On 10 November 2021, the Scottish Government published the long-awaited consultation draft of its Fourth National Planning Framework (“NPF4”). The ministerial forward makes it clear that the overall approach is to assist in achieving “net zero sustainable development by 2045”. This is therefore one of the most significant publications in national planning policy terms as it sets out the Scottish Government’s vision for the next quarter century of development in Scotland.
The NPF4, when it is ultimately approved by the Scottish Parliament, will form part of the Development Plan thus exerting a significant influence on what is built (or not built, for that matter) and where. It is therefore important for all stakeholders in property development and land use to be aware of its terms and to consider responding to the consultation that is now underway.
NPF4 is an extensive policy document which is split into four Parts:
NPF4 begins by outlining a national spatial strategy, which contains four central themes:
Six overarching principles are identified to aid delivery of the national spatial strategy, including “compact growth” to limit urban expansion where brownfield, vacant and derelict land can be used more effectively; “local living” to create networks of 20 minute neighbourhoods; “balanced development” across all of Scotland, enabling more people to live in rural and island areas; “conserving and recycling” assets to make productive use of existing buildings, places and assets minimising waste; “urban and rural synergy” bringing together the contributions of cities, towns, villages and countryside areas to achieve shared objectives, in particular to improve green infrastructure; and “just transition” to ensure that the transition away from fossil fuels is fair, creating a better future for all.
NPF4 splits the country into five “action areas”. Broadly these are:
It is apparent that the Scottish Government is seeking to avoid a one size fits all approach in order to recognise that the islands are distinct from the central belt, which in turn is distinct from the Borders, and so on.
Eighteen national developments are identified (see Part 2 of NPF4, at page 44). This means that the need for these developments will be established by their inclusion in NPF4. This does not, however, equate to a grant of planning permission. Planning applications, including environmental impact assessment where applicable, will still require to be made and assessed in the usual manner.
Reading through the national developments that are listed, there is a certain familiarity to a significant number of them… Overall, at least 11 of the 14 national developments identified in the Third National Planning Framework (“NPF3”), published in 2014, appear to have been carried over into NPF4. Questions must surely be asked as to why this is the case. On the one hand, perhaps it is because they are such long-term projects and remain of such national importance that they continue to merit inclusion. On the other hand, could it be argued that NPF3 was not the success that the Scottish Government hoped that it would be? Scope for debate perhaps.
With NPF4 being part of the Development Plan, delivery of housing takes its rightful place as a matter of strategic national importance. The housing policies stated in NPF4 will play a key role in the number of housing units coming forward over the next several years, not to mention the tenure of those housing units and the quality of build.
At a glance, a different approach to housing seems to be promoted under NPF4 (see Policy 9 of NPF4). In the first place, NPF4 is now where we look for the starting point for housing numbers. Local authorities are still to prescribe in their Local Development Plan the number of housing units that they will require for their area over the life of the Plan – the Housing Land Requirement. But now, the Housing Land Requirement for each local authority area is to be at least equivalent to the number prescribed by NPF4 (the Minimum 10 year All Tenure Housing Land Requirement (the “MATHLR”) set out in Annex B), with strong encouragement for a higher number to be adopted.
This is arguably the most significant change in housing policy in many years. The Scottish Government is perhaps hoping that setting these minimum requirements centrally will assist to avoid protracted debates over housing numbers. However, the Scottish Government is inviting parties to comment on whether they agree with the proposed MATHLR numbers contained in Annex B. A divergence of opinion as to the proposed numbers therefore remains possible.
We also see a difference in the language used to describe the supply of land for housing. Use of the word “effective” to describe the housing land supply, recently the subject of significant litigation in the Court of Session, appears to have been changed. The word “deliverable” is now seemingly being used in its place (“deliver” or “deliverable” appear 14 times in Policy 9). It is a subtle change but one that perhaps will bring a different mindset. “Can the units be delivered?” feels like a more direct question that “Is the site effective?” This is especially the case when read in conjunction with the change that sites should be viewed as deliverable in the short-, medium-, or long-term, with encouragement to alter course if sites are not coming forward.
Also significant is the approach being taken to Housing Land Audits and Delivery Programmes. NPF4 suggests that the role attached to these is more prominent, with local authorities expected to use these as tools to ensure that housing comes forward. It is understood that detailed guidance is to be published soon. As is so often the case, the devil may be in the detail, which this guidance may provide.
Strategic renewable electricity generation and transmission infrastructure are identified as national development. More specifically, this national development supports “renewable electricity generation, repowering, and expansion of the electricity grid.”
Electricity generation projects exceeding 50MW in capacity (i.e. section 36 consents) and electricity storage from renewables of this scale will be considered national development under the Hierarchy of Developments Regulations. Although this does not remove the requirement for significant and detailed assessment of projects (in particular environmental impact assessment), a presumption of need is made. The needs case may be a rebuttable one, however. Despite the general principle of support for renewables in Policy 19 of NPF4, support is contingent on the impacts identified (including cumulative effects) being acceptable.
Consultation in respect of NPF4 is now underway. The closing date for responses is 31 March 2022. This consultation is being run in parallel with the Parliamentary scrutiny that NPF4 is subject to. Anderson Strathern’s top ranked Planning Law specialists would be delighted to assist you with any representations that you may wish to make. Please contact us to discuss how we can help.
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