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.

8 Conclusions and Recommendations

8.1 Introduction

The overarching aim of the research was to explore how planning policy can support strong and vibrant rural communities and economies in the coming years. This aim was to be met by achieving five more specific objectives, and we have used the five objectives to structure our conclusions and recommendations in this chapter.

The quantity, quality and diversity of the evidence varies in relation to each of the five objectives. For example, there is a large body of literature relating to objective 1 (typologies) and several of our interviewees were able to provide insight into this question, based on their depth of experience and on research undertaken by their organisation. By contrast, the literature is much more limited in relation to the needs of rural communities and businesses and how these are likely to translate into development on the ground (part of objective 3), although this is a topic that was addressed by many of those who participated in the survey, interviews and workshops.

There are also differences in the nature of the evidence provided by different participants. For example, some individual survey participants provided short statements based on their personal experience or opinion, while others responded on behalf of an organisation and presented fuller responses based on their organisation’s research, on the views of their wider membership, or on other sources. We have taken this variability of the evidence into account in framing our conclusions and recommendations, giving more weight to those conclusions based on more substantial and robust evidence.

8.2 Objective one

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’.

As discussed in Chapter 4, in order to be capable of supporting place-based approaches to policy, typologies should take account of the particular needs and challenges of different areas, as well as their assets and opportunities and their functional links. There is a substantial body of data available for this purpose in Scotland. Given this, the principle question is one of deciding what are the key variables for developing a picture of rural Scotland that is relevant to the preparation of NPF4.

The research has shown that urban rural typologies are a relevant basis for developing a typology for Scotland’s rural areas in this context. This is because such typologies focus on two of the key challenges facing rural areas (i.e. population and access). It is also relevant because the development opportunities and pressures of a rural area are influenced by it’s relative distance from urban centres.

The 8-fold version of the Scottish Government Urban Rural Classification identifies three types of rural area – Accessible, Remote and Very Remote – and it is a standard national-level typology used across a range of policy areas. Using this typology, or a typology based upon it, allows for the integration of a wide range of different datasets and might also support the integration of planning with other national strategies and policies. It may be necessary to adapt the Urban Rural Classification to make it more fully relevant to planning. In 2014, Scottish Planning Policy adopted a typology of rural areas that was similar to the Urban Rural Classification in identifying three main types of rural area, but different in defining these areas on the basis of access and development pressure, rather than access and population size.

The research raised the question of whether to include small towns in a typology of rural areas, or to treat them as a separate category. There are similarities in the challenges faced by and opportunities open to people in small towns and in rural areas. However, there are also differences, not least in the planning context where there may be a need to vary policies for these two types of areas. On balance, we conclude that the current approach of classifying small towns separately from rural areas should be maintained.

The research has shown that a more nuanced approach should be taken to the classification of so-called Remote and Very Remote rural areas. Islands face distinct challenges – something that has been recognised by the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 and the planning policies adopted by island Local Authorities. Sparsely Populated Areas also face distinct challenges, driven by trends in their population levels and profiles. In order to respond to these challenges – and to support strong and vibrant communities and economies in Islands and Sparsely Populated Areas – the typology developed to inform NPF4 will need to differentiate these types of area.

In the research, we reviewed the extensive and diverse data that is now available for characterising rural areas according to their relative socio-economic performance, wellbeing, deprivation or fragility. Such data has seen some use in planning context at the Local Authority level (e.g. in the current Highland-wide LDP). It can support place-based approaches to policy by providing a more nuanced, complex and place-specific understanding of the needs, challenges, opportunities and assets of different areas. However, this data is relatively fine-grained and we conclude that the process of analysing and using it to support the development of policy is best done at the local or regional level. Doing so would allow scope for the variation that is needed to support the development and implementation of place-based policies and measures. This would, for example, allow variation in the selection of the key indicators that are used in producing a more refined rural typology, recognising that the nature of the challenges and opportunities varies from one part of Scotland to another.

Based on these conclusions, our recommendations are:

Recommendation 1: The 8-fold Scottish Government Urban Rural Classification provides a relevant and appropriate basis for characterising rural Scotland for the purposes of NPF4, and should be used as a starting point for that process. It may be necessary to modify and adapt the basic rural categories provided by the Classification to ensure their full relevance to planning.

Recommendation 2: Island and Sparsely Populated Areas should be represented as distinct types of rural area in the picture of rural Scotland used in the preparation of NPF4. This will serve to differentiate those types of area from other Remote rural areas, on the basis of their differing needs, challenges and opportunities, thus supporting the development of place-based policies.

