Fourth National Planning Framework: position statement

This Position Statement sets out the Scottish Government's current thinking on the issues that will need to be addressed when preparing Scotland's fourth National Planning Framework (NPF4).

A Plan for Net-Zero Emissions

We will prioritise the types and locations of development that will help meet our emission reduction targets.

We will build on the Climate Change Plan and take forward advice provided by the UK Climate Change Committee. The recommendations of the Just Transition Commission will also inform our actions[4].

Our future places will be planned in a way that reduces the need to travel and builds in natural solutions.

Our buildings will be more energy efficient and will be designed to be sustainable.

We will actively facilitate decarbonised heating and electricity generation and distribution.

You told us…

  • We need a swift and decisive response to the global climate emergency at all levels – national, regional, local and community.
  • The time is right to give greater weight to climate change as a crucial factor influencing decision making on our future land use.
  • We should be addressing long term climate change in a way that benefits communities and the economy more widely.
  • Views vary on the most effective solutions. Some suggest a targets-based approach at either a national or a regional level. Others propose increasing the requirements for new developments, and want to make it easier to put in place new infrastructure that would help to reduce emissions.
  • Heat, energy efficiency, housing, green infrastructure, onshore and marine renewables have all been highlighted as development priorities for planning to address.
  • Policies should reflect the importance of growing the green economy, including renewable energy and the circular economy, to help meet our climate change targets and secure good quality jobs and investment.
  • Challenges around this include balancing the need for new infrastructure with minimising impacts on communities and the environment. We will also need flexibility to ensure our policies keep pace with future technological change.
  • It is essential that we plan our future land use together with our transport network to actively reduce the need to travel and promote low carbon transport options.
  • Land can generate, and reduce, emissions. It will be important to align with wider land use management to tackle issues including woodland creation, peatland restoration, natural flood management, bioenergy and improving biodiversity.
  • NPF4 is an opportunity to consider long term change at a national scale, as well as focusing in on geographic ‘hot spots’ of development and infrastructure that could be prioritised and supported as part of a national effort to reduce emissions.

Our new spatial strategy will:

Prioritise emissions reduction

Climate change will be the overarching priority for our spatial strategy. To achieve a net-zero Scotland by 2045 and meet the interim emissions reduction targets of 75% by 2030 and 90% by 2040, an urgent and radical shift in our spatial plan and policies is required. Scotland’s updated Climate Change Plan will be published later this year, setting a course for achieving the targets in the Climate Change (Emissions Reductions Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019. NPF4 will take forward proposals and policies to support it.

No single development or planning policy can achieve this. The strategy as a whole will be designed to minimise emissions from new development. We will work alongside the development of Scotland’s next Land Use Strategy to guide long-term land use change in a way that helps to reverse patterns of behaviour that are already contributing to emissions. We will do this in a way that achieves economic, health and other environmental benefits through a just transition.

To help inform this, we will bring together and reflect emerging regional spatial strategies and their proposals for strategic development that helps to reduce emissions and aligns with emerging thinking on wider regional land use. The transition from energy intensive to zero carbon economies is a key challenge that is being actively considered across national and regional scales. It is increasingly recognised that the impacts of climate change may be best tackled at a strategic scale – i.e. managing flooding through upland management, and capturing carbon through tree planting and strategic peatland restoration. These are some ways in which regional spatial strategies are reflecting these opportunities. Early work shows that there are opportunities for planning to support a transition to a lower carbon economy in areas that include the Firth of Forth, the North East and island communities.

Integrate land use and transport

The location of development determines the intensity of emissions that it will generate throughout its lifetime. Our strategy will promote future patterns of development that embed the National Transport Strategy 2 (NTS2) Sustainable Travel Hierarchy[5] in decision making. We will seek to promote high quality walking, wheeling and cycling environments, public transport and shared transport options in preference to single occupancy private car use. This will help us to meet our climate change targets and transition towards healthier, more local, zero carbon living and working. Clear choices will need to be made to direct development to locations which reduce the need to travel and are already well served by sustainable transport options.

Our approach will ensure transport options that focus on reducing inequalities and the need to travel unsustainably are prioritised. We also need to maintain and safely operate existing transport infrastructure and services, and ensure our transport networks can adapt to the impacts of climate change. Only after that should investment involving targeted infrastructure improvements be considered. Ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEV), including electric vehicles will have a role to play, particularly with regard to shared transport, and so we will also plan for electric vehicle infrastructure.

