UK: National Planning Framework For Scotland - The Final Version

Last Updated: 25 February 2009
Article by Murray Shaw

Introduction

A key element of the new planning regime, which is progressively being implemented, is the National Planning Framework ("NPF"). This document will be debated before the Scottish Parliament and subject to the outcome of that process the intention is that the principle of developments categorised as "national" will not be open to debate in an inquiry forum. This is therefore an important document.

  • National Developments
  • Economy
  • Population
  • Term Strategy
  • Regional Perspective
  • General Comments
  • Implementation

National Developments

While NPF2 contains a considerable volume of information in relation to the economy and population, possibly its greatest significance relates to the identification of certain developments as "national developments". As the document itself makes clear, it is not a spending document. However NPF2 "is closely linked to the Government's infrastructure investment plan and will inform the investment programme of public agencies and infrastructure providers. It is supported by an action programme, identifying how, when and by which agencies key elements will be taken forward". In reality therefore those developments identified as national will have enhanced financial support.

The criteria used to identify national developments were stated to the Parliament in September 2007. In essence, to be a national development a development needs to make a significant contribution to Scotland's sustainable economic development, strengthen Scotland's links with the rest of the World, help internal connectivity, make a significant contribution to the achievement of climate change, renewable energy or waste management targets, form an essential element of a programme of investment in national infrastructure or raise strategic issues of more than regional importance. These criteria were all alternatives though in fact some of the projects identified will assist in meeting more than one. The projects which have been identified as national developments are:

(a) the replacement Forth crossing;

(b) strategic rail enhancement in the West of Scotland;

(c) strategic airport enhancements;

(d) Grangemouth Freight Hub;

(e) Rosyth International Container Terminal;

(f) port developments at Loch Ryan;

(g) Scapa Flow container transshipment facility;

(h) new power station and transshipment hub at Hunterston;

(i) new non-nuclear base load capacity existing power stations;

(j) electricity grid reinforcements;

(k) Glasgow Strategic Drainage Scheme;

(l) 2014 Commonwealth Games facilities.

The annex to NPF2 sets out statements of reason in relation to each, identifying why each is in fact needed and issues which require to be addressed in bringing forward the proposals.

Economy

Regarding the economy, NPF2 refers to the economic targets set by the Scottish Government, namely:-

(a) to raise Scotland's GDP growth rate to the UK level by 2011;

(b) to match the growth rate of small independent EU countries by 2017; and

(c) to match average European population growth over the period from 2007 to 2017.

In that context NPF2 makes clear that it is the ambition of the Government to secure Scotland as the best place in Europe to do business and to be an ideal location for investment. To achieve that Scotland needs to be "well connected economically, physically, digitally and intellectually to the rest of the World".

Population

So far as population is concerned, NPF2 considers that Scotland's population will grow over the timeframe of the document to 2030 but will age markedly over that period, raising a number of issues. So far as population growth is concerned the largest increases are envisaged to be in West Lothian, Perth & Kinross, East Lothian, Aberdeenshire, Edinburgh and the Borders.

The consequence of this, the document anticipates, is a higher overall household growth rate than current projections indicate. It is noted that projections are based on an extrapolation of past trends and are therefore indicative rather than predictive. While the target of 35,000 new houses a year is not specifically referred to (this figure was set out in a previous paper entitled "Firm Foundations), NPF2 sets out an intention to secure a substantial long term increase in housing supply to meet need and demand. It is accepted however that the current economic climate will impact on the timescale for this.

Long Term Strategy

Regarding longer-term aspirations, NPF2 sets out a strategy for spatial development to 2030 which is: -

(a) to contribute to a wealthier and fairer Scotland by supporting sustainable economic growth and improve competitiveness and connectivity;

(b) to promote a greener Scotland by contributing to the achievement of climate change targets and protecting and enhancing the quality of the natural built environments;

(c) to help build safer, stronger and healthier communities by promoting improved opportunities and a better quality of life;

(d) to contribute to a smarter Scotland by supporting development of the knowledge economy.

Regional Perspective

As well as looking at issues for Scotland as a whole, NPF2 looks at the regions of Scotland and sets out a spatial perspective for each region up to 2030. This provides an interesting snapshot of the issues and opportunities in relation to each region. Of course, not every opportunity identified is a national development and the question which may well arise is the extent of funding available for many of the opportunities identified.

General Comments

The first NPF came out in April 2004 and was a document which received considerable acclaim and indeed awards for the way in which it addressed spatial planning. NPF2, which was laid before the Scottish Parliament on 12 December 2008, builds upon that document.

NPF2 is a substantial document running to some 80 pages or so. While the level of detail is useful in some respects (and indeed interesting), there are very real concerns that a document of this length is not capable of being fully debated before the Parliament. A number of commentators have suggested that the NPF should be a shorter, more focussed document.

NPF2 addresses a timeframe up until 2030. It very clearly reflects the views and policies of the current Scottish Government which, of course, is a minority one led by the Scottish National Party. For example at paragraph 152 it simply states "the Scottish Government does not support the construction of new nuclear power stations in Scotland. It favours the timely decommissioning and environmental remediation of redundant nuclear power stations and related buildings and recognises that sites will be needed for new waste management and disposal installations to support decommissioning activities generally".

While this view is supported by some other political parties in Scotland it is by no means a view that is universally supported and indeed puts the Scottish Government (not for the first time) at odds with the Westminster Government and indeed a number of respected bodies who see the need for a blend of energy supply if problems in the near future are to be avoided. NPF2 highlights the importance of renewable energy and contemplates the possibility of at least one major, new, clean coal-fired power station. Interestingly enough while new nuclear power stations are apparently unacceptable, extending the lives of existing nuclear power stations is acceptable.

NPF2 highlights a number of key challenges in the early part of the document under headings of "Economic Strategy", "Sustainable Development", "People and Households" and "Scotland in the World". Perhaps not surprisingly given other Government pronouncements the document makes clear that the "central purpose of the Scottish Government is to increase sustainable economic growth". It is notable that no detailed reference is made to the current economic downturn, though it is not clear whether this is a consequence of the timing of events or a view that the impact of the downturn will be, so far as Scotland is concerned, limited in time and impact. If so that view is one that is not apparently shared by a number of economic commentators.

So far as "Scotland in the World" is concerned, the language is less dramatic than that used in the previous draft which made reference to "an arch of prosperity" surrounding Scotland apparently made up of the economies of Ireland, Iceland and Norway. Ireland and Iceland have of course suffered significantly in the current economic downturn and that may be why language used in this version of NPF2 (which ought to be final version) is more moderate. Nonetheless links with European countries particularly the Celtic, Nordic and Baltic countries are emphasised. It is interesting to note that these links are commented upon in some five paragraphs while the links with the United Kingdom only receive two paragraphs.

Implementation

NPF2 does have a section entitled "Making it Happen". Somewhat disappointingly it is only six paragraphs, four of which deal with the planning process itself. There is to be an action programme setting out "how, why and by whom the national developments and other key elements of the NPF strategy will be implemented". This is to list actions, identify milestones, include means of monitoring and implementation and to identify lead partners and delivery bodies. Clearly this will be an important document in relation to the implementation of NPF2.

NPF2 has gone through a detailed consultation process. One obvious consequence of that is that the list of projects identified as national projects differs from that in the original draft. It seems unlikely that the document will change radically as a result of consideration by the Scottish Parliament or further comment by interested parties. Possibly the real significance in relation to NPF2 are the steps which will be taken to implement it.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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