Recommendation 3: the preparation of Local Development Plans and other sub-national plans and policies should take account of existing data on socio-economic performance and wellbeing, to support the development of place-based policies. The selection of indicators should be determined at local or regional level, allowing for variation in local circumstances, but it would usefully be supported by national guidance relevant to planning contexts.

This guidance might, for instance, support the development of a consistent approach to the use of existing national datasets in planning contexts. On the basis of the available research, it might identify the particular kinds of variable that are likely to be most significant in different rural contexts and those that are most relevant to planning.

8.3 Objective 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.

The Islands (Scotland) Act 2018[204] and the recent Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 [205] identify a series of outcomes that are to be addressed by the National Islands Plan and the National Planning Framework respectively.

The outcomes to be addressed by the National Planning Framework include increasing population levels in rural areas, improving health and wellbeing, meeting housing needs (in particular the housing needs for older and disabled people), improving equality and eliminating discrimination, meeting greenhouse gas emissions targets, and securing positive effects for biodiversity.

The National Islands Plan must also address some of these outcomes, as well as additional outcomes such as improving transport services and digital connectivity, promoting sustainable economic development and community empowerment and reducing fuel poverty.

Analysis of our own research results has identified 6 key challenges, which are interconnected (see table below). The first four of these challenges broadly map onto the outcomes identified in the Islands and Planning Acts and have therefore already been identified (by those Acts) for consideration in preparing NPF4. Our findings suggest that consideration should also be given to certain challenges relating to the current policy environment and to the availability of land.

