NPF4 call for ideas: analysis of responses

Independent analysis of responses to the call for ideas to inform the preparation of a new National Planning Framework (NPF), launched in January 2020.


Proposed key objective of NPF4: To reduce the vulnerability of existing and future development to flooding.

Please note that issues associated predominantly with coastal flooding are considered under the Coastal planning theme.

It was argued that flood risk management should be considered core to the placemaking agenda, combining flood prevention with green infrastructure, public realm and biodiversity and that NPF4 should adopt a precautionary approach to all forms of flood risk.

With respect to SPP it was suggested that there should be:

  • A clearer position on land raising as well as other forms of flood risk mitigation to provide certainty for all stakeholders.
  • Clarification and amendment of the policy approach for areas behind Flood Protection Schemes as an appropriate standard is not defined in SPP. The Local Authority respondent making this point also provided a separate paper detailing their proposed approach to what they viewed as a key planning issue.
  • A requirement for up-to-date climate change allowances to be taken into account in flood risk assessments. The effects of rising sea levels and climate change on water tables and the effect on pluvial and fluvial flood risk were also highlighted.

Blue/green infrastructure first

An infrastructure-first approach to blue/green infrastructure was proposed with suggestions including that:

  • Active promotion of blue/green infrastructure should be an integral component in NPF4.
  • Blue/green infrastructure should be fully integrated into built up areas to increase resilience to flood risk and deliver a wide range of other benefits for people and the environment.
  • Land for blue/green infrastructure (including the floodplain where relevant), should be considered to be a site pre-requisite because of the significant benefits it will deliver for flood risk management.

The benefits of natural flood management were often referenced, including the need to manage rainwater close to where it falls. It was suggested flood management needs to be considered in the management of all land with both farming and forestry/tree planting playing roles in flood mitigation, and that NPF4 and SPP should promote cross-sector working bodies with power to make the connections between the policies of each sector. Adoption of the Scottish Nature Network as a National Development was suggested to assist in in providing the collaboration between planning and other land use sectors needed to deliver natural flood management measures.

The importance of habitat creation to store or slow water flow in upstream catchments was noted and a strategic catchment-level approach to flood management was said to be essential. The possibility of using compulsory purchase with respect to critical land in catchment areas was raised.

It was also noted that creation of natural habitats to provide ecosystem services can offer significant cost savings when compared to using hard engineering flood defence solutions, whilst also providing significant opportunity to improve biodiversity.

The value of SuDs in managing flood risk was highlighted and a requirement for their better integration with landscape design was suggested. There were references to the potential contributions made by: rain gardens; green roofs; wet parkland; and porous roads and pavements. Urban Flood-sensitive Zones where SuDS and other blue/green infrastructure is mandatory were proposed.

It was noted that management of surface water is a complex issue with a number of agencies having distinct and established statutory responsibilities enshrined in legislation, with no single organisation that oversees how surface water is managed in its entirety. There was a suggestion that the lack of a cohesive approach may lead to missed opportunities to implement effective SuDS and blue/green infrastructure early in the development process, and a need for better integration of policies and legislation relating to water, flood risk, and climate change and adaption was argued.

Ongoing maintenance of SuDS was also suggested to be problematic, and it was suggested NPF4 should provide clear guidance on how planning permissions can ensure their future maintenance, particularly in relation to which body has responsibility for maintenance.

The need for better joint working, and for all parties with drainage responsibilities to access the necessary finance was suggested. Making a single public body responsible for SuDS was also suggested as a way of avoiding issues around design, management and maintenance.

Role of LDPs

The need for LDPs or RSSs to reflect Regional Flood Risk Management Plans and Strategies was highlighted. It was also suggested LDPs should:

  • Designate surface water corridors/routes at strategic or catchment level to ensure flows during flood events are safely routed away from buildings.
  • Identify, with the support of Scottish Water, opportunities for retrofitting sustainable drainage solutions that remove surface water from the combined system and mitigate the impacts of existing or future flood risk.
  • Take a whole-system approach to the regeneration and revitalisation of urban centres including an integrated, strategic approach to current and future flood risk.

It was also proposed that, to ensure consistency and fairness across local authority areas, consideration should be given to identifying a climate change freeboard allowance for each Local Plan District, as identified in the Flood Management (Scotland) Act 2009.

There were calls for NPF4 to provide more direction on how local authorities should plan for the increase in flood risk from climate change. While policy and guidance from SEPA on current risks were thought to be clear, it was argued that further guidance should be provided on taking climate change into account.

Specific suggestions with respect to increased flood risk included:

  • Setting climate change allowances for flood risk assessments to ensure a standardised approach to consideration of flood risk and that increased flood risk from climate change is taken into account in allocation of sites.
  • The possibility of creating buffer zones around current flood plains.

It was also noted that local authorities may be faced with competing priorities with respect to mitigating flood risk and redevelopment of vacant and brownfield sites in towns and cities. In these circumstances, innovative flood management measures were argued to be more helpful than a blanket ban on development.

