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 a Wellbeing Economy

We will create healthier, fairer and more prosperous places and ensure future development contributes to a green, sustainable, and inclusive economic recovery.

We will identify and support development that works with our assets, key sites and opportunities for strategic investment.

We will take a flexible and enabling approach to future business and employment uses.

We will support development in the parts of Scotland where quality jobs and investment are most needed. Policies will refocus on community wealth building and sustainability.

We will support development that helps to maintain and strengthen strategic transport and digital connectivity.

You told us…

  • Planning must do all it can to support our green recovery and long-term economic priorities.
  • The future needs of businesses and investors cannot be fully predicted, and so our proposals and policies must be flexible.
  • Planning can proactively enable the future development of Scotland’s food and drink sector, a key contributor to our economy as a whole. People want planning to say more about the value of productive land and to help the aquaculture industry to fulfil its potential in a sustainable way.
  • There is a need for a managed approach to tourism, which helps to realise the significant potential for the sector whilst managing its impacts on quality of life, including in both urban and rural communities.
  • The benefits of the historic environment, culture, the arts and the creative industries for our collective identity and economy should be recognised. Culture and creativity can also be a catalyst for regeneration and town centre vibrancy and strengthen our sense of place.
  • Planning should enable energy from waste infrastructure, with a growing need arising from the forthcoming ban on landfilling of biodegradable municipal waste. Views vary on how the impacts should be managed, from policies to address specific impacts to a moratorium on new incinerators.
  • Our approach to minerals should reflect wider government commitments on climate change and continue to protect communities from inappropriate development.
  • Strategic transport connections will be essential, and there will be a need for infrastructure investment to support the transition to low carbon freight as well as lifeline links to our islands and remote communities.
  • Improving digital connectivity continues to be essential. This is of critical importance to our rural areas, given its role in sustaining existing and future businesses and employment and supporting the wider objectives of rural repopulation and climate change mitigation. The latter stages of the early engagement were also an opportunity to reflect on the lessons learned from COVID-19, including home working, online learning, telehealth and online retail and leisure activities.

Our new spatial strategy will:

Support a sustainable and green economic recovery

Collaborative spatial planning at a national, regional and local scale, will help us to recover from the impacts of COVID-19 through a sustainable, green economic recovery, as recognised in the 2020 report by the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery. We have an opportunity to actively promote strategically important locations for future investment and business growth as part of a coherent vision for sustainable, inclusive growth.

Our policies on planning for business development will recognise the fundamental role Scotland’s natural capital plays in supporting our economy and will aim to achieve sustainable, inclusive growth by protecting and investing in our natural assets and supporting the health and wellbeing of our communities. This will support Scotland’s ambitions to build a wellbeing economy. Planning can enable sustainable, inclusive growth by attracting investment, sustaining future employment, restoring natural capital and seizing the new economic opportunities created by our transition to a net-zero, circular economy. Our natural assets can play a key role in securing our path to net-zero by 2045 and achieving the long-term vision of our Environment Strategy[23].

Our strategy will be informed by emerging regional scale spatial and economic strategies which will align with city and regional growth deals and the work of Regional Economic Partnerships. For example, early thinking in Argyll and Bute indicates the significant potential for place-based approaches that unlock the potential for jobs that make use of the area’s natural resources, such as aquaculture. Orkney’s emerging spatial strategy sets out a strong vision for development that capitalises on the area’s exceptional natural energy resources and marine connections, underpinned by an emphasis on innovation and research. Moray is exploring how its natural assets can help to build a place-based approach to future development and investment in key sectors, such as the whisky and outdoor recreation industries. Community wealth building is also being explored at a regional scale, for example in an emerging regional spatial strategy for North, East and South Ayrshire which links with the area’s growth deal and economic strategy and promotes place-based investment. Sustainable tourism is emerging as a key theme for regional spatial strategies to consider, including for the National Parks. Enabling business growth, alongside visitor management and low carbon accessibility are shared themes that can inform a national spatial strategy that will guide us to 2050.

