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 Resilient Communities

We will focus on people and the quality of areas where we live.

We will apply concepts such as 20 minute neighbourhoods across our cities, towns, and rural areas so that the places where we live and work are more resilient and sustainable.

NPF4 will align with our vision for housing in 2040 and set out a long term view of the homes required to meet our future needs. We will focus on the location, quality and type of homes needed for people of all ages, reflecting long term population and household trends.

We will introduce, for the first time, an infrastructure-first approach to neighbourhood planning, including natural networks and sustainable travel, to ensure that we have fair access to the services we need to help make our communities a great place to live.

We will underpin this with policies which support our six public health priorities[10], promote inclusion and equality, and help our places adapt to the long term impacts of climate change.

You told us…

  • We need to do more to ensure that a much wider range of people get involved in planning, promoting collaborative approaches over conflict.
  • Planning needs to be proactive and make clear decisions about future development and investment priorities that are in the long term public interest.
  • Places, particularly the places where we live, can make a big difference to our health and wellbeing. The experience of COVID-19 has underlined this.
  • Improving health should be a key priority. Quality of place and sense of belonging are essential for our wellbeing and central to our aim of tackling longstanding health inequalities. Access to healthy food, physical activity, active travel, plus issues such as air quality, pollution, noise, decontamination and stabilisation of former mine workings are all priorities for planning.
  • The quality of our homes really matters, and the way we plan for housing needs to change. There are many different ideas about the best approach but wide agreement that we should focus more on quality and the types of homes we will need in the future, rather than only on numbers of units.
  • Our policies should reflect our diverse housing and accommodation needs, including the housing needs of older people, disabled people, students, Gypsy/Travellers and those living in rural communities. A wider range of new and innovative delivery solutions should also be supported.
  • We need to consider, and address, the impacts of new development on local infrastructure including schools, healthcare, transport, green space and other community facilities. Places should be planned on the basis of an infrastructure-first approach so that everyone, irrespective of age, disability, gender, ethnicity or socio-economic status has ready access to essential services and facilities.
  • Blue-green infrastructure should be an integral part of place-making and our policies on this can be strengthened. Good quality open spaces and green networks play a crucial role in supporting our quality of life and should be an integral part of place-making.
  • Natural flood risk management, flood prevention and green infrastructure are key opportunities to manage our environment whilst achieving wider benefits for people, place and environment.
  • Everyday travel, including walking and cycling and access to low carbon transport options contributes to the livability of our places and neighbourhoods, and there is support for stronger alignment of future development with existing and planned local transport infrastructure capacity.

Our new spatial strategy will:

Apply the concept of 20 minute neighbourhoods

Our spatial strategy and policies will reflect the needs and aspirations of people living throughout Scotland by building quality places that work for everyone. 20 minute neighbourhoods have the potential to reduce emissions and improve our health and wellbeing. We will explore how a new emphasis on living locally could work in different parts of Scotland, from remote rural communities to our towns and cities, taking into account the needs of everyone in society so that equality is built in from the start.

The 20 minute neighbourhood concept doesn’t exist in isolation but scales up to include larger geographies and networked areas providing access and opportunities for the wide range of facilities and services that communities require. The ability to access goods and services through high quality walkable and accessible environments is increasingly recognised as providing strategic competitive advantage to attract and retain people and investment.

This vision will be supported by new and improved planning policies that bring together services and homes, giving life to the Place Principle and supporting public health and wellbeing and reducing inequality.

Strengthen community resilience

A focus on neighbourhoods and local living will help our places to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Our climate is getting warmer and wetter, and more frequent extreme weather events will affect people and places. In summer, more intense rainfall could increase surface water flooding. In winter, more frequent rainfall could bring increased flooding from rivers. Sea level rise could affect the viability of some coastal communities through flooding and erosion. Scotland’s Climate Change Adaptation Programme[11] promotes a joined-up approach to place-making that reflects local diversity.

Some places will be more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change than others: flood risk may be particularly acute in parts of our cities, whilst the livability and accessibility of our smaller towns could be significantly affected by flooding events in the future. By future-proofing the design of our streets and buildings and investing in natural infrastructure, including creating and restoring habitats upstream in catchments, we can substantially reduce our communities’ exposure to flooding and the risks from changing temperatures. This also has the potential to provide equality, health, economic and wellbeing benefits for communities.

