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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Wednesday, January 11, 2023


National Planning Framework 4

The Presiding Officer (Alison Johnstone)

The next item of business is a debate on motion S6M-07442, in the name of Tom Arthur, on the fourth national planning framework. I would be grateful if members who wish to speak were to press their request-to-speak buttons now. I call Tom Arthur to speak to and move the motion for up to 13 minutes.


The Minister for Public Finance, Planning and Community Wealth (Tom Arthur)

I am delighted to open this afternoon’s debate on Scotland’s fourth national planning framework. We are in a somewhat novel situation, with Parliament having created a statutory role for itself in approving the final version of the framework without then specifying what that role should involve. Thankfully, we have managed to work it out for ourselves.

I was pleased to lay before Parliament the revised draft of the fourth national planning framework—or NPF4, as we all know it—on 8 November 2022. There was then more parliamentary scrutiny led by the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee, at which I and other stakeholders gave evidence. The committee has now published its report, and this debate represents the final part of the process. I hope that Parliament comes together later this afternoon to unanimously approve NPF4.

During the process, people told us that, although they broadly supported the draft NPF4, there was scope to significantly improve the policies, the practicality and, importantly, the clarity of intent of the document. I gave my commitment that the Government would take its time and consider carefully the views expressed by the Parliament and by everyone who responded to the consultation—and that I would make sure we get it right and return with a revised NPF4.

That is what we have done. I am pleased that the committee recognises that and welcomes the revised draft and the improvements that we have made.

We listened, we reconsidered and we acted on what people told us. In that, I warmly welcome the committee’s conclusion that

“It is clear ... that the Scottish Government has listened to the comments of the Committee and stakeholders”.

Yes, we did, and the revised NPF4 is so much the better for it.

I also welcome the committee’s intention to monitor delivery, and I very much look forward to continuing to engage with the committee on that in the months and years ahead.

Richard Leonard (Central Scotland) (Lab)

In light of the minister’s opening remarks, does he accept that there has been a substantial change between the first draft and the revised draft of the NPF in the way that wild land areas are treated, which moves away from a presumption against development in wild land areas? Can he tell us who has been lobbying him to make that U-turn, and can he give us clarity now on what that means?

Tom Arthur

I would, in the first instance, refer the member to the explanatory report that we published in November along with the revised draft of NPF4. It sets out in considerable detail how the consultation process led to the changes that we have made. What we have seen is a strengthening of the policy that is absolutely consistent with our ambition to put climate and nature at the centre of Scotland’s planning system.

The delivery programme that we published alongside our revised NPF4 in November is, so to speak, a first edition. It is very much intended as a live document, to be constantly actioned, reviewed and updated. It will play a crucial role in bringing together all of the actions to support NPF4’s delivery. It sets out an approach to governance, to new legislation and guidance, to facilitation of investment in development, and to the vital monitoring of progress that will inform future actions and subsequent iterations of the programme. I have already committed to undertaking the first review of the NPF4 delivery programme after six months, and then annually thereafter, to ensure that we get off to a strong start and then maintain the momentum throughout the lifetime of NPF4.

I also note the concerns that the committee heard about getting the balance right where there appear to be potential conflicts between certain policy areas. That balance will be key. However, in essence, is that not what planning has always been about—seeking to get the right decisions about how we manage and develop places to meet a range of policy needs? Those tensions are inherent in the very concept of planning.

Yet, if we are to deliver on this Government’s ambition to make Scotland fairer, greener and more prosperous, it is right that we prioritise key, national policy objectives through the framework’s policies. As I have stated, it was always our intention to put climate and nature front and centre in our planning system. Having listened to calls for greater clarity and strength on that, we introduce in NPF4 a new national planning policy number 1 to ensure that, in all planning decisions, significant weight will be given to the climate and nature crises. That new policy sets out our intention to ensure that positive action is embedded right across the planning system.

