Scotland 2045 - fourth National Planning Framework - draft: consultation

Draft of Scotland 2045: Our Fourth National Planning Framework: consultation

Part 1 – A National Spatial Strategy For Scotland 2045

The purpose of planning is to manage the development and use of land in the long-term public interest. The decisions we make today will have implications for future generations. Scotland in 2045 will be different. We must embrace and deliver radical change so we can tackle and adapt to climate change, restore biodiversity loss, improve health and wellbeing, build a wellbeing economy and create great places.

We have set a target of net zero emissions by 2045, and must make significant progress towards this by 2030. This will require new development and infrastructure across Scotland. We will also have to adapt to the impacts of climate change that are already locked in, including increased flood risk, water scarcity, environmental change, coastal erosion, impacts on forestry and agriculture, extreme weather events, and risks to health, food security and safety. These impacts will not be equal and are likely to particularly affect communities who already face disadvantage. A concerted effort will be needed, with people and places working together to plan for a just transition, so our journey to a net zero society and nature recovery involves, and is fair to, everyone. Just Transition sector plans, co-designed and co-delivered with those impacted, will play an important role in delivering this ambition.

Our approach to planning and development will also play a critical role in supporting nature restoration and recovery. Global declines in biodiversity are mirrored here in Scotland with urbanisation recognised as a key pressure. We will need to invest in nature-based solutions to mitigate climate change whilst also addressing biodiversity loss, so we can safeguard the natural systems on which our economy, health and wellbeing depend. Scotland's natural environment, and the natural capital it supports, underpins our economy and is fundamental to our health and wellbeing. It provides the essentials we all need to survive – including healthier food and clean air and water. A new Scottish biodiversity strategy will set 2030 targets and will respond to a new global framework. Planning will play a critical role in supporting its delivery.

We will plan the place we want Scotland to be carefully. The way we live, learn, work and play in the future will need to be consistent with our ambition to achieve net zero emissions and nature recovery.

Our spatial strategy is a shared vision that will guide future development in a way which reflects our overarching spatial principles. Each part of Scotland can contribute to realising this shared vision. Our rural areas will have vibrant communities and their natural assets are a significant opportunity for long-term carbon sequestration and a greener, fairer and more inclusive wellbeing economy. Cities and towns will be models of healthier and greener living, and a focus for investment in the wellbeing economy. And our islands and coasts will support climate innovation and the blue economy. Physical gateways and virtual connections will bring our places together and maintain our links with the rest of the world.

Each part of Scotland can be planned and developed to create: sustainable places, where we reduce emissions and restore and better connect biodiversity; liveable places, where we can live better, healthier lives; productive places, where we have a greener, fairer and more inclusive wellbeing economy; and distinctive places, where we recognise and work with our assets.

National Spatial Strategy
A map of National Spatial Strategy showing Strategic maritime routes, Strategic connection, Blue economy, Transmission infrastructure, Major ports and National strategic programmes.

Sustainable places

Our future net zero, nature-positive places will be more resilient to the impacts of climate change and support the recovery and restoration of our natural environment.

This will help Scotland's places to thrive within the planet's sustainable limits and will maximise the new economic and wellbeing opportunities from a just transition to a net zero, nature-positive economy.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has made clear the very real threat and heightened risk the climate emergency poses to the planet; and the health of the planet's ecosystems is declining faster than at any point in human history. Scotland must play its full role in tackling these crises and invest in reducing carbon emissions and restoring the richness and resilience of our natural environment.

Our strategy is to transform the way we use our land and buildings so that every decision we make contributes to making Scotland a more sustainable place. In particular, we want to encourage low- and zero-carbon design and energy efficiency, reduce the need to travel unsustainably, and diversify and expand renewable energy generation. We will secure positive effects for biodiversity, creating and strengthening nature networks and investing in nature-based solutions to support nature recovery and create multiple benefits for our natural capital, health, wellbeing, resilience and jobs. And we will encourage sustainable design and use of resources, including circular economy approaches to construction and development.

Q1: Do you agree that this approach will deliver our future net zero places which will be more resilient to the impacts of climate change and support recovery of our natural environment?

Liveable places

Our future places, homes and neighbourhoods will be better, healthier and more vibrant places to live.

This will ensure that we live in communities that are inclusive, empowered, resilient and safe. It will also help us to be healthy and active, creative and diverse, so that people grow up loved, safe and respected, and realise their full potential.

The COVID-19 pandemic has left a social legacy that requires urgent action, and longer term restructuring. Although these are unprecedented challenges, they also create an opportunity to significantly improve our places, address longstanding inequality and eliminate discrimination, helping to transform our country for the better. We will need better places to create the conditions for lifelong health and wellbeing for all, restore biodiversity and strengthen our future resilience.

Our strategy is to change the way we live in the future – transformative social and economic change will be needed. We will create places with good-quality homes close to local facilities and services by applying the concept of 20 minute neighbourhoods. We want to make better use of our spaces to support physical activity, relaxation and play, to bring people together and to celebrate our culture, diversity and heritage. We hope to empower more people to shape their places.

Q2: Do you agree that this approach will deliver our future places, homes and neighbourhoods which will be better, healthier and more vibrant places to live?

Productive places

Our future places will attract new investment, build business confidence, stimulate entrepreneurship and facilitate future ways of working – improving economic, social and environmental wellbeing.

This will help us to have a globally competitive, entrepreneurial, inclusive and sustainable economy, with thriving and innovative businesses, quality jobs and fair work for everyone.

A new National Strategy for Economic Transformation will set out how we can work together to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and build a sustainable economy in the longer term. By helping to deliver this, planning will contribute to our short-term recovery, as well as our long term just transition to a net zero, nature-positive economy.

Our strategy is to build a wellbeing economy that benefits everyone, and every place, in Scotland. The transformations needed to tackle the climate and nature crises, together with the impact of the pandemic, means that green investment is a key priority for the coming years. The way we work is changing, and we will need to be flexible to facilitate future business and employment that benefits communities and improves places. We will play to the economic strengths and opportunities of each part of Scotland. We want to encourage development that supports the prosperity of key sectors, builds community wealth and creates fair work and good green jobs where they are most needed. We will need to support, and be supported by, businesses and communities across Scotland.

Q3: Do you agree that this approach will deliver our future places which will attract new investment, build business confidence, stimulate entrepreneurship and facilitate future ways of working – improving economic, social and environmental wellbeing?

Distinctive places

Our future places will be distinctive, safe and pleasant, easy to move around, welcoming, nature-positive and resource efficient.

This will ensure that people value, enjoy, protect and enhance their environment.

Scotland has a rich and high quality natural and historic environment. We must also tackle challenges in some parts of the country. This may mean changes at local, regional and national scales, for example where there has been past decline, where the pandemic has exacerbated inequalities, or where there is a need to make more efficient and equitable use of our assets. To respond to the global biodiversity crisis, nature recovery and connected blue and green infrastructure must be at the heart of all our future places.

Our strategy is to value, enhance, conserve and celebrate our best places and to build better places for future generations. A stronger commitment to place-making, through a design-led approach and a focus on quality, will ensure every new development improves the experience of our places. We will reshape future city and town centres, reuse vacant and derelict land and buildings, enhance our natural and cultural heritage, and create new rural opportunities. We will restore the richness of Scotland's natural environment, protect and enhance our historic environment, and safeguard our shared heritage for future generations. We will work together to ensure that development onshore aligns with national and regional marine plans so that we can protect and enhance the marine environment and unlock the potential of our coastal assets.

Q4: Do you agree that this approach will deliver our future places which will be distinctive, safe and pleasant, easy to move around, welcoming, nature-positive and resource efficient?

Q5: Do you agree that the spatial strategy will deliver future places that overall are sustainable, liveable, productive and distinctive?

Spatial principles for Scotland 2045

As a nation, we will need to make the right choices about where development should be located. No single policy or development on its own will deliver sustainable, liveable, productive and distinctive places. To build a climate-conscious and nature-positive future, our strategy and the policies that support its delivery are based on six overarching principles:

a) Compact growth. We will limit urban expansion where brownfield, vacant and derelict land and buildings can be used more efficiently. This will safeguard land to provide the services and resources we will need in the future, including carbon storage, flood risk management, green infrastructure and biodiversity. By increasing the density of settlements we will reduce the need to travel unsustainably and strengthen local living.

b) Local living. We will create networks of 20 minute neighbourhoods to support local liveability, reduce the need to travel unsustainably, promote and facilitate walking and cycling, improve access to services, decentralise energy networks and build local circular economies. As an integral part of this, cleaner, safer and greener places and improved open spaces will build resilience and provide wider benefits for people, health and biodiversity, in a balanced way. Virtual connectivity and active travel links will also be important.

c) Balanced development. We want to support development across Scotland so people have more choice about where they live, learn and work. This will create opportunities for communities in areas of decline, and manage development more sustainably in areas of high demand. In particular, we wish to enable more people to live and remain in rural and island areas, and to actively transform areas of past decline so that we can make best use of our assets.

d) Conserving and recycling assets. Scotland has many strengths and each place should be planned in a way that works with its distinctive character and identity. We will protect and enhance the assets of each of our places, leaving a positive legacy for future generations. Our focus is on making productive use of existing buildings, places, infrastructure and services, locking in embedded carbon and minimising waste, and supporting Scotland's transition to a circular economy. This includes nationally significant sites for investment which are well served by existing infrastructure and sustainable travel modes, and excellent propositions for redevelopment across urban and rural Scotland and the islands.

e) Urban and rural synergy. Scotland's urban and rural and island areas, and all of the places in between, can work together and share learning and innovation to achieve better places. Our strategy is for Scotland as a whole, bringing together the contributions of our cities, towns, villages and countryside areas to achieve shared objectives. As part of this, we will improve green infrastructure to bring nature into our towns and cities, connecting people with nature, building resilience and helping our biodiversity to recover and flourish.

f) Just transition. Meeting our climate ambition will require a rapid transformation across all sectors of our economy and society. We must ensure that, as we reduce our emissions and respond to a changing climate, that journey is fair and creates a better future for everyone – regardless of where they live, what they do, and who they are. The pandemic has demonstrated the capacity of our communities to work together and find their own local solutions to shared challenges. Our strategy builds on this, to ensure local people are more able to shape their places and transition to net zero and environmentally sustainable ways of living.

