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.

6 Development on the Ground

6.1 Introduction: Survey Results

In responding to Questions 9 and 11, survey participants identified types of development that they anticipate will be important in relation to the challenges facing rural communities and businesses and the opportunities open to them.

The survey responses to Question 9 (‘what will be the main challenges’) identified the following types of development as important:

Figure 9: Types of development identified as important by individuals in response to question 9 of the online survey

Figure 9: Types of development identified as important by individuals in response to question 9 of the online survey (i.e. ‘what will be the main challenges facing rural communities and businesses over the next generation?’) A total of 83 responses were received on this question.

Figure 10: Types of development identified as important by organisations in response to question 9 of the online survey

Figure 10: Types of development identified as important by organisations in response to question 9 of the online survey (i.e. ‘what will be the main challenges facing rural communities and businesses over the next generation?’) A total of 53 responses were received on this question.

The survey responses to Question 11 (‘what will be the main opportunities’) identified a wider range of developments types as important:

Figure 11: Types of development identified as important by individuals in response to question 11 of the online survey

Figure 11: Types of development identified as important by individuals in response to question 11 of the online survey (i.e. what will be the main opportunities open to rural communities and businesses over the next generation?) A total of 154 responses were received on this question.

Figure 12: Types of development identified as important by organisations in response to question 11 of the online survey

Figure 12: Types of development identified as important by organisations in response to question 11 of the online survey (i.e. what will be the main opportunities open to rural communities and businesses over the next generation?) A total of 75 responses were received on this question.

We also asked survey participants “Over the next 30 years, to what degree will the different types of development listed below be important in helping to support rural communities and businesses?” (Question 13). A list of 13 different types of development was provided and participants were asked to indicate the importance of each on a scale from 1 (not all important) to 5 (very important).

151 of the 267 participants answered this question (57%). This included 104 individuals and 47 organisations.

The 104 individuals who responded to this question scored the 13 types of development as follows:

Type of Development # individuals who selected each score on a scale of 1-5
1 2 3 4 5
A greater amount of affordable housing 3 4 17 17 62
alternative housing e.g. retiral, adapted, workers, crofts 1 6 19 20 55
private housing 10 15 43 20 12
Economic development
diversification away from traditional farming and land based practices 6 14 18 28 36
tourism facilities and accommodation 1 13 31 25 34
retail development 10 30 41 9 11
industrial development 10 40 31 10 10
production support facilities e.g. abattoirs or processing plants 6 19 30 23 23
small business start-up units 2 5 27 31 38
transport infrastructure 1 3 18 20 61
digital & communications infrastructure 1 1 4 18 79
renewable energy generation facilities & transmission infrastructure 5 5 19 15 60
community and health facilities 1 2 11 27 62

The 47 organisations scored the different types of development as follows:

Type of Development # organisations who selected each score on a scale of 1-5
1 2 3 4 5
more affordable housing 0 2 10 8 26
alternative housing e.g. retiral, adapted, workers, crofts 0 2 11 13 20
private housing 4 5 20 9 6
Economic development
diversification away from traditional farming and land based practices 2 2 10 13 19
tourism facilities and accommodation 1 2 9 15 19
retail development 4 12 21 7 1
industrial development 7 7 18 9 3
production support facilities e.g. abattoirs or processing plants 5 5 18 10 8
small business start-up units 0 3 12 18 13
transport infrastructure 0 1 8 8 29
digital & communications infrastructure 0 0 3 5 38
renewable energy generation facilities & transmission infrastructure 0 2 15 13 17
community and health facilities 0 0 6 15 25

Survey participants were similarly asked to score a range of options relating to settlement pattern, on a scale of 1-to-5, in response to the question “Over the next 30 years, to what degree will changes in the pattern of development be important in helping to support rural communities and businesses?” (Question 14).

149 of the 267 participants answered this question (56%). This included 102 individuals and 47 organisations.

The 102 individuals who responded scored the different options as follows:

Type of Development # individuals who selected each score on a scale of 1-5
1 2 3 4 5
Growth of existing settlements 2 15 28 18 35
Shrinkage of existing settlements 20 23 24 8 18
No change to existing settlements 17 23 33 9 6
New settlements 14 26 25 9 23
Other changes to the pattern of land use 9 12 19 11 44

The 47 organisations who responded scored the different options as follows:

Type of Development # individuals who selected each score on a scale of 1-5
1 2 3 4 5
Growth of existing settlements 0 6 18 6 15
Shrinkage of existing settlements 8 13 11 5 3
No change to existing settlements 4 12 14 1 2
New settlements 5 13 13 8 4
Other changes to the pattern of land use 0 5 7 7 22

Where participants offered additional information, the ‘other changes to the pattern of land use’ they identified related to the diversification of land use as an explicit aim and to particular types of developments including developments in agriculture (both crofting and farming), forestry and woodlands, hutting, environmental management and enhancement, development for tourism and recreation, housing, small-scale business and industrial development, transport infrastructure, renewable energy, digital connectivity.

As well as asking survey participants to comment on a range of development types that might be relevant, we asked them to give us their views “on whether there are certain types of development that might be particularly important in generating wider positive change for rural communities and businesses” (Question 16).

Once the responses by individuals are grouped for similarity, they identify the following types of development as particularly important:

Figure 13: Types of development identified by individuals as having the potential to generate wider positive change

Figure 13: Types of development identified by individuals as having the potential to generate wider positive change (Question 16 of the survey). A total of 101 responses were received on this question.

The responses by organisations identify the following types of development as particularly important:

Figure 14: Types of development identified by organisations as having the potential to generate wider positive change

Figure 14: Types of development identified by organisations as having the potential to generate wider positive change (Question 16 of the survey). A total of 57 responses were received on this question.

Taking all of these results together, we have identified 9 broad areas of development for further discussion: housing and settlement; transport; digital and telecommunications; renewable energy; tourism & recreation (including hutting); economic & business development (including home/remote working, retail and industrial development, small business units); responding to climate change together with conservation and development of the natural and historic environment; land-based industries and aquaculture, and; services and community facilities. The research results for each of these areas of development are summarised below. Then, in Chapter 8, we present conclusions and recommendations relating to the support that each might be afforded by the planning system.

6.2 Housing & Settlement


As the survey results (summarised in 6.1 above) show, participants consider the provision of adequate housing and appropriate types of housing to be a priority, and both a challenge and an opportunity. This issue was identified as important both by individuals who responded to the survey and by a wide range of organisations from the community, business, charitable and public sectors.

Most of the survey participants who identify this issue consider that housing is a challenge/opportunity for all rural areas, although some consider it to be a particular concern for areas such as islands, Remote rural areas, Sparsely Populated Areas, Fragile Areas, the Highlands & Islands, crofting areas, “areas popular with tourists” and “affluent, elderly rural areas”.

In terms of the issues raised in relation to housing, a number of individuals and organisations identified increased house building in Accessible rural areas as a challenge, when not matched with increased provision of services to accommodate the growing population.

However, most survey participants who referred to housing focused on the lack of appropriate housing, especially in more remote rural areas. Many participants emphasised that the need here is not so much for a simple increase in the amount of housing, but for increased availability of the right kind of housing. In particular, participants highlighted the need for affordable housing, social housing, better quality housing, sustainable housing and adapted or purpose-built housing for elderly residents. They also highlighted the challenges caused by increases in second home ownership and in the use of houses for tourism lets, which is reducing the housing stock available to residents and pushing up house prices.

For many of the individuals and organisations who discussed housing issues, housing is a potentially transformative kind of development because it is central to the wider development prospects of an area.