Facilitate design solutions and innovation

We will ensure planning policies support the very significant reductions in emissions from buildings that we need to see. This is not just about new development – our existing buildings and places will need retro-fit solutions and we will make use of the embedded carbon across the built environment. Planning can facilitate low carbon methods of construction, which create a whole building approach to emissions including construction and decommissioning. We will support developments that make use of low energy and emission materials as well as natural and micro-climate features which reduce the resource demand of the development. We will align our strategy with Building Standards to create a consistent approach, and actively encourage buildings that go beyond current standards where there is appetite to do so. We will also enable and encourage deployment of renewable and zero emissions heating, including by facilitating development of the networks they require.

Promote nature-based solutions

The climate and nature crises are intrinsically linked. It is estimated that around a third of the global mitigation effort needed to deliver the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement could be achieved through nature-based solutions.

Scotland’s natural environment plays a vital role in removing carbon from the atmosphere and securing it in natural habitats on land and in our seas. Promoting nature-based solutions to climate change, including tree planting and peatland protection and restoration, and tackling emissions related to soil disturbance and agricultural land use, will be essential to reduce emissions from our land and increase carbon sequestration. They can also help to sustain and grow rural communities and improve the quality of our built environment. Our spatial strategy will explore how we can promote nature-based solutions to climate change, which also protect and restore biodiversity and deliver wider benefits.

Deliver infrastructure to reduce emissions

We expect that NPF4 will confirm our view that the Global Climate Emergency should be a material consideration in considering applications for appropriately located renewable energy developments. We have made good progress in transitioning from reliance on fossil fuels to renewable electricity generation in a way which is compatible with our environmental objectives. Scotland is a net exporter of electricity and in the past decade renewable electricity output has grown markedly. However, significant further investment will be needed to support new technologies for carbon capture and storage; hydrogen; sustainable and active travel; electricity grid capacity (including subsea links to the islands); and decarbonisation of heating, our transport networks and vehicle fleets[6].

As a priority, our strategy will need to facilitate the roll-out of renewable electricity and renewable and zero emissions heat technologies. We will need to switch to low and zero carbon fuel sources, and support the delivery of associated infrastructure, such as grid networks and gas pipelines. We will ensure that NPF4 helps to deliver on our wider energy strategies including the Scottish Energy Strategy[7] (including any updates), our Energy Efficient Scotland route map[78], the forthcoming Heat in Buildings Strategy, our vision to 2030 for Scotland’s electricity and gas network and the Infrastructure Investment Plan[9].

We will consider whether proposed national developments can help us to deliver on this vision. The full list of proposals we have received is available to view at and include, for example: carbon capture and storage infrastructure; on and offshore renewable energy generation and networks; clean hydrogen production and distribution; energy innovation zones; heat networks; and walking, wheeling and cycling infrastructure.

Potential policy changes

We are currently considering the following priority policy changes to support a spatial strategy for net-zero emissions:

  • Strengthening support for retaining and reusing existing buildings to maximise the use of the embodied energy of our building stock. We will consider how carbon assessments can ensure that the carbon stored in buildings is accounted for in decision making.
  • Making it more difficult for new developments that generate significant emissions, across the lifecycle of a development as a whole, to gain planning permission.
  • Supporting the use of materials with low embodied emissions, that can act as an emissions store and where the materials can be re-used with minimal re-processing at end of life of the building to avoid release of the embodied emissions.
  • Embedding of the National Transport Strategy 2 Sustainable Travel and Investment Hierarchies into the appraisal and assessment of development proposals as well as the proposals themselves. This will also be achieved through an infrastructure-first approach to future development.
  • Actively planning future development in a way that helps us to achieve zero carbon living that minimises the need to travel by unsustainable modes, for example by helping to create 20 minute neighbourhoods where achievable.
  • Facilitating development that is highly energy efficient and which meets greenhouse gas emissions standards, including making provision for zero carbon energy generation.
  • Setting out a consistent policy for meeting Section 3F of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 in relation to emissions policies.
  • Clarifying where net-zero building approaches may allow development to proceed by offsetting emissions.
  • Promoting nature-based solutions to climate change, including woodland creation and peatland protection and restoration.
  • Integrating development with natural infrastructure, including blue-green networks, to deliver multiple benefits including carbon sequestration, community resilience and health improvement.
  • Strengthening our support for re-powering and expanding existing wind farms.
  • Updating the current spatial framework for onshore wind to continue to protect National Parks and National Scenic Areas, whilst allowing development outwith these areas where they are demonstrated to be acceptable on the basis of site specific assessments.
  • Introducing new policies that address a wider range of energy generation technologies for example for electrical and thermal storage, and hydrogen.
  • Setting out a more practical and outcome-focused approach to accelerating a transition to renewable and zero emissions heating in buildings, including by linking with wider policies for green and blue infrastructure and vacant and derelict land and properties.
  • In line with the Bank’s primary mission, the Scottish National Investment Bank has the opportunity to use its investments to be part of the drive towards a just transition to net zero emissions.



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