Q6: Do you agree that these spatial principles will enable the right choices to be made about where development should be located?

Action areas for Scotland 2045

Each part of Scotland can make a unique contribution to building a better future. Our shared spatial strategy will be taken forward in five action areas. Each area can support all spatial principles, and the following section sets out priorities for each of the action areas.

A map of action areas for Scotland 2045: North and west coastal innovation, Northern revitalisation, North east transition, Central urban transformation, Southern sustainability.

Q7: Do you agree that these spatial strategy action areas provide a strong basis to take forward regional priority actions?

North and west coastal innovation

Innovate Revitalise Transition Transform Sustain

This area broadly comprises the island communities of Shetland, Orkney, the Western Isles, and parts of Highland and Argyll and Bute including the north and west mainland coastline.

Scotland's north and west coast and islands will be at the forefront of our efforts to reach net zero emissions by 2045. This is a diverse area, from Shetland and Orkney in the north, to the Outer and Inner Hebrides and the coastal areas of Highland and Argyll and Bute. Coastal innovation is not unique to this area, but as one of the most renewable energy rich localities in Europe with significant natural resources, there is a real opportunity for this part of Scotland to support our shared national outcomes.

The area benefits from an exceptional environment with coastal and island landscapes that are an important part of Scotland's national identity. It is rich in biodiversity, sustaining many internationally significant ecological sites and species including some of the best remaining temperate rainforest sites in Europe. The islands vary in character. Each has a rich history and distinctive cultural heritage including the St Kilda and the Heart of Neolithic Orkney UNESCO World Heritage Sites. These assets require careful and sustainable management. The relatively high levels of community land ownership and strong ties with the land and sea reflect this area's strong sense of place and local resilience. Scotland's National Islands Plan[1] aims to grow the population and economy, improve transport and housing, and ensure island communities are served by the facilities, jobs, education and services they need to flourish. Environmental wellbeing, clean and affordable energy, strong communities, culture and identity are also priorities.

Key centres where lifeline links provide access to the islands include Lerwick, Kirkwall, Stromness, Stornoway, Wick and Thurso, Ullapool, Mallaig and Oban, whilst Tarbert, Lochgilphead and Campbeltown are important hubs towards the south of the area. These centres provide important services to their wider hinterlands. Local projects are ongoing, including the regeneration of Stromness, the Stornoway Deep Water Port development, the linked Islands Growth Deal Outer Hebrides Energy Hub project in Stornoway, and the Islands Growth Deal Knab Redevelopment project in Shetland.

There will be significant climate challenges for this part of Scotland. Island and coastal ecosystems, and the communities they support, are naturally more vulnerable to the effects of climate change, sea level rise and extreme events. Of particular concern are the impacts on vulnerable low-lying coastal zones and infrastructure, with potentially wide-ranging effects from biodiversity loss to sea level rise, coastal erosion, flooding and landslips. If we do not take action to plan and build their resilience, including investment in nature-based solutions, island and coastal communities could suffer disproportionately from the impacts of climate change.

A climate and nature conscious approach to development of this area can help to tackle wider challenges. Around 94 of our 900 islands are permanently inhabited, and the size and composition of each population has changed over the years. An ageing population will mean that we need to do more to reverse past patterns of population decline and sustain local facilities and services that support rural and dispersed communities.

Housing and public service provision, transport, energy consumption and fuel poverty will continue to be significant challenges. Employment varies across the area, and can tend to rely on the public sector, tourism and lower wage sectors, limiting the scope and choice of skilled jobs in some locations. Where skilled jobs exist it can be difficult to attract and retain a local workforce, underlining the importance of building skills to support future investment. There are challenges arising from the end of free movement and changing markets, and the agriculture and fishing industries will need support to ensure the long term sustainability of communities.

Alongside Scotland's marine planning authorities, we can work with the area's exceptional assets and natural resources to build a more resilient future for Scotland's island and coastal communities. In this area we will:

  • create carbon-neutral coastal and island communities;
  • support the blue and wellbeing economies;
  • protect and enhance blue and green infrastructure; and
  • strengthen resilience and decarbonise connectivity.
North and west coastal innovation
A map of North and west coastal innovation, highlighting National Developments creating Liveable places and Productive places.


1. Create carbon neutral coastal and island communities

Future-proofing local liveability will benefit people as well as the planet. Island and coastal communities will need a bespoke and flexible approach to the concept of 20 minute neighbourhoods, for example by identifying service hubs in key locations with good public transport links. This can build long-term resilience and self-reliance whilst sustaining dispersed communities and rural patterns of development.

Increased coastal flooding and erosion arising from future climate change will need to be considered along with impacts on associated infrastructure such as bridges and transport networks. The majority of island populations live in coastal locations and there is a need for a proactive and innovative approach that works with local communities to address this issue.

Regionally and locally driven plans and strategies will identify areas for future development that reflect these principles – for example, planned population growth on the Western Seaboard of Argyll and in a growth corridor from Tobermory to Oban and on to Dalmally. Community hubs, where people can easily access a variety of services, will need to evolve and grow to support communities and sustain a range of functions. Ports and harbours can be a focal point for electric vehicle charging as well as employment. Sustainable and fair access to affordable healthier food will support future resilience and broader objectives including reduced child poverty and improved health outcomes. Innovative and equitable service provision, including digital solutions, will be needed to support dispersed communities in a low carbon way.

Communities will need greater choice and more flexible and affordable homes to support varying needs. This can be achieved to an extent by refurbishing the existing building stock to reduce the release of embedded carbon, as well as by delivering more affordable, energy efficient new homes. The additional costs of island homebuilding and development generally is a challenge that needs to be factored into a planned approach.

There is a clear need for affordable housing provision across the region to improve choice and access to homes, and in some areas to help offset the impact of second home ownership and short term lets on the market. Local solutions may include key worker housing, temporary homes for workers in remote areas, self-provided homes, including self-build and custom build. Continued innovation of holistic place based solutions, such as the Rural Housing Initiative, will be required to create homes that meet diverse community needs, including homes for an ageing population and to help young people to stay in or return to their communities. Greater efforts to ensure young people have more influence in decisions that affect their future places could support this, as well as helping more people access land and crofts and the reuse of abandoned sites where appropriate.

To reverse past depopulation, planning can help to sustain communities in more peripheral and fragile areas in a way that is compatible with our low carbon agenda and resilient to climate change impacts. Further action should be taken where appropriate to reintroduce people to previously inhabited areas where it can be achieved in line with our climate commitments and wider aspirations to create sustainable places that incorporate principles of 20 minute neighbourhoods and active travel networks. Our coasts will continue to evolve, and development will be needed to sustain and grow communities in a sustainable way. Collaboration and strong alignment of terrestrial and marine planning, at all levels, will also be needed.

2. Support the Blue and Wellbeing Economies

This area has significant opportunities for investment that capitalise on its natural assets and further strengthen the synergies between people, land and sea. This will require strong collaboration and alignment of terrestrial and marine planning, especially as further development of related blue economy activities in the terrestrial environment may increase competition for marine space and resources offshore. To significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions more renewable energy generation will be needed, bringing unprecedented opportunities to strengthen local economies, build community wealth and secure long-term sustainability. The island authorities have set targets for creating green jobs and for rolling out clean and efficient energy systems to build local resilience. We expect to see continued innovation to unlock the infrastructure and business opportunities arising from a blue and green prosperity agenda.

As a result of its natural advantages, the area is growing its research excellence, and innovation centres are emerging on Orkney, Shetland and the Outer Hebrides, as part of the Islands Growth Deal, that will form a planned joint Islands Hub for Net Zero. Oban is developing as a university town, and the European Marine Science Park is a key opportunity to build the local economy and provide education locally. The Outer Hebrides Energy Hub will build on the region's formidable renewable energy resource by establishing the initial infrastructure necessary to support the production of low carbon hydrogen from renewable energy. The lessons we have learned from the pandemic about remote working could also help to grow communities by extending the range of high quality jobs available locally.

Sea ports are a focus for investment in the blue economy and further diversification of activities could generate additional employment across the area. Potential for business development ranges from long-distance freight to supporting the cruise and marine leisure sectors and decommissioning opportunities. New infrastructure and repurposing of land will help to shift industrial activity towards supporting the offshore renewables sector. Key strategic sites for industrial investment and associated port infrastructure and facilities include plans for: Dales Voe and Scapa Flow as part of the Islands Growth Deal; Cullivoe; Arnish in Stornoway; Wick; Scrabster; Gills Bay; Kishorn; Oban and Hatston, Kirkwall. Other key nodes on the ferries network, including Ullapool, Uig and Mallaig, will continue to act as important hubs to support communities, investors and visitors.