“The lack of affordable housing provision in rural Scotland inhibits social, economic and community development. Housing is crucial to the retention of young people in rural communities, vital to supporting local services and business development.” (Rural Housing Scotland)

“Availability of affordable housing for economically active population. Providing affordable rented housing for workers is crucial to ensure that rural businesses remain viable …” (Scottish Land & Estates)

“Key one for LLT&TTNPA is affordable housing in all its various forms. This in turn will support skills, employment, business growth but if not delivered the existing businesses are failing and in turn the rural economy. Employers frequently report staff losses due to inability to find a home.” (Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park Authority)

Similarly, interviewees identified housing as a key form of development in relation to a range of different challenges facing rural Scotland. One recurrent theme in the interviews is the importance of housing for the sustainability and development of rural businesses:

“Housing is key. Our big challenge is workforce. We don’t have the workforce that we need …. Housing continues to be a major challenge that can hold back succession planning for a farm and prevents new entrants from taking on farms. By extension, it also sometimes keeps elderly farmers working beyond times in their life when this is optimal.” (Gemma Cooper, Head of Policy Team, National Farmers’ Union Scotland)

“The long term sustainability of much of rural Scotland depends on our ability to rebalance populations – to encourage more young people to stay on and to entice skilled young people and young families to move in. We need affordable housing of a good standard to accommodate staff; we need broadband so that younger people and families can engage with the outside world; and we need quality jobs with prospects – ideally jobs offering year-round employment.” (David Richardson, Highlands & Islands Development Manager, FSB Scotland)

“Land for housing is key. Affordable housing, yes, but not just that – housing at the right price, in the right place. The lack of housing is a constraint on business development. If we can address the housing problem, wider development will follow. If we can get people there, people are imaginative about getting a living going. Housing is a pump primer ….” (Hamish Trench, Chief Executive, Scottish Land Commission)

“The economic impact of a lack of housing can be significant. Jobs will create themselves, from the energy of young people staying and moving in. The economic impact of having adequate housing is quite dramatic.” (Amanda Burgauer, Chair, Scottish Rural Action)

“A number of businesses in recent months have … stressed that they are trying to do forward planning but can’t get affordable housing …. Large hotels need to accommodate staff and the restriction on this, restricts the type of people they can actually employ …. you need people and people need somewhere to live; nothing happens without people.” (Derek Logie, Chief Executive, Rural Housing Scotland)

Interviewees also argued that housing is critical for the wider sustainability of rural communities:

“Affordable housing is critical …. An example here is Ulva Ferry, where 2/3 new houses have been built, attracting 2/3 families, putting more kids in the school and meaning there are now more people working locally.” (Dr Calum MacLeod, Policy Director, Community Land Scotland)

“Access to housing is fundamental. There is a need for school staff, but you can’t recruit without the housing. It’s the same for medical practices, and people end up having to rely on a practice that is far away. This is particularly an issue with an ageing population …. People are willing to move to the countryside, but the houses are not available. There are a lot of houses, but the holiday market takes up many.” (Camille Dressler, Chair, Scottish Islands Federation)

“Affordable housing is also key, and its about how to make land available for housing …. We need change in housing policy – its not about thousands of houses in rural areas but smaller numbers of affordable houses to sustain communities. There is also a need to look at the occupants of houses – what types of people will contribute most?” (Prof. Russell Griggs, Chair, South of Scotland Economic Partnership)

“youth housing is something to look at too. There needs to be provision made for those young people that don’t want to move to big cities to study or work. Anecdotally PAS is aware of rural young people who have moved to the city for a few years and would like to move back ‘home’ but are trapped by a lack of housing options for them there.” (David Wood, Planning and Policy Manager, PAS)

Some survey participants identified means of addressing the housing issues in rural areas. As discussed in Chapter 5, the supply of land – for housing and other forms of development – is seen as a key issue. Survey participants gave examples of community-led housing, and of housing developments brought forward by private estates, e.g.:

“redevelopment of abandoned buildings for conversion into homes … affordable housing development … for example … at Dormont Estate …. Of particular strategic significance in terms of planning and development are the new towns of Tornagrain and Chapelton of Elsick (and the potential for An Camas Mor) …. These new towns have been designed to high specifications with community and opportunity at their heart.” (Scottish Land & Estates)

“There are many examples of community landowners changing their local areas for the better. For example, the West Harris Trust …. [has provided] affordable housing via new build and the release of plots with rural burdens attached.” (Dr Calum MacLeod Policy Director, Community Land Scotland)

Survey participants and interviewees also referred to issues relating to the financing of house building, to the identification of housing needs and to the role of planning policy in relation to housing. This included comment on the higher costs of house building in rural areas and the perception that the statutory process for assessing housing need and demand is under estimating the need and demand in rural areas.

Comments on planning issues included the challenges of building housing on agricultural land or in woodland and forests. For example:

“A number of community woodland groups have acquired woodlands for broader rural development purposes, and that includes affordable housing, which is a (perhaps the) key issue for many rural communities. But community groups struggle to get housing built and getting planning is a big part of that. The planning perspective seems to be one of stopping things from happening, rather than one of enabling things. And woodlands are not usually viewed by planners as appropriate places for housing.” (Jon Hollingdale, Chief Executive, Community Woodlands Association)

The character of housing also attracted comment:

“In more pressurised areas nearer population centres … communities ... recognise the need for more housing but perceive a lack of diversity within the housing product offered by house builders. There is a need to supply more than just 4/5 bedroom family housing but also a mixture for different generations and a changing demographic. There is and will continue to be smaller households and therefore they need to be a mixture of housing types for these ….” (David Wood, Planning and Policy Manager, PAS)

“A lot of existing housing stock is not fit for purpose. The idea of new housing is important for a lot of rural communities. Important in encouraging young people to stay or return.” (Amanda Burgauer, Chair, Scottish Rural Action)

“Housing is also very poor from a climate change perspective – poorly insulated, using unsustainable fuels domestically.” (Jon Hollingdale, Chief Executive, Community Woodlands Association)

And interviewees identified different uses of housing as an issue, with particular concern expressed in relation to second homes and holiday lets:

SRA has just finished a consultation on housing and what comes out is, for example, around second homes. Communities are not against second homes per se, but there is concern around decreased housing stock.” (Amanda Burgauer, Chair, Scottish Rural Action)

“Affordable housing is a key issue. High demand for second homes/holiday homes is causing a considerable problem for rural areas. It out-prices local folk, and crofters, like other key workers are not getting a chance to get housing.” (Crofting Commission)

“The tourism industry itself has, aside from competition, also been affected by the AirBnB revolution in a practical sense especially in the rural parts of Scotland. It is being hit by the lack of ability to house personnel as properties are lost to short-stay tourism.” (Marc Crothall, Chief Executive Officer, Scottish Tourism Alliance)

“Through the rural housing fund, Community Trusts can give priority to local people in their allocation policies. However, legislation means Housing Associations can’t give preference to local people. This needs to change… If housing associations are building houses to support local businesses, to then not be able to give priority to local people seems crazy.” (Derek Logie, Chief Executive, Rural Housing Scotland)

When housing was discussed by national-level stakeholders at the Edinburgh workshop, there was agreement that housing is important, e.g. for retaining young people in rural areas and accommodating seasonal workers. Some felt that the priority should be to build new houses in or on the edge of existing settlements and also to provide infrastructure for housing.

Participants in the Moffat and Oban workshops emphasised the transformative nature of housing and the difference that building small numbers of houses can make in rural areas. Some argued that the model should not be to create new, large blocks of housing and that a range of types of housing is needed, as well as the connectivity infrastructure to ensure that residents of new houses can live and work successfully in the local area. The constraints on housing development that were discussed included planning policies, higher building costs in rural areas, the limited availability of land and landscape designations.