Type of Rural Area
Challenge Accessible Remote/Very Remote Sparsely Populated Islands
Demographic change Change in population levels and the population profile is evident in all types of rural area, but the nature and impact of this change vary. The main demographic issue identified by the research is the persistent depopulation of some rural areas. The challenge is both one of falling population numbers and of an ageing population profile. The potential consequences include impacts on the sustainability of rural communities and the provision of services, changes in land use and land-based activities, effects on the environment and ecology, changing settlement patterns and population redistribution.
There are concerns over rising and ageing populations in Accessible areas, leading to development pressures and pressures on services. The nature of population change and the challenges it present vary across Remote and Very Remote areas. In some places, the population has grown, while in other it has shrunk. SPAs account for almost half (48.7%) of Scotland’s land area. The populations of some SPAs have fallen while others have grown modestly. Everywhere, there is concern over the ageing population and the potential for further shrinkage, particularly falling numbers of working age people, resulting in a higher dependency ratio. As described for Remote/Very Remote and Sparsely Populated Areas.
The changing rural economy There are challenges arising from deep structural changes in the rural economy, particularly associated with the decline of agriculture, fishing and forestry, the closure of major employers and the rise of a service economy. There are particular concerns around the impacts on rural communities and places of growth in tourism. In some rural areas there are low levels of economic diversification, small-scale economic activities and limited added value, with natural resources being exported unprocessed. Some areas also have an insufficiently diverse labour market with limited employment opportunities, e.g. for women (with resulting gender inequalities). The economies of rural areas also have a number of positive characteristics, and are distinct from the economies of the cities and towns.
Part time employment, self-employment and home working are more common in Accessible rural areas than in towns and cities. Unemployment is lower and small businesses are relatively more important as employers. Those living in Accessible rural areas have the highest average incomes in Scotland. Commuting has become increasingly prevalent in Accessible areas. Part time employment, self-employment and home working are more common in Remote/Very Remote areas than in Accessible areas. Unemployment is also lower and smaller businesses are relatively more important as employers. Those living in Remote rural areas have the lowest average incomes in Scotland which, combined with higher costs, can lead to a lower standard of living. The economy of SPAs is broadly similar to that in rural Scotland as a whole. SPAs lie within the Remote and Very Remote parts of Scotland and share their economic features. However, SPAs are particularly dependent on tourism and traditional land-based industries (although employment in the latter sector has fallen in SPAs too). Incomes in SPAs are generally lower than in other remote areas. As described for Remote/Very Remote and Sparsely Populated Areas.
‘Live-ability’ of rural areas The ‘live-ability’ of rural areas is a matter of the standard and quality of life and the viability of rural communities. There is concern over the loss of public and other services, and the difficulties in accessing services from some rural areas. There is also concern over heating, fuel and energy costs and other costs of living, which can be significantly higher in rural areas. Research participants identified challenges relating to social isolation, health and wellbeing, the provision of community facilities and community resilience.
The growing and ageing population of Accessible areas is considered to be putting pressure on existing services. The centralisation of services presents particular challenges for Remote areas. Distances to some services (e.g. schools) can be significantly greater compared to Accessible areas. The budget required by a household to achieve a minimum acceptable standard of living is significantly higher than elsewhere. Compared to other rural areas, SPAs have experienced a more significant fall in employment in the public services. The challenge of delivering public and private services has intensified in SPAs in recent years due to their geography, demographic imbalances and to financial constraints. Islands face additional challenges due to their reliance on air and ferry links and the consequences for the cost, capacity, frequency and reliability of services. The household budget required to achieve a minimum acceptable standard of living can be higher than elsewhere.
Climate Change & conservation Climate change was identified by the research as a general concern affecting all rural areas, with potential consequences including changes in land management and impacts on the viability of agriculture, impacts resulting from the increased incidence of extreme weather events such as flooding, and increased resource scarcity and growing social injustice. Challenges were also identified in how Scotland responds to Climate Change – i.e. some research participants emphasised that action to address Climate Change needs to be done in ways that support rather than further undermine the sustainability of communities and businesses. The conservation of nature, landscape and cultural heritage was also raised as a challenge. A number of interviewees argued that conservation, Climate Change and the sustainability of rural communities, are a trio of key challenges that should be addressed together.
Some research participants expressed concern over development pressures on the countryside around cities and towns. The research has identified rural areas – and perhaps especially Remote areas – as having great potential as a resource in addressing Climate Change. The research has also highlighted the potential for Climate Change measures to disproportionately impact upon communities in more remote areas and to create or exacerbate inequalities. The conservation and enhancement of cultural and natural heritage have been identified as a particular challenge in Remote, island and Sparsely Populated areas, in response to changes driven by Climate Change and to the pressures of tourism. As described for Remote/Very Remote Areas. As described for Remote/Very Remote Areas.
The administrative, policy and fiscal environment Challenges identified by the research include those arising from the UK’s exit from the European Union. They also include challenges related to the planning system, of three main types. 1) Community empowerment and participation in planning policy and decision making. 2) The perceived ‘urban’ mindset of planning, a perceived tendency to seek to protect rural areas from development rather than to support development and a need for greater understanding in policy of the diverse needs and character of rural communities, economies and places, and. 3) The links between planning and the attainment of wider societal goals. Planning concerns the development and use of land, and it therefore intersects with many different social, economic and environmental issues and can play an important role in delivering a broad range of outcomes. However, some research participants consider that planning is not performing this role adequately because it is not sufficiently connected to wider agendas such as land reform, improving local governance, promoting inclusive growth and environmental enhancement, and responding to Climate Change.
The issues identified by the research under this heading are largely general in nature, applying to all types of rural area. One of the issues that has come through is the perceived need for planning to be more sensitive to the needs, challenges and characteristics of different types of rural area.
The supply of land The research has identified the limited availability of land as a structural barrier to the development that is needed to address the other major challenges outlined above. This is partly a question of Scotland’s pattern of land ownership, which is highly concentrated, and its particular forms of tenure, such as crofting tenure. It is also a matter of the effects of planning, which can affect land values as a result of its role in managing the use and development of land.
The issues identified by the research under this heading are largely general in nature, applying to all types of rural area.

8.4 Objective 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.

Research relating to this objective included 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. Nine broad areas of development were identified in the research as being of particular importance (described in Chapter 6 and discussed in turn below).

The cross-cutting challenge to NPF4 is to create a policy background that enables planning authorities to plan in a nuanced way to help address the needs of rural areas, avoiding an urban-centric way of thinking being applied to rural planning policies.

Housing and Settlement

Housing has a fundamental role in relation to the rural economy and in the sustainability of rural communities. The research results indicate that this is widely held to be a transformational form of development because of its centrality to the wider development prospects of an area. Its significance relates to supporting schools and services, providing a local workforce, giving people the opportunity to develop businesses, enabling succession planning on farms and other businesses, releasing business expansion, and retaining and attracting economically active people. Affordable and housing and appropriate types of housing are key. The challenges of providing rural housing are multi-faceted (cost, availability of land in the right place, infrastructure, planning, construction sector skills gaps, availability of finance) and require action across a range of sectors.

