Scotland 2045: Draft fourth National Planning Framework – The role of the Scottish Parliament

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The Scottish Government published a draft of its fourth National Planning Framework (NPF4) on 10 November 2021.  This short post looks at the history of the NPF, the contents of the draft NPF4 and the role of the Scottish Parliament in its scrutiny and approval.

NPF4 and its predecessors should not be confused with the Scottish Government’s National Performance Framework, which is also generally known as “the NPF”.

History of the National Planning Framework (NPF)

The scope and importance of the NPF in the Scottish planning system has grown considerably over the lifetime of the Scottish Parliament.  To understand the significance of NPF4 in guiding Scotland’s future development compared to its predecessors, and the enhanced role the Scottish Parliament will play in its scrutiny and approval, it is worth outlining some key NPF milestones:

  • Origin: Proposals for a NPF were developed as part of a comprehensive review of strategic planning carried out by the Scottish Executive between November 2000 and June 2002, when proposals for change, including the development of a non-statutory NPF were published.
  • NPF1: The first NPF was published in April 2004.  Its role was described in its introduction as:

…to guide the spatial development of Scotland to 2025…It is not intended to be a prescriptive blueprint, but will be a material consideration in framing planning policy and making decisions on planning applications and appeals. It will be taken into account by the Executive and its agencies in policy and spending decisions.

There was no general public consultation on the first NPF and the Scottish Parliament had no formal involvement in its development or adoption.

  • Planning etc. (Scotland) Act 2006: The 2006 Act put the NPF of a statutory footing, describing its role as:

…to set out in broad terms how the Scottish Ministers consider that the development and use of land could and should occur.

The 2006 Act required the NPF to include a strategy for the spatial development of Scotland and a statement of Scottish Ministers priorities for that development. The NPF could also include information or policies on land use related matters and list any number of “national developments”. 

The NPF could not be adopted by Scottish Ministers without it completing a 60-day period of parliamentary consideration. Scottish Ministers were required to:

…have regard to any resolution or report of, or any committee of, the Scottish Parliament made, during the period for Parliamentary consideration.

  • NPF2: NPF2 was published in July 2009, following periods of public consultation and then parliamentary scrutiny, its role described as guiding:

…Scotland’s development to 2030, setting out strategic development priorities to support the Scottish Government’s central purpose – sustainable economic growth.

  • NPF3: NPF3 was published in June 2014, following separate periods of public engagement and parliamentary scrutiny.  NPF3 was described in its Ministerial foreword as:

…the spatial expression of the Government Economic Strategy, and of our plans for infrastructure investment. It is about our ambition to create great places that support sustainable economic growth across the country.

  • Planning (Scotland) Act 2019: The Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 extended both the content and status of future NPFs.  The main changes included:
  • The scope of future NPFs will be extended to include national planning policy.  In practice this means that national planning policy, currently set out in the Scottish Planning Policy, will in future be set out in the NPF.
  • Future NPFs will become a formal part of every development plan, meaning that policies and proposals set of in the NPF must be considered by decision makers when considering applications for planning permission.
  • The duration of any future NPF is increased from five to 10 years.
  • Future NPFs will establish Minimum All-tenure Housing Land Requirements for local, city-region and national park authorities which must be reflected in the amount and location of deliverable land for future housing development identified in local development plans.

In addition, the time available to the Scottish Parliament to consider any future NPF was increased from 60 to 120 days.  In a significant strengthening of the role of the Scottish Parliament, Scottish Ministers now cannot adopt an NPF until it has been approved by a resolution of the Parliament.

National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4)

The aim of NPF4 differs from previous iterations, which focused on facilitating development and economic growth, with the Ministerial foreword now highlighting that NPF4:

…sets out how our approach to planning and development will help to achieve a net zero, sustainable Scotland by 2045.

NPF4 is a lengthy document that is impossible to fully summarise in a short post.  However, key elements include:

National Spatial Strategy: The national spatial strategy guides decisions on future development across Scotland, which aims to produce:

  1. Sustainable places, which reduce emissions and restore biodiversity.
  2. Liveable places, where people can live better, healthier lives.
  3. Productive places, which produce a greener, fairer and more inclusive wellbeing economy.
  4. Distinctive places, where we recognise and work with local assets.

The National Spatial Strategy is underpinned by six spatial principles for Scotland in 2045 – compact growth, local living, balanced development, conserving and recycling assets, urban and rural synergy and a just transition. It also recognises the different challenges and opportunities across Scotland’s regions, which are outlined in five geographic “action areas”.

National Developments: There are 18 national developments, which support the delivery of the National Spatial Strategy, these range from significant infrastructure projects such as the development of urban mass/rapid transit systems in Aberdeen, Edinburgh, and Glasgow, to the continued expansion of the Central Scotland Green Network.

National Planning Policy: 35 national planning policies are set out, which will replace those currently found in the Scottish Planning Policy.

Minimum All-tenure Housing Land Requirements: This section sets out the minimum number of housing units that local, city-region and national park authorities must plan to accommodate in future development plans.

The role of the Scottish Parliament in scrutinising and approving NPF4

The Scottish Parliament is charged with scrutinising the draft NPF4 within a period of 120 days.  To inform this scrutiny, and any recommendations for change to the Scottish Government, several parliamentary committees will undertake an extensive programme of engagement with planning stakeholders and the wider public.  Committees particularly want to hear from people who do not normally engage with planning matters – especially young people, who will live with the consequences of planning decisions for many years to come.

Ultimately, the Scottish Government can only adopt the final version of NPF4 once it has been approved by a resolution of the Scottish Parliament.  The views expressed during this initial scrutiny period, and the Scottish Government’s response to them, will be an important consideration for Members of the Scottish Parliament in undertaking this task.

You can submit your views on the draft NPF4 to the Scottish Parliament using this online form.

Alan Rehfisch, Senior Researcher (Planning and Transport), SPICe