Proposed space ports, which make use of the area's relatively remote location and free airspace, could support our national ambitions to grow this sector. This includes plans for a Shetland Space Innovation Campus and Outer Hebrides Spaceport 1 in Scolpaig, North Uist as part of the Islands Growth Deal, and space ports at Machrihanish and Benbecula.

Food and drink is a key sector, with aquaculture, distilleries, commercial fishing, and seaweed farming providing a crucial and growing source of employment for many local communities. This sector is of national significance, with whisky generating an estimated £5 billion to the UK economy and salmon accounting for more than 40% of total food exports. By improving the resilience of existing infrastructure we will ensure continued access to international markets. There are significant opportunities to build on experience and expertise through associated research and development. A development hub at Machrihanish to support aquaculture research in association with Stirling University could open up wider opportunities to expand onshore aquaculture at sites across Scotland.

Targeted investment in tourism infrastructure will ensure the coast and islands can capitalise on their rich natural assets, heritage and culture to support better quality and more stable jobs in the sector whilst providing a positive experience for visitors and residents. This sector has been significantly impacted by the pandemic and a short-term focus on recovery can be underpinned by efforts to secure longer-term sustainability. Planning can help to ensure that the Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund is targeted to places where the pressure is most significant. Priorities include visitor management of the area's World Heritage Sites. Plans are in place for the Orkney World Heritage Site Gateway that will manage and disperse visitors to the Heart of Neolithic Orkney UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Outer Hebrides Destination Development Project will support the strategic development of tourism infrastructure, bringing together key assets including St Kilda World Heritage Site, the Iolaire Centre, the Hebridean Way, Food and Drinks trail and the Callanish standing stones. Other ongoing projects, including long-distance routes such as the Kintyre Way and the Argyll Sea Kayak Trail and Crinan Canal can help to expand a high-quality offer of exceptional marine tourism across the area as a whole.

Regionally and locally there is a need for smaller scale investment across the area to put in place low maintenance, carefully designed facilities which better support and manage the impact of informal tourism including camping, campervans and day trips. This should reflect the scale and nature of operators including community trusts. Efforts to provide access to education and build skills locally will also support this, with key projects including plans for the redevelopment of the Shetland Campus.

3. Protect and enhance blue and green infrastructure

The coast and islands' natural and cultural assets will require careful planning and management so that their special qualities can continue to form a strong foundation for future development and investment. There are opportunities for local projects across this area to come together and create an enhanced nature network which benefits quality of life and contributes to biodiversity recovery and restoration as well as carbon sequestration.

Significant peatland restoration and woodland creation and restoration, along with blue carbon opportunities will secure wider biodiversity benefits and be a focus for investment to offset carbon and secure existing natural carbon stores. The Lewis Peatlands are internationally recognised as accounting for a significant proportion of the world's blanket bog habitat and there are opportunities to protect and expand Scotland's temperate rainforest, including some of the best remaining rainforest sites in Europe. Access to the outdoors, as well as active travel, can benefit from continued investment in long-distance walking and cycling routes with a range of projects emerging at a regional scale.

4. Strengthen resilience and decarbonise connectivity

Communities will need resilient transport connectivity to maintain accessibility and lifeline links and further innovation will be required to help modernise connections and decarbonise transport systems. A net zero islands air network and decarbonisation of ferry services will help to secure the viability and service stability of island and remote coastal communities. Communities are keen to explore long term ambitions for fixed links for example across the Sound of Harris and Sound of Barra, and potentially to connect the Outer Hebrides to mainland Scotland. An Islands Connectivity Plan will consider the role of ferries, fixed links and low carbon aviation in securing lifeline links and marine access for both leisure and freight. In addition to the investment potential of the area's ports and harbours, the strategic location of the Northern Isles as a hub for future shipping using long-distance trade routes has significant potential for investment and growth over the longer term. There is also potential to consider decarbonisation of fishing fleets and the aquaculture industry in the future.

Electric vehicle ownership is already high in some parts of the area and continued expansion of charging networks will support further decarbonisation. Key routes and hubs are emerging – examples include the aspiration for an electric spinal route that extends across the Outer Hebrides. This should be viewed as one part of a wider system response to net zero that also strengthens active travel across the area.

Improved digital connectivity is a priority to sustain current businesses and create 'smart' communities. We are committed to investment in ultrafast broadband to ensure every property is connected and to improve mobile coverage. This will unlock opportunities for rural businesses and remote working, and make future community growth more feasible. Full benefits will be realised by actively tackling the digital divide by building skills, literacy and learning and addressing the financial barriers to internet access. Key projects include the Outer Hebrides Giga Fibre Network and the North Isles Fibre Project.

Resilience and a growing green economy will depend on delivery of improved grid connections, including high voltage grid cables connecting the three island groups to the mainland. This will be complemented by the innovation in low- and zero-carbon fuels and the roll out of locally distributed energy systems to reduce emissions from heating buildings, address significant fuel poverty and secure longer-term resilience.

Q8: Do you agree with this summary of challenges and opportunities for this action area?

Q9: What are your views on these strategic actions for this action area?

Northern revitalisation

Innovate Revitalise Transition Transform Sustain

This area broadly includes Highland with parts of Argyll and Bute, Moray and much of the national parks. There are links west and north to the island communities.

The Highlands of Scotland, together with Moray and parts of mainland Argyll, are world renowned for their stunning landscapes, rich biodiversity and cultural heritage. In some places settlements are dispersed or take the form of low density crofting townships, whilst in others communities come together in key centres. Cairngorms National Park is a national asset with internationally significant habitats and landscapes and there is currently a proposal to make the Flow Country a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Emissions here are partly offset by the climate sequestration arising from land use and forestry so that the area acts as a net carbon sink overall, and there are few sources of significant industrial emissions. Climate change risks include changing levels of rainfall, increased storm events, temperature rise, flood risk, rising sea levels and associated erosion. Tailored measures will be required to assist communities in adapting to climate change and transitioning to net zero.

This rural heartland is much more than a place of beauty and isolation. Many thriving communities live here, and they depend on local jobs and learning to support their quality of life. Some communities have experienced outmigration, particularly the loss of younger people, especially outwith Inverness. Further population decline is a future risk, particularly for the west and north. Many communities depend on the car and more limited access to services creates disadvantage, despite the quality of life and good health that many people living here enjoy. An ageing population will put pressures on some services.

Parts of the area have recently experienced acceleration of the increase in house prices. Emerging evidence suggests this is a result of the pandemic and a more mobile remote workforce, with some attracted to the area from elsewhere to take up such a work-life style. Without intervention, access to affordable homes, jobs and services that enable local people to stay in their communities could become more challenging. Fuel and transport poverty is a particular challenge towards the north and west and there are significant areas which do not currently benefit from good-quality digital connectivity.

The area's environmental quality, landscape and wildlife sustain key economic sectors including tourism, food and drink, distilling and clean energy. Extensive areas of woodland and peatland act as a carbon sink, contributing significantly to our national sustainability. The area has a strong economy with growing income and low unemployment overall, but there remain pockets of deprivation both in urban areas and in more remote areas where there is a need for low skilled and low paid jobs.

This part of Scotland can make a strong contribution towards meeting our ambition for a net zero and nature positive country by demonstrating how natural assets can be managed and used to secure a more sustainable future.

In this area we will:

  • strengthen networks of resilient communities;
  • stimulate green prosperity;
  • nurture nature-based solutions; and
  • strengthen resilience and decarbonise connectivity.
Northern revitalisation
A map of Northern revitalisation, highlighting National Developments creating Liveable places and Productive places.


5. Strengthen networks of resilient communities

We will do all we can to help reverse depopulation across rural Scotland. Here, as with other more rural areas of Scotland, 20 minute neighbourhoods can be tailored to work with both larger towns and more dispersed settlement patterns.

Inverness plays a vital role as a regional centre for services, health, justice, employment, education, culture and tourism and has seen significant expansion in recent years. Key sites for its growth are located primarily to the east along the Moray coast. A sustainable and adaptive growth strategy will continue to be supported by planned investment in education and health and social care services as well as employment uses. The new railway station serving Inverness Airport will help connect local communities with growing employment opportunities in the wider area. Inverness Castle, as part of the Inverness and Highland City Region Deal, will be redeveloped and opened up to the public, attracting national and international tourists and encouraging visits to the wider Highlands and Islands.

Fort William, Grantown-on-Spey and Aviemore are key settlements, and the area has strong relationships with adjacent more coastal settlements such as Mallaig, Oban, Wick and Thurso. The area also has a strong network of towns including Forres, Elgin and Nairn. In more remote communities there is a need to reverse population decline. Innovation will be required to achieve this in a sustainable way. A place based approach (as demonstrated by Fort William 2040), including work to improve town centres and reuse redundant buildings, will support recovery in a way which responds to the strong character and identity of each of the area's towns and villages. Such an approach is evident in Growth Deal projects such as Moray's Cultural Quarter proposal. A positive approach to rural development should work within a network of hubs, and future service provision will require imaginative solutions so that places can be resilient and self-supporting. Investment in strategic health, justice and education facilities is already planned. In the longer term digital solutions, including mobile and remote health services and virtual education, will play an increasingly important role.