Fergus Ewing (Inverness and Nairn) (SNP)

The NPF4 refers to the fact that the A9 and A96 will be improved for reasons of safety. However, one word is conspicuous by its absence from the text, namely the sole word “dualling”. The Scottish Government has commitments to dual the A9 from Perth to Inverness and the A96, in my constituency, from Inverness to Nairn. Can the minister confirm that the absence of a reference to dualling in this planning document implies no dilution of that commitment and that it remains absolutely rock solid?

I am very grateful to Mr Ewing for the intervention. I am absolutely delighted to give him that commitment, on the record, here in Parliament.

Will the minister give way?

Very briefly. I have a lot to get through.

Fergus Ewing mentioned the A96 between Inverness and Nairn. Can the minister commit that the A96 will be fully dualled between Inverness and Aberdeen?

Tom Arthur

The commitments that the Government has made on dualling of the A9 and the A96 remain. Considerable work is being undertaken to ensure that we can deliver on those commitments.

It was always our intention to ensure that climate and nature were front and centre in our planning system, and we understand what that means for future developments across Scotland. NPF4 does not shy away from the hard decisions that we will have to make about our future, but it enables different opportunities to be realised that will transform our economy and society, such as the redevelopment of renewable energy technologies. NPF4 will support the sustainable growth of the renewables sector while continuing to protect our most valued natural assets and cultural heritage.

I welcome the comment from Scottish Renewables that recognises the revised draft NPF4 as

“one of the most supportive planning regimes for renewable energy in Europe.”

However, that does not mean any development in any place. Wind energy is not being supported in national parks and national scenic areas. Drawing on consultation responses, we have, as was touched on earlier, included a more explicit policy position on wild land, subject to an impact assessment and appropriate mitigation, management measures and monitoring. That also recognises that wild land areas are partly included in national scenic areas and national parks. Wider NPF4 policies also include protections for peatland, nature conservation sites and protected historical assets.

Another key objective of NPF4 is to help people live well locally in the future, by embedding the principles of local living and 20-minute neighbourhoods into how we design and create places and communities. I note some stakeholders’ concerns that that approach might result in the entrenchment of inequalities in neighbourhoods, but is that not what the current system—as well as much wider social and economic change over time—has inadvertently resulted in, particularly in many urban areas?

Our fresh approach to spatial planning will allow us to create places that have improved access to the facilities and amenities that people require in their daily lives and which support thriving, sustainable, healthy communities and protect and enhance our environment. The aim is to create more balanced, diverse communities and neighbourhoods.

However, I acknowledge the need for clarity on how the local living and 20-minute neighbourhoods approaches can be applied in rural settings. Scotland’s geography and population sparsity demand that the application of the template differs according to the unique circumstances, opportunities and aspirations of individual places.

Will the minister take an intervention?

Tom Arthur

I am afraid that I do not have time, but I am happy to take an intervention when I conclude the debate.

To support that important principle for new development, we will publish and invite views on new guidance on local living and 20-minute neighbourhoods.

It will take extensive collaboration and commitment across sectors to deliver NPF4. Local authorities are key partners. The strength of NPF4 is in connecting planning with wider work, through the place principle, which involves everyone. To aid that work, a new planning, infrastructure and place advisory group is being established to oversee the delivery and support the implementation of NPF4.

The committee rightly highlighted concerns about capacity and skills, and we are already acting to address those issues. Last April, I increased planning fees to provide additional resource for planning services across Scotland, and a further increase was implemented last month to support the assessment of applications under the Electricity Act 1989. I have been working closely with the high-level group on planning performance to explore how planning fees can move towards full cost recovery, in order to more accurately cover the cost of handling applications.

However, funding is only one part of the solution. I agree with the committee that

“all endeavours must be made to ensure that there are sufficient numbers of planners in place to deliver on the ambitions of NPF4.”

Work is already under way with the high-level group to enhance people resources and skills. The future planners project, which sets out a number of practical actions, is a good example of that. I am also liaising with the relevant Government ministers to ensure that planning features in the recently announced skills review and as part of our green skills activity.