Promote inclusion and equality and eliminate discrimination

The Scottish Government is committed to promoting equality, tackling discrimination and fostering good relations between people in all of our communities. We want to ensure that every person and every community in our country is able to achieve their full potential. The changes we are making to the planning system aim to strengthen public trust and encourage engagement in decisions about the future of our places. The Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 introduces local place plans. Linked to the NPF and local development plans they will provide the opportunity for communities to influence the development of their neighbourhoods in a way which builds on community empowerment across Scotland. These and wider changes also underline the importance of engaging with a wider range of people to develop our places, including children and young people.

We will consider how our future policies can learn from the experience of COVID-19 including by responding to the Social Renewal Advisory Board’s recommendations and learning from their work to capture our shared experience of delivering equality and social justice.

The spatial strategy will be supported by new policies to encourage more people to get involved in planning, to improve equality and eliminate discrimination. The 2016 National Standards for Community Engagement, together with the Place Standard Tool[12], provide a framework for involving people in planning their places. The Place Principle also recognises the need for a more joined-up and collaborative approach to decisions so that the combined impacts on places are understood and actively managed. We will look at how this can support techniques which encompass collaborative approaches to community engagement.

NPF4 is required to explain how our spatial strategy will contribute to improving equality and eliminating discrimination. People living in the most deprived areas and neighbourhoods are more exposed to environmental conditions and other factors that negatively affect health and access to opportunities – including those relating to transport, access to green space, pollution effects, housing quality, fuel poverty, community participation, and social isolation. Our future places and spaces need to be considered through the lens of gender, ethnicity, age and disability to ensure they are inclusive.

Many different planning policies have potential to directly and indirectly contribute to this, including those which aim to meet housing need, policies promoting community facilities and green space, and those relating to accessibility and design of the public realm. The development of the strategy is being supported by a range of impact assessments which will provide evidence on the impacts of policies on different people in society, and help to inform an approach which is fair for everyone.

Improve our health and wellbeing

NPF4 will be redesigned to support the population’s health and wellbeing and address longstanding health inequalities. We know that planning and place can compound problems such as poor diet and obesity, noise or air pollution, or it can be part of a solution. We will

help to deliver a wide range of policies and strategies, including Scotland’s six Public Health Priorities[13], the Active Scotland Delivery Plan[14] and associated commitments to increasing active travel; the new air quality strategy which will replace the current Cleaner Air for Scotland strategy in 2021; Scotland’s Diet and Healthy Weight Delivery Plan[15]; Scotland’s alcohol and drug harm prevention and reduction strategies; Scotland’s Mental Health Strategy[16]; Scotland’s Social Isolation Strategy[17], and the National Health and Social Care Delivery Plan[18]. The Place Standard also underlines the importance of better health outcomes from joined-up, targeted action in our places.

Tackling health inequalities, as well as supporting the everyday healthcare needs of communities, require a long term plan. The quality of places has impacts on our health and wellbeing, from early years to later life. Planning can do more to directly support positive health outcomes and improve childhood experiences. More people living in Scotland in the future will be older, and we will also need to factor this in to ensure NPF4 properly anticipates our future needs.

Our approach will look at how the built environment can help prevent the need for healthcare spend in the first place, and increase our healthy life expectancy, by improving public health. Inclusive and accessible design, access to infrastructure, including healthy travel choices, and other measures to improve health should no longer be regarded as optional or a discretionary benefit, but a firm requirement for development to address. We will look to promote high quality design and development in sustainably accessible locations that attract investment, create opportunities and alleviate fuel and transport poverty. Natural (blue and green) infrastructure helps build community resilience, and in turn supports our health and wellbeing. Access to quality green space also has direct benefits for both mental and physical health and can help to tackle the impacts of inequalities.

Actively plan and support the delivery of good quality homes

Our homes make an essential contribution to our health and quality of life and we recognise that good housing is the cornerstone of strong communities. Our future homes will be at the heart of a spatial strategy that puts people first. We expect that our spatial strategy will focus on delivering a wider range of homes to meet the needs of our changing population, in the right places. Our Housing to 2040 route map will be a plan for a well-functioning housing system to deliver good quality, energy efficient, zero carbon housing and housing-related services. The vision will set out how, by 2040, we want our homes to be accessible, affordable, well-designed and energy-efficient with the right homes in the right places to support both urban and rural communities. As a first step, we have already committed to review the current housing adaptations system and make recommendations on how best to improve and streamline the system and maximise the impact of investment. This will help to make best use of existing and planned housing stock to provide homes for as many people as possible and enable people to stay in their homes for longer. We will explore how planning can support this, including through an emphasis on type, accessibility, affordable living, quality, choice and energy efficient homes.

Our strategy will do more to guide housing to sustainable locations in a way which still allows for a local approach to be taken to address local issues and opportunities. We will encourage development planning to help shape this in different parts of Scotland.

To significantly simplify the system as a whole, we will set out the land required in each local authority area to support local development plans over the life of the plan, informed by national analysis with local input. This will ensure a nationally agreed approach to housing land is used as a starting point for local development plans, and is aligned with local housing strategies and wider strategic investment priorities.

Our spatial strategy will also consider the long term changes that we can expect, including: sustainable rural living, prioritising sustainable and accessible locations; prioritising new homes on brownfield land where appropriate; redevelopment of existing buildings; city and town centre regeneration; and more people working remotely or more locally in the future. Policies will work with these challenges and assets to create great places to live now and in the future. Energy efficiency, in both new homes and the existing stock, is a key objective that will help address fuel poverty and contribute to meeting our climate change targets.

We want to see design at the heart of any new housing development. Details that may seem insignificant in isolation – such as – orientation; colours; shapes; heights; materials and access to public and play spaces – collectively create better development that supports our wellbeing. Our aim is to plan and facilitate the delivery of new places that anyone would be proud to call home.

To build the right types of homes that we want and the amount that we need, we need everyone to work together. Planning can do more to enable development, but it cannot do this on its own. We are considering how our policies can actively support delivery and provide certainty to house builders and communities by providing good, shovel ready land that can be developed in the short term whilst also maintaining a steady pipeline of land that will come forward in the future. We are looking at how we can incentivise house builders to build on sites that have already been deemed suitable for housing by providing a mechanism for more land to be released from the longer term supply, once building begins on sites that already have planning permission. In line with the recommendations of the Infrastructure Commission for Scotland, an infrastructure-first approach will play an essential role in ensuring allocated sites are a viable proposition to be built out in line with the plan’s delivery programme.

Gypsy/Travellers require a positive planning approach so that not just their future, but their current accommodation needs are met. Guidance has previously been published on this, and we have taken steps to raise this with planning authorities. NPF4 is a real opportunity to expand on our current planning policy to support Gypsy/Travellers in their human rights to travel and in their aspirations to invest in their own homes, taking into account research on the distribution of existing sites across Scotland[19] [20], as well as the provisions of the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019.

Promote an infrastructure-first approach to community development

It is crucial that the services and facilities we use on a day to day basis are fairly, easily and affordably accessed. A wide range of facilities are required to support our wellbeing including health services, transport, accommodation and support for an ageing population, education, energy networks, water and drainage, digital, community centres, places of worship, cemeteries and crematoria, libraries, retail including local healthier food outlets, markets, pubs, restaurants and cafes, banks, community growing space, green space, play and sports facilities and public toilets. During the passage of the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019, the Scottish Parliament emphasised the importance of planning these services, infrastructure and facilities for communities across Scotland. 20 minute neighbourhoods are a great opportunity to embed where appropriate, an infrastructure-first approach to our future places.

NPF4 will help to prioritise the infrastructure investment needed for people to live better, and more locally, in the future. By taking an infrastructure-first approach to planning future development, we will be able to reduce the need to travel and minimise spend on additional transport infrastructure construction, contributing to an overall reduction in emissions from the transport sector. We will link with infrastructure plans to encourage place-based investment in local infrastructure to work alongside planned future housing developments. We will reflect and embed travel and investment hierarchies as set out in the Infrastructure Investment Plan and National Transport Strategy 2 within the appraisal and assessment of potential development options to inform the spatial strategy from the outset.

We will also explore the types of community services that will be required in the future, such as hubs for remote working and shared facilities, co-location and future-proofing. Natural (blue and green) infrastructure will be an integral part of a strategy for people, rather than an afterthought, helping to achieve multiple benefits for nature, communities and businesses.

The detailed consideration of infrastructure and service provision and implications are central to the preparation of spatial strategies and future land use decisions. Development plans can help to ensure the right infrastructure and services are in place at the right time to serve the needs of communities. We expect that the new requirement for an evidence report, examined through a ‘gatecheck’ early in the plan preparation process, will help to achieve this.

As part of the ongoing planning reform programme, we are carrying out a review of existing developer contributions mechanisms such as planning obligations. This was one of the recommendations made last year by the Scottish Land Commission in their advice to Scottish Ministers on land value uplift capture. The review will evaluate the effectiveness of planning obligations as a means of securing timely contributions to – and delivery of – the infrastructure and affordable housing that are necessary to create high quality places. This will help to inform NPF4’s approach to infrastructure funding and delivery. We will also align with our Capital Investment Plan in terms of the role of private capital in developing sites of strategic importance to Scotland.

Enhance and expand natural infrastructure

Our strategy will enhance and promote open and green spaces and green networks as an integral part of successful place-making. By bringing together green and blue infrastructure, we will modernise our existing policies to ensure that our natural networks are nurtured and expanded to support our health and wellbeing, and contribute to our climate and biodiversity goals. We are aiming to strengthen our policy so that blue and green infrastructure are not an added benefit but an integrated requirement for future planning and development. For example, there is scope for new policies for planning green spaces and play. We also expect that much can be learned from innovation in green infrastructure planning as demonstrated by the Glasgow and Clyde Valley Green Network Partnership and Central Scotland Green Network.

Blue and green infrastructure will be an essential part of our approach to building our long term resilience to climate change and can also contribute to reducing emissions and carbon sequestration. In particular, opportunities for natural infrastructure to address the long term risk of flooding, water and drainage issues, temperature management and everyday livability of places will inform our approach to planning and enhancing our spaces and places. As part of this, consideration will also be given to the integration of ecological networks to protect and restore biodiversity and ensure that habitats and species can adapt to a changing climate.

Achieve more sustainable travel

We will refocus our existing transport policies to specifically draw out how land use planning can build in sustainable travel choices. Scotland’s second National Transport Strategy[21] set out a vision for a sustainable, inclusive, safe and accessible transport system, helping to deliver a healthier, fairer and more prosperous Scotland for communities, businesses and visitors. NPF4 is being prepared alongside the second Strategic Transport Projects Review and we expect, in time, that future Regional Spatial Strategies will align with Regional Transport Strategies. The Active Scotland Delivery Plan; the 2030 Vision for Active Travel; and the Active Travel Framework[22] also provide an important policy framework for NPF4 to align with.

By guiding development to the right locations, we can reduce the need to travel unsustainably. To achieve stronger local communities and reduce emissions that are harmful to the environment and our health, and in line with the NTS2 sustainable travel hierarchy, there will need to continue to be a sustained and significant shift away from use of the private car towards walking, wheeling, cycling, public transport, taxis and shared transport. This will need to be embedded in the land use decision making process and will require policies that can be directly and consistently applied, to avoid compromising on our climate change and health objectives.

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 includes, for example: regeneration projects; large mixed use developments; settlement expansions; housing proposals; rural development projects; community‑led development; social infrastructure; flood protection; natural infrastructure; and active travel networks. We will also consider whether this would help to deliver proposals that emerge from the Strategic Transport Projects Review 2.