As with the coastal and island areas, homes will be needed to retain local people and attract new residents of all ages. Many communities have taken ownership of their land and this could form the foundations for future development by unlocking further development sites. Refurbishment of existing rural buildings and halting the loss of crofts could help to repopulate the area, and new homes should align with infrastructure and service provision. They should also be located and designed to minimise emissions and to complement the distinctive character of existing settlements and wider landscapes. As climate change continues to impact, water supplies and drainage will need to be secured and maintained. Flood risk management and changing ecosytems will need to be factored into future plans to ensure nature-based adaptation solutions complement local living. Fuel poverty will require greater energy efficiency and affordable, low-carbon, distributed heat and electricity networks, with a model for increased local generation, bringing particular benefits. Maintaining connectivity will be essential, particularly through public transport that includes rail access and other active travel networks.

6. Stimulate green prosperity

Natural assets and environmental quality underpin the area's main economic sectors and must therefore be protected, restored and used sustainably. A flexible approach to planning will help to attract investment, grow and diversify businesses and enable local entrepreneurship, micro enterprises, self-employment and social enterprises to flourish. Remote working can be capitalised on to build economically active local communities. This will require the continued roll out of high quality digital infrastructure and maintenance and decarbonisation of transport routes to wider markets. Food miles can be reduced over time with the help of local community-led food growing networks, by supporting locally driven public procurement and, from a land use perspective, protecting higher quality agricultural land.

Ideas are emerging for the area to secure a low carbon future for tourism. Assets such as the North Coast 500 and more recently the Kintyre 66 in the adjacent coastal area, as well as the area's high quality environment and associated food and drink products, attract visitors. However, they also require improvements to infrastructure to support local communities and visitors. This will maintain the quality of the experience and the environment, facilitate lower carbon transport, promote 'leave no footprint' and encourage longer stays. This could involve extending the availability of transport services. There are also many regionally significant opportunities to create jobs by growing support services for outdoor activities such as mountain biking, climbing, walking and angling and in support of the country's winter sport and recreation sector that is primarily focussed in this area.

This area also makes an important contribution to our climate change targets by supporting renewable energy generation. Repowering and extending existing wind farms will optimise their productivity and capitalise on the area's significant natural energy resources, and there is potential to increase offshore wind energy capacity. A carefully planned approach can reduce environmental or other impacts and retain more benefits locally. Community ownership of renewable energy projects at all scales could play a key role in improving resilience, empowering local people to take control of their own assets and helping tackle fuel poverty. Pumped hydroelectric storage at Cruachan and other sites such as Coire Glas can support the energy network, as well as providing tourism and recreation opportunities, and we expect to see a growth in solar power. As technologies continue to develop, storage and other forms of generation will grow. The electricity distribution and transmission network will require upgrading to support the large increase in on and offshore electricity generation as well as new demand from heat and transport required to achieve net zero. There will also be a need for more community-scale energy generation to serve the needs of local communities directly and build resilience.

Investment in research and development, business opportunities and local centres of expertise will help to retain benefits locally and broaden the range of skilled jobs. There will also be opportunities to build on and repurpose existing assets to create greener jobs, such as the former nuclear installation at Dounreay and development at Fort William associated with the Lochaber Smelter.

The area's coastline contributes to the beauty and experience of the area and is also a hub for economic activity including fishing, the cruise and marine leisure sectors and the offshore renewable energy sector. Key ports include the Cromarty Firth (including Port of Cromarty, Nigg and Highland Deephaven), Corpach, Ardersier, Gills Bay, Inverness, Kishorn and Buckie. Through Opportunity Cromarty Firth and other projects, new facilities and infrastructure will help ports to adapt, unlocking their potential to support the transition from fossil fuels through oil and gas decommissioning, renewable energy and low carbon hydrogen production and storage, and the expansion of supply chain and services. This will in turn benefit communities by providing employment and income for local businesses.

7. Nurture nature-based solutions

The area's natural capital will play a vital role in locking in carbon and building our resilience by providing valuable ecosystem services. This includes sustainable flood risk management, biodiversity, access and education.

Land and sea assets will play an internationally significant role in renewable energy generation and carbon sequestration. The area can act as a strategic carbon and ecological 'mitigation bank' that can make a major contribution to our national climate change commitments. A programme of investment in forestry, woodland creation, native woodlands and peatland restoration will play a key role in reducing our national emissions, providing investment opportunities, supporting ecosystems and biodiversity and benefiting current and future generations. There are also opportunities to explore the decarbonisation of the forestry sector and the transport of timber, and to build community wealth through new businesses, such as a nationally important tree nursery in Moray.

Wider but closely related priorities include continuing conservation at a landscape-scale, to develop resilient nature networks, deer and moorland management, visitor management and recreation, rural housing, community empowerment and economic development. This will provide good quality local employment, strengthen and diversify local economies and help to secure a sustainable future for local people. The area's rivers are also strategic assets that will continue to benefit from aligned land use, climate adaptation and biodiversity enhancement.

Cairngorms National Park is bringing together conservation, the visitor experience and rural development to provide benefits that extend well beyond the park boundary. Landscape-scale solutions to build resilience to climate change, to manage sustainable tourism and outdoor access, and a commitment to reversing biodiversity decline and increasing woodland expansion and peatland restoration, are all key priorities. Demand for development, including in pressured areas, will require a planned response to minimise the impact of second homes on local communities and ensure new housing is affordable and meets local needs.

8. Strengthen resilience and decarbonise connectivity

We will continue to support further investment in digital connectivity but will need to go further to adapt to climate change and make use of emerging technologies. Priorities include satellite and mobile solutions to address 'not spots', and to support local living by reducing the need to travel unsustainably. To complement existing physical connections, smart solutions, local hubs, demand responsive transport and active travel networks will help people to access services and employment and make low-carbon local living a more viable option.

The transport system as a whole will need to be planned to support a shift to more sustainable transport whilst maintaining access to markets and facilities. In line with the transport sustainable investment hierarchy, development should first be focused on locations which make the best use of existing infrastructure and services before building new infrastructure or providing new services. Improvements to the Highland Main Line through electrification and delivery of new stations including at Inverness Airport, will create a sustainable commuter network for Inverness and open up more rural areas to lower carbon development. Our rolling programme of efficient electrification is also a key enabler for growth in rail freight, creating improved connectivity and providing additional capacity with faster journey times, better use of track capacity and lower unit costs. A continued modal shift to rail for both passengers and freight will bring significant environmental benefits over time.

Roads will continue to be arteries upon which local communities and businesses depend. There will be a need to adapt key routes due to the impacts of climate change alongside creating a strong network of charging points, including improvements to the A96 to improve safety and to the A9 to maintain a resilient road link from Thurso and Inverness to the central belt. Remote and rural areas including islands are dependent on reliable accessibility by road including connecting to ferries and ports, facilitating reliable public transport by road, access to essential services and transporting of goods. There is an urgent need for improvements to the A83 to ensure the resilience of the economy and communities of wider Argyll. Continued investment in the national long-distance walking and cycling network provides an opportunity to assist in decarbonising tourism and recreation across the area, whilst also providing, and acting as a spine for, sustainable active travel connections for everyday travel in the vicinity of towns and villages.

Inverness airport is a hub for air connections to dispersed communities and Wick John O'Groats and Broadford Airstrip on Skye are key connections. Oban Airport is also an opportunity for investment in compliance operations and future drone technology. The Highlands and Islands are aiming to become the world's first net zero aviation region by 2040 by pioneering new approaches including electric aircraft. Investment in technology and facilities will be required to achieve this. The Moray Aerospace Advanced Technology and Innovation Campus (MAATIC) at Lossiemouth is an opportunity to develop skilled work in the aviation sector, in collaboration with the Royal Air Force and Boeing.

Planning permission has been granted for a spaceport at Melness in Sutherland, making use of its location away from populated areas to provide a vertical launch facility that could link with wider opportunities for manufacturing, research and development across Scotland.

Q10: Do you agree with this summary of challenges and opportunities for this action area?

Q11: What are your views on these strategic actions for this action area?

North east transition

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This area broadly includes Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire with links through Moray towards Inverness, and south towards the Tay estuary.

The north east is a centre for the skills and expertise we will need to meet our climate change commitments. This area will evolve, through a just transition, to move industry and business away from the oil and gas sector towards a cleaner, greener future. We can build on the area's experience to find innovative solutions to climate change.

Emissions generated from this area arise mainly from transport, industrial and commercial activity and domestic properties, with land use and forestry providing carbon sequestration. Car ownership is particularly high in Aberdeenshire. Significant parts of the coast will be vulnerable to future climate impacts.

This area is amongst the most prosperous parts of Scotland, but has experienced significant economic challenges in recent years and has pockets of deprivation. The area comprises a mix of rural and urban communities, with the city of Aberdeen and a surrounding network of towns including Elgin, Huntly, Fraserburgh, Peterhead, Ellon, Inverurie and Stonehaven, and significant rural areas including more accessible countryside around Aberdeen city. Whilst parts of the area have experienced population decline, several settlements around Aberdeen have grown.

Affordability and choice of homes remains a challenge, contributing to a housing driven disadvantage within Aberdeen. Projections show that the population of retired people living in Aberdeenshire could grow by around 43% by 2043. There are lower levels of educational attainment and limited access to services for communities along the Aberdeenshire and Moray coast. Many of these places will benefit from further regeneration that builds on their identity and natural assets.