Closely related to the question of housing is the question of settlement – where the existing housing stock is, and where new housing should go.

The responses to question 14 of the online survey (summarised in Section 6.1 above), indicate that neither individual participants nor organisations wish to see existing settlements shrink, although this is not a universal position. The responses also indicate that survey participants feel that change to existing settlements will be important. The growth of existing settlements is supported by the majority of the individuals who responded to the survey, and almost half (47%) of organisations who responded to this option consider it to be important or very important. Individual participants gave a broadly balanced response to the option of ‘new settlements’, while the responses of organisations were more heavily weighted against this option.

The comments of some survey participants and interviewees provide further insight into a range of stakeholder views on new settlements and the growth of settlements:

“Within LL&TTNPA some settlements will need to grow however this is challenging in many cases so the rural area will need to accommodate change. Our Local Development Plan already supports this in some instances. This is a change from previous planning policy and reflects SPP guidance on planning for rural areas.” (Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park Authority)

“Growth of existing settlements and creation of new settlements should be primarily but not exclusively focused on the SPAs [Sparsely Populated Areas]” and “We need to promote having people in areas with affordable housing, sympathetically sited, sustainable. There are areas of previously existing settlement that could be redeveloped …. What is the argument for expanding into currently unpopulated areas? To counteract the draw to town and city which brings opportunities, but also challenges from an environmental point of view. Is relentless sub-urbanisation sustainable? If not, how then do we think about rural?” (Dr Calum MacLeod Policy Director Community Land Scotland)

“It is important to keep in mind that development does not always mean expansion out-with settlement boundaries. Development, particularly sustainable development, can also mean enhancement of existing infrastructure and facilities within a defined settlement boundary. This is important from our perspective as many rural settlements are surrounded by ancient woodland, which could be a constraint to development.” (Woodland Trust Scotland)

“Some Built Environment Forum Scotland members would have an interest in repopulation if it is about expanding existing settlement. Some organisations are concerned about new settlements. There is certainly the potential for conflict, so here we need the opportunity to consider and balance that …. Achieving repopulation through new settlements is unlikely to be of interest to volume house builders. Its more likely to be a case of building a few houses. But it could still be contentious.” (Euan Leitch, Director, Built Environment Forum Scotland)

6.3 Transport

Like housing, survey participants considered transport infrastructure and services both to be a challenge for rural areas and an opportunity. This issue was identified as important both by individuals who responded to the survey and by organisations from the community, business, charitable and public sectors.

Most of the survey participants who identify this issue consider that transport is a challenge/opportunity for all rural areas, although some highlighted its particular significance both for areas that are distant from and those that are close to towns and cities, where the transport challenges and opportunities will be different. Specifically, participants referred to islands, Remote rural areas, Sparsely Populated Areas, Fragile Areas, “areas within 30 minutes of urban centres” and “areas designated as hinterland of towns”.

In their responses, individual survey participants commented that transport issues are linked with wider challenges and opportunities, including depopulation (with “expensive and/or poor transport” being a factor in people’s decisions to move away for work), environmental sustainability (“significant investment in infrastructure required to decarbonise and deliver long term sustainability”), the competitiveness of businesses and the opportunities for business development, and the wider development of the economy (e.g. in relation to tourism).

The particular issues highlighted by individuals include the need for improvements to the road infrastructure, particularly as a result of pressures and impacts on that infrastructure from increased tourism and within areas close to urban centres. Better commuter links between rural areas and towns and cities were identified as a need by some. Ferry links and capacity were also identified as a challenge, and the opportunity to open or re-open rural railway lines and stations was mentioned. Better public transport services and more affordable transport were highlighted as a need, amongst elderly people unable to drive for example. The lack of sustainable transport was identified by some participants and the need to improve the electric vehicle charging infrastructure and develop local sustainable transport solutions.

In their survey responses, and in interviews, organisations referred to a range of transport issues. Alongside the need for adequate road and rail infrastructure, the need and potential for enhanced public and community transport provision was a prominent theme:

“You only need two things to start a community: people and transport. We have done a lot of work on what inclusive growth means in rural areas, speaking to many businesses. Top of the list is integrated public transport, to enable access to education and for getting staff to work …. We perhaps need a new mix of public and community transport.” (Prof. Russell Griggs, Chair, South of Scotland Economic Partnership)

“[in] discussions between PAS and communities …. There is also support for improved public transport …. for particular groups (young people/those that work in the care sector/NHS) access to public transport is arguably most important, but may not work within conventional peak demand times.” (David Wood, Planning and Policy Manager, PAS)

“Public transport is needed to attract people to more remote areas, to access healthcare etc. Investment in public transport would transform the way we move around, make it affordable and responsive. Localised, community-led transport services to complement public transport.” (Angus Hardie, Director, Scottish Community Alliance)

“Access to suitable … transport infrastructure is a pre-requisite for rural business success …. [its] absence in some parts of the country harms not only the development of rural businesses … but also makes rural communities less attractive places for families and younger people to settle …” (Historic Houses)

“While communities across Scotland have been affected by altered, reduced, or withdrawn services, rural locations with lower population densities … have suffered most from commercial withdrawal of services and local authority cuts to supported services …. Left either without a bus service altogether or with limited services that do not meet needs, communities are unable to access everyday amenities …. This directly contributes to negative health outcomes, worsened by an increase in feelings of loneliness and social isolation. Poor access to local services also impacts on local businesses, which are unable to access the local workforce and suffer from a fall in custom. The net impact of this is further centralisation of local services … and rural businesses into towns and cities …. In the long term, this causes net migration out of rural communities and further downward spiral. While community solutions in the form of community transport is central to providing accessible transport suited to the needs of the local population, many community transport organisations are underfunded and under-recognised by stakeholders who benefit from their support, and have similarly suffered from cuts to local authority funding. While innovations in transport, such as Mobility as a Service platforms and developments in smart ticketing and multi-modal service, are positive, these developments risk socially and digitally excluding those who live in rural areas …. [and] transport innovations are often geared to improving quality of service rather than availability of service ….” (Rachael, the Community Transport Association)

The need and opportunity to install the infrastructure for electric vehicles was emphasised by some interviewees:

“Its still necessary to have a car in many rural areas, not least in the Highlands. This has an impact particularly on people with low incomes …. There are business opportunities in developing a better transport infrastructure and in moving to electric transport, e.g. B&B’s could install electric vehicle hook-up points … but this needs to be incentivised and supported.” (David Richardson, Highlands & Islands Development Manager, FSB Scotland)

And walking and cycling routes were also mentioned:

“Connectivity and Transport are areas where there have been some interesting discussions between PAS and communities. Anecdotally, after housing, there is considerable demand for improved walking and cycling routes, to link schools etc with other places. People spend a lot of time in their cars, accordingly the opportunity to move around using active travel is a change and a release. Additionally, improved walking and cycling provision encourages people to stop, and ideally contribute to the local economy. In the existing NPF, long distance routes are featured, but not shorter, local ones – although these may just as important.” (David Wood, Planning and Policy Manager, PAS)

Participants in the Edinburgh workshop confirmed that transport is a key issue to address through development, noting that improvements in transport infrastructure are needed both to respond to existing growth industries (e.g. forestry) and to promote growth in other areas of the economy.

Those attending the Moffat workshop argued that it will be important to re-open train stations as a means of encouraging more and more regular use of rail travel. They commented that the quality of the roads is poor. When transport was discussed at the Oban workshop, attendees conveyed that the main access routes to rural areas do not have the capacity to support the volume of traffic using them. Furthermore, single-lane roads are considered dangerous and not suitable to support large transportation vehicles.

6.4 Digital & Telecommunications

Digital and telecommunications issues were highlighted as key concerns by individuals participating in the survey and by a range of organisations across the sectors.

