Scotland 2045: fourth National Planning Framework - draft: integrated impact assessment - environmental report

Environmental report setting out the findings of the strategic environmental assessment (SEA) undertaken to inform preparation of Scotland's draft National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4).

Non-Technical Summary


The Scottish Government is reviewing its National Planning Framework (NPF), a long term plan for Scotland 2045.

The current National Planning Framework (NPF3) was published in 2014 and will remain in place until a fourth NPF (NPF4) is adopted by the Scottish Ministers. The NPF4 spatial strategy will set out where the Scottish Government wants to see development located in the future, and will explore how each part of Scotland can play to its strengths to contribute to a shared national vision. It will also include national planning policies to guide local development plans and decisions on planning applications across Scotland. Finally, NPF4 will also designate certain developments or types of development as 'national developments, ' for which the Scottish Ministers have established a need in principle.

NPF4 will work with the Scottish Government's wider programmes and strategies, including on infrastructure and economic investment, and will contribute to the following high level outcomes:

  • Meeting the housing needs of people living in Scotland including, in particular, the housing needs for older people and disabled people;
  • Improving the health and well-being of people living in Scotland;
  • Increasing the population of rural areas of Scotland;
  • Improving equality and eliminating discrimination;
  • Meeting any targets relating to the reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases; and
  • Securing positive effects for biodiversity.

What is Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) and how was the SEA undertaken?

Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) assesses the likely significant environmental effects of a public plan, programme, or strategy. It considers how negative impacts can be avoided or minimised and, where appropriate, identifies opportunities for positive effects to be enhanced. This Environmental Report sets out the findings of the SEA of the draft NPF4 and has been prepared in accordance with the Environmental Assessment (Scotland) Act 2005 ('the 2005 Act'). The Environmental Report is in turn supported by:

  • Habitats Regulations Appraisal – Updated Baseline Information Report;
  • Habitats Regulations Appraisal of National Planning Framework 4 – Initial HRA Screening Record; and
  • Lifecycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions of NPF4 Proposed National Developments Assessment Findings.

We have also assessed the likely health effects of proposed national developments as part of the SEA process.

The SEA is itself one of a range of Impact Assessments which have informed the draft NPF4. Views are invited on both the draft NPF4 and on the Integrated Impact Assessment Reports, including the Environmental Report.

What is the current state of the environment?

Scotland's environment is rich in natural and cultural heritage. Our network of European protected sites supports many important and rare plants, birds and animals; however, global declines in biodiversity are mirrored in Scotland. Scotland's air, soil and water are generally in good condition, but there are concentrations of pollution in some parts of the country. Some of this is historic, but there are also on-going challenges, including diffuse pollution from urban and rural areas.

Scotland has high quality landscapes, with many iconic views and scenic areas supporting quality of life, recreation and tourism. The historic environment includes World Heritage Sites, listed buildings, conservation areas, gardens and designed landscapes and archaeology, including scheduled monuments. Many archaeological resources remain undiscovered. Scotland also has many natural resources and material assets, including high quality agricultural land, and extensive areas of forestry and woodland.

Global climate change is predicted to lead to more extreme weather events, increasing water temperature and acidity, a rise in sea levels, and changes to coastlines; all of which have the potential to affect other aspects of the environment.

Scotland's population is estimated to be just under five and a half million. Scotland has the lowest life expectancy in Western Europe, and the overall population density in the country is among the lowest in Europe. Scotland's overall population is increasing, however there is significant variation in how people are distributed, with more densely populated areas in the Central Belt and decreasing population mainly in the rural and island areas, particularly in the west of the country.

Approximately 19% of Scotland's population live in relative poverty after housing costs, and poverty and income inequality rates are rising. The Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation is the Scottish Government's official tool to identify areas of multiple deprivation in Scotland, with the most deprived areas located predominantly in cities and towns.

A high quality environment with good air, soil and water quality is an important contributor to health and well-being. Human health is also dependent on factors including access to health facilities and education, employment, and access to outdoor recreation facilities. Physical assets, such as transport, water, power, waste and digital communications also play an essential part in building a sense of place.