As noted below, the Planning Act makes increasing the population of rural Scotland an outcome that should be addressed by NPF4, and this may require a change of thinking on the part of policy makers and planners. To help achieve this, the role of planning must be to move beyond traditional measures of housing need and demand within larger scale Housing Market Areas and rely more on fine-grained approaches which can identify the untapped demand in rural areas. Planning should recognise and develop housing policies suited to those rural areas where housing is perceived as a positive form of development to be encouraged, given its significance to the wider rural economy and societal needs.

Across all rural areas, including Accessible areas, the provision of required housing cannot rely on the same delivery process as in urban areas where larger sites can be developed by larger house-builders. Rural areas are generally less attractive to these firms due to the lower demand in purely numerical terms and the higher costs of construction. The provision of housing is however still essential to keeping rural areas vital.

The management of tourist accommodation will be a key challenge to planning, allowing and supporting the tourism industry which is so vital to rural areas, but also ensuring that property is not lost to tourism, and ensuring that there is a sufficient housing stock for people wishing to live and work locally.

Recommendation 4: Planning should rely more on fine-grained approaches in rural areas which can identify untapped housing demand, and place less reliance in these areas on traditional measures of need and demand.

Recommendation 5: Planning should also recognise and develop housing policies suited to rural areas, where housing is perceived as a transformational form of development in relation to the wider rural economy and societal needs.

The traditional planning approach to patterns of rural settlement is challenged by the research, which suggests the strategy of constraining smaller settlement growth and focusing on large scale centralised expansion of settlements is an incomplete one when it comes to addressing the needs of rural communities and the rural economy. There is a need to allow settlements across the country to develop in line with more locally-based diagnoses of where growth is appropriate.

Local Place Plans may provide a mechanism for making such diagnoses. There is also a need to consider other models of settlement in rural areas such as the “‘clachan’ model of scattered, small-scale settlement that enables people to live in sustainable ways” (Dr Calum MacLeod, Policy Director, Community Land Scotland). The inclusion of an NPF outcome for increasing the population of rural areas in the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 will no doubt challenge conventional planning thought on settlement development in rural areas.

Recommendation 6: NPF4 should offer explicit encouragement to place-sensitive approaches to settlement, which determine the development of existing and new settlements in response to the particular challenges, needs and opportunities of different areas.


Transport infrastructure is vital to the economic and social sustainability of rural communities and it can have a transformational impact on rural areas. This is particularly the case in Remote, Sparsely Populated and Island communities where all wider physical connection may rely on a very limited number of roads or transportation links.

Planning Authorities frequently only allow the development of new housing in the countryside if the proposed location is accessible by public transport. Planning authorities have traditionally assumed that development in the countryside is inherently unsustainable and this has underpinned UK rural planning policies for decades. However, trends in travel and in home working are challenging this assumption.

Dependence on car transport, when used as a negative sustainability indicator, does not take account of the increasing use of electric and hybrid vehicles. In addition, housing in all rural areas often provides homes for people who are employed locally and are therefore not commuting significant distances. Such housing continues to be essential, or more people will have to travel further to work.

Recommendation 7: NPF4 should promote the sustainability of living and working in rural areas, recognising the possibilities afforded by new technology and the social and environmental benefits of having people on the land. As part of this, consideration should be given to a national programme of rural transport enhancements which collectively amount to a ‘national development’.

Digital and telecommunications

Allied to the discussion of transportation and how limited physical connections may be especially in Remote, Sparsely Populated and Island areas, digital and telecoms connectivity is widely seen to be fundamental to releasing economic and social potential across all rural areas, reducing carbon footprint and increasing safety given that lone working is common.

Recommendation 8: Development of the digital fibre network was designated a national development in NPF3. NPF4 should continue to support its ongoing national roll-out and enhanced telecommunications infrastructure. This can help to achieve the ‘death of distance’ made possible by such developments in remote connectivity.

Renewable Energy

Renewable energy generation, transmission, storage and consumption is regarded as a challenge and an opportunity for all rural areas with a desire to see local energy economies developing. The increase in electric vehicles is driving a need for more electric charging points and smart ways to provide these. Some other specific challenges will involve the ‘repowering’ of existing wind farms as existing lifespan consents expire and as newer, larger turbine technology develops.

Recommendation 9: NPF4 should provide a clear steer on planning policy in regard to new waves of renewable energy development, in particular in relation to areas that are identified as having significance in terms of their landscape, biodiversity and/or carbon sequestration values (e.g. National Scenic Areas, ‘Wild land Areas’, peatlands).