The excellent quality of the built environment, natural assets and cultural heritage already contribute to health and wellbeing in the area and can form the basis of a transition to net zero. Some of our highest quality agricultural land is concentrated here, and the economy benefits from a strong fishing industry, alongside its globally significant energy sector. The dominance of these sectors, together with wider changes including from the pandemic, EU Exit and global markets, means that economic diversification and repurposing of buildings and infrastructure are likely to be key priorities.

In this area we will:

  • transition to net zero;
  • improve local liveability;
  • regenerate coastal communities; and
  • decarbonise connectivity.
North east transition
A map of North east transition, highlighting National Developments creating Liveable places, Productive places and Distinctive places.


9. Transition to net zero

Action is required to tackle industrial emissions and transition towards a greener future that benefits existing communities and attracts further investment. Rich in natural assets, this area, along with the wider Moray and Cromarty Firths, has built on its oil and gas experience to pioneer new technologies. This makes it a uniquely investable proposition that could benefit Scotland as a whole.

Greener energy choices, including hydrogen and offshore renewables, have a natural home here and will be at the heart of the area's future wellbeing economy. Investment opportunities focus on the green and blue economy and energy innovation. Significant infrastructure will be required to deliver a hydrogen network for Scotland, including repurposing of existing facilities and the creation of new capacity. £62 million in the Energy Transition Fund is supporting four projects to protect existing jobs and create new jobs in the North East, and across Scotland, by opening up opportunities through energy transition and harnessing private sector funding. This funding aligns with the Aberdeen City Region Deal and continuing support for retraining and skills development. Ports and harbours throughout the area are key assets in the blue economy. As offshore renewables are an important part of Scotland's energy transition, there will be a need to align terrestrial and marine development so as to maximise the potential of this sector.

The relocation of some activity at Aberdeen Harbour to the south harbour has been an important element in planning for the future. Further investment will help to realise its full potential as a low-carbon hub and gateway. This is also a significant opportunity to improve urban liveability by unlocking waterfront sites for mixed use development close to the city centre. Local people will need to be involved in deciding how potentially significant industrial and business activity can be accommodated alongside regenerating a vibrant, redesigned city centre in the coming years.

It is essential that environmental impacts arising from relocation of the harbour and new construction are carefully managed in a way that recognises the location's natural assets and sensitivities. We expect the local development plan and development management decisions, informed by the required impact assessments, to play a crucial role in guiding future development and mitigating any environmental effects to an acceptable level.

10. Improve local liveability

A new focus on local living could help to address the high levels of car ownership and respond to the area's dispersed settlement pattern. Growth corridors extending from the city to Peterhead, Huntly and Laurencekirk will be a focus for future development, and strategic sites include new communities at Chapelton, Grandhome and Countesswells. There is significant potential to promote more compact growth by making better use of brownfield sites and increasing density.

There will be benefits for people of all ages arising from an increase in local living and a shift towards 20 minute neighbourhoods. The area's towns contribute to its sense of place and further town centre regeneration will help communities to adapt to current challenges and future change. Service provision also needs to reflect the area's character. Several new or extended primary and secondary schools and community facilities are planned and the area will support wider rural communities by hosting a new centre of excellence for rural and remote medicine and social care. Access to good-quality open space and opportunities for local food growing, including allotments and community orchards, can benefit health and wellbeing and tackle inequalities as an integral part of placemaking.

The area's growth strategy includes a commitment to building with nature by creating multifunctional blue and green networks and improving green spaces in and around settlements, connecting with the national long-distance cycling and walking network and facilitating active travel. Community-led climate action projects will help to provide locally-driven solutions. A new water supply and waste-water systems will play an important role in building long-term resilience.

11. Regenerate coastal communities

The area benefits from a productive coastline that will be a focus for future economic activity and investment associated with offshore renewable energy and the blue economy. The coast is home to communities who will benefit from continued regeneration and a move towards 20 minute neighbourhoods that reduces the need to travel. Key regional priorities include the regeneration of Banff, Macduff, Fraserburgh and Peterhead. Future coastal vulnerability to erosion, sea level rise and flood risk will need to be factored into development strategies. The fishing industry will continue to contribute to the area's strong sense of place and shared heritage, communities and economy, with some ports and harbours also having opportunities in the cruise and marine leisure sectors.

12. Decarbonise connectivity

Aberdeen is a key transport hub providing vital connections internationally, as well as lifeline services to Orkney and Shetland. Congestion will be reduced as a result of the construction of the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route, and the A92/A96 Haudagain Improvement project. In the city work is ongoing to lock in the benefits and prioritise sustainable transport, including Aberdeen Rapid Transit. More widely the Aberdeen to Central Belt Rail Improvements will bring benefits to both passengers and freight.

The area can lead the way in promoting low emissions vehicles, active travel and public transport connectivity as part of its contribution to net zero. Links south to the central belt and west towards Inverness remain vital. Work is progressing on the £200m investment being made to improve journey times and capacity between Aberdeen and the Central Belt for passengers and freight. Continuing improvements to digital connectivity and active travel will reduce the need to travel by unsustainable modes and facilitate further remote, home or hub-based working.

Q12: Do you agree with this summary of challenges and opportunities for this action area?

Q13: What are your views on these strategic actions for this action area?

Central urban transformation

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This area broadly covers central Scotland from the Glasgow city region and the Ayrshires in the west to Edinburgh city region in the east, including the Tay cities, the Forth Valley and Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park.

We will only meet our climate change commitments if we make significant changes to the densely populated central belt of Scotland. Our most urban communities hold the key to reducing emissions from the way we live our lives. We need to work together to decarbonise buildings and transport and tackle congestion, make more efficient use of existing land and buildings, connect to renewable electricity and heat networks and create more inclusive, greener and sustainable places that will stand the test of time.

Many of our largest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions are located in this area, including Grangemouth where industrial activity is concentrated, providing high value manufacturing, maintaining our resilience and providing employment. Other key sources include industrial, manufacturing and waste management sites and facilities. Overall emissions from domestic properties and transport are high as a result of the area's population density and the scale of daily movement within and between city regions. The growing risk of flooding could in the future have significant impacts, as many key settlements and economic assets are located on the Clyde, Forth and Tay estuaries.

Glasgow is Scotland's largest metropolitan area and Edinburgh is a world renowned historic capital city. There are differences between and within these city regions – at a broad scale there are relatively high concentrations of poor health, economic disadvantage and population decline in parts of the Glasgow city region contrasting with strong demand and expected population growth in parts of the Edinburgh city region. The area has a similar pattern of children living in poverty, with strong contrasts between the Glasgow and Edinburgh city regions. Household projections show there will be a continuing demand for more homes. There has been a strong market, high levels of housebuilding and pressure on infrastructure in some 'hot spots' including the Edinburgh city region, Stirling and Falkirk, and Perth. In contrast, despite good connections and infrastructure capacity, it can be more challenging to encourage the market to deliver new homes towards the west of the central belt where unemployment is also higher.

There are also inequalities within each of the city regions, with local concentrations of economic deprivation. Overall, economic performance is higher in the cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow and lower in surrounding areas including Inverclyde, Ayrshire, along parts of the Clyde Coast and Lanarkshire. The diverse business base reflects nationally important sectors including financial services, business administration, life sciences, distribution and transport, retail and commercial, and manufacturing and production. Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Perth and Stirling city centres are experiencing significant challenges, caused or accelerated by the pandemic, but each retain a strong character and distinctive identity, offering opportunities for new business, homes, and services. Similar issues apply to the towns across this area.

Beyond the cities and towns there are many high quality environments, from historic burghs and conservation areas to protected biodiversity sites, ancient woodlands and areas of high landscape quality, including the coastline, country and national parks, and canals. This brings opportunities for outdoor recreation within a short distance of the majority of Scotland's population. We have made progress in restoring and reusing areas which were historically a focus for heavy industry and mining, and which left a legacy of disused sites and areas blighted by dereliction. The coast is an integral part of the area's identity, combining natural and cultural heritage and acting as a focus for investment and regeneration.

A coherent strategy that focuses on climate change and responds to the challenges of the pandemic will drive forward change to tackle inequalities and build a new, greener, future for this part of the country.

In this area we will:

  • pioneer low-carbon, resilient urban living;
  • reinvent and future-proof city centres;
  • accelerate urban greening;
  • rediscover urban coasts and waterfronts;
  • reuse land and buildings;
  • invest in net zero housing solutions;
  • grow a wellbeing economy;
  • reimagine development on the urban fringe; and
  • improve urban accessibility.
Central urban transformation
A map of Central urban transformation, highlighting National Developments creating Liveable places, Productive places and Distinctive places.


13. Pioneer low-carbon, resilient urban living

This area will require concerted effort to develop a network of 20 minute neighbourhoods, and clusters of communities with fair access to a range of services that support sustainable living. Planning should focus on revitalising cities and towns at scale, supporting a finer grained approach to placemaking, and a more intricate mix of land uses and density. This should incorporate networks of natural spaces and blue and green infrastructure, to create health and wellbeing benefits, increase resilience to climate change and support the growth of green job opportunities.

The car-based design of some of our places, including many suburban areas and new towns, mean that a significant shift to a more people centred approach will be required. Planning can help retrofit facilities and services into areas where they are scarce, such as predominantly residential areas, to enable better integrated mixed use areas. City, town and neighbourhood centres can be at the heart of this if they are planned to strengthen self-sufficiency and bring services and jobs closer to homes. The recommendations of the recent town centre review can be delivered by supporting a wider range of uses and making the most of their assets.