Reduce inequality and improve health and wellbeing

A shift from economic growth towards a wellbeing economy provides us with an opportunity to consider how development and investment can help us to address longstanding health and wellbeing inequalities.

Sustainable and inclusive growth will depend on a planned approach to ensure that development happens in locations that provide the greatest benefits for society as a whole. Economic performance and access to employment vary across Scotland and spatial planning has the potential to close the gap between the highest and lowest performing areas by intervening to create opportunities which are accessible to everyone. The spatial strategy will need to consider where we want to target future investment, and the land and premises required to support the sectors that we expect to grow in the future.

We will continue to actively enable investment in sustainable locations across Scotland – both urban and rural – including key investment sites and strategic opportunities for Scotland to attract international investment. Our approach will aim to strengthen the economy of our diverse cities and towns, and enable development that supports a vibrant rural economy. In the past, industrial and business areas have tended to be located at a distance from residential areas. As our economy continues to evolve, there may be scope for greater integration of work and living as inter-related land uses. The climate change agenda may benefit from a strategy that broadens choice and flexibility, for example through the provision of community hubs and flexible workspaces. These types of initiatives could complement other strategies such as revitalising our town and community centres and helping to create footfall that supports local traders.

This strategic approach to future investment and infrastructure will be brought together with our other aims of localism and quality of place to provide a coherent spatial vision for Scotland as a whole. We may need to make choices to ensure that all areas play to their strengths with complementary, rather than competing proposals. Digital infrastructure, remote working and our current re-evaluation of the future working environment are expected to feature in a new approach to planning the distribution of our future jobs.

Provide certainty and flexibility to encourage investment

Planning can stimulate investment and growth by providing certainty. At the same time, recent months have shown that our planning policies must be flexible enough to respond to rapid and significant economic and social change. Whilst many of our existing policies on business and employment remain relevant, we can improve on them so that they reflect our aspirations for a wellbeing economy.

We will consider how this can be supported by local development planning which is underpinned by a stronger evidence base at the local level for local land use decisions. We will review the role of business land audits and consider the extent to which they link with local economic strategies. We will also explore whether the resilience of investment sites would benefit from fuller risk assessments to help business adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Grow our food and drink sector

Planning can support our internationally renowned food and drink sector by protecting our natural assets that underpin production and facilitating the development of production and processing facilities.

This includes fishing and aquaculture, farming, food and beverage manufacturing. It is significant for employment in the islands and accounts for a high proportion of employment across rural Scotland. Our current policies recognise the importance of high quality agricultural land but there is scope to more fully reflect the importance of land as a finite resource that delivers many benefits for society. Wider policies will inform our approach. For example, the Land Use Strategy sets out that where land is highly suitable for a primary use this should be recognised in decision making so that multiple benefits can be secured. Links with our rural policies, flood management, water catchment management and carbon storage will also be important.

We will look to enable the sustainable growth of the finfish and shellfish sectors, including by guiding new development to coastal locations that reflect industry needs and take into account wider marine planning. Scottish aquaculture and its wider supply chain is of particular significance for some of our most remote rural communities. Farmed salmon has one of the lowest carbon footprints by production of health protein foods. The industry’s growth strategy for 2030 aims to double the economic contribution of the sector to £3.6 billion and double the sector’s jobs to 18,000. The Scottish Government continues to work with the Aquaculture Industry Leadership Group to achieve this.

Support sustainable tourism development

Our strategy and supporting policies will include a renewed focus on enabling sustainable development that helps to strengthen and grow our tourism sector.

Tourism plays a major role in our economy – in 2018, spending by overnight tourists and day visitors in Scotland was around £10.4 billion. This generated around £12 billion of economic activity in the wider Scottish economy and contributed around £7 billion to Scottish GDP. The Sector also employed 218,000 people accounting for 1 in 12 jobs in Scotland.