I also note that, in its conclusion, the committee states that

“It is not satisfactory to simply assume that planning policy is now set for ten years and can be left as it is”.

I assure Parliament that no such assumption has been made by me or this Government. This year, we will bring forward regulations that will set out how we can make changes to NPF4 in the future.

NPF4 is not an aspirational document; it is a plan for action, to be proactively pursued and delivered. If approved today, and once adopted, NPF4 will form part of the statutory development plan and have a substantial influence on all planning decisions.

Should the Parliament give its approval to NPF4, the Government will move quickly to adopt it next month. I will first lay regulations in the Parliament to commence the provisions of the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 so that NPF4 becomes part of the statutory development plan immediately following its adoption. I can confirm that, prior to adoption, we will also issue transitional guidance to help to smooth the shift from the old system to the new one over the early weeks and months. In the coming weeks, I will also lay regulations and publish related guidance that will pave the way for the new-style local development plans that will sit alongside NPF4.

It is important to remember that NPF4 is one part of a wider statutory development plan. In all cases, NPF4 will be taken together with local development plans to form the basis of decisions, and decision makers will also take into account material considerations. With those intrinsic links between planning policy at both the national and local levels, the detailed reforms to local development planning, alongside NPF4, will set the arrangements for producing stronger place-focused plans and will reinforce the plan-led system.

There is no doubt that there is a lot still to do to turn NPF4 from good intentions into reality. Although much of planning is procedural and practical by its very nature, we risk losing sight of its purpose if we focus solely on its component parts. Planning is far from prosaic. It helps to form the very foundation of policy making. From it, all else flows.

Planning is undoubtedly about place, but it is also about people. It defines and enables development in every aspect of our lives. It informs the where, what and how of living, working and travelling. It plays a crucial role in attracting investment and in facilitating the type of development that we will need in order to build a wellbeing economy, and, by necessity, it deems what we should not do, where we should not do it and how to prevent undesirable development.

You must conclude, minister.

Tom Arthur

That last aspect is crucial to a country such as Scotland, where we are blessed with a rich and abundant natural environment and landscape. We have assets that are worth protecting and nurturing, and they will help us to effectively tackle the twin crises of nature and climate, while creating new economic and social opportunities for future generations.

Thank you, minister. I must ask you to conclude at that point.

In conclusion, the fourth national planning framework seeks to further our ambition for Scotland—

Minister, please conclude now.

—to be a fairer, greener and more prosperous country by changing how people in Scotland will live in the future through planning.

Please conclude, minister.

Tom Arthur

I am proud to move,

That the Parliament gives its approval, as required by section 3CA(1) of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997, to the draft revised National Planning Framework 4 laid in the Parliament by the Scottish Government on 8 November 2022, enabling the Scottish Ministers to proceed to adopt and publish the Framework in accordance with the provisions of that Act.

I call Ariane Burgess to speak on behalf of the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee.


Ariane Burgess (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

Thank you, Presiding Officer, for giving me the opportunity to contribute to the debate, in my capacity as convener of the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee, by underscoring a few points that the committee has made.

Today, the Parliament is invited to approve NPF4, but that should not be seen as the end of the process of parliamentary scrutiny. The critical part of NPF4 will be how it works in practice. Throughout the session, as a committee, we will continue to hold the Scottish Government to account on the effectiveness of NPF4.

Although we are yet to see the impact of NPF4, the committee welcomes the improved clarity and consistency in the document—in particular, its focus on the climate and biodiversity emergencies. It is clear to the committee that the Scottish Government has listened to the comments of the Parliament’s committees and stakeholders, and the minister and his officials should be hugely commended for their efforts.

Although this draft reflects a significant improvement on the previous draft, stakeholders have highlighted to us ways in which it could be further improved. Although the minister has been clear that this will be the final draft, we welcome his commitment to consider changes and updates following implementation. The test will now be in how NPF4 is implemented and whether it delivers its ambitions.