Most identified these issues as a challenge/opportunity for all rural areas, although some consider that they present particular challenges for areas such as islands, Remote rural areas, Sparsely Populated Areas, crofting areas, “areas remote from the tourist industry or other economic opportunities”, “areas with poor connectivity” and “areas that are recognised as having a high landscape value”.

Survey participants and interviewees identified particular issues with the communications network including gaps in mobile phone coverage and the need for improvements in internet access and, in particular, in access to high-speed broadband connections and the potential benefits/ opportunities enhanced provision could bring;

“With good connectivity, many of the challenges can be overcome and real repopulation can occur” (Strathard Community Council)

“For some time – superfast broadband has had the promise to enable business start up, development and homeworking within rural communities – but service provision has inhibited this. Creation of co-working spaces in rural communities, opportunity to encourage this kind of working and opportunities for information sharing, networking and breaking down potential negative isolation of homeworking. All reliant on the provision of broadband, the provision of housing and change of attitude to rural by planners.” (Rural Housing Scotland)

“If communications are good and electricity infrastructure is available the future is bright. More home working and automated diagnostic tools for health etc etc mean that people can live remotely while being part of the new economy. Working from home … sustainable living, remote on line education … make the future of rural living and working very attractive.” (Jeremy Sainsbury OBE FRICS, Natural Power)

“Better digital infrastructure opens up opportunities for remote working and entrepreneurship for rural economies.” (FSB Scotland)

“its one thing to be able to build houses, but people also need to be able to work …. 3G and 4G is almost considered a human right now and it is necessary for businesses to operate.” (Angus Hardie, Director, Scottish Community Alliance)

“Reliable high speed broadband – probably via 5G if made affordable, could be a game changer for rural areas offering the opportunity for professional people to run businesses in areas that could also provide life style benefits that in turn could greater wider rural community benefits.” (Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere)

“Digital connectivity is also relevant here as a way of reducing carbon footprint in rural areas. It facilitates diversification of what rural business is about …” (Jon Hollingdale, Chief Executive, Community Woodlands Association)

“The days when rural dwellers were content to receive second-grade services have long-since gone. Failure to break down the key remoteness barriers that make rural residents feel that they are unable to participate in the modern world, both encourages people born and raised here to leave, and discourages young people from moving here to set up their own businesses or work for others. Transport and housing are obviously vital, but so too is digital connectivity. People want to stay connected, whether they are residents or visitors on holiday, and failure to provide them with the means to do so is a failure to safeguard rural Scotland’s future.” (David Richardson, Highlands & Islands Development Manager, FSB Scotland)

“Broadband and phone signal is a huge issue in much of rural Scotland. The lack of phone signal is a practical concern given the predominance of lone-working in a dangerous occupation like farming …. Getting Broadband to the rural sector is a huge challenge, but looking forward it may hinder rural development and diversification unless this can be fixed …. Digital communications are an essential way to ensure that residents in rural areas as well as farmers can have an opportunity to diversify their businesses into spheres that will almost certainly rely on internet-based contact with customers. Accordingly improved broadband etc is a transformative change.” (Gemma Cooper, Head of Policy Team, National Farmers’ Union Scotland)

“Internet connectivity has changed things, opening up opportunities. The question is how best to exploit that in rural Scotland. There are two sides to this. Selling and marketing online is important, and then there needs to be the infrastructure to deliver products globally – this is the barrier.” (Alex Downie, Development Manager – Enterprise & Development, the Coalfields Regeneration Trust)

Participants in the Edinburgh, Oban and Moffat workshops also pointed to the transformational nature of good digital and communications networks, including through enabling home working, supporting rural businesses and helping to address the population issues faced in many rural areas.

6.5 Renewable Energy

Energy was identified as an important challenge and opportunity by individuals and organisations taking part in the survey, including a range of community and public sector organisations, landowning interests, renewable energy companies and environment/heritage conservation charities. In the detail of their responses, participants commented both on energy generation and transmission and on energy consumption.

Most consider that energy issues are a challenge/opportunity for all rural areas, although some highlighted the particular importance of these issues for Remote rural areas and “areas where energy resources are strong (e.g. north and west) but also those areas where there are no over-riding planning designation obstacles to development - NSAs, National Parks etc” (anonymous).

Individuals highlighted the need for more small-scale renewable energy generation and commented that this can be a valuable source of income for rural communities which can be used to generate wider benefits, e.g. through community ownership of renewables and through community benefit funds. The need for local storage systems was also identified and for greater access to locally-produced renewable energy. Wind energy, hydro, biomass and hydrogen were all mentioned. Greater access to renewable energy was identified as a need of both businesses and residents in rural areas, and the need to develop the infrastructure to support electric vehicle use and other forms of sustainable transport was noted. Barriers to renewable energy development were identified including problems linking into the grid network and a lack of public financial support.

Organisations in the community, public, private landowning and conservation sectors referred to the development of local energy systems and economies, using energy locally rather than exporting it, and to the opportunity to develop a range of technologies including solar, hydro and wind.

“Renewables have largely been dominated by big corporate interests and landowners. The government has missed a trick in terms of enabling communities to bring forward projects …. Now, particularly in island and remote areas, where there are grid constraints, we need to find ways to match up energy supply and demand, which helps to address climate change. There are big opportunities for remote communities both to produce and to use or store energy. This would help to address fuel poverty. NPF could prioritise this and planning policy could create material consideration for community benefit; right now it is voluntary.” (Angus Hardie, Director, Scottish Community Alliance)

“The infrastructure needs to be much better so communities can access and install energy, local energy generation and consumption, especially pulling people off of oil etc.” (Deborah Long, Chief Officer, Scottish Environment LINK)

“In terms of looking to the future and development on the ground, climate change will be shaping lots of development, for example, district heating and local heat and energy efficiency strategies [LHEES]. Local authorities will need to create LHEES which will include where district heating could be applied depending on demand and supply. This could mean though that you would need to have a certain strategic size of settlement to make that work. The idea behind LHEES is that these would need to marry up with the LDP – that they have taken cognisance of the planned growth of a settlement when they produce their strategy.” (Gavin Mowat, Policy Advisor – Rural Communities, Scottish Land & Estates)

“There will be an increased need for electricity in the future, with more electric cars etc. How are we going to cope with the demand? We need a rural charging plan …. There are opportunities for landowners and businesses in this, providing charging points.” (Alison Milne, co-Chair, National Council of Rural Advisors)

In their survey response, Scottish Renewables – which represents Scotland’s renewable energy industry – highlighted examples of community renewable development:

“Renewable energy schemes, often driven by a local business or community group, can deliver a series of benefits to local communities. Alongside delivering economic benefits (capital investment, investment in supporting infrastructure (roads, harbours etc.) job creation), these schemes can often service the local energy requirements of communities – lessening their dependency on the grid. Communities such as Fintry are leading the charge in using renewables for the benefit of local consumers – by installing their own renewable energy assets and creating local energy tariffs which go alongside them. While that level of involvement may not be suitable across every community, even the simple installation of solar panels on rooftops can help communities generate their own energy supply …. The recent example of renewable energy driving the first 24 hour energy supply to Fair Isle … demonstrates the value this has to locals – bringing them off expensive back-up sources of power and enabling businesses to run more efficiently. Our energy landscape is changing, and … there is a real opportunity for rural communities across Scotland to use renewable energy assets to tap into new business opportunities that will emerge as our energy system transitions to be smarter and lower carbon.”

“Several communities, such as Arrochar, have benefited from installing small-scale hydro schemes to meet local energy needs while across the farming community, technologies from wind to anaerobic digestion have been deployed to help meet the energy usage of the business. The advent of battery storage and electric vehicles will offer rural communities and businesses further opportunities to utilise renewable energy resources, create local energy systems, and reduce their own energy use.”