Accessibility will be a key part of the transition and will involve investment in infrastructure and services in line with the sustainable travel and investment hierarchies, to improve fair access and reduce carbon emissions. Active travel networks will need to expand to make walking, wheeling and cycling an attractive, convenient, safe, and sustainable choice for everyday travel. There are significant opportunities for investment in heat networks, energy storage and the circular economy to create more sustainable neighbourhoods.

As a nation we have a particular obligation to do more to tackle the concentration of poor health outcomes in west central Scotland. Action is needed to reduce inequality and improve health and wellbeing so that everyone is able to thrive. Better places can do more to support lifelong health and wellbeing by providing more affordable, warmer homes that are connected to services. Access to quality greenspace and nature-based solutions can help to mitigate health inequalities and improve physical and mental health, by providing opportunities for play, socialising, relaxation and physical activity. We also need to reduce urban car use to help tackle emissions and air pollution. Local and affordable access to health and social care facilities will need to be built into our future places and can benefit from continuing investment in digital infrastructure and innovation.

14. Reinvent and future proof city centres

Scotland's city centres are socially and culturally important, supporting our productivity and stimulating innovation and investment. The pandemic has generated severe impacts and longer-term challenges for our city centres. The City Centre Recovery Taskforce is developing a shared vision for their future and the City Centre Recovery Fund will support their recovery and repurposing. This is a nationally significant opportunity to contribute to Scotland's economic recovery and to achieve a wellbeing economy.

The Glasgow city region is reimagining its future to build in climate resilience, develop a wellbeing economy, improve health and wellbeing and support environmental regeneration. The city centre, an exceptional asset and a primary location and cultural destination, has been significantly impacted by unprecedented changes in working patterns, service provision and the retail sector. Whilst these changes may not be sustained in the long term, now is the time to accelerate work to diversify the city centre and invest in maintaining and re-using existing buildings so that it can evolve to be a more carbon conscious place. Existing connections mean the centre could sustain many more homes, revitalising places and creating a 24 hour city that is safe and open to everyone. Significant investment in schools, community services and greenspace will be needed to achieve this and more creative use of the public realm and a low emission zone will help to make this a safer and healthier environment for people of all ages. Innovative solutions, such as retrofitting energy efficiency measures to social housing across the city, could be extended to help improve the built fabric of the city centre's commercial properties.

Edinburgh has similar challenges and opportunities for positive change. High interest in investment and associated demand for new homes means that planning will need to help deliver sustainable development that supports the quality of life of existing and future residents. As a capital city with a World Heritage Site at its core, it will be crucial that future development takes into account the capacity of the city itself and its surrounding communities and makes the most of its exceptional heritage assets, places and cultural wealth. The City Centre Transformation Plan supports a move away from a car-based city centre to create a more liveable and attractive place to live, work and visit. The Forth Bridge is also an inscribed UNESCO World Heritage Site, and our rich industrial and cultural heritage remains apparent across the area.

Dundee is well on the way towards reinventing itself through regeneration of the waterfront, unlocking strategic sites for new homes and new opportunities for innovation and economic development arising such as the Eden Project, the Michelin Scotland Innovation Park and at the port. Continued regeneration in this area, building on the city's rich culture, sense of place and appetite to innovate will also contribute to the overall aims for this part of Scotland. The V&A will continue to be a focal point for this, evolving to become a National Centre for Design within this UNESCO City of Design. Perth is managing housing development in strategic development areas and transport infrastructure investment and the creation of a bus and rail interchange to support modal shift and establish a new gateway to the city. Stirling is bringing forward new opportunities for innovation and investment, building on the city's strong heritage and supported by the area's educational institutions.

15. Accelerate urban greening

The greening of the built environment, including former industrial areas, is a long-held ambition that we now need to expedite to significantly reduce emissions, adapt to the future impacts of climate change and tackle biodiversity loss. Investment in green infrastructure will support urban sustainability, help to restore biodiversity, contribute to our overall targets for reducing emissions and improve health and wellbeing. By weaving blue and green infrastructure across our urban fabric we can ensure that nature and the outdoors are accessible to everyone, supporting lifelong health and wellbeing and creating places that are more resilient to flooding.

There is much that we have already learned from past work, for example initiatives to naturalise former mining features, reclaiming canals as a cultural heritage and natural asset, and extensive woodland creation. Wider woodland expansion across more urban areas could make a significant contribution to improving air quality and quality of life by reducing pollution, managing water and cooling urban environments. Blue and green networks can help to deliver compact and liveable cities.

Many initiatives will come together to achieve urban greening:

  • The Central Scotland Green Network will continue to bring together environmental enhancement projects. Initiatives such as the John Muir Pollinator Way demonstrate how nature networks can help restore and better connect biodiversity and enhance green infrastructure at a landscape scale.
  • The Glasgow City Region Green Network, a long-term transformational programme of environmental action, can achieve a step change in the quality and benefits of green places across west central Scotland and bring enhanced biodiversity closer to communities. As part of this, the Clyde Climate Forest is proposing natural solutions at scale across the Glasgow city region.
  • The Inner Forth Futures Partnership is tackling the effects of climate change and providing recreation benefits through projects such as peatland restoration and woodland expansion.
  • The River Leven Project in Fife is a holistic place based approach to development. Blue and green infrastructure will support investment and provide environmental, health and wellbeing benefits for communities.
  • The Tayside strategic green and active travel network also aims to create regionally significant assets that contribute to the quality of the area.
  • There is a particular opportunity to build on the successful regeneration of our canals to provide an invaluable strategic greenspace that connects communities across the area as a whole, contributes to its strong post-industrial heritage and provides wider functions such as water management to support future resilience to climate change. The potential of a canal asset should be recognised as a shared priority.

16. Rediscover urban coasts and waterfronts

The region's coasts and firths define the area's history and shapes its sense of place. There is potential to unlock the strategic importance of coasts, estuary and river corridors for climate mitigation, resilience and positive environmental change. Coastal change will need to be managed to build long term resilience and future-proof our waterfronts. Progress has been made to create long-distance walking and cycling routes and to open up access to waterfront spaces and reclaim them as a resource for people as well as industry. There will be a need to tackle coastal erosion, flood risk and storm surges, and to build in natural solutions which work with the unique biodiversity and landscape character of these important places.

These coasts are rich in cultural and natural heritage. Along the Inner Forth various projects provide multiple benefits, including flood management, cultural landscape enhancement, habitat creation, access and tourism. Edinburgh's waterfront regeneration is ongoing with Granton benefiting from an ambitious masterplan, the tram extension to Leith progressing and potential development at Seafield helping to redefine the city's relationship with its coastline, reusing existing assets and helping Edinburgh to become a more liveable city. A masterplanned approach to regenerating the Edinburgh Waterfront can take into account opportunities for the Port of Leith to service the offshore energy sector.

The successful regeneration of Dundee Waterfront has demonstrated the potential to make sustainable use of our urban coasts, and ongoing proposals include the creation of a marina at Victoria Dock and further development of central waterfront sites.

A national collaboration to support the Clyde Mission also has significant potential to accelerate change, attract investment and achieve wider benefits for communities. This ambitious project will reuse extensive areas of vacant and derelict land in accessible locations. The wider Clyde Coast, an iconic area rich in cultural heritage and natural assets, can be reimagined through collective efforts on regeneration in coastal communities such as Dunoon and Rothesay. The area's accessibility by train and water means that it is an ideal location for low-carbon tourism and leisure.

Key ports in this area can play a central role in supporting the expansion of renewable energy, in particular offshore wind energy. It will also be important to make use of the infrastructure to reduce road haulage and secure a more sustainable freight sector which directly links to international markets. There are opportunities for enhanced cruise facilities for the Forth as well as the Clyde where Greenock Ocean Terminal, supported by the Glasgow City Region Deal, can act as a key gateway. There may be opportunities to make use of harbour facilities to support the marine leisure industry.

As the highest single source of industrial emissions in Scotland, and a key part of our future resilience and manufacturing base, continued investment at Grangemouth, and the strategic sites it includes, will be required. Plans are emerging for innovative industry in the Falkirk/Grangemouth Investment Zone, building on the area's strengths in chemicals and making the most of strategic assets including the port and rail connection. There is great potential, not only to reduce emissions at the Grangemouth complex, but also to grow the cluster into a hub of low-carbon manufacturing that can help unlock wider decarbonisation across the country, with its strategic location, infrastructure, assets and skills base. Opportunities include renewable energy innovation, bioenergy hydrogen production with carbon capture and storage, and repurposing of existing strategic and critical infrastructure such as pipelines. The skills, knowledge and experience that is currently situated there for the petrochemicals sector is a prime resource for the transition to net zero. This can form a focal point in a wider masterplan for Forth Valley that brings together opportunities for energy with the circular economy to support wider investment in green economic opportunities.

Hunterston is a strategic asset with deepwater access, where there are plans for new economic development and employment uses. Coastal sites formerly used for baseload power generation – specifically Longannet and Cockenzie – benefit from existing assets and infrastructure that can be repurposed to form the basis of new proposals. At Cockenzie work is ongoing to develop an opportunity for a Climate Evolution Zone to generate employment and provide essential infrastructure for net zero, linked with a new sustainable settlement at Greater Blindwells. There is scope to build on the strategic location and rail connectivity of Longannet to benefit local communities around this part of the Forth. There are further opportunities for a range of economic activities and investment in ports associated with a green economy at Montrose, Dundee, Rosyth, Burntisland, and Methil. The Levenmouth rail link will reconnect Leven to the mainline rail network with new stations at Leven and Cameron Bridge by 2024 subject to consenting processes. This will enhance the communities it serves and contribute positively to the lives of people who live there by unlocking access to social, cultural, employment and educational opportunity.