The committee welcomed the delivery programme that accompanied the draft. However, we had very limited time to consider it and, therefore, we welcome the opportunity to revisit the programme in six months’ time. We will also be closely scrutinising its effect throughout the parliamentary session.

Most critical, if the ambitions of NPF4 are to be fully realised, we need properly resourced and staffed planning departments. The absence of a sufficient number of planners is clearly the greatest obstacle to the delivery of NPF4. However, it is not just a case of having more planners; it is about having planners with the necessary skills—such as expertise in climate and biodiversity planning—to deliver on NPF4. I was therefore heartened to hear the actions that the minister is taking to ensure that there are sufficient planners in place and with the right skills to deliver on the ambitions. We will be closely monitoring that.

NPF4, as conceived, should have a transformational impact on Scotland. For that to happen, it should impact all aspects of life. If that is to be achieved, the Scottish Government needs to adopt a cross-cutting approach. The committee notes that, in Ireland, cabinet ministers must set out how their departments intend to deliver policies that are set out in their equivalent framework, and we would welcome a similar commitment from the Scottish Government.

The success of NPF4 is also reliant on how it is translated into local development plans by planning authorities. The guidance and regulations on local development plans must be brought forward as a matter of urgency. I would welcome an update from the minister on when we should expect to see guidance and regulations.

As I said previously, this is not the end of the process of parliamentary scrutiny of NPF4. We welcome the minister’s commitment to lay an annual report before Parliament, and we will scrutinise that report. We are also keen to hear from all stakeholders on their experience of NPF4 and the extent to which it is achieving its intended outcomes. In particular, we will be keen to hear from local communities about how they are able to shape the places in which they live through local place plans.

This is a much improved document and one that provides a sound foundation for shaping Scotland for the next 10 years. However, we have a long journey ahead to ensure that it makes the transformational change that it seeks to achieve, and the committee will closely monitor the effectiveness of NPF4 in making that change.


Miles Briggs (Lothian) (Con)

Without wanting this to sound like an Oscar awards speech, I start by thanking the clerks of the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee for their help and support during the passage of NPF4 through Parliament, as well as the hundreds of individuals, charities, interested parties and organisations that have provided incredibly helpful briefings and input in trying to improve NPF4. It has been a pleasure—I am sure that the minister agrees—to engage with all those people, who have a passion for our planning system and really want to contribute to the conversation on how to improve it.

From the outset, we, on these benches, have engaged constructively, and I welcome the fact that the Scottish Government has made many changes. I specifically put on record my thanks to the minister for the positive approach to discussions that he has had, which has been—sadly—a refreshing change from how the Parliament sometimes operates. Indeed, in recent years, we have seen limited outreach from Scottish Government ministers following the Bute house agreement and the formation of a Scottish National Party-Green majority Government. I hope that we see a change in that situation after this new year. I put on record my thanks to the minister for how he has conducted himself during the passage of NPF4.

We all recognise the importance of tackling both the climate emergency and the nature crisis through our planning system. However, from the outset, I have called for the housing emergency to be central to the development of the new NPF4 if we are truly to ensure that Scotland’s housing needs are met in the future. As Homes for Scotland says in its briefing, it

“remains disappointed that the housing crisis is not specifically mentioned”

and is

“concerned over the seeming lack of ambition”

in NPF4

“to address it.”

It is most likely that housing—whether private or social—will be delivered in spite of NPF4 rather than because of it, with underwhelming minimum all-tenure housing land requirements doing little to drive forward the number of new homes that Scotland requires.

To date, we have seen a lack of transitional guidance, which risks causing considerable unnecessary delay to applications that are already in the planning system and to decisions on those applications.

The fact is that the SNP-Green Government has failed to address Scotland’s housing crisis, which is making it harder for people to get on the property ladder and get the homes that they need. The Scottish Government’s latest housing statistics, for example, reveal that housing completions across all tenures in Scotland are still below pre-Covid levels.

