On 11 January 2023 the Scottish Parliament voted to approve the revised draft of the Fourth National Planning Framework (NPF4). It is expected the Scottish Government will formally adopt it this month. NPF4’s adoption will mark a significant change to the planning system in Scotland. NPF4 replaces not only its direct predecessor NPF3, but also Scottish Planning Policy, both of which were adopted in 2014.
Nationwide planning policy is now incorporated within NPF4, alongside descriptions of the type of development that are to be considered national priorities. The coming into force of NPF4 also ends the role of Strategic Development Plans in the Scottish planning system. Strategic Development Plans will no longer form part of the statutory development plan. Instead the statutory development plan for a planning authority’s area will now consist of its own Local Development Plan and NPF4. This is a critical change, because applications for planning permission must be decided in accordance with statutory development plan, unless there are material considerations otherwise.
Achieving net zero and the emphasis on local living and 20 minute neighbourhoods are key themes of NPF4, but although the principles are now approved there is still going to be debate around what these mean in practice. In their speech to parliament opening the debate on NPF4 the Minister for Public Finance, Planning and Community Wealth recognised that, for example in relation to 20 minute neighbourhoods “Scotland’s geography and population sparsity demands that the application of the template will differ according to the unique circumstances, opportunities and aspirations of individual places” and that further guidance would be needed.
Notably, under the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 the expectation was that NPF4 would be adopted for a 10 year period. However, the Minister also mentioned that the Government would bring forward regulations to allow changes to NPF4. Given the significant consultation that has gone into NPF4 with the call for ideas published three years before its parliamentary approval is January 2023, it will be interesting to see the scrutiny that changes are subject to.