Potential policy changes

We are currently considering the following priority policy changes to support a spatial strategy for resilient communities:

  • Promoting innovative place-based solutions to reflect a new approach to localism, including 20 minute neighbourhoods, an infrastructure-first approach and a move towards more mixed land uses to improve local areas. A stronger focus on place-based actions will also help us to adapt to long-term climate change.
  • Introducing an overarching principal policy that puts the needs of people and their health and wellbeing at the heart of the planning system; encouraging people to engage with decisions about their communities, providing for a more joined-up, collaborative, and participative approach, achieving better outcomes for everyone by enabling communities to shape their own places.
  • Minimising and mitigating environmental hazards and pollution, and embedding an evidence-based approach to the avoidance and alleviation of health impacts from new development. We will also include new policies to improve air quality alongside reducing climate change emissions.
  • Ensuring that the full range of policies and proposals included in NPF4 will work together to support a fairer, more inclusive and equalities-based approach to planning in the future.
  • Promoting places which create the conditions for healthier, more sustainable living, including by addressing the links between planning, transport, place, food and drink and other lifestyle choices, and the retail environment.
  • Refocusing our policies on housing on quality and place, and linking with wider housing investment so that the needs of everyone, including older people and disabled people, can be met. We expect to strengthen requirements for affordable housing provision and include policies that help to diversify delivery and reflect the future needs and aspirations of communities.
  • Replacing the current focus on maintaining a 5 year supply of effective housing land with a longer term perspective so that future plans can promote immediate deliverability and viability, but also proactively steer development to appropriate locations in line with the plan’s spatial strategy, informed by an infrastructure-first approach. We could seek to monitor the pace of land take-up through completions and to trigger the release of additional land, in line with the development plan, when the need for additional capacity is clearly demonstrated. Housing Land Audits will help us understand programming and we are considering how they can be clearer and more consistent.
  • Proactively bringing forward good opportunities for quality homes in places that would benefit from them, including town centres, remote rural and island communities, vacant and derelict land and adaptation and re-use of disused properties. An infrastructure-first approach should be an integral part of site selection to assist with development viability and minimise the need for the construction of new infrastructure and its associated costs to the public and private sectors.
  • Promoting self and custom build/self-provided housing, co-housing and other innovative approaches to delivery, also linking with the potential for Masterplan Consent Areas. This will link with the new requirement to prepare and maintain a list of people interested in self-build introduced by the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019. We will also support purpose-built build to rent homes in contributing to meeting need and demand.
  • Providing a consistent national planning policy that proactively addresses the comprehensive evidence on the needs of the Gypsy/Traveller population. This could include criteria against which ad-hoc proposals for public or private permanent sites or temporary transit sites can be assessed. We will also address the specific accommodation needs of Scottish Showpeople.
  • Setting out clearer requirements for infrastructure to support developments and more proactively considering how it will be delivered. We will explore the level of service provision that can reasonably be expected by communities where development takes place, particularly for health and education. New policies will provide a framework for taking into account the impacts of proposed new development on infrastructure, including by prioritising areas where there is existing capacity. This will be supported by a clearer and more consistent framework for developer contributions.
  • Ensuring well-designed, high quality provision and long term maintenance of natural infrastructure in new development, recognising its contribution to goals for climate change mitigation and adaptation, biodiversity and health and wellbeing, including clean air, place-making and community resilience.
  • Promoting multifunctional blue and green networks, accessible to all, supporting active travel, recreation and habitat connections for nature. Our policies will also focus on the quality, functionality, usability, accessibility, inclusiveness, and future maintenance of green space. We will plan for allotments and community growing spaces given their benefits for health and wellbeing, community and quality of life.
  • We will introduce a new policy to address play and playability, covering both informal and formal play and considering spatial opportunities for play as part of wider place planning.
  • Promoting natural flood risk management and strengthening our policies on the water environment and drainage infrastructure to address the future impacts of climate change to build the resilience of our communities.
  • Reducing the need to travel unsustainably by embedding the Sustainable Travel and Investment Hierarchies into decisions about locations for change. This should guide development to places which can currently be sustainably accessed, or have the ability to become so, with minimal cost to the public and private sectors arising from the need to subsidise public transport or invest in new infrastructure resulting from the need to rely on the private car. We will consider the accessibility and needs of different groups – for example of children and young people in accessing schools and opportunities for play.
  • Restricting development in flood risk areas that generate the need for additional flood risk management measures and which put pressure on drainage systems.
  • Align with our Capital Investment Plan in terms of the role of private capital in developing sites of strategic importance to Scotland.



Back to top