Scottish planning framework to focus on addressing climate change

Out-Law News | 30 Nov 2020 | 2:38 pm | 2 min. read

The Scottish government has set out its four desired outcomes for its fourth National Planning Framework (NPF4), with an overarching goal of addressing climate change at the centre of the strategy.

The government’s position statement for NPF4 sets out outcomes for what Scotland “could and should look like” by 2050, with the main outcomes of the framework being net zero emissions, resilient communities, a wellbeing economy, and “better, greener places”.

NPF4 will embed principles including the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and Scotland’s national outcomes within the NPF4. The framework is expected to be laid before the Scottish parliament in autumn next year, with further consultation before then on the final content.

The government said in the position statement (45 page / 851KB PDF) that it could not afford to compromise on climate change, and “some significant choices” would have to be made to meet targets such as net zero emissions by 2045.

Planning expert Gary McGovern of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said the outline of the direction of travel for NPF4 sketched out by the position statement was welcome.

“There is a lot to digest but it is clear that NPF4 will seek to ensure that planning plays a positive role in facilitating a green recovery and will be key to addressing climate change. There is also recognition that it entails a cross-cutting and consistent approach so that climate change objectives are embedded and integral to the planning system’s approach and response to all types of development,” McGovern said.

The position statement sets out opportunities to achieve climate change targets including building “20 minute neighbourhoods” with local infrastructure close to homes; a stronger preference for reusing existing buildings before new development occurs; supporting renewable energy developments; and expecting low and zero carbon design and energy efficiency.

Energy law expert Emma Reid of Pinsent Masons said: “The statement rightly places the need to address climate change at the top of the priority list for NPF4, acknowledging that difficult choices will need to be made if we are to meet our climate change targets.

“The expectation is that NPF4 will confirm that the global climate emergency should be a material consideration in determining applications for appropriately located renewable energy developments - that would be a very welcome policy change and not before time,” Reid said.

“The difficult decisions will need to be made in the coming months. One thing that remains to be seen is whether the policy balance will tip in favour of onshore renewables and against historic focus on local landscape designations,” Reid said.

Transport law expert James Gibson of Pinsent Masons said the statement emphasised the need to transition to lower carbon transport technologies if Scotland is to achieve its climate change objectives.

“Drawing on similar themes to the National Transport Strategy published by the Scottish government earlier this year, the statement also identifies the unique role of transport infrastructure provision in driving future development and investment across all sectors towards sustainable locations,” Gibson said.

“Plans for an ‘infrastructure first’ approach and more joined up thinking around how priority transport infrastructure is embedded into the appraisal and assessment of development proposals must be welcomed. However, this will need to be supported by tangible public sector investment in both the provision of new infrastructure and upgrading of existing assets if the outcomes identified in the position statement are to be realised,” Gibson said.

The government said it welcomed comments on the position statement by 19 February 2021 ahead of a full consultation later next year, although it said there was no need for stakeholders to restate points previously made through the ‘Call for Ideas’ stage of the policy-making process.

“It’s a shame we won’t see the fully fleshed out NPF policy until autumn 2021. Even allowing for the pandemic, that is a long delay at a time when we need to move with pace and purpose,” McGovern said.