The recent RTPI Scotland Annual Conference, sponsored by WYG, kickstarted a discussion on the emerging National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4). Entitled, “What do we want Scotland to be and how do we make it happen?”, it invited speakers to Scotland’s needs and how planners and the NPF can shape this.
In his Ministerial Address, Kevin Stewart MSP, Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning, set the tone by proclaiming that planning is not broken but in need of new ways of working. NPF4 will be radically different, he claimed, prepared collaboratively and with Ministerial involvement to inspire positive change and transcend a process.
Stefano Smith, WYG Planning Director, who has recently been elected RTPI Trustee for Scotland, then outlined the potential economic context, highlighting the aspirations of NPF4 and how it expands on the current (NPF3) framework, as well as asking what more the NPF4 should advocate.
The emerging NPF
The Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 requires that functions relating to the preparation of the National Planning Framework (NPF) by Scottish Ministers - and development plans by planning authorities - must be exercised with the objective of contributing to sustainable development.
The emerging NPF4 sets out a land use strategy for Scotland over the next 20 to 30 years. It is to be the spatial expression of the Government’s Economic Strategy and infrastructure investment plan, with a vision to make great places that support sustainable economic growth across the country.
Currently under NPF3, sustainable economic growth is characterised by four priorities:
The NPF also identifies national developments and strategically important development opportunities in Scotland, accompanied by an Action Programme identifying how to implement it, by whom, and when. Statutory development plans must take account of the NPF, and Scottish Ministers expect planning decisions to support its delivery.
The Planning (Scotland) Bill
Work to prepare NPF4 will follow the Planning (Scotland) Bill, which is currently under stage 2 consideration by the Scottish Parliament. Proposals within the Bill include incorporating Scottish Planning Policy (SPP) within the NPF. With the purpose of the SPP being to set out national planning policies for the development and use of land, this should help promote consistency in the application of policy across Scotland, whilst allowing sufficient flexibility to reflect local circumstances.
The Bill also proposes a review of the NPF every 10 years (currently five), with provision for amendments during that period to be set in future regulations, and an extension of the period of parliamentary scrutiny from 60 to 90 days.
The parameters for collaborative working propose that Ministers would be responsible for decisions on nationally significant issues and for the adoption of NPF. It is important, however, that Ministers are transparent about the grounds for deciding not to incorporate regional proposals. It should also be made clear that the NPF is not a spending document but would take into account and be informed by wider Government policies and programmes and would, therefore, ‘have clear read across to funding arrangements’.
What does this mean for NPF4?
The enhanced status of the NPF and SPP will play a key role in streamlining the planning process by removing the need for local development plans to restate national policy, focussing instead on places and development delivery.
Additionally, the move to a ten-year review of the NPF will provide for greater stability and certainty on the future direction of growth, enabling investment choices by developers and infrastructure providers to be made with confidence.
The way forward
Scottish Government confirms that, following extensive public engagement, NPF4 should be adopted in 2020, and that it will be aligned with the next Strategic Transport Projects Review Partnership. Collaboration and transparency will be key to its success, and Scotland is of an ideal size and scale to achieve this.
Wide and effective collaboration with regional partnerships, local authorities, and key stakeholders in the public, private, and third sector will be key to enable the new framework:
A key game-changer will be to generate cross-partisan support of an economic vision and model that is tailored for Scotland’s unique challenges and opportunities.
WYG welcomes the opportunity to continue to be part of this ongoing discussion on what we want Scotland to be in 2050, shaping the manifesto to inform the development of NPF4.