Scottish Renewables’ Senior Policy Manager, Fabrice Leveque, was interviewed for the research. In relation to onshore wind, he commented that a key issue will be the existing ‘onshore wind fleet’, a quarter of which will have reached the end of its consent lifetime by 2030 and will therefore come back into the planning system. Planning therefore needs to anticipate the repowering of onshore wind – with larger turbines if the replacement wind farms are to be competitive – and “It would be helpful for NPF/SPP to give a clear steer about this. A high level statement would be useful regarding the presumption in relation to existing onshore wind sites.”

He also commented on domestic consumption for heat, saying “the energy system for heat needs to be almost completely decarbonised. We’ve only really just got started with renewable heat to buildings” and “the switch away from oil, coal and LPG funded by the RHI”. Also, “the planning regime is playing catch up in relation to the aspiration to move to electric vehicles. We will need to see the substations and the infrastructure for charging and there is not much evidence of changes being made to enable this.”

Individual renewable energy developers, contributing anonymously to the survey, commented:

“Access to cost effective low carbon heating. Access to economic low carbon travel – EV charging or hydrogen to replace use of fossil fuels. Hence the grid infrastructure will be key …”

“The changing investment environment for onshore wind. Onshore wind is the cheapest form of new low-carbon generation …. [and] often rural areas where wind farms are constructed can otherwise correlate with poor economic conditions. High levels of investment in these places can have transformative effects. However, the investment environment for onshore wind has changed significantly …. It is this changing context that creates a more challenging investment case for onshore wind, which could have subsequent impacts on investment in rural areas …. A supportive planning framework will be key in helping developers minimise costs … so they can continue to invest in rural areas …”

“Locating suitable rural areas for developments. One such area that has the potential to create disputes in the planning system is the use of constraint mapping for highly subjective ‘grey areas’, such as wild land and peatland …. wild land is treated as a designation in the same sense that National Parks and National Scenic Areas are …. This quasi-designation status sterilises wild land areas which are suitable for development and could otherwise benefit Scotland’s rural populations. Instead, for subjective areas, all proposals should be judged on the specific balance between benefits and impacts. Perceived environmental impact can, in many cases, be mitigated through project design or can be better managed through Environmental Impact Assessment and development management processes …”

“the geographies which are suitable for new onshore wind developments are likely to be in remote and rural areas …. With new developments and the repowering of existing developments, there are opportunities for rural communities to provide resources and services … while projects are in construction and benefit from enduring jobs once the site is operational. To ensure the potential benefits are realised, both socio-economic and environmental, developers must be able to find a route to market …. NPF4 can play a key role in ensuring that the planning framework and policies in Scotland are aligned with the Scottish Government’s Energy Strategy and Onshore Wind Policy Statement.”

“Given the important role onshore wind plays in fulfilling Scotland’s ambitious renewable generation and climate change targets, planning policy should actively support extending the life of and repowering existing sites, alongside the development of new sites to help protect existing low-carbon capacity. This could partially be achieved through a presumption in favour of redevelopment at existing sites and a recognition of the importance of modern turbines in maximizing a site’s resources, alongside other supportive mechanisms.”

On the matter of energy, participants in the Moffat, Oban and Edinburgh workshops advocated a shift to local grids – “local production for local consumption” (Moffat) – as well as support for the introduction of the charging infrastructure for electric vehicles. Moffat workshop participants also called for support to be given to the construction of more passive housing. Participants in the Edinburgh workshop discussed the potential of hydrogen fuel as an alternative to electric.

6.6 Tourism & Recreation

As discussed in Chapter 5, some participants in the research identified tourism as key challenge for rural areas, in its own right and as part of a wider structural shift in the rural economy. Tourism and recreation also came through as key opportunities in the survey responses both from individuals and from organisations in the community and business sectors, as well as conservation and outdoor recreation charities.

Most survey participants identified tourism and recreation as a challenge and opportunity for all rural areas, although some participants highlighted issues in particular areas including along the route of the North Coast 500, in the Highlands more generally and in “areas attractive to tourists”, “picturesque and culturally significant areas” and “more easily accessible areas/those closest to urban areas”.

Several individual survey participants queried the wisdom of continuing to promote tourism in rural areas. Similarly, several interviewees highlighted problems attendant on the expansion of tourism:

“Responding to this challenge [of climate change] has the potential to affect some of rural Scotland’s growth areas, especially tourism. Tourism growth using current technologies and practices is problematic from a climate change perspective.” (Jon Hollingdale, Chief Executive, Community Woodlands Association)

“there needs to be a balance struck between catering for the needs of tourists and locals. There is something uncomfortable about creating a ‘tourist town’, but …. Being able to create community hubs that might provide a shop/internet facilities/banking facilities etc for tourists as well as services for locals would be helpful …. the needs of tourists can still be served even if the priority group is the host community.” (David Wood, Planning and Policy Manager, PAS)

For those survey participants and interviewees who perceive tourism as an opportunity, the focus was on providing better facilities for tourists (such as toilets and places to park and eat), enabling local communities and businesses to derive income from successfully-marketed tourist routes such as the North Coast 500 and promoting development that would grow and serve particular types of tourism.

In terms of the broad approach to developing tourism, interviewee Marc Crothall of the Scottish Tourism Alliance suggested that:

“The idea of enabling greater visitor dispersal through rural areas is an important way to deliver a quality of experience that tourists now expect. It is also one way to help overcome what some have termed as being ‘overtourism’…. Accordingly easing and enabling access to lesser known areas has the ability to transform rural areas… International tourists are definitely looking to explore more of rural Scotland, and not just the iconic must visit attractions restaurants such as Edinburgh and Stirling Castle.”

Survey participants and interviewees advocated a focus on developing sustainable tourism, eco-tourism, ‘independent’ and ‘off-grid’ tourism that capitalises on the environmental and cultural assets of rural Scotland, and on promoting opportunities for outdoor recreation for rural residents.

“Tourism based on improved access to the countryside, encouraging walking, cycling, etc outwith the 'honeypot' areas …. e.g. the infrastructure around the 7 stanes mountain biking …. Our community has promoted footpath access and the area is now being used by local towns people (Town is 5miles away) and tourists (only free walking leaflets in tourist office). We have not benefited directly as we have no shop and limited tourist accommodation, but it adds to the facilities in the whole region.” (Jean Muir)

“Tourism that is based upon people in cars is not a balanced industry we also need back packers and people in the off season. Environmental tourists and people on bikes. We also need appropriate accommodation for these different sections of the industry.” (Brendan Burns)

“Wellbeing, adventure (bucket lists), heritage and culture, and food and drink are the key trends to meet expectations of the tourism industry.” (Marc Crothall, Chief Executive Officer, Scottish Tourism Alliance)

“we need more start-ups, and more businesses using tourism as an opportunity to provide a range of services, lumping things together, such as laundry, showers, food, retail, bike hire …. There is opportunity in sporting activities in the islands and on the west coast: yoga retreats, running retreats, kayaking, ‘slow adventure’ and so on …. Festivals and events are important too, not just the big ones but the small ones too. They benefit the local community in terms of infrastructure and also promote culture.” (Camille Dressler, Chair, Scottish Islands Federation)

“Sustainable tourism. Growth in outdoor recreation particularly walking and cycling …. Although these opportunities affect all rural areas they are particularly strong in our most beautiful, wild and scenic landscapes – our National Parks, National Scenic Areas and Wild Land Areas – which is why it is so important to protect these and to designate more of them.” (The Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland (APRS))