Why does putting the housing crisis in NPF4 matter? Today, there are 28,000 homeless households across Scotland—32,592 adults and 14,372 children are registered homeless. I hoped that NPF4 could help to address that situation and could ensure that our focus is not just on the climate and nature emergency, but also on the housing crisis. I do not think that we have achieved that, which is disappointing.

Fergus Ewing

On the issue of housing, does the member agree that, although the content of NPF4 in respect of housing in rural Scotland is, to some extent, to be welcomed, it is still very restrictive and very caveated, that it is very difficult to build houses in rural Scotland and that there are strong arguments that rural Scotland—farmers, in particular—can do much more to address the housing crisis, which I think we all agree is a serious one for Scotland?

Miles Briggs

I absolutely agree with that point. A key aspect that needs to be addressed is that, given the additional costs faced by small-scale builders, many of which might not survive any coming recession, we need to look at the potential for more small-scale investments to be supported. I would like there to be a rural homes delivery agency to drive forward progress on the targets in the way that Fergus Ewing mentioned.

NPF4 has the potential to help to drive sustainable growth and deliver new jobs in key sectors, especially in the renewables sector, where we have seen a shift, which I welcome. However, I am concerned that the housing sector could be impacted negatively by NPF4, as Fergus Ewing indicated. I have outlined to the minister on a number of occasions my concern about future land supply. There is still no mechanism in NPF4 for fixing a land pipeline that is underdelivering if longer-term sites cannot be found to fill the gap. It is unclear how an underdelivering pipeline can or will allow further land to be found in the event that there are no deliverable brownfield sites.

I do not want to rehearse the arguments that I have made in relation to Edinburgh, but there is real concern that most development sites that we have in NPF4 and in local plans in Edinburgh are currently being used by viable businesses such as car dealerships. There are such businesses throughout the Seafield part of the city, which I represent. The sites in that area are allocated for housing, but there is no future development plan showing where those businesses are meant to go in order to allow those houses to be realised. Ministers must look at how that will be delivered.

Planning policy should be clear, concise and written in such a way as to not allow or result in misinterpretation. I hope that the minister has taken on board the key concerns that businesses have outlined in that respect. There continue to be concerns over a number of specific policy areas, including the inclusion of policy 27(d), which is unnecessarily restrictive and puts at risk future job creation. Although I welcome the comments that the minister made in committee about working to make sure that that policy is not misinterpreted, the guidance will need to provide clarity and must be sufficiently specific in order not to result in unintended consequences.

Tom Arthur

I said in committee that I would meet stakeholders. I have met stakeholders, including a large organisation that has many drive-through premises, and I have committed to my officials working together with their team to ensure that we get the guidance on that absolutely correct. My officials will—as will I—meet other representatives of sectors that are affected by the policy in question. I give the reassurance that we are actively taking forward the commitment that I gave.

Miles Briggs

I very much welcome that. To avoid unintended consequences of any policy that the Parliament introduces, it is important that the guidance does not result in a potential slowdown in the economy or in job creation. None of us would want that to happen.

We also want there to be a better focus in the planning system on the delivery of community projects and infrastructure. In Edinburgh, I have been campaigning to take forward the development of an urban greenway along the old Powderhall site. From the outset, NPF4 should have provided an opportunity to make it easier for communities to pursue planning applications for such developments. That has not really happened, and I would like there to be more focus on that. The minister said that he is willing to consider having more consultation on how we can transform that situation and give communities the opportunity to present their own plans for the development of infrastructure. I do not think that that has been captured in NPF4. The minister has touched on the issue and I hope that there will be more focus on it in the future.

The Royal Town Planning Institute Scotland and Planning Democracy have made it clear that we can deliver proper planning only by having properly resourced local authorities. I welcome what the minister said about planning departments and the funding of planners. However, the sad fact is that many planning departments are underfunded and understaffed at present, and their budgets have been allowed to be cut over many years. We can see the consequences of that situation. That must change, and I welcome what the minister said about that.