The sector has been significantly impacted by the pandemic. The Scottish Tourism Emergency Recovery Group, and now the Tourism Recovery Taskforce has provided a partnership-driven response. The Taskforce report focuses on recovery, investment and stimulating demand. Whilst overall levels of employment in Scottish tourism are highest in Edinburgh and Glasgow, as a proportion of all jobs tourism is of particular significance in rural areas such as Argyll and Bute and Highland. Tourism will have to continue to adapt to further influences including climate change and its impact on travel, and the economic challenges ahead. NPF4 will reflect the priorities set out in our Tourism Strategy.

Our many great places and exceptional natural environment, landscapes and wildlife are assets that the sector depends on, and so a sustainable, planned approach to future development will help to ensure the long term future of the industry. Destinations such as island and rural locations often have a ‘carrying capacity’ that is placed under threat by the influx of large tourism numbers. Consequent impacts on the environment and communities have to be managed, through visitor management facilities, investment in appropriate infrastructure or by striking the right balance between tourism accommodation and maintaining an adequate housing supply to support and retain the existing population. Temporary accommodation for the sector’s workforce in rural areas is often a challenge that can be addressed by positive planning policies.

Stimulate culture and the creative industries

We will recognise the importance of creativity, culture and the arts to our collective identity and future places. Culture defines our diverse places and many of our buildings reflect our architectural, social and economic history that contributes to part of our sense of wellbeing, heritage and economy. Regeneration and development has used culture and creativity to inspire new futures, from Dundee Waterfront where the V&A has helped to transform the city centre, to Paisley where creativity has been used to stimulate a new future for the area. Despite this, culture has not featured prominently in our suite of national planning policies to date and there is significant scope to improve on this in NPF4.

Scotland’s Culture [24] sets out a vision for strengthening and transforming culture, and using it to empower communities as well as individual lives. The strategy aims to ensure that culture is embedded into all policies, so that its transformative potential can be fully realised. It outlines the significance of the creative industries as our second fastest growing sector that accounts for 3.3% of employment in Scotland and is made up of numerous small businesses.

Transition to a circular economy

We will update our policies on zero waste to reflect the new opportunities arising from a shift towards a circular economy. Planning can support development which reflects the waste hierarchy, prioritising the reduction and re-use of materials, and facilitate the delivery of new infrastructure required to achieve this. Our policy on this was updated in 2016[25] and the Climate Change Plan and emissions reduction targets are relevant, together with the more detailed policies including the forthcoming ban on landfilling of biodegradable municipal waste. At a European level, the European Commission also launched a Circular Economy Action Plan[26] in March 2020, which aims to mainstream and support action in this area, including in relation to buildings and construction.

Minimising construction waste and promoting the sustainable use of the existing built environment has an important role to play as part of this. Infrastructure to support the circular economy, including for collecting, sorting, processing and re-manufacturing materials, that can help reduce the demand on primary sources of materials, will also need to be considered. This might take the form of increasing capacity at existing sites or the provision of new sites and there will be choices to be made on opportunities for example for co-location of facilities.

Promote sustainable resource management

Our spatial strategy and supporting policies will continue to set out proposals and policies that safeguard workable mineral resources whilst ensuring demand for primary materials, where required, can be met in a safe and acceptable way, including continuing to safeguard air quality. The substantial decline in the demand for coal for energy production, suggests there is also an opportunity to review our policy approach for this sector.

Peatland also has a critical role to play as a nature-based solution in supporting our climate change targets as well as providing many other long term benefits, and so our strategy and policies will help support both the phasing out of the use of horticultural peat and our investment in the restoration of peatlands. We will also consider how we can restrict further development on peatland given its role in carbon sequestration.

We have already committed to including our policy position[27] on unconventional oil and gas in our draft NPF4. This is currently contained in a Statement of 3 October 2019 and sets out that the Scottish Government does not support the development of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland. This means development connected to the onshore exploration, appraisal or production of coal bed methane or shale oil or shale gas using unconventional oil and gas extraction techniques, including hydraulic fracturing and dewatering for coal bed methane.

