Blog: 16 February 2021Scotland’s National Planning Framework 4 – we need focus on delivery

Iain Hynd

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Iain Hynd

Planning Associate

Edinburgh office

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The publication of the Scottish Government’s Position Statement on the fourth National Planning Framework (NPF4) in November was a significant development for planners and designers alike on the path to the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 coming fully into force. While the Government is still inviting responses from industry until later this month, and a full draft isn’t expected until the autumn, it has nonetheless appeared to have been received positively by the industry as a valuable insight into what this long-term spatial plan is going to look like.

There’s certainly much to be welcomed and applauded – promotion of 20-minute neighbourhoods, a ‘brownfield-first’ approach, achieving zero carbon living and putting health and wellbeing at the heart of planning policy. What’s not to like?

But that in itself poses quite a challenge. Can it effectively achieve so much?

We need to heed warnings from past mistakes. The previous iteration – NPF3 – has largely sat on shelves gathering dust since it was rolled out in 2014. Rather than be a meaningful or useful reference point for Scotland’s development industry, it felt too much of a political brochure. The notable exception being its role boiling down to designating and supporting delivery of national developments – as it undoubtably assisted Barton Willmore’s work in securing planning and regulatory permissions for the Aberdeen Harbour Expansion project.

Yet this fourth National Planning Framework holds a lot more promise. Unlike its predecessor, it will be a document of vital importance. For the first time, NPF4 will form part of the Development Plan and will incorporate Scottish Planning Policy (SPP), taking on an enhanced role in policy and holding formal statutory status.

Bringing forward a consolidated national strategy in this way presents a huge opportunity, but also means that it needs to shape up very differently too.

Central to this will be keeping it focused on delivering key priorities such as enabling sustainable development and providing high quality homes and neighbourhoods for all, but particularly for our elderly population. With SPP incorporated, is it still a framework or will it end up trying to do everything? Can it pull off both? NPF4 must be an enabler, not an inhibiter.

Politically, the Position Statement sets out a bold, ambitious roadmap. That needs to be celebrated and its underlying principles – to a large extent, going back to basics – are good. But we must be asking ourselves: how will it work as a policy instrument? Take the example of the 20-minute neighbourhood. If not every service or facility is within this radius, will it be used to hinder delivery of new homes or neighbourhoods? As ever, we need to be watching out for the unintended sting in the tail.

The jury’s still out, and the Scottish Government are now in the process of considering the implications and policy impacts in specific areas. But the one thing we know for sure is that Scotland needs a system that is focused, simple and enables sustainable development. It has never been more important to get this right, and it’s only by enabling great planning and design that we can celebrate development and the role it has to play in reaching net zero, creating healthier communities, and boosting local economies.

Posted with the following keywords:
NPF4, Planning Reform, Build Back Better, Brownfield, Net Zero, Healthy Communities, Sustainable Development, Later Living