Tourism and Recreation

Tourism is providing significant economic opportunities for all rural areas whilst also putting some strain on existing facilities and infrastructure. Dispersing tourism throughout rural areas, to avoid placing too much pressure on a small number of ‘honeypots’, is a significant challenge but it could spread benefits across Scotland if done well. Support for the development of tourism should focus on high standards of customer service as well as sustainable tourism, eco-tourism, independent and off-grid tourism, and on promoting the values, traditions and local authenticity of different rural areas both geographically and in terms of their character (Accessible, Remote, Sparsely Populated and Islands).

Recommendation 10: In preparing NPF4, consideration should be given to how best to provide guidance to local authorities on supporting and managing the development of tourism facilities and infrastructure, and on balancing the need for tourist accommodation with the need to ensure there is adequate and appropriate housing for rural populations.

Economic and Business Development

General changes to the rural economy, often associated with the decline in relative importance of the land based industries and the rise of the service sector, create challenges and opportunities across all rural areas. Small and micro businesses are regarded as much more significant in a rural context than larger scale industries. This is particularly the case in terms of Remote, Sparsely Populated and Island areas. Distributed networks of smaller producers are seen by many as a more appropriate economic model worthy of support. Small business hubs for rural innovation and skills development are likely to be one of the physical manifestations of this trend.

There may also be a requirement for a more permissive approach allowing for the gradual expansion of home working activities across all rural areas until they reach a size where they can justify the cost of renting specific premises. Live/work interlinked facilities should be catered for by the planning system in order to attract new incoming workers and business facilities that allow people to meet and collaborate.

Recommendation 11: Supporting small businesses to survive and grow is essential for rural areas. Particular recognition should be given to the retention and attraction of value-adding processes in rural areas.

Climate Change & Conservation

Climate change and the conservation and enhancement of the natural and historic environment present both challenges and opportunities for rural areas. Opportunities included employment in areas driven by Climate Change mitigation such as forestry and peatland conservation, eco-tourism, eco-friendly living, and delivering public goods such as environmental conservation and enhancement. A key suggestion arising from the research is that conservation, Climate Change and the sustainability of rural communities are a trio of key challenges that should be addressed together.

The potential of natural capital is recognised if the provision and management of public goods is appropriately financially rewarded. The English system of Net Environmental Gain for biodiversity in the planning system was cited by some respondents as a condition that should be placed on all development projects. This approach could also be extended into access and amenity issues. It is considered that this could be particularly important in Accessible rural areas.

The scope for development to capitalise on the quality of Scotland’s environment is highlighted, including through associated products and services. The need for strategic planning in relation to forestry was mentioned.

At present, ‘enabling’ development opportunities through the planning system are used in relation to the historic environment and occasionally tourism development. This typically involves allowing new housing to be developed and sold to cross-subsidise the renovation of historic buildings or the development of tourism/leisure facilities. This concept could be used more widely to deliver more development in the public interest such as affordable housing. This could involve granting consent for affordable housing subsidised by consent for market housing either on the same site or in a separate location where the financial returns would be greater. Where the financial returns are greater, this would result in a larger surplus to be spent on facilitating the affordable housing project while also increasing the overall local housing stock. Place-based approaches to Planning would help identify these sites.

Recommendation 12: NPF4 should promote an approach to planning which links the three goals of conserving of the natural and historic environment, responding to the climate emergency and sustaining more resilient rural communities.

Land-based industries and aquaculture

Although there has been a general shift in the rural economy away from such reliance on traditional land-based industries, such industries continue to play an important role, especially in Remote and Sparsely Populated areas. Diversification of land use may mean diversification in land use practices to ensure resilience and environmental stewardship e.g. agro-forestry mixing agriculture with trees. It may also relate to adding value to food closer to where it is produced, including through the development of production support facilities such as abattoirs or processing plants. It may mean developing local food production serving local markets.

At one end of the scale there is a need to cater for larger scale farming operations which are increasingly mechanised. The implications for planning include the need to allow for larger agricultural sheds as farm equipment grows in size. At the other end of the scale, greater scope to diversify crofts came through as a prominent theme in the research.

Recommendation 13: Land based industries retain an important role in managing Scotland’s environment and in providing a range of benefits for wider society. They also have potential as part of the future diversification of the rural economy. Planning and other policy areas impacting on land-based industries should support their viability wherever possible.