What are the likely significant environmental effects of the NPF4?

Biodiversity, flora and fauna

The draft NPF4 would establish climate change and nature recovery as primary guiding principles for all plans and decisions. The emphasis on protecting and enhancing biodiversity is expected to lead to significant long term cumulative positive effects on biodiversity, flora and fauna, including through new universal policies on enhancing biodiversity.

Climatic factors

Collectively, the draft policies and proposals set out in the draft NPF4 are expected to have significant long term positive effects on climatic factors, contributing to reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and helping facilitate a transition to net zero. As they embed actions to increase community and infrastructure resilience to extreme weather events, the policies and proposals can also support adaptation to climate change.

The lifecycle GHG assessment of the proposed national developments found that overall, the greatest reductions are likely to be in terms of electricity and, to a lesser extent, transport. While the industrial, manufacture and construction processes sector is likely to experience the largest increase in direct emissions, this will enable direct and indirect emission reductions across other sectors.


Draft policies and proposals which reduce emissions overall are likely to have cumulative positive effects on air quality. In addition to effects on ecosystems, air pollution affects health, and this can impact on more vulnerable people, making air quality an important health inequalities issue. Measures to improve air quality can therefore have cumulative secondary benefits for biodiversity and population and human health. This could be particularly beneficial in areas where air quality issues currently arise.

Negative impacts on noise and air quality, including dust and odour, may arise during construction of the national developments. These will be temporary and local in nature, and will be managed at the stage when specific projects are brought forward for consent.


The overall focus on climate change and climate change adaptation will have cumulative positive effects on water through increased focus on flood risk, water shortages and coastal erosion. Secondary benefits to biodiversity may arise where nature based solutions to flood risk management are implemented. Policies and proposals may also improve water supply and waste-water systems.

Proposals for waterfront developments and new development at ports and harbours may negatively impact water during construction and operational phases, and will require managed at the stage when specific projects are brought forward for consent.


Several aspects of the draft NPF4 are likely to have positive cumulative benefits for soils. For example, draft policies seek to protect peat and carbon-rich soils. Proposals relating to woodland expansion and green infrastructure can help improve soil stability and drainage, and can help to improve the quality of places. Positive cumulative effects on soils are also expected from the emphasis on the reuse of derelict and vacant land, with secondary positive impacts on water quality.

There is potential for negative effects on soils arising from some of the proposed national developments, which will need to be managed in plans and at the stage when specific projects are brought forward for consent.

Cultural heritage and Historic Environment

Significant positive cumulative effects on cultural heritage are expected, given the emphasis within the draft NPF4 on protecting and enhancing locally, regionally, nationally and internationally valued historic assets and places. Draft policies and proposals relating to woodland expansion and green infrastructure may act to improve the setting of historic assets. The emphasis within draft NPF4 on reusing vacant buildings may help to bring buildings at risk back into use.

There is potential for negative effects arising, including from some of national development proposals, which will need to be managed in plans and at the stage when specific projects are brought forward for consent.

Landscape and Geodiversity

There is potential for some of the proposed national developments and draft policies to result in negative effects on landscapes and careful consideration will be required at plan and project consenting stages.

Initiatives such as the Central Scotland Green Network and national walking and cycling routes provide opportunities to protect and enhance townscapes and landscapes and to increase experience and enjoyment of these. Draft policies which lead to increased woodland and forestry have potential to improve landscape character, depending on the scale and nature of change. Furthermore, support for peatland protection and restoration could also benefit some iconic and culturally significant landscapes.

Material Assets

The focus on an infrastructure first approach within the draft NPF4 can ensure that places function effectively and development improves, rather than detracts from quality of life. Promoting greater coordination of infrastructure works and planning, at both the regional and local scales, can minimise the potential for negative indirect and cumulative effects, for example through reduced disturbance during construction stages, and through reduced fragmentation of green infrastructure and nature networks.

