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).


An infrastructure-first approach to development will guide how we deliver  our strategy.

The Place Principle will help us to work together to deliver change that leads to better outcomes for our places. In line with the wider aims of planning reform, we will seek to strengthen public sector confidence in enabling development, and provide a clearer context for levering investment by the private sector.

Our strategy will be accompanied by a delivery programme that will form the basis of continuing collaboration to ensure it is effectively implemented.

We are currently working to strengthen links between development planning and future infrastructure investment. NPF4 is being prepared alongside a public consultation on our Draft Infrastructure Investment Plan for 2021/22 to 2025/26[33] and the second Strategic Transport Projects Review. As they evolve, our spatial strategy will ensure that a broader view of ‘place’ is built into these plans and that the priorities they identify for investment will inform where future development can take place. Our spatial strategy will build on our existing assets and services, making best use of available capacity, ahead of requiring investment in new infrastructure. This aligns with the sustainable travel and investment hierarchies set out in our National Transport Strategy, and is an integral part of the proposed common investment hierarchy included in the Draft Infrastructure Investment Plan.

The Infrastructure Commission for Scotland[34] has made recommendations about NPF4 in relation to infrastructure. This includes putting in place an infrastructure-first approach to development planning, involving infrastructure providers, developers and other public bodies to ensure an integrated and coherent outcome‑based approach to land use planning, and recognising the importance of implementation being supported at all scales. This approach is supported by responses to the early engagement, as many people have told us that they want to see a more strategic and joined-up approach to infrastructure investment to ensure delivery responds to our geographic strengths and challenges.

We are exploring the following opportunities for a collective approach to delivery, across the different scales of planning, to help achieve this:

  • We will work with the national Infrastructure Delivery Group, involving the full range of public and private infrastructure delivery organisations, to consider the draft NPF4 as it emerges and identify how it can be supported by a delivery programme that relates to development planning at all scales. This type of improved collaboration with infrastructure providers will also play a key role in helping us to embed an infrastructure-first approach to planning and development within the context of the new system.
  • We will continue to support planning authorities as they develop their early thinking on regional spatial strategies. We expect to broaden the conversation on this emerging thinking in the coming months and have published an update on progress alongside this Position Statement. Indicative strategies will continue to inform our national priorities. In turn, NPF4 can support the delivery of regional priorities by identifying significant place-based opportunities for infrastructure planning to reflect and respond to. Alignment with city and growth deals at this scale will also be critical to ensure that land use planning at a regional and national scale supports delivery of agreed priorities.
  • We will also articulate how we expect an infrastructure-first approach to be embedded in the spatial strategies of local development plans. This includes ensuring that our plans are informed by evidence as recommended by the Infrastructure Commission for Scotland, focusing on need, demand, opportunities and geography. Part of this is the appropriate appraisal to determine the infrastructure requirements of potential spatial strategies at the start of the plan process, including who will fund and deliver it. This will ensure land use decisions are informed by these requirements rather than being developed after the land use decisions have been made. In the past this has led to sub-optimal infrastructure solutions that are not capable of being funded or delivered.
  • Local place plans were also introduced by the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019, enabling communities to prepare plans for their own places. Community scale planning has an important role to play in the new system and we will consider its role in helping to deliver outcomes as we develop regulations and guidance alongside NPF4.
  • We are carrying out a review of existing developer contributions mechanisms, such as planning obligations, which will inform our future policy approach. This includes not only NPF4, but also potential updates to Circular 3/2012 and implementation of the infrastructure levy, powers for which are contained in the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019. Subject to the findings of the review, we will explore how we can provide greater certainty, consistency and clarity around the scope and use of developer contributions, including to identify, fund and deliver infrastructure up-front. It will be important that any new approach is grounded in an understanding of development economics and delivery. For this reason we will consider the need for greater detail on the role of viability assessments in shaping both development plans and decision-making.
  • Land assembly and compulsory purchase in our future planning system will also be considered. In particular, we will explore how future national planning policies could help to promote a more proactive and collaborative approach, and how such an approach can support planning and place-making objectives.
  • Masterplan Consent Areas (MCA) will be a useful, proactive delivery tool to promote and incentivise investment in development, including new housing, and to support the delivery of local development plan strategies and particular local priorities. They will allow planning authorities to plan and enable delivery of quality development in their places; front-loading engagement, consideration of design, re-use of existing buildings, infrastructure and local assets at an earlier stage in the planning process and so placing authorities in a position of leading and enabling the planning of high quality places. Developed with community consultation, MCA schemes can be used to provide consent for specified types of development, subject to conditions in a particular area. They will be able to grant up-front consents for planned development, so adding certainty and removing much of the risk for potential investors, and supporting planned development and investment.



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