Development of ports on the east coast will also need to take account of the potential for a substantial increase in freight and passenger traffic between Scotland and continental Europe linked to the Scottish Government's objective that Scotland should accede to the European Union as an independent Member State at the earliest possible opportunity.

17. Reuse land and buildings

A more liveable Central Belt means that we will need to do more to reuse empty buildings and vacant and derelict land, particularly spaces which have not been used for decades and can be accessed by sustainable modes. This will reduce further urban sprawl and improve local environments. Around 40% of Scotland's vacant and derelict land is concentrated in the Glasgow city region and its redevelopment is a key priority. Edinburgh has committed to building a significant share of future housing development on brownfield sites and progress is being made in Dundee to repurpose disused sites including the creation of a new innovation park on the former Michelin site.

A combination of incentives, investment and policy support for productively reusing brownfield land and buildings at risk will be required to steer development away from greenfield locations. Public sector-led development can shape future markets and deliver development in places where change is needed the most and can deliver multiple benefits. Redevelopment should include, but not be limited to, housing development. By de‑risking sites and taking an infrastructure-first approach, this land can help to achieve a better distribution of new homes to meet our future needs. This will also reduce pressure in places where growth is no longer sustainable. Key projects include the Dundee Eden Project and redevelopment of Ravenscraig, a longstanding post-industrial site where new development can bring new models of low-carbon living at scale.

18. Invest in net zero housing solutions

As well as building new homes to net zero standards, more will need to be done to upgrade the existing housing stock to reduce emissions and adapt to future climate impacts. Energy efficiency, sustainable accessibility, zero emissions heating solutions and water management will be key challenges. Areas which are largely residential and car-based could be diversified by supporting local businesses to provide services including leisure, active living, hospitality and retail.

There is a particular pressure for affordable housing solutions in the south east of Scotland and there is also an opportunity for future housing development to help reduce emissions. Edinburgh has committed to building affordable homes at scale, and will need to work with the region to accommodate wider need and demand in a strategic way. Seven strategic sites, supported through the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal, could accommodate up to 45,000 homes and associated economic and employment benefits including: Blindwells, Calderwood, Dunfermline, Edinburgh Waterfront, Shawfair, Tweedbank and Winchburgh. The need for proposals to be supported by low carbon transport solutions, in line with the Infrastructure Investment Plan and National Transport Strategy investment hierarchies and infrastructure first approach, will be critical to their success. The Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Deal identifies infrastructure investment and includes a commitment from partners to put in place a regional developer contributions framework building on work undertaken to look at cross boundary transport challenges. These interventions and commitments, taken with the additional transport investment made through the Deal, will ensure the city region continues to grow and flourish. Regionally significant services including healthcare and social care facilities and investment in the learning estate is also planned to support future growth and sustain the wellbeing of existing, new and expanding communities.

Emissions from our homes need to be very substantially reduced – by 2030, they must fall by 68% from 2020 levels. There are opportunities to address the impact of climate change on communities whilst also generating renewable heat and facilitating urban cooling from our rivers. Mine water, solar and onshore support for offshore renewables, including development that makes use of existing infrastructure at strategic hubs, all provide opportunities for decarbonisation.

There is a continuing need to invest in renewing and improving the capacity of flooding, water and drainage infrastructure to build the resilience of communities. A catchment-scale approach, using nature-based solutions, can also provide benefits for the health and quality of life of Scotland's urban communities particularly where solutions seek to deliver multiple benefits, including biodiversity gain and active travel routes. This approach can also be more cost-effective than hard engineering solutions and create lasting jobs. For example, the Glasgow city region recognises the challenges for future adaptation and is identifying sustainable solutions to sea level rise, urban overheating, and water management.

Engineered solutions to adapt our water and drainage infrastructure will be required in some circumstances, but should support more natural benefits as far as possible. There is scope to continue, and extend, the lessons from the Metropolitan Glasgow Strategic Drainage Plan to future proof infrastructure in support of the long term growth and development of Edinburgh. The Lothian Drainage Partnership is taking this forward with projects emerging within Edinburgh and at the ClimatEvolution Zone in East Lothian. At a local scale there is significant potential to expand raingardens and sustainable urban drainage systems to help manage surface water as part of blue and green infrastructure for our future cities and towns.

19. Grow a wellbeing economy

This area has a diverse business base and is a key engine of growth for Scotland as a whole. There are many clusters of sites and businesses which form the basis of regional propositions for investment. In line with our aspirations to build a wellbeing economy, opportunities for investment and development should be designed to maximise economic, social and environmental wellbeing, rather than focusing on growth alone. A planned approach can help to target future development in areas of significant economic disadvantage so that new and better jobs are more fairly distributed to help address national, regional and more localised inequality.

The pandemic has brought obvious challenges but has also unlocked opportunities to take forward new models of working that could better support our wellbeing and improve our places in the longer term. The continued growth of remote and local working and the creation of hubs within groups of settlements could significantly reduce the need to travel, whilst also helping to grow local businesses and communities. Existing offices have the potential to be repurposed to achieve higher density mixed use neighbourhoods with a lower carbon footprint and require careful planning to ensure future communities are properly supported by appropriate services.

Many business and investment sites are located along key transport corridors and new approaches may be required as investment transitions away from locations that can only be reached by car towards more accessible areas that are connected by low-carbon and active travel options.

A number of clear investment propositions are supported:

  • The Clyde Mission will stimulate investment in sites along the Clyde to build a wellbeing economy and achieve a step-change in the quality of the environment for communities. Key sites extend from Greenock Ocean Terminal to Queens Quay, Tradeston, the Broomielaw and Glasgow City Centre, to Clyde Gateway – a longstanding regeneration project which has made exceptional progress in transforming communities and overcoming inequality.
  • Aligning with the Clyde Mission, the Ayrshire Councils are working together through their Ayrshire Growth Deal and Community Wealth Building programme to build economic resilience and address unemployment, poverty and inequality across their area, with town centres at the heart of communities. This includes proposals for advanced manufacturing and aerospace engineering which will make use of the existing infrastructure and investment opportunities available at Glasgow and Prestwick airports. Glasgow is already a centre of expertise for manufacturing satellites and will benefit from the associated development of a network of spaceports across the country, whilst supporting wider industry and employment. The Ardeer peninsula is also a significant site for redevelopment of the wider Ayrshire area.
  • The Edinburgh City region supports investment in significant clusters including the Bioquarter, Mid Fife, Dunfermline, Guardbridge St. Andrews, Galashiels, Cockenzie, Midlothian and the M8 corridor. A strategy for West Edinburgh is emerging which guides a wide range of uses to create a sustainable extension to the city, with added benefit from associated improvements to the quality of place of existing communities. Proposals focus on locating development on and around existing transport corridors and work is ongoing to improve accessibility including the Edinburgh tram extension. Further investment should take into account the impact of new development on potentially compounding existing capacity constraints and congestion, and prioritise sustainable choices.
  • The Tay Cities Region has a strong regional proposal for developing clusters of investment in research and innovation supporting a range of sectors in both urban and rural areas including life sciences, energy, digital, and food production.

A wellbeing economy goes beyond strategic investment sites to link more closely with the wellbeing of communities and their local environments. It will be critical to recognise the importance of anchor institutions who can support local investment in our places and natural and historic assets, provide education, employment and other services, and act as community hubs. Communities can drive forward community-led housing initiatives to help meet the needs of local people. Significant investment in our health and social care, justice and learning estates will continue to provide important sources of employment and income for smaller scale local businesses. Town centres throughout this area will also play a critical role in driving a new economic future. The recent town centre review highlights opportunities to expand the range of services and facilities they offer, reuse redundant buildings and provide new homes for a wide range of people. This in turn will ensure their crucial role in defining our sense of place is protected and enhanced, future-proofing a key asset for Scotland as a whole.

20. Reimagine development on the urban fringe

Whilst predominantly urban, this part of Scotland benefits from a rich and diverse rural area and there are many areas where town meets countryside. These green areas and natural spaces are key assets, sustaining communities that could become better places to live if we can achieve this in a way that is compatible with our wider aims for climate change, nature restoration and 20 minute neighbourhoods. The pandemic has demonstrated that many people are looking for more space at home and in their communities. It will be important to plan positively and imaginatively to make sustainable use of the countryside around our cities and towns.

These areas have important functions – providing vital ecosystem services and spaces for local food growing, outdoor access and recreation. They support carbon sequestration, including through peatland restoration, woodland creation and conserving natural habitats and there is scope for innovation in key sectors including sustainable food production. Digital connectivity is key to realising the potential for smaller-scale rural development more widely, for example in Ayrshire and South Lanarkshire. We can make use of the area's assets to grow tourism and leisure close to where people live. Within Forth Valley a National Tartan Centre, the Canal corridor, the Frontiers of the Roman Empire: Antonine Wall World Heritage Site, Ochil Hills and Whisky Trail create a unique heritage offering which will support local employment and strengthen the area's sense of place. Tourism is a key theme in the emerging regional economic strategy for the Forth Valley and both the Falkirk Growth Deal and Stirling and Clackmannanshire City Region Deal.

