

In 2017, Scotland had 11,649 hectares of derelict and urban vacant land, a decrease of 7% from 2016[95]. In this period, 229 hectares of new derelict and urban vacant land emerged, 27% of this was previously mineral sites. In the same year, 857 hectares were brought back into use, of which 23% is now in residential use. 

Following a commitment in the Programme for Government and building on the successful example of the Metropolitan Glasgow Strategic Drainage Partnership, the new Edinburgh and Lothian drainage partnership is developing a strong partnership working approach to enable a growing, sustainable and resilient region by transforming how we think about and manage drainage and surface water.

Land Use Strategy

Scotland’s Land Use Strategy[96] highlights climate change and biodiversity as pressing concerns. The strategy aims to ensure land-based businesses work with nature to contribute to Scotland’s prosperity, promotes responsible stewardship of natural resources, and aims to connect people with the land through enjoyment and influence in its use. It aims to bring back into productive use derelict and vacant land and seeks to ensure that outdoor recreation opportunities and accessible green space are available close to where people live. 

The strategy is clear that decision making should take into account whether land is highly suitable for a primary use such as food production, water management or carbon storage. It recognises that all landscapes are important to identity and wellbeing, seeking positive and sympathetic change. The strategy has followed through to a number of projects, for example, work on a strategic vision for the uplands led by Scottish Natural Heritage[97].

Land Reform

The Scottish Government’s ongoing programme of land reform is empowering more people and communities to shape the future of the land, buildings and infrastructure of the places where they live and work, and in doing so, to shape their own futures. The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016[98] was a milestone in Scotland’s land reform journey, followed in September 2017 by the publication of the Scottish Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement[99]

The Statement will help shape government policy on land in the years to come. Its principles support increased diversity of ownership and use of land, promote sustainable development and social justice, community engagement and transparency in relation to land and help to protect and enhance the environment. Greater collaboration and community engagement in decisions about land will help to ensure there is a strong and dynamic relationship between people and land.  


The relationship between land, food production and consumption and health is complex, and an important long term planning consideration. Scotland’s Good Food Nation policy was published in 2014[100], setting out a vision of access to quality local food, supporting associated market opportunities and reducing dietary related diseases. A programme of measures report published in September 2018[101] detailed the breadth of work being done across Government which contributes to our Good Food Nation ambitions. 

In 2018 and early 2019 a consultation Good Food Nation proposals for legislation was undertaken[102]. In 2017, a consultation on a new Diet and Obesity Strategy[103] included a commitment to exploring the relationship between the planning system and the food environment, in particular around schools. Research helping to fulfill this commitment was published in November 2018[104]. ‘A Healthier Future’, Scotland’s diet and healthy weight delivery plan was published in July 2018[105]

The Scottish Government has been very clear that a wide range of actions are needed to make healthier choices easier wherever we eat. While Scottish Planning Policy and the National Planning Framework 3 do support the health and wellbeing of communities in Scotland through good placemaking principles, prioritising active travel, open spaces and providing room for allotments, they have not previously put a framework in place around controlling the food environment. The published research and further work in this area will help to identify actions for planning to improve the food environment for consideration in the National Planning Framework 4.



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