Services and community facilities

The research identified the ‘live-ability’ of rural areas as a key challenge. This was particularly seen as being the case in Remote and Sparsely Populated areas. Opportunities for mixed use developments were cited as having the potential to be transformative if planning will provide the flexibility required. Community facilities, sheltered housing and facilities for the provision of healthcare, albeit potentially using modern remote diagnostic techniques, were all developments on the ground that were identified as having the potential to helping to sustain balanced, mixed communities.

Recommendation 14: Planning should provide a more supportive framework for mixed use developments in rural areas.

8.5 Objectives 4 and 5

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

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.

Diversification is a process and the major opportunities for planning and policy-making may be in helping to create the underlying conditions that allow diversification to happen. To enable this, more flexibility in rural planning may now be appropriate. There is a need to acknowledge the shifting patterns in traditional land-based industry activity and encourage the often small scale of local innovation that is found in rural areas.

Many contributors noted that the changing face of the rural economy makes it essential that planning works as an enabler, rather than as a regulator of development in rural areas. The land-based industries that much rural planning policy is founded upon, are experiencing significant change which requires a greater emphasis on diversified activities to sit alongside existing practices. However, our research suggests that planning could do more to support this diversification. While there may be good reason for resisting some changes, the macro-economic situation and the threat this could create for all rural life presents a compelling reason why more flexibility is now appropriate.

The research has provided evidence that rural regions in Scotland and elsewhere have shown themselves to be a source of national productivity and growth. However, the smaller scales of economic activity and growth in such areas is perceived to currently put rural areas at a disadvantage when seen through the eyes of policy and decision makers. The need to acknowledge and encourage the often small scale of local innovation in rural areas will be important in allowing entrepreneurship and diversification to take further root in these areas. The research suggests that supporting all scales of entrepreneurship by individuals and communities will help to diversify the local economy.

To provide the required encouragement, the different challenges faced by rural areas could be better addressed through adaptation of some of the technical standards that may have been designed for urban areas, but which have also been applied to rural areas. Adaptation of this kind would not imply underlying fragility or weakness in rural areas, but rather reflect their features of low population density and a smaller scale of economic activity, as well as an increased role for ‘social innovation’. Examples suggested by the research include changes to drainage or road adoption standards, or adaptation of the RTPI accreditation route to help rural planning authorities recruit staff.

Place-based approaches to rural policy were examined as a means of ensuring that development strategies begin with the communities they will affect, and evolve in a bottom-up manner. Confidence in rural Scotland’s ability to adapt and innovate by using place-based approaches came through in the interviews and the workshops and in the literature we reviewed. The literature suggests that place-based approaches present opportunities to develop a more positive dialogue around the future of rural communities based on their economic, social and environmental assets and their often untapped potential. These approaches may be quite different from those traditionally favoured by ‘protective’ planning policies where the potential for increased rural productivity may not lie at the core of the approach toward local development management. The research shows that improving local entrepreneurial culture from within the community will have substantial leverage effects on local economies, and by extension diversification.

Adopting place-based approaches requires consideration around resourcing. The recently passed Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 provides for an extension of the Local Development Plan review process from 5 to 10 years, and for the production of Local Place Plans. Both of these measures will potentially help to implement place-based planning, but the capacity of both Local Authorities and communities will be critical to their success in helping to promote diversification in rural Scotland. Local Place Plans, if properly resourced, should serve as the key tools to allow longer-term Local Development Plans in rural areas to take account of local needs and assets and to enable officers to support development on the ground that addresses these needs.

The Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 has introduced a new statutory requirement for the National Planning Framework to address outcomes including increasing the population in rural areas and meeting people’s housing needs. Our research indicates that, in helping to achieve these outcomes by enabling developments that are appropriate to the housing and population needs of different areas, planning can play an important role in supporting diversification by helping to create the conditions for diversification to emerge.

Recommendation 15: Planning Officers should be enabled to provide support to communities to produce Local Place Plans, as a means of further implementing place-based approaches to planning. Planning officers should also be enabled to support communities to undertake diversification projects as these emerge from such place-based processes. Local Place Plans could evolve into Masterplan Consent Areas to assist in this process. Accepting that resources will differ across Local Authorities, the LPP process could be standardised potentially through the Place Standard Tool.

Recommendation 16: Rural planning should be more permissive where there is a need for diversification, as part of a proactive process that is plan-led and that identifies key types and examples of development that will support diversification and meet the needs of rural communities and businesses.



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