There are landscape-scale opportunities within Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park to restore and enhance nature and respond to climate change, including through woodland creation and peatland restoration, as well as natural flood risk management. The National Park will continue to support the quality of life and health of the urban population and its future priorities include new infrastructure provision to provide a quality visitor experience and support people to connect with nature, as well as a greener tourism sector supported by innovative low carbon transport solutions. Long-distance active travel and rail routes have untapped potential to provide sustainable tourism solutions. The area's communities can adapt to support more localised living and working opportunities, with improved digital connectivity and affordable housing. More integrated planning and land management offers opportunities to support land use change and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The approach also links with and relates to the action area to the north.

21. Improve urban accessibility

A focus on community wealth building, together with growing opportunities for longer term remote working, could address the high levels of transport movement by private car and challenges of congestion and air pollution across the area. Local living, including 20 minute neighbourhoods, will help to minimise future commuting and ensure jobs and income can be spread more evenly across the area. Accessibility and transport affordability can support more resilience which benefits communities who are less connected.

By putting in place mass transit systems for Edinburgh through plans to extend the tram network, and for Glasgow including the Glasgow Metro and multi-modal connectivity, we have an opportunity to substantially reduce levels of car-based commuting, congestion and emissions from transport at scale.

Connections to the rest of the UK will be strengthened in the longer term through high speed rail connectivity, with stations expected in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Decarbonisation of freight will require the construction of new hubs and associated facilities to support logistics. This will also support growing interest in express logistics from rail operators that would see passenger Electrical Multiple Units converted to carry small freight, targeting the UK parcel market. Ports on the Clyde, Forth and Tay coasts will also play a key role in this transition.

Digital connectivity will facilitate remote working, supporting the growth of towns and villages outwith the larger cities and potentially leading to a renaissance in more rural living. It will be crucial to address digital inequality, whether through cost, infrastructure or skills development, as virtual service provision continues to grow.

Q14: Do you agree with this summary of challenges and opportunities for this action area?

Q15: What are your views on these strategic actions for this action area?

Southern sustainability

Innovate Revitalise Transition Transform Sustain

This area broadly includes Dumfries and Galloway and The Scottish Borders, with links to the Ayrshires and Glasgow city region in the west and to the Edinburgh city region in the east.

The South of Scotland is strategically important with a strong sense of identity centred on networks of towns and villages, supported by distinctive landscapes and coasts. This is a place with a rich cultural heritage and exceptional environmental assets and natural resources. This area is ambitious for positive change in the coming years, and the immediate work to recover from the pandemic will form the basis of a longer term plan to respond to the challenges of climate change and support nature restoration and recovery.

Emissions in this area are moderate, with transport and industry emissions being partly offset by land use. The area has significant areas of woodland and peatland which act as a carbon sink and form the basis for future investment opportunities. The few sites that are significant sources of greenhouse gas emissions include industrial and commercial activities, including some food and drink processing facilities. Coastal erosion and flood risk is expected to be a significant challenge in the future, particularly where there is a risk of impacting on key transport corridors or settlements.

Finding a new way of rural living that is consistent with climate change will be a challenge for this part of Scotland, given the relatively high levels of dependence on the car and the dispersed population. It is predominantly rural in character with small settlements and many rural homes, farms and smallholdings. Despite having high levels of wellbeing and quality of life, population decline is projected to continue in the west of the area, with fewer younger people and more retired people living there in the area in the future. The area's economy depends on low wage and public sector employment and this presents challenges for building a wellbeing economy.

Our strategy aims to ensure that this part of Scotland is recognised as a good place to live and work, and features more strongly as a destination in its own right.

In this area we will:

  • create a low carbon network of towns;
  • support sustainable development;
  • innovate to sustain and enhance natural capital; and
  • strengthen resilience and decarbonise connectivity.
Southern sustainability
A map of Southern sustainability, highlighting National Developments creating Liveable places, Productive places and Distinctive places.


22. Create a low-carbon network of towns

Settlements across this area provide services to the surrounding rural communities. The towns are well placed to be models of sustainable living with many undergoing regeneration including Stranraer, Jedburgh, Galashiels, Hawick and Eyemouth. Quality of life for people living in the area will depend on this network in the future and it should form the basis of a tailored response to the 20 minute neighbourhood concept. Town centres can be strengthened as they recover from the pandemic. New measures to build resilience to climate change will be required including flood risk management in key settlements.

The area is already investing in regenerating and future-proofing its towns and wider communities. The Stranraer Gateway Project is an opportunity to consolidate and bring new impetus to regenerate this strategically located settlement. Plans include expansion of the marina, supported by the Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal, and low carbon heating can be incorporated as part of the transformation of the wider town. Nearby Cairnryan is a crucial gateway to Scotland, with a need to make best use of existing connections.

The future growth of the area aims to consolidate existing settlements, capitalise on the strong sense of place of its towns and ensure accessibility by locating new development close to the Borders Rail Line. The Borderlands Place Programme, future Regional Land Use Partnerships and other strategic initiatives can support an integrated approach to protecting and restoring the area's natural assets, enhancing the built environment and achieving a greener, fairer and more inclusive wellbeing economy across the area.

23. Support sustainable development.

The future sustainability of the area will depend on the creation of high-quality and green jobs for local people. The local economy will need to diversify to sustain a wider range of businesses and jobs. An emphasis on community wealth building will help to reduce dependence on public sector employment and a relatively low-wage economy associated with rural and primary sectors. The current approach to investment focuses on strategic growth corridors linking economic hubs with transport routes. Whilst the strategic road network is an asset and contributes to the area's connections north and south, a long term strategy will require innovation and fresh thinking to ensure that future growth reflects our commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reducing inequality.

Employment opportunities can support population growth, help to retain more young people and transition the area away from its current dependence on low wage sectors. New ways of working including remote working could attract more people to live here, supporting the economy and sustaining local services and facilities. This will also benefit from continued support for local skills development and centres of further and higher education including the Galashiels campus of Heriot Watt University and Glasgow University at the Crichton Campus, Dumfries.

Significant investment sites include the former nuclear power station at Chapelcross which benefits from existing grid connections and is an opportunity to repurpose the land by establishing a green energy park which contributes to national ambitions and innovation. Low carbon accessibility will be a key challenge, as the site is remote from Annan and not served by public transport. Providing access to wider markets, the port at Cairnryan could create further strategic growth opportunities. The expansion of Tweedbank and an inclusive approach to economic development in the Central Borders and Tweeddale are also strategic opportunities.

The area has aspirations to become a prime outdoor recreation and green tourism destination. Key projects include the South West Coastal Path, and projects supported by the Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal; the Mountain Biking Innovation Centre at Innerleithen, updating the cycling experience and facilities at some of the 7stanes sites and Destination Tweed which will deliver a multi-user path and cycle route from Moffat to Eyemouth. More could be made of the area's border location and attractions to ensure visitors make better use of local services and support the economy and communities.

24. Innovate to sustain and enhance natural capital

This area's forests and woodland are a nationally significant asset and its extensive peatland will need to support carbon storage and sequestration. The Borderlands Natural Capital Programme will develop trials and sector strategies to restore biodiversity, build resilience and make the most of the area's natural assets to support climate change mitigation and adaptation. This will build on the successes of a range of nature restoration projects in the area, such as the Carrifran Wildwoods project.

The South of Scotland Regional Land Use Pilot is providing significant opportunity to work with landowners, landed interests and others to look at the multi-benefits from land use and to maximise natural capital opportunities.

The South of Scotland is also an important centre for renewable energy generation. Proposals for consolidating and extending existing wind farms and associated grid improvements and supply chain opportunities will require a carefully planned approach. The Solway Firth has significant potential for renewable energy generation in the future, but development will require careful planning given the sensitivity of the environment and its international importance for nature conservation. Decarbonisation of existing homes will be required, as well as a strategic approach to rolling out electric vehicle charging.

25. Strengthen resilience and decarbonise connectivity

The west of the area has a close relationship, and strategic connection to, Northern Ireland and Ireland via Cairnryan, as well as across the English border to Carlisle and onwards to European markets. The connection to Northern Ireland and Ireland is already a focus for freight movements as a result of EU Exit.

In the east, the Scottish Borders has a role to play as part of the Edinburgh City Region, with the Borders Railway opening up new sites for sustainable development towards the north, and the south sustaining rural industries and connections to Northumberland.

The area's low-carbon future will depend on supporting modal shift and reducing car use, given current dependence on the car and need to improve access to services, education and employment. Low emissions vehicles will only go some of the way towards addressing future challenges. Further work is required to build the case for improvements to public transport routes. Public transport, including the bus network, will play an important role in decarbonisation and developing innovative solutions and linkages to the rail system. Active travel should be supported with wheeling, walking and cycling within and between towns and other communities linked to strategic routes for residents and visitors. This is important not only for local sustainability but also as a strategic attraction to take advantage of major outdoor recreation opportunities.

There is also a need to secure better digital connectivity to unlock the potential of rural living and home or hub working. The Borderlands Digital Infrastructure Programme will play a key role in supporting connectivity and responding to future technology and innovation.

Q16: Do you agree with this summary of challenges and opportunities for this action area?

Q17: What are your views on these strategic actions for this action area?

Q18: What are your overall views on this proposed national spatial strategy?



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