Secure strategic transport connectivity

Our spatial strategy will work with, and plan for, our future strategic transport network. Connectivity, physical and virtual, is essential for inclusive growth. National Planning Framework 3 identifies key connections including airports, high speed rail, long distance walking and cycling routes and some freight facilities as national developments. The National Transport Strategy and Scotland’s Economic Strategy recognise the importance of strategic transport connections, links and gateways. Brexit will heighten the importance of connectivity with external markets in the future.

Our new strategy will inform, and be informed by, the second Strategic Transport Projects Review, identifying key transport hubs and intermodal nodes that support connections within Scotland and with the wider world. We recognise the importance of long-term strategic road, rail, air and sea networks and will consider their role in relation to health and quality of life for their neighbouring communities.

There are plans to decarbonise Scotland’s passenger railways by 2035, scheduled flights within Scotland by 2040 and an ambition to phase out the need for new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2032, with public bodies taking the lead to phase these out from 2025. We will also ensure that rural and island communities can travel sustainably to access the services they need where those are not provided locally.

The new technologies which are emerging to make vehicles less dependent on fossil fuels will contribute to achieving the net-zero target. However, that will not be enough. We will not plan infrastructure to cater for forecast unconstrained increases in traffic volumes. Instead, we will manage demand and reduce the need to travel by unsustainable modes. Not taking steps to effectively manage demand for car use is no longer an option and our approach will focus on encouraging people not to make unnecessary journeys. Some of our existing infrastructure will need to be adapted for anticipated climate change that may make their location more vulnerable to erosion, flooding, land instability or heat for example.

Freight also has strategic transport needs and it may be that larger settlements, towns and cities require to identify land where distribution centres can be located to enable long distance goods vehicles to be unloaded ahead of onward distribution by smaller and alternatively fuelled vehicles and cargo bikes. Consideration of the location of additional dedicated rest stops or services areas will also be needed.

Connectivity is emerging as a shared priority, and a challenge to be addressed across the range of spatial scales; from local, through regional to national – this is evident in the emerging regional spatial strategies. Whilst the importance of transport links is recognised, we will need to consider how strategies can take forward an infrastructure-first approach which minimises the need to travel. We will use existing infrastructure capacity to direct where growth can happen in a way that is consistent with the travel and infrastructure investment hierarchies.

Improve digital connectivity

We will reflect future plans for investment in digital infrastructure and consider implications for our long-term spatial development. Our spatial strategy will continue to support the roll-out of digital infrastructure across Scotland. This will play a key role in maintaining and growing our communities in both urban and rural Scotland, and has potential to form the foundations of a new emphasis on localism.

Scotland’s Digital Strategy[28] aims to stimulate innovation and investment in digital technologies and industries across Scotland. Connectivity has a central role to play in unlocking the potential of our places and the economy and in opening up more remote parts of Scotland for investment and community expansion. We have already created permitted development rights for digital infrastructure and recently consulted on proposals to expand these further. These proposed changes need to be delivered in a way that minimises the negative impacts on the natural and built environment and safeguards air safety. Physical distancing arising from COVID-19 has also demonstrated that the planning service is well-placed to drive forward digital engagement in planning and decision making, creating opportunities for a wider range of people to get involved in more strongly influencing the design of their places.

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: business and industrial developments; strategic investment areas; energy parks; advanced manufacturing; spaceports; aquaculture hubs; food production projects; tourism projects and infrastructure; strategic transport interventions; and digital networks.