Proposals for new development

With respect to new buildings and infrastructure it was suggested that:

  • The role of Strategic Flood Risk Assessment in development planning should be greatly strengthened. This was seen as vital to ensuring SEPA's engagement in the planning process is front-loaded, and that development plans are deliverable.
  • New developments should be net-zero in terms of water in/out.
  • Rainwater should be managed on-site in all new development such that run-off rates from new development should not exceed those of greenfield sites, and incorporation of green infrastructure to help achieve this should be prioritised over installation of grey infrastructure.
  • Development plans should be required to allocate land for strategic blue/green infrastructures that manage and convey surface water on the surface and support multiple developments.
  • Surface water drainage considerations should be required to be made at the earliest possible stage in the development planning process, when land to be set aside for new development is being identified. The aim should be to deliver infrastructure in a co-ordinated manner, ahead of development, rather than a reactive, piece-meal approach.
  • Developers should be required to include a formal allowance for an increase in flood risk as a result of climate change as part of a planning application. It was also suggested that advice from SEPA on whether or not to permit development within the functional floodplain should require developers to make an allowance for increased flood risk in light of anticipated climate change.
  • Building standards should be applied to support the installation of sustainable surface water management systems such as green roofs, water butts, rain gardens and porous paving at property level, whilst minimising impermeable surfaces and the volume of surface water entering piped systems. Installation of impermeable paving should be brought fully under planning control with powers to refuse permission where this could contribute to flood risk.

Further guidance on the provision of permeable surfaces in new development was requested, particularly on the extent of the provision that can be required.

In general, it was suggested the planning system should be much stronger in its requirement for the delivery of sustainable blue/green interventions for surface water management - both for new build/regeneration, as well as enabling interventions to reduce existing flood risk.

Protecting existing infrastructure

It was observed that flood alleviation for existing development and existing infrastructure also needs to be improved, with specific suggestions including the need to enforce responsibilities for dredging and drain maintenance in planning regulations, or to require planning permission before paving over gardens.


With respect to existing infrastructure it was argued that attention should be paid to protecting railways from flooding. It was suggested that:

  • Network Rail and other critical infrastructure providers should become key agencies.
  • Compulsory purchase powers should be available when required to deal with flooding on National Rail land.
  • Expedited consents processes may be needed to facilitate emergency repairs.


It was suggested local authorities should enter into discussion with port operators and Port Authorities to ensure that flood protection requirements can be addressed in a manner which provides the necessary protection whilst ensuring the interest of port operations are fully addressed.

National Development proposals

A small number of the National Development proposals focused on flood protection, including a proposal to provide protection to properties, businesses, port and industrial facilities. It was suggested that the Metropolitan Glasgow Strategic Drainage Partnership (an NPF3 National Development) should continue to have National Development status under NPF4.


The importance of building resilience into new developments was noted, and adaptation approaches were suggested as a means of better assessing the robustness and flexibility of designs in different future scenarios. The role of Building Standards in setting criteria for flood resilience of new build was also observed.

Specific suggestions included:

  • Home reports should include a mandatory section on whether the property is at risk of being flooded and whether any measures have been undertaken by the vendor to install property flood resilience.
  • Use of more resilient and sustainable materials should be encouraged. The BRE flood house project[24] was suggested as a source of information on measures that could be implemented to improve the resilience and sustainability of future homes.
  • Residential properties could be designed with the ground floor level for storage or garage purposes.

There was also a call for increased focus on the social impacts of flood risk, making the social vulnerability of those potentially impacted by flood risk a factor in planning decisions. It was argued this would enable consideration of the ability of people to prepare for, withstand, and recover from flood events. The important role of community resilience groups was also highlighted, and it was suggested this should be recognised in NPF4, with engagement between such groups and local authorities placed on a more formal basis, in line with the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015.

Safeguarding land for current or future flood management

There was agreement that land required for flood management now and in the future should be safeguarded and a suggestion that protection of flood plains should be a National Priority.

Specific suggestions included:

  • Development on flood plains should be avoided/discouraged or prevented.
  • Redevelopment of brownfield/vacant/derelict sites in flood prone areas or within the flood plain should be designed to recover quickly from flooding through the use of resilient and sustainable materials.
  • Local authorities could be encouraged to consider, where appropriate, land included on the Vacant and Derelict Land Registry as spaces that can be used to manage surface water while creating enjoyable and usable amenity space for the local community during dry weather periods.
  • The correct type of development should be supported in flood plains.

SEPA advice

It was argued that advice from SEPA to planning authorities on development within functional floodplains, action taken, and the respective roles of local authority officers and elected members should be more readily accessible by the general public. There were reported to be concerns among community groups as to whether SEPA's guidance is always accepted by local authorities or adhered to by developers and there was suggested to be a lack of transparency in the process by which planning authorities proceed when SEPA has an outstanding objection to a proposed development.



Back to top