I do not think that anyone believes that the passing of NPF4 today will signal the delivery of the planning system that Scotland needs to meet all the challenges that communities currently face. The delivery of the plan will be possible only through system change, as the convener outlined in her remarks. NPF4 should be a key document that influences the Scottish Government’s decision making across all portfolios—most importantly, perhaps, the health portfolio—and that serves as a core for future policy development in Scotland.

The devil will always be in the detail. I hope that the minister will now work to deliver the critical guidance that industry asks for and communities demand, and that we can see the flexibility that will ensure that any potentially needed changes and fixes are brought forward as soon as possible.

Please conclude, Mr Briggs.

Although I welcome much of what has been changed in NPF4, it is not acceptable in its current form, and therefore the Scottish Conservatives will not support it at decision time.


Mark Griffin (Central Scotland) (Lab)

NPF4 is a vitally important document—not for Parliament or Government, but for the communities, local decision makers and businesses that desperately need long-overdue detail about how planning will work for the next decade.

I echo the thanks for the considerable input from stakeholders—especially the communities most affected by the planning framework—that has got us to this point, as well as for the work of the committee clerks, the minister and officials.

Organisations such as the RSPB, Homes for Scotland, Heads of Planning Scotland and Scottish Renewables have welcomed the significant improvements since the first draft. The revised draft delivered necessary improvements to structure and readability, and to the clarity and consistency of policies and the flexibility around them. As we set out at committee, the original draft was not the greatest. The committee concluded that

“there are still elements of NPF4 that could be improved”,

that a cross-Government approach to implementation is still found wanting, and that a decimated planning profession lacks a pipeline to deliver on the ambition in the framework.

We have heard reports that one of our higher education institutes will be ending its undergraduate planning programme, which will leave only a single higher education institute in this country with a planning school. If that comes to pass, that will put even more pressure on the pipeline of planning professionals.

Our most fundamental concern is that the framework does not do enough to tackle Scotland’s housing crisis. The fact is that we need to build more homes, because our housing crisis has got worse since the previous framework, not better.

We need to build more homes that are warmer, safer and more accessible for an ageing, changing population in which people are living alone in greater numbers. That needs to be done while balancing the views of local people and protecting our natural and existing environment.

Homes must be built in greater numbers, because too few have been built for years now. Under the previous Government, an average of about 24,000 homes were built each year by both the private and social sectors. Despite the Government’s ambitious affordable housing supply programme, barely 18,000 new homes a year have been built since the previous framework was introduced.

Miles Briggs

I agree with what Mark Griffin is saying about the numbers of homes, but the types of homes are also critically important. A freedom of information request by the Scottish Conservatives has shown that there are 24,000 disabled people on housing waiting lists. That is up from 9,700 in 2017. The types of houses need to change, and we have not really seen that in NPF4.

Mark Griffin

Absolutely. That is the point that I made about the changing demographics of this country. We have an ageing population of people who are living alone more and more, and we do not seem to reflect that change or the needs of our disabled population when planning the houses of the future.

The NPF4 document does not offer a great deal of comfort to the 180,000 households who are on a waiting list for a home or the 30,000 households assessed as being homeless or threatened with homelessness last year.

One element of the housing market is that, since the previous framework was approved, the number of homes that are empty on a long-term basis has grown by 12,000—so 12,000 more homes have been taken out of the property market. If we include second homes and short-term lets, we find that 3 per cent of homes are not being used for their primary purpose—that is, for people to live in—so we have to build more to compensate for that.

The lack of housing is an issue that my constituents in Central Scotland raise week after week. They see the connections when policies such as NPF4 are launched. They see that the housing crisis seems not to be given the recognition that it deserves. They see family homes lying empty. Homes that their sons, daughters, nieces, nephews or friends could be living in right now are going to waste.

Much is made of 20-minute neighbourhoods in the framework. That is an admirable objective, but my constituents want homes near their support networks and families, who can help with childcare or drop in with some messages or for a quick catch-up. That is what makes things easier for people and makes for a better quality of life.