Potential policy changes

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

  • Promoting a place-based approach to investment across all development plans, in line with the Infrastructure Investment Plan, priorities of the Scottish National Investment Bank, and the recommendations of the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery.
  • Explicitly supporting development that can demonstrate its contribution to a wellbeing economy and fair work. This could include, for example, the introduction of new requirements from investment to secure social and environmental value and the delivery of our Public Health priorities.
  • Creating certainty for investors whilst providing flexibility to allow the planning system to respond more effectively to market opportunities.
  • Facilitating new ways of working such as remote working, homeworking and community hubs, in line with our emphasis on localism and to help reduce demand for motorised travel.
  • Ensuring that we reflect the vision, objectives and framework of Scotland’s upcoming third Land Use Strategy. We will consider how spatial planning at regional and local scales can protect and enhance the multiple benefits that can be gained from our land including food production and access to local markets.
  • Reflecting any development and infrastructure needs arising from changes to wider markets, linking with our proposals for strategic freight connectivity.
  • Continuing to grow Scottish aquaculture in a way which balances production with environmental quality. This could include criteria for assessing aquaculture proposals that can be consistently applied and which are sufficiently flexible to respond to changes in practice.
  • Revisiting the interface between terrestrial and marine planning to ensure our policy properly reflects more recent developments in marine planning and associated research and evidence.
  • Encouraging the expansion of tourism and associated infrastructure in an inclusive and sustainable way to ensure local communities have a share in tourism benefits, and safeguard environmental and community assets. We will explore how relevant tourism management considerations can be built into decisions on future development – for example by supporting developments that redistribute tourist uses and alleviate pressure on the capacity of sensitive areas. We will also build on investment through the Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund.
  • Providing greater flexibility for housing development that provides accommodation for rural businesses.
  • Tackling the impact of short term lets in pressured areas by providing a framework for decision making on planning applications.
  • Actively enabling development that supports expansion of the creative sector.
  • Reflecting the importance of cultural facilities in different types of places, such as city and town centres and more rural communities and to stimulate more creative approaches to place-making and regeneration, for example in temporary uses of vacant spaces or in animating public spaces.
  • Protecting existing cultural assets from inappropriate development including through the Agent of Change principle.
  • Promoting the broader circular economy agenda and considering how it can improve our approach to place-making more broadly, including by making best use of existing buildings, and by prioritising waste prevention through innovation in design and construction. We will also look to ensure that, where feasible, existing materials are salvaged and reused or recycled.
  • Encourage new buildings to connect to existing heat networks where located in a Heat Network Zone, wherever feasible; and encouraging applications for energy from waste facilities to provide a connection to a heat network, taking into account the practical considerations involved.
  • Enabling the development of future zero carbon infrastructure in a way that supports wider spatial objectives, including mixed use and sustainable connectivity. This could include larger scale facilities as well as small scale interventions to support communities and households to make the transition to a circular economy.
  • Updating our policies on fossil fuel extraction to reflect our climate change objectives and wider energy policy. Policies will mitigate certain environmental and health effects of minerals developments. We will also reflect wider policies on unconventional oil and gas and fossil fuels and confirm that we do not support applications for planning permission for new commercial peat extraction for horticultural purposes.
  • Supporting heat network opportunities that can safely utilise former deep mining areas.
  • Reviewing our approach to calculating and maintaining a suitable landbank for aggregates that reflects the 10 year development planning timescale.
  • Decarbonising our transport system in relation to car and light commercial vehicles, Scotland’s passenger railways and scheduled flights within Scotland.
  • Setting out the key considerations to be taken into account when considering proposals for strategic low carbon transport infrastructure and ensuring that local development plans factor in strategic transport connectivity as part of their spatial strategy.
  • Supporting the roll-out of digital infrastructure across Scotland in a way which allows planning authorities to manage its impact. We will encourage the redevelopment of existing infrastructure, including retrofitting and shared use of facilities.
  • Introducing stronger requirements for new housing and business developments to build in connectivity and connecting the planning of future development with existing and future digital infrastructure capacity.
  • Providing a framework to manage the impacts of development on digital networks.
  • A new values-led approach to Inward Investment that will focus our efforts to build a technologically enabled, net zero economy with the principles of fair work and sustainable, inclusive growth at its heart.



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