“Recreation developments, whether new activities or promoted and managed paths …. With the Aviemore and Vicinity Community Council, Authorities and Agencies we are bringing forward the long standing proposal for a sister community, An Camas Mor, with a view to transforming life for people in Badenoch and Strathspey and enhancing the natural heritage and opportunities for outdoor recreation for all.” (John Grant, Rothiemurchus Estate)

“In Strathard there is an obvious environment which supports cycle tourism, this could be used to act as a centre of excellence for bike tech, bike maintenance, cycle product design etc.” (Strathard Community Council)

“Tourism development in certain parts of rural Scotland is already a great success. Maintaining this and encouraging growth in other areas remains a significant opportunity for many rural areas. Planning policy should help enable that development whether it is diversification into agri-tourism or providing new campervan facilities.” (Scottish Land & Estates)

A number of individual survey responses highlighted a need for improved facilities for motorhomes and caravans:

“need better provision for the growing trend of year round visitors in their camper vans and motorhomes. During the off season many campsites are closed so overnight parking provision in rural areas (villages) would be beneficial. It can also generate income in return for provision of chemical disposal points. A reasonable overnight charge. Plus attracting visitors will mean that money is spent in local shops/bars/community facilities” (Gill Williamson)

“Setting up "Aires" in small towns and villages to service motorhomes. Some have been established in the islands. The "Aire" in Hawick is a good example of a small town encouraging visitors to stop and shop. Motorhomers do not need all facilities of campsites and are used to utilising "Aires" in continental countries.” (Anonymous)

And a number of individuals wish hutting to be promoted:

“Huts for recreational use, build sustainably, in a low impact way, can be an appropriate rural development, giving affordable access to the environment for locals and those from further afield. Where hut users are regular visitors, the local economy benefits from all stages, including construction through to use. Mental and physical health is improved, increasing wellbeing.” (Karen Grant)

“Hutting needs more support – SPP introduced a requirement for LDP policy but several local authorities continue to largely oppose the whole idea. Enormous potential for local production, timber use, fine grain support of local economies, wellbeing benefits and reductions in second home ownership.” (Anonymous)

Participants in the Moffat workshop identified the development of infrastructure including roads and walking and cycling paths as important for supporting the tourism economy. They emphasised the importance of sustainable travel options to get to destinations and then sustainable activities when you arrive. Equestrian tourism was cited as an example that has great potential in the south of Scotland, with a need for facilities for horses and bunk houses for people.

Oban workshop participants emphasised that tourism will grow organically if a pleasant place and vibrant community exists. They argued that tourism does not have to be large-scale, and that tourism industries should collaborate with schools, to increase the likelihood of children wanting to stay in the area and pursue a job in the hospitality and tourism industry. Participants also commented on negative aspects of tourism including holiday lets and the threats to Fragile Areas. However, they were in agreement that tourism plays a big part in increasing the vibrancy of rural areas.

6.7 Economic & Business Development

Looking beyond the tourism sector, general changes in the rural economy – many associated with the decline in relative importance of land-based industries and the rise of the services sector – have been highlighted by as a key challenge by the research (see Chapter 5).

Economic and business development of different kinds was also identified as an opportunity by survey participants, including individuals and organisations in the community, business, public and charitable sectors. Most of these participants see economic and business development as a significant opportunity for all rural areas; some consider that opportunities in this category are particularly significant for Remote areas, Sparsely Populated Areas, crofting areas, areas with sufficient capacity in terms of skills and structure and areas lacking high speed broadband and good mobile coverage.

When asked to identify the different types of development that will be important in helping to support rural communities and businesses over the next 30 years or so (Question 13), both individuals and organisations identified ‘small business start-up units’ as a priority. The majority ranked ‘retail development’ and ‘industrial development’ as not important, or they gave these options the middle score of 3.

In the detail of their survey responses individuals highlighted the need to diversify away from traditional economic activities. In the answers, there was a particular emphasis on small businesses and also mention of social enterprises alongside private enterprises. Eco-sustainable or green small businesses were highlighted by some participants.

Similarly, interviewees commented that:

“We need a more diverse economy locally. Tourism will be important, but also development of different micro-businesses.” (Dr Calum MacLeod, Policy Director, Community Land Scotland)

“In Scotland, we are losing many of the large-scale industries, and getting the opportunity to develop a distributed network of smaller producers. Harris Tweed is an example, with a number of different producers across the Western Isles, and products marketed globally.” (Alex Downie, Development Manager – Enterprise & Development, the Coalfields Regeneration Trust)

Individual survey participants also identified opportunities in technology, whether as a means of increasing productivity, as a sector of the economy in its own right or a means of facilitating remote and home working, which might “enable rural communities to prosper in situ” (anonymous). Some individuals identified particular opportunities for business and economic development relating to the landscape, natural and heritage assets of rural areas and to locally-produced food.

Organisations such as the Lismore Community Trust also underlined the potential opportunities for remote working, with the right digital and communications infrastructure. Small business hubs of different kinds were also highlighted as important by various organisations in their survey responses and in interviews:

“There are many examples of community landowners changing their local areas for the better. For example, the West Harris Trust … has also enabled new micro-business start-ups by providing business units, a cultural hub via its An Talla na Mara centre …” (Dr Calum MacLeod Policy Director Community Land Scotland)

“Live work interlinked facilities to attract new incoming workers. Strathard Business Hub [is an example]” (Strathard Community Council)

“Proposed work space units could enable budding entrepreneurs, as well as existing businesses on the Island” (Sebastian Tombs, Chair, Lismore Community Trust)

“Small hubs for rural innovation and/or skills development - with linked accommodation …. Support of IT infrastructure for local enterprises” (Ninian Stuart, Falkland Rural Enterprises Ltd)

“Another important thing is support for small business facilities in remote areas in retaining people and making sure these places have the facilities they need – parking, WiFi etc. This could be in the form of small business centres, or 1 or 2 business spaces. Once they have that, it will encourage and empower them to grow and prosper. If they have that, they might become the next employer, then someone else stays in the area…having some space to work is hugely empowering.” (Gavin Mowat, Policy Advisor – Rural Communities, Scottish Land & Estates)

Organisations also highlighted the potential for growth in a range of different business sectors, such as arts, crafts, cultural and creative enterprises, high-tech manufacturing and food and drink. A general comment was that it is important to keep “the value-adding processes in a rural area, providing jobs and income and profit in that area” (Torwoodlee Estate).

Others focused on skills development and employability:

“The Langholm Initiative is generally a great example of development with regards to local skills provision and industry development including helping people back into work and supporting small-scale growth of a once dominant industry (textiles). The work we have done around employability, enterprise and skills development have made a clear and lasting difference to our rural area.” (Jason Railton, Langholm Initiative)

6.8 Climate change and the Natural & Historic Environment

Climate change and the conservation and enhancement of the natural environment, rural landscapes and the historic environment are key challenges facing rural areas (see Chapter 5). A number of survey participants – including individuals and organisations in the business, conservation, outdoor recreation and public sectors – also identified opportunities in these areas.

Virtually all of the participants who identified opportunities relating to climate change and conservation said that these opportunities relate all rural areas.

Individual survey participants highlighted the opportunities for employment in areas driven by climate change mitigation, such as forestry and peatland conservation. There was also mention of the opportunities in moves towards “eco-friendly living” and in delivering public goods such as ecosystem and environmental conservation and enhancement, with support in the form of public funding for farmers.

