How are you planning to react to the radical changes to Scotland’s planning systems?

How are you planning to react to the radical changes to Scotland’s planning systems?

24 Feb 2022

Switching from a local to a national emphasis

The sweeping changes were initiated by The Planning (Scotland) Act 2019. It laid out reforms designed to improve the levels of new high-quality housebuilding and introduced statutory obligations on housing targets and housing for older and disabled people. It also set out the requirement for Scottish Ministers to report every 2 years on how the housing needs of these groups are being met.

The Act removes Strategic Development Plans (SDPs) bringing them into the National Planning Framework - Scotland’s overarching spatial plan. The original Government consultation document rationalised the change saying: "By incorporating regional strategies at a national scale we would remove the procedural requirements associated with preparing and adopting four standalone strategic development plans". However, this means that NPF4 needs to operate at a significantly higher level of detail than  previously and this creates challenges.

The new, wider, range of policy approaches are now encapsulated in the first draft of Scotland’s Fourth National Planning Framework (NPF4) which was published on 10th November 2021.

The proposals are now at consultation stage with a deadline of March 31st for responses to influence the final decision-making processes. We felt this would be a good time to share our assessment of the changes and offer our assistance in preparing your own responses and representations.

Taking time to develop a considered approach

We have taken time to fully consider its contents and the likely implications it will have on the development sector. The document comprises 6 spatial principles, 18 national developments, 35 policies and 58 questions covering a considerable range of issues and policy themes. A number of these are introduced for the first time. We have now reviewed all of these in detail and taken a measured approach which will help you generate meaningful responses to be submitted for consideration as the document undergoes independent review.

We have identified a number of potential conflicts, and areas requiring further detail and clarity, in the Government’s initial draft.

A few areas for examination

The document introduces a range of completely new policy requirements. These include the need to address the climate emergency, the nature crisis, community wealth building, human rights and equality, lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions assessment and delivering 20-minute neighbourhoods. However, many of these issues go beyond what the planning system can deliver and require other strategies and systems to support them.

There is also a lack of detail within many of these new policy areas, compared to some of the more established, tried and tested, planning policies where there is perhaps too much detail. This creates uncertainty about the impact of these new requirements on the planning process. And this, in turn, makes it challenging to respond meaningfully to the consultation exercise. Determining the new policies’ impact will depend on how they are interpreted and implemented at the local level.

Other concerns relate to the prioritisation for the development of brownfield sites over greenfield sites. Nobody disputes the need to redevelop and regenerate vacant and derelict sites. However, this is always considerably more challenging in reality and often requires subsidisation or other support mechanisms to make redevelopment viable.

While this may be possible in larger conurbations and more urban parts of the country, it is likely to create significant challenges in rural areas and locations where development pressures and values are lower.  Depending on how this policy is interpreted locally, it  could cause problems for more rural areas  experiencing local depopulation issues and reductions in services but where very few brownfield sites are available.

A policy presumption against greenfield development in such instances, could have significant consequences. The proposed Framework not only fails to address the status of brownfield sites in the green belts, but also the need for periodic and meaningful greenbelt reviews to be carried out during LDP preparation. And, while it proposes the development of 20 minute neighbourhoods, it again lacks clear indications of how these are to be achieved, particularly in more rural contexts.

The document references Community and Health Impact assessments and whole life greenhouse gas impact assessments for housing developments of more than 50 units. We have concerns about the additional time and cost burdens on developers and local authorities and the subsequent impact on planning application timescales. Further clarity is needed as to what shape they should take and how the reviews will be properly resourced by local authorities.

The proposals place a strong emphasis on addressing the climate emergency and nature crisis - environmental matters, which can conflict with social and economic needs. Clarity is needed on the appropriate balance, between these if we are to reach the Government’s aspirations of a net zero, sustainable Scotland by 2045 while still meeting the societal needs of the population. We are keen to work with clients to create progressive strategies and innovative design solutions that will answer the needs of both.

Targets being set for new housing fall well short of those previously in place, with some areas up to 70% lower than before. And only in Edinburgh and a couple of other areas are they higher than those laid out in earlier plans. This could compound pressures on housing stocks, especially in areas where holiday homes and resistance to new development are causing shortfalls in affordable, low-cost homes.

These are just a few of the areas that need bottoming out before NPF4 can be finalised . The planning team at Halliday Fraser Munro is well placed to advise further on these matters and provide credible solutions and responses to support  developers, local authorities, landowners and any other stakeholders looking to understand the particular relevance of the proposals to them.

Building your interests into the agenda before policies are written in stone

The Government is under pressure to finalise the process and get the new Framework up approved. The pandemic has delayed the Framework’s publication which has led to knock-on delays to local development plan reviews and new developments. However, given that NPF4 will have implications for at least the next decade, it is imperative that the decisions taken now are the right ones and all relevant factors and policy elements are given the appropriate emphasis.

We are keen to inform the decision-making process to ensure that the new framework operates in everyone’s best interests and that conflicts and discrepancies are addressed. To that end, we have assessed the detail of NPF4 so we can brief clients and other stakeholders about the implications for them and help them establish responses that will ensure the finished framework can answer everyone’s needs. To arrange a meeting where we can discuss the implications of NPF4 for your organisation or business and formulate clear, constructive responses, get in touch: