Rural Planning Policy to 2050: research findings

Findings from research commissioned to inform preparation of the next version of Scotland’s National Planning Framework, NPF4.

2 Introduction: Context, Purpose & Objectives of the Research

2.1 Introduction

This research was commissioned by the Building Standards Division of the Scottish Government on behalf of the Planning & Architecture Division in order to inform preparation of the next version of Scotland’s National Planning Framework, NPF4 (see Section 2.2).

The research was undertaken between January and July 2019 by Debbie Mackay, Angus Dodds and Hannah Belford of Savills’ Scottish planning team and by Dr Chris Dalglish of Inherit, a charity with expertise in research, heritage and rural development.

The project was overseen by a steering group comprised of officials from the Scottish Government’s Planning & Architecture and Rural Economy & Communities Divisions.

2.2 Context & Purpose of the Research

The purpose of the research was to explore, from a land use planning perspective, the current challenges and the future opportunities for land use diversification in rural Scotland, and to consider how planning policy can support strong and vibrant rural communities and economies in the coming years.

The evidence provided by the research will inform the preparation of the next version of the National Planning Framework (NPF4), which is now underway following the passing of the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019. The NPF is the Scottish Government’s spatial plan for Scotland. NPF4 will consider what Scotland will be in the future, looking ahead to 2050, and how planning policy can best support delivery of this vision.

The Planning (Scotland) Act 2019[1], passed by the Scottish Parliament in June 2019, amends the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997[2]. It introduces a purpose of planning, defined as being “to manage the development and use of land in the long term public interest”. It provides that the NPF is a spatial plan for Scotland that sets out the Scottish Ministers’ policies and proposals for the development and use of land, thus incorporating Scottish Planning Policy. The new NPF will also be part of the development plan, having statutory status in decision making on planning applications, and it must be taken into account in Local Development Plans. The planning system as a whole therefore works towards delivering the vision shared by the National Planning Framework and Scottish Planning Policy.

The NPF must contain a strategy for Scotland's spatial development and a statement of what the Scottish Ministers consider to be priorities for that development. It must contain targets for the use of land in different areas of Scotland for housing, as well as an assessment of the likely impact of each proposed national development on achieving national greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. NPF must also contain a statement about how the Scottish Ministers consider that development will contribute to a range of outcomes, namely:

  • meeting the housing needs of people living in Scotland including, in particular, the housing needs for older people and disabled people;
  • improving the health and wellbeing of people living in Scotland;
  • increasing the population of rural areas of Scotland;
  • improving equality and eliminating discrimination;
  • meeting any targets relating to the reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases, and;
  • securing positive effects for biodiversity.

This research was commissioned to complement and build upon other work including a desktop study undertaken by Planning & Architecture Division and research being undertaken by the James Hutton Institute on the resilience of rural communities and sparsely populated areas.

2.3 Objectives of the Research

The overarching objective of the research was:

To explore how planning policy can support strong and vibrant rural communities and economies in the coming years.

The more detailed objectives of the research were:

1. To draw together, from the existing literature base, the different typologies and classifications used to describe Scotland’s rural areas and to consider what is ‘rural’;

2. To describe at a national level the key challenges of relevance to planning in rural Scotland, within the different typologies identified, drawing on existing data sources;

3. To establish what each of the differing types of rural areas are likely to need from the planning system over the lifetime of NPF4 to support positive economic futures.

This was to include consideration of the anticipated future needs of rural businesses and communities and how these needs are likely to translate to development on the ground for the period to 2050;

4. To identify key areas of opportunity for spatial planning and policy to support the diversification of land use in rural areas to 2050;

5. To establish whether there are some types of rural development that enable others to happen, for example by enabling a diverse range of businesses and services that build resilience and promote entrepreneurial activity.

These objectives can be interpreted with reference to the outcomes to be addressed by NPF4 (see above; these outcomes were not confirmed until late on in the research, with the passing of the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019).

The research objectives can also be interpreted with reference to the approach taken to rural areas in the current NPF and SPP. The vision promoted by NPF3[3] includes a “sustainable, economically active rural area, which attracts investment and supports vibrant, growing communities”. The spatial strategy associated with this vision recognises the diversity of rural Scotland, including by considering the distinct needs of remote rural, island and coastal areas.

SPP[4] takes a differentiated approach to rural planning policy, stating that the planning system should “in all rural and island areas promote a pattern of development that is appropriate to the character of the particular rural area and the challenges it faces”, and it should “encourage rural development that supports prosperous and sustainable communities and businesses whilst protecting and enhancing environmental quality”.

SPP also states that development plans should set out a strategy that “reflects the development pressures, environmental assets, and economic needs of the area, reflecting the overarching aim of supporting diversification and growth of the rural economy”.

This includes promoting “diversification, including, where appropriate, sustainable development linked to tourism and leisure, forestry, farm and croft diversification and aquaculture, nature conservation, and renewable energy developments”. It means “ensuring that the distinctive character of the area, the service function of small towns and natural and cultural heritage are protected and enhanced” and that consideration is given to “the services provided by the natural environment, safeguarding land which is highly suitable for particular uses such as food production or flood management”. It means making provision “for housing … taking account of the different development needs of local communities” and considering “the resource implications of the proposed pattern of development, including facilitating access to local community services and support for public transport”.



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