A number of organisations gave extended survey responses in this area. For example, with a focus on climate change and biodiversity RSPB Scotland said:

RSPB Scotland has a vision for Scotland’s rural areas where nature is thriving …. At the same time, rural communities are also thriving, and are sustainable places in which to live and work. Rural businesses are viable, low-carbon, innovative and efficient. People from both rural and urban areas enjoy the countryside and have access to nature and spectacular places. In order to achieve this vision, it will be important that policy and legislation facilitates works which provide environmental enhancement and protect nature – biodiversity is in crisis and it is essential that the planning system encourages and allows appropriate development to address this. For example, we welcomed the proposal to introduce permitted development rights for peat restoration and habitat pond creation in recent consultations. Also, to achieve the above vision, it will be important for the economies of rural communities in some areas to diversify, to reduce their dependency … on unsustainable/less sustainable land uses or sectors. Harnessing the opportunities of a more sustainable future will also be important and Scotland is well-placed to provide nature-based solutions to climate change and biodiversity loss, particularly when it comes to how we use land. This puts rural communities with a lot of land-based resource in a good position. It is likely rural communities will grow as internet and mobile connectivity improves, which will attract more businesses to rural areas, and will provide greater flexibility for people to work from home. Scotland has huge potential for renewable energy production. However, achieving the Scottish Government targets for generating electricity from renewable sources without causing environmental harm will require careful planning. RSPB Scotland is strongly in favour of well-designed and located renewable energy schemes and only objects to those that are likely to harm biodiversity and the environment.”

“Development of ‘green infrastructure’ in its widest sense, including land managed for nature in reserves and more widely, will be important in ensuring wider positive change for rural communities and businesses, given its many benefits including in relation to placemaking; improving mental and physical well-being; boosting property values; reducing pollution and mitigating climate change …. Wildlife in Scotland generally relies on land that is being actively managed to some extent, so when working with land managers we aim to ensure the financial viability of land-based businesses whilst also ensuring the land is managed for wildlife or with wildlife in mind. Our reserves also help support local employment and generate significant economic benefit locally.”

Similar points were made by Highlands & Islands Enterprise, who recognised the potential of “Natural capital – if provision of public goods is financially rewarded” and of “Climate change mitigation – peatbog restoration, afforestation, carbon credits”. Scottish Land & Estates noted “Opportunities for increased forestry planting and benefiting financially from delivering other ecosystem services as support schemes change direction post-Brexit” and said that the “climate change agenda could present opportunities for development of new technologies to be used in a rural context, for example, carbon capture storage or district heating.”

Woodland Trust Scotland touched on the opportunity in current circumstances to progress a ‘public goods’ approach to support for rural businesses:

“Land use diversification: Woodland Trust prefers to see Brexit as an opportunity to change the legacy of CAP funding and redirect payments to a system which rewards public goods with public money. This should produce better outcomes for the environment, and at the same time ensure high quality produce and increase in natural capital.”

And they also argued for:

“Implementation of net gain for biodiversity in the planning system: biodiversity net gain is a way to ensure that the biodiversity in an area is in a better state than it was pre-development. This can be a condition of all development and ensure help that development protects and enhances the environment. Such a system is very important as further development is expected across Scotland.”

Ramblers Scotland extended this argument beyond benefits for the environment, to include access and amenity issues, promoting “investment in land uses which tackle climate change and provide public goods (including public access provision)”. Amenity was also raised by the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland (APRS), alongside landscape conservation:

“Scotland's two National Parks have procured significant environmental, social and economic benefits for their areas …. These benefits should be spread to more of rural Scotland by designating more National Parks, particularly in areas where there is clear local support such as Galloway and the Borders. Scotland's biggest industry is tourism, which is particularly significant in rural areas. Its further successful and sustainable development by local businesses such as self-catering accommodation, cafes, restaurants and visitor attractions is closely linked to the protection of our beautiful rural landscapes and the provision of outdoor recreation opportunities.”

The National Trust for Scotland and Historic Houses pointed to cultural heritage assets alongside natural assets:

“Environment – developments that capitalise on rural areas' distinctive endowment, natural and cultural assets, without degrading that asset. Inverewe Gardens (as one example) – community of interest investment in local conservation asset with wider benefits for local community Brexit/CAP – changes to agricultural and forestry subsidy policy, while probably limited in terms of employment impact, could have profound social and environmental impacts.” (The National Trust for Scotland)

“The main opportunities for rural communities and businesses from a Historic Houses prospective will be to further develop the diverse ways in which Historic Houses places contribute to and support their local communities. For example, while heritage tourism is fairly well established in Scotland, there is a huge opportunity to support Historic Houses places and others to diversify their business elements, resulting in more opportunities for the local community …. By enabling rural heritage businesses to diversify and generate more income, we will also be able to secure the future of these nationally important buildings by supporting them to tackle the backlog of repairs they currently face, meaning that future generations will be able to enjoy and connect with these icons of Scottish history …. These opportunities would benefit any rural communities that contain historic house businesses or other heritage assets ….” (Historic Houses)

A number of interviewees made similar or related points. Some commented on the opportunities for development that lie in responding to climate change, and some emphasised that strategic leadership and support is needed for rural communities to be able to take up these opportunities:

“Climate change could be the opportunity that allows people to live and work close by. Although, conversely, a strategic decision on this could mean that everyone should live in cities.” (Derek Logie, Chief Executive, Rural Housing Scotland)

“There are opportunities for rural areas. It is there that the challenges will be greatest and the opportunities will also be greatest. There is a big opportunity to look at how we manage land use and how it relates to climate change, for example with woodland restoration …. There is a need for strategic planning in relation to forestry and woodland and where it goes.” (Deborah Long, Chief Officer, Scottish Environment LINK)

“Climate change is an opportunity for rural development, for example in renewable energy, better food production. Its fine to have targets, to reduce carbon emissions for example, but the question is what can we do on the ground regarding development.” (Alex Downie, Development Manager – Enterprise & Development, the Coalfields Regeneration Trust)

Several interviewees placed conservation of the natural environment in the foreground, but without seeing this as necessarily separate from or in competition with development:

NPF/SPP needs to be upfront about the relationship between protection of the environment (through protected areas, for example) and development. NPF/SPP should also make a clear statement that rural regeneration encompasses both conservation and population.” (Hamish Trench, Chief Executive, Scottish Land Commission)

“One criterion for strategic developments that should be promoted is that they enhance the national ecological network.” (Deborah Long, Chief Officer, Scottish Environment LINK)

The Crofting Commission emphasised that crofting has a history of delivering sustainable use of the land:

“Crofting’s small-scale and extensive agriculture makes a significant contribution to nature conservation and the environment.”

6.9 Land-based Industries & Aquaculture

The rural economy has seen a general shift away from traditional industries such as farming, fishing and forestry and towards service sectors such as tourism (see Chapter 5). However, land-based industries continue to play an important role in rural areas, and particularly in areas further away from the towns and cities. Added to this, aquaculture has become an important industry in some places.

Some individuals and organisations who participated in the survey identified opportunities in land-based industries or aquaculture. The organisations included a community council, two private estates, the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisations and Highlands & Islands Enterprise. Most of these participants said that these kinds of opportunities are open to all rural areas, although one participant did note that fish farming opportunities are particularly important for the west and north coasts and the islands.

When asked to identify the different types of development that will be important in helping to support rural communities and businesses over the next 30 years or so (Question 13), 62% of individuals and 68% of organisations responding to this question scored diversification away from traditional farming and land based practices at 4 or 5 on the scale (i.e. important/very important). A majority (64%) of the individuals also identified the development of production support facilities e.g. abattoirs or processing plants, as important or very important, although organisations were more neutral on this point, with 38% picking the middle score of 3, 17% scoring it 4 or 5 and 21% scoring it 1 or 2.

Recurrent themes in the survey responses and in the interviews included greater local food and drink production, especially in high quality products and products with provenance and regional distinctiveness. The need was also highlighted for sustainable and ethical food production, operating at a lower intensity and generating high nature value products. Themes also included the opportunities in serving local markets, and the need for greater provision of abattoirs and butchery facilities, which are now at some distance from producers in many rural areas.

