2020 was supposed to be “a massive year for planning in Scotland”, with the continued implementation of the Scottish Government’s programme for reform.  The publication of the Fourth National Planning Framework (NPF4) was to be the cornerstone of that programme. Like most things this year, coronavirus put paid to that, and NPF4 will instead be published in autumn 2021.

In place of a draft NPF4, the Scottish Government has published a Position Statement, which sets out the “direction of travel” towards NPF4 and sets the tone for discussion as we move into 2021.  It focuses around four key “outcomes”:

  • Net-Zero Emissions
  • Resilient Communities
  • A Wellbeing Economy
  • Better, Greener Places

Unsurprisingly, the goal of addressing climate change features large.  Proposed policy changes include planning future development in a way that promotes zero-carbon living and reduces the need to travel by unsustainable modes of transport (promoting “20 Minute Neighbourhoods”); and accelerating a practical and outcome-focused approach to accelerating a transition to renewable and zero emissions heating in buildings.

The concept of the 20 Minute Neighbourhood has very much taken hold, and forms a key part of the Government’s policy proposals for creating resilient communities, reflecting a new approach to localism.  The detail of this key emerging concept is explained in more detail in here.

Importantly for house builders, the Position Statement recognises the essential contribution homes make to health and quality of life, and recognises that good quality housing is the “cornerstone of strong communities”.  There are some real positives, including a commitment to an infrastructure-first approach (recommended by the Infrastructure Commission for Scotland) and policies that actively support delivery and provide certainty to house builders and communities by providing good, shovel ready land.  However, those positives are tempered by proposals such as a stronger prioritisation of brownfield development over the release of greenfield land, and the “strengthening” of requirements for affordable housing provision.

Central to the government’s spatial strategy for better, greener places will be embedding the Place Principle throughout NPF4.  The “brownfield first” approach also features in this regard.  As does (again) the 20 Minute Neighbourhood.

The Position Statement is not a statement of policy.  It is an early indication of what we might expect to see in the draft NPF4, and a device for discussion and debate.  It is also not the be all and end all for housing delivery.  The final two pages of the Position Statement set out the collective approach that must be taken to delivering the four key outcomes, which will mean coordinating NPF4 with the Draft Infrastructure Plan, the National Transport Strategy, and the many other areas of planning reform such as Regional Spatial Strategies, Local Place Plans and Masterplan Consent Areas.

2020 was the year that did not happen for planning reform.  If Scotland is going to realise its ambitions, which includes good quality housing for all, 2021 is the year it has to happen.  In other words, 2021 must be “a massive year for planning in Scotland”.