When the revised draft was published, I asked the minister why the Government had dismissed concerns that the all-tenure housing targets are based on historical, secondary data, which was gathered through the housing need and demand assessment process. The process is not robust or evidence based. It is estimated that up to 86,000 households, particularly households of young adults who are still living at home but want to get their own homes, have not been counted. They might be concealed households, living in their childhood bedrooms, or overcrowded households, in a home that is too small for the adults who live in it. The crucial point is that such households are not counted unless they are both concealed and overcrowded. That leads to a huge undercounting.

It is estimated that about 1 million households are uncounted in England, so the problem is not unique to Scotland. However, it is a problem that we have not addressed. The Government asserts that the HNDA tool is the optimum tool at its disposal and that the minimum land requirement is simply a minimum, with planning authorities expected to go beyond those numbers. However, it ignores the fact that the numbers are treated as targets. The result is a lack of robust data, which means that inappropriate developments can be driven like a horse and cart through local development plans.

We will support the motion on NPF4 at decision time, but we are clear that it is by no means a finished document. We look forward to scrutinising the transitional guidance that the minister has committed to produce.


Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

This has not been independently verified but, if there was a prize for the most passionate and enthusiastic Holyrood planning minister ever, I think that Tom Arthur would get the award. He made a comprehensive and passionate speech earlier and I admire him for that, because this is a difficult policy area that involves myriad documents from all parts of Government. He has to try to bring all that together—his passion is needed to make that work.

The NPF process has been ratcheted up in the two decades since it was created. It has more weight and significance now, and the power that it gives to central Government is much greater than it was when the process began. I am cautious about that. I am not necessarily against the measures in the document, but I am cautious about the transfer of power from local communities and local authorities to the centre. It is good to encourage and spread good practice but, as a Liberal, I am anxious about approaches becoming statutory and centralised. Over time, we must check ourselves when it comes to the accumulation of powers to the Parliament and the Government. However, the significant weight given to the global climate change and nature crises is a significant change that should be welcomed.

To achieve what is wanted, we will need to have robust policy that gives confidence to not only councillors but planners to make the right decisions. They already face challenging decisions, so to add to their area of required expertise will make things more challenging.

That adds emphasis to the points that other members have made about the resourcing and expertise of planning departments. It is not as if the nature and climate crises have not been a factor for planners before, but the greater emphasis now requires greater expertise. As we all know, planning departments have been bedevilled for years by the lack of experience, constant turnover and shortage of staff. Some of the lead times for planning applications go on for ever, which does not give anybody great confidence.

The minister set out that he has a high-level group that will make some real changes, and difficult decisions will have to be made on full cost recovery, if we are going to pursue that. How can we make sure that we keep the best planners in planning departments and that they are not attracted to go off to work in construction companies, which often offer better pay than planning departments ever could? I hope that there is a change, because getting the 600 to 700 extra staff it is estimated that we require will be a big challenge for the high-level group to achieve.

After the statement in November, I asked a question about permitted development rights. The minister replied enthusiastically—as he always does—that he is making real progress on permitted development rights for renewables, particularly solar. I hope that, in summing up, the minister makes reference to the progress that he has made. He said that an update on progress would be available early in the new year. This is the new year, and it is early.

A business called Metaflake in Anstruther is keen to put solar panels of more than 50kW on its roof, but it has to apply for planning permission and pay extra business rates. Those are two disincentives. I know that the second one is changing, but that should not be the case. England has been marching ahead on the matter for some time. It has greater limits for solar across its policy areas. I hope that the minister will respond positively on that.

The minister is right when he says that planning is all about competing demands. It is about meeting various competing demands, but they are even greater now. Building homes on brownfield sites can often be expensive—let us be blunt about that. They are difficult-to-access areas, and perhaps land needs to be reclaimed or cleaned up. The environmental costs of that are not cheap.

Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