The survey responses also identified the opportunities in promoting small-scale agriculture, and particularly crofting and community production. The need to diversify crofts, and to ensure that croft land is productively used, was mentioned. Some participants called for wider availability of crofting tenure and the creation of new crofts, and other noted the potential of community orchards and community growing more generally.

In the interviews, the Crofting Commission noted the trend for diversifying crofts:

“Crofters are diversifying into forestry, tourism, energy schemes. A gradual diversification of croft businesses. It is anticipated that they will be doing a lot of forestry and renewables on the common grazings, given environmental targets.”

But they also raised issues surrounding the development of croft land for housing:

“A lot of developments are on in-bye croft land. There is not a large amount of good arable land and housing is targeted at the good part of crofts, where its easier to connect to sewage etc. and cheaper to build …. The Crofting Commission is keen to see people working crofts when they get them, but it is lucrative to put housing on a croft. For the planning system ‘a house, is a house, is a house’. The Crofting Commission is more interested in who lives there and what they do there …. A better option for non-croft housing can be common grazings land. More costly to build there perhaps, but its better for the viability of communities and of crofting.”

They noted that these issues are not universal – in some crofting areas, such as Shetland and Orkney, there are no common grazings and the crofts are generally larger, making it easier to accommodate new housing on a portion of the croft. They also identified the converse problem in areas designated in the Highland-wide Local Development Plan as being in the hinterland of major settlements, where the restrictions on house building are tighter, and people who want to live on and work a croft can face planning opposition when they want to build a house.

Moving beyond crofting to larger agricultural holdings, Gemma Cooper, head of Policy for the National Farmers’ Union Scotland, noted:

“Farm equipment is going to get bigger and therefore sheds and buildings are also going to get bigger too. Permitted Development Rights were changed in 1992 to support agri sheds that are up to 465sqm. These were considered at the time to be large. They are now considered quite small for their purpose and so really need to be re-considered. Without such re-consideration, this scale of building is not going to serve many agricultural purposes.”

“In addition, providing continued opportunities to preserve and re-use old buildings through conversion allows owners of the buildings to re-use them and diversify business streams and to finance building of new housing which can be essential to farm succession …. Loch Leven’s Larder is a good example of such a site. Here a farm shop has grown incrementally and is now a major employer.”

Forestry was discussed at the Edinburgh workshop as a key area of development. Forestry and woodland were also mentioned by a number of individual survey participants who see opportunities for the diversification of forestry and the creation of more native woodlands, for small-scale forestry in the form of woodland crofts and community woodlands and for adding value to traditional forestry products.

In their survey response, Woodland Trust Scotland stated that the diversification of land use “does not necessarily mean diversification away from traditional land uses, but diversification of land use practices to ensure resilience and environmental stewardship and management in a public money for public goods system. For example farmers can diversify through integration of farming systems with trees, under the umbrella of agroforestry practices.” Woodland Trust Scotland also referred to the creation of new crofts, and especially woodland crofts, and to the potential for adding value by developing sawmills where forests are located. Others, such as Shieldaig Community Council and Ramblers Scotland, also underlined the opportunities in developing forests and woodlands.

In responding to the survey, Highlands & Islands enterprise pointed to aquaculture as an opportunity in some rural areas and the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation stated that “Continued long term investment and development in fish farming will be positive for many rural areas, in particular throughout the whole west and north coast and islands of Scotland. The core production that is centred in these remote areas will continue to drive significant opportunity throughout the value chain in the rest of Scotland.”

6.10 Services & Community Facilities

Linking with the challenge of ‘live-ability’ described in Chapter 5, some survey participants identified a need for development that will address problems in access to services and strengthen the social life of rural communities. A small number of individuals and two community organisations also identified services as an area of opportunity. Most of these participants said that the opportunities relates to all rural areas, although one individual highlighted “Rural affluent areas which are showing rapid growth but have a lack of latent services”.

The development of community and health facilities was identified as a priority by both individuals and organisations in response to question 13 of the survey (with 86% of individuals and 85% of organisations ranking this as 4 or 5, i.e. important/very important). The types of development identified by survey participants include community halls and ‘hubs’, community-run workspaces and community-run services such as petrol stations and public toilets. One individual highlighted “A local food hub for Angus to bring together producers, suppliers and consumers” (Norman Lyall), and the Midlothian Federation of Community Councils noted the potential for “Sustainable communities … where the emphasis is on reducing reliance on urban supply chains e.g. through food growing, small business/trader facilities etc”.

Specific types of development were also highlighted by several interviewees in the community sector. For example:

“Highland Small Communities Housing Trust work with businesses to make a case for housing as part of the mix of a sustainable community. Most of our discussions with communities are not about housing in isolation …. Housing can assist in the delivery of other things to make a community resilient, either as a means to allow for home-working or as a catalyst for other development in the community …. Gairloch was a very good example that HSCHT was involved in. There, a new Air Training Corps building with offices and a hall was built and a community hub incorporating tourist information, coffee shop, and study room connected to UHI, was also built. Next door to that is a private shop. The Council and Albyn Housing Association has developed housing as has HSCHT in the village too …. the mixture of development was decided upon by the community … The community knew that they simply had to get people to stop their cars, and that accordingly planning principles [relating to the placing of the commercial elements of the proposals] needed to be set aside to achieve this. You need flexibility in the planning system for this.” (Ronnie MacRae, Chief Executive Officer, Highland Small Communities Housing Trust)

Innovation in health and care provision were highlighted as potentially transformative by some survey participants. They referred to technological developments that allow remote medical diagnosis (if digital connectivity is sufficient) and to the creation of more local sheltered housing and care homes. This more localised health and care provision might be provided by public, community and/or private organisations:

“It is critical that local authorities – almost all urban based – start to decentralise so that there are clusters of services around which business and development can grow. So schools, council services, NHS facilities are critical to keep or bring business and people to an area.” (Helen McDade)

“The primary opportunities are often the same as its challenges: an older population can make way for a new generation of care training and developing a rural care workforce that is among the best in the country but only if, at government and local authority level, the investment exists” (Jason Railton, Langholm Initiative)

Some interviewees also suggested alternative models for service provision:

“For care services, small units with local people trained to deliver services. We could follow the Nuka model [Alaska], training people in remote areas to be the eyes and ears of doctors, so that they can deliver services when the doctors are not there …. The progress of tele-medicine is quite significant. Being able to access doctors and so on from your own home. This is to be encouraged, but without cutting access to seeing a doctor in person when that is needed.” (Camille Dressler, Chair, Scottish Islands Federation)

“There is a need to explore more creative ways of delivering services, such as diagnosis via the internet, distance learning through technology.” (Alex Downie, Development Manager – Enterprise & Development, the Coalfields Regeneration Trust)

“In particular the rise in older people in rural areas has knock-on impacts on issues surrounding connectivity, social structures and need for changing infrastructure. There may be a case in trying … to encourage more rural communities to undertake their own service provision.” (David Wood, Planning and Policy Manager, PAS)

Others sounded a note of caution about the idea of communities taking on the provision of care and other services. For example, Calum MacLeod of Community Land Scotland noted that, in the Western Isles, the local authority is “having conversations with communities about what services communities might take over”, but added that this raises the question “should communities engage in this, on what basis, how will this be resourced?” Ian Cooke of Development Trusts Association Scotland said:

“One of the most striking things that comes up in community surveys is the need for different models of care, a lot of which can be done at community level – children, elderly, special needs etc. But this is not enabled in terms of shifting resources to match the aspirations.”



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