An increase in development, for example housing or renewable energy, could lead to increased pressures on existing land uses, through increased competition between land uses and with other forms of development. However, the potential for such conflicts would remain key considerations in the planning system, particularly through development plans where key decisions on sites and delivery are made. The potential for environmental impacts will continue to be considered through SEA and HRA of development plans, as well as through the development management process at individual project level.

Population and Human Health

The draft policies and proposals have potential to give rise to significant benefits for population and human health.

Health and wellbeing benefits may arise where policies and certain proposed national developments lead to more people walking, wheeling and cycling. Increased physical activity, improved access to the outdoors, education, facilities and services, and quality local green spaces, are also likely to have long term significant positive effects on physical and mental health. Positive impacts could also arise from improved sense of place, including benefits for communities. These can be maximised where a focus is given to areas currently experiencing levels of disadvantage.

What reasonable alternatives have been considered?

The 2005 Act requires that the Scottish Government also identify, describe and evaluate the likely significant effects on the environment of any reasonable alternatives to the draft Plan, taking into account its objectives and geographical scope.

The assessment considers the effects of the draft national planning policies, and where relevant any 'reasonable alternatives' to them. No reasonable alternatives have been identified to the spatial strategy, however alternative proposals for national developments have been assessed. This approach means that consultees can consider the impact of the proposed policies and proposals, and the reasonable alternatives to them, when responding to the consultation

Views are invited on the assessment of alternatives through the consultation process.

How can these environmental effects be effectively managed, mitigated or enhanced?

Many of the potential effects arising from the draft NPF4 will be addressed as they are interpreted and applied through the planning system, and national level SEA can be viewed as the first stage in the environmental assessment process.

Potential positive effects arising from the draft NPF4 could be enhanced, and negative effects avoided or reduced, as the policies and proposals are applied through the planning system.

In general terms, development has the potential for largely localised adverse environmental effects on each of the SEA topic areas. Effects are likely to be influenced by the scale and nature of development, and the sensitivity of the receiving environment. The draft planning policies seek to mitigate such effects through the application of detailed criteria to be applied at planning application stage.

A range of mitigation is also identified for the individual proposed national developments and spatial strategy.

What monitoring is proposed?

The Scottish Government has committed to working with a range of stakeholders to develop an appropriate monitoring programme for NPF4 that allows us to assess progress and take action where required. Monitoring will be required at both a national and local level and will be proportionate and effective.

An agreed monitoring programme will complement, and potentially combine, wider planning performance work including Planning Performance Frameworks and Royal Town Planning Institute work on monitoring outcomes, as well as reflecting national outcomes set out in the National Performance Framework.

Next Steps

The consultation on draft NPF4 closes on 31 March 2022. Following the consultation and the end of the Parliamentary scrutiny process, we will analyse the responses and produce a final NPF4. The final adoption date will depend on the approval of NPF4 by the Scottish Parliament, but we are currently aiming to lay a finalised version for approval by summer 2022.

Following the consultation, a Post-Adoption Statement will be prepared. The Statement will reflect on the views provided on the findings of the assessment and the proposals in the draft NPF4, and will explain how the comments received were taken into account.

How to comment

Details on how to comment can be found on the Scottish Government's Consultation Hub, Citizen Space. You can also request a hard copy of this report and consultation documents at

If you are unable to respond using our consultation hub, please complete the Respondent Information Form and return it, together with your response to or by mail to:

National Planning Framework Team
Planning and Architecture Division
Area 2F South
Victoria Quay

Consultees may wish to consider the following questions:

Q 1: What are your views on the accuracy and scope of the environmental baseline set out in the environmental report?

Q 2: What are your views on the predicted environmental effects of the draft NPF4 as set out in the environmental report? Please give details of any additional relevant sources.

Q 3: What are your views on the potential health effects of the proposed national developments as set out in the environmental report?

Q 4: What are your views on the assessment of alternatives as set out in the environmental report?

Q 5: What are your views on the proposals for mitigation, enhancement and monitoring of the environmental effects set out in the environmental report?



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