Scottish planning policy

Policy statement on how nationally important land use planning matters should be addressed across the country.

Principal Policies


NPF and wider policy context

24. The Scottish Government's central purpose is to focus government and public services on creating a more successful country, with opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish, through increasing sustainable economic growth.

25. The Scottish Government's commitment to the concept of sustainable development is reflected in its Purpose. It is also reflected in the continued support for the five guiding principles set out in the UK's shared framework for sustainable development. Achieving a sustainable economy, promoting good governance and using sound science responsibly are essential to the creation and maintenance of a strong, healthy and just society capable of living within environmental limits.

26. The NPF is the spatial expression of the Government Economic Strategy (2011) and sustainable economic growth forms the foundations of its strategy. The NPF sits at the top of the development plan hierarchy and must be taken into account in the preparation of strategic and local development plans.

27. The Government Economic Strategy indicates that sustainable economic growth is the key to unlocking Scotland's potential and outlines the multiple benefits of delivering the Government's purpose, including creating a supportive business environment, achieving a low carbon economy, tackling health and social problems, maintaining a high-quality environment and passing on a sustainable legacy for future generations.

Policy Principles

This SPP introduces a presumption in favour of development that contributes to sustainable development.

28. The planning system should support economically, environmentally and socially sustainable places by enabling development that balances the costs and benefits of a proposal over the longer term. The aim is to achieve the right development in the right place; it is not to allow development at any cost.

29. This means that policies and decisions should be guided by the following principles:

  • giving due weight to net economic benefit;
  • responding to economic issues, challenges and opportunities, as outlined in local economic strategies;
  • supporting good design and the six qualities of successful places;
  • making efficient use of existing capacities of land, buildings and infrastructure including supporting town centre and regeneration priorities;
  • supporting delivery of accessible housing, business, retailing and leisure development;
  • supporting delivery of infrastructure, for example transport, education, energy, digital and water;
  • supporting climate change mitigation and adaptation including taking account of flood risk;
  • improving health and well-being by offering opportunities for social interaction and physical activity, including sport and recreation;
  • having regard to the principles for sustainable land use set out in the Land Use Strategy;
  • protecting, enhancing and promoting access to cultural heritage, including the historic environment;
  • protecting, enhancing and promoting access to natural heritage, including green infrastructure, landscape and the wider environment;
  • reducing waste, facilitating its management and promoting resource recovery; and
  • avoiding over-development, protecting the amenity of new and existing development and considering the implications of development for water, air and soil quality.

Key Documents


Development Planning

30. Development plans should:

  • be consistent with the policies set out in this SPP, including the presumption in favour of development that contributes to sustainable development;
  • positively seek opportunities to meet the development needs of the plan area in a way which is flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances over time;
  • support existing business sectors, taking account of whether they are expanding or contracting and, where possible, identify and plan for new or emerging sectors likely to locate in their area;
  • be up-to-date, place-based and enabling with a spatial strategy that is implemented through policies and proposals; and
  • set out a spatial strategy which is both sustainable and deliverable, providing confidence to stakeholders that the outcomes can be achieved.

31. Action programmes should be actively used to drive delivery of planned developments: to align stakeholders, phasing, financing and infrastructure investment over the long term.

Development Management

32. The presumption in favour of sustainable development does not change the statutory status of the development plan as the starting point for decision-making. Proposals that accord with up-to-date plans should be considered acceptable in principle and consideration should focus on the detailed matters arising. For proposals that do not accord with up-to-date development plans, the primacy of the plan is maintained and this SPP and the presumption in favour of development that contributes to sustainable development will be material considerations.

33. Where relevant policies in a development plan are out-of-date[22] or the plan does not contain policies relevant to the proposal, then the presumption in favour of development that contributes to sustainable development will be a significant material consideration. Decision-makers should also take into account any adverse impacts which would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits when assessed against the wider policies in this SPP. The same principle should be applied where a development plan is more than five years old.

34. Where a plan is under review, it may be appropriate in some circumstances to consider whether granting planning permission would prejudice the emerging plan. Such circumstances are only likely to apply where the development proposed is so substantial, or its cumulative effect would be so significant, that to grant permission would undermine the plan-making process by predetermining decisions about the scale, location or phasing of new developments that are central to the emerging plan. Prematurity will be more relevant as a consideration the closer the plan is to adoption or approval.

35. To support the efficient and transparent handling of planning applications by planning authorities and consultees, applicants should provide good quality and timely supporting information that describes the economic, environmental and social implications of the proposal. In the spirit of planning reform, this should be proportionate to the scale of the application and planning authorities should avoid asking for additional impact appraisals, unless necessary to enable a decision to be made. Clarity on the information needed and the timetable for determining proposals can be assisted by good communication and project management, for example, use of processing agreements setting out the information required and covering the whole process including planning obligations.


NPF and wider policy context

36. Planning's purpose is to create better places. Placemaking is a creative, collaborative process that includes design, development, renewal or regeneration of our urban or rural built environments. The outcome should be sustainable, well-designed places and homes which meet people's needs. The Government Economic Strategy supports an approach to place that recognises the unique contribution that every part of Scotland can make to achieving our shared outcomes. This means harnessing the distinct characteristics and strengths of each place to improve the overall quality of life for people. Reflecting this, NPF3 sets out an agenda for placemaking in our city regions, towns, rural areas, coast and islands.

37. The Government's policy statement on architecture and place for Scotland, Creating Places, emphasises that quality places are successful places. It sets out the value that high-quality design can deliver for Scotland's communities and the important role that good buildings and places play in promoting healthy, sustainable lifestyles; supporting the prevention agenda and efficiency in public services; promoting Scotland's distinctive identity all over the world; attracting visitors, talent and investment; delivering our environmental ambitions; and providing a sense of belonging, a sense of identity and a sense of community. It is clear that places which have enduring appeal and functionality are more likely to be valued by people and therefore retained for generations to come.

Policy Principles

Planning should take every opportunity to create high quality places by taking a design-led approach.

38. This means taking a holistic approach that responds to and enhances the existing place while balancing the costs and benefits of potential opportunities over the long term. This means considering the relationships between:

Higher quality places

39. The design-led approach should be applied at all levels - at the national level in the NPF, at the regional level in strategic development plans, at the local level in local development plans and at site and individual building level within master plans that respond to how people use public spaces.

Planning should direct the right development to the right place.

40. This requires spatial strategies within development plans to promote a sustainable pattern of development appropriate to the area. To do this decisions should be guided by the following policy principles:

  • optimising the use of existing resource capacities, particularly by co-ordinating housing and business development with infrastructure investment including transport, education facilities, water and drainage, energy, heat networks and digital infrastructure;
  • using land within or adjacent to settlements for a mix of uses. This will also support the creation of more compact, higher density, accessible and more vibrant cores;
  • considering the re-use or re-development of brownfield land before new development takes place on greenfield sites;
  • considering whether the permanent, temporary or advanced greening of all or some of a site could make a valuable contribution to green and open space networks, particularly where it is unlikely to be developed for some time, or is unsuitable for development due to its location or viability issues; and
  • locating development where investment in growth or improvement would have most benefit for the amenity of local people and the vitality of the local economy.

Planning should support development that is designed to a high-quality, which demonstrates the six qualities of successful place.

  • Distinctive

41. This is development that complements local features, for example landscapes, topography, ecology, skylines, spaces and scales, street and building forms, and materials to create places with a sense of identity.

  • Safe and Pleasant

42. This is development that is attractive to use because it provides a sense of security through encouraging activity. It does this by giving consideration to crime rates and providing a clear distinction between private and public space, by having doors that face onto the street creating active frontages, and by having windows that overlook well-lit streets, paths and open spaces to create natural surveillance. A pleasant, positive sense of place can be achieved by promoting visual quality, encouraging social and economic interaction and activity, and by considering the place before vehicle movement.

  • Welcoming

43. This is development that helps people to find their way around. This can be by providing or accentuating landmarks to create or improve views, it can be locating a distinctive work of art to mark places such as gateways, and it can include appropriate signage and distinctive lighting to improve safety and show off attractive buildings.

  • Adaptable

44. This is development that can accommodate future changes of use because there is a mix of building densities, tenures and typologies where diverse but compatible uses can be integrated. It takes into account how people use places differently, for example depending on age, gender and degree of personal mobility and providing versatile greenspace.

  • Resource Efficient

45. This is development that re-uses or shares existing resources, maximises efficiency of the use of resources through natural or technological means and prevents future resource depletion, for example by mitigating and adapting to climate change. This can mean denser development that shares infrastructure and amenity with adjacent sites. It could include siting development to take shelter from the prevailing wind; or orientating it to maximise solar gain. It could also include ensuring development can withstand more extreme weather, including prolonged wet or dry periods, by working with natural environmental processes such as using landscaping and natural shading to cool spaces in built areas during hotter periods and using sustainable drainage systems to conserve and enhance natural features whilst reducing the risk of flooding. It can include using durable materials for building and landscaping as well as low carbon technologies that manage heat and waste efficiently.

  • Easy to Move Around and Beyond

46. This is development that considers place and the needs of people before the movement of motor vehicles. It could include using higher densities and a mix of uses that enhance accessibility by reducing reliance on private cars and prioritising sustainable and active travel choices, such as walking, cycling and public transport. It would include paths and routes which connect places directly and which are well-connected with the wider environment beyond the site boundary. This may include providing facilities that link different means of travel.

Key Documents


47. Planning should adopt a consistent and relevant approach to the assessment of design and place quality such as that set out in the forthcoming Scottish Government Place Standard.

Development Planning

48. Strategic and local development plans should be based on spatial strategies that are deliverable, taking into account the scale and type of development pressure and the need for growth and regeneration. An urban capacity study, which assesses the scope for development within settlement boundaries, may usefully inform the spatial strategy, and local authorities should make use of land assembly, including the use of compulsory purchase powers[29] where appropriate. Early discussion should take place between local authorities, developers and relevant agencies to ensure that investment in necessary new infrastructure is addressed in a timely manner.

49. For most settlements, a green belt is not necessary as other policies can provide an appropriate basis for directing development to the right locations. However, where the planning authority considers it appropriate, the development plan may designate a green belt around a city or town to support the spatial strategy by:

  • directing development to the most appropriate locations and supporting regeneration;
  • protecting and enhancing the character, landscape setting and identity of the settlement; and
  • protecting and providing access to open space.

50. In developing the spatial strategy, planning authorities should identify the most sustainable locations for longer-term development and, where necessary, review the boundaries of any green belt.

51. The spatial form of the green belt should be appropriate to the location. It may encircle a settlement or take the shape of a buffer, corridor, strip or wedge. Local development plans should show the detailed boundary of any green belt, giving consideration to:

  • excluding existing settlements and major educational and research uses, major businesses and industrial operations, airports and Ministry of Defence establishments;
  • the need for development in smaller settlements within the green belt, where appropriate leaving room for expansion;
  • redirecting development pressure to more suitable locations; and
  • establishing clearly identifiable visual boundary markers based on landscape features such as rivers, tree belts, railways or main roads[30]. Hedges and field enclosures will rarely provide a sufficiently robust boundary.

52. Local development plans should describe the types and scales of development which would be appropriate within a green belt. These may include:

  • development associated with agriculture, including the reuse of historic agricultural buildings;
  • development associated with woodland and forestry, including community woodlands;
  • horticulture, including market gardening and directly connected retailing;
  • recreational uses that are compatible with an agricultural or natural setting;
  • essential infrastructure such as digital communications infrastructure and electricity grid connections;
  • development meeting a national requirement or established need, if no other suitable site is available; and
  • intensification of established uses subject to the new development being of a suitable scale and form.

53. The creation of a new settlement may occasionally be a necessary part of a spatial strategy, where it is justified either by the scale and nature of the housing land requirement and the existence of major constraints to the further growth of existing settlements, or by its essential role in promoting regeneration or rural development.

54. Where a development plan spatial strategy indicates that a new settlement is appropriate, it should specify its scale and location, and supporting infrastructure requirements, particularly where these are integral to the viability and deliverability of the proposed development. Supplementary guidance can address more detailed issues such as design and delivery.

55. Local development plans should contribute to high-quality places by setting out how they will embed a design-led approach. This should include:

  • reference to the six qualities of successful places which enable consideration of each place as distinctly different from other places and which should be evident in all development;
  • using processes that harness and utilise the knowledge of communities and encourage active participation to deliver places with local integrity and relevance; and
  • specifying when design tools, such as those at paragraph 57 should be used.

Development Management

56. Design is a material consideration in determining planning applications. Planning permission may be refused and the refusal defended at appeal or local review solely on design grounds.

Tools for Making Better Places

57. Design tools guide the quality of development in and across places to promote positive change. They can help to provide certainty for stakeholders as a contribution to sustainable economic growth. Whichever tools are appropriate to the task, they should focus on delivering the six qualities of successful places and could be adopted as supplementary guidance.

Scale Tool


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Design Frameworks

For larger areas of significant change, so must include some flexibility.

To address major issues in a co-ordinated and viable way.

May include general principles as well as maps and diagrams to show the importance of connections around and within a place.

Development Briefs

For a place or site, to form the basis of dialogue between the local authority and developers.

To advise how policies should be implemented.

May include detail on function, layout, plot sizes, building heights and lines, and materials.

Master Plans

For a specific site that may be phased so able to adapt over time.

To describe and illustrate how a proposal will meet the vision and how it will work on the ground.

May include images showing the relationship of people and place.

See Planning Advice Note 83: Masterplanning[31]

Design Guides

For a particular subject, e.g. shop fronts.

To show how development can be put into practice in line with policy.

Includes detail, e.g. images of examples.

Design Statements

Required to accompany some planning applications.

To explain how the application meets policy and guidance, for example by close reference to key considerations of street design with Designing Streets.

See Planning Advice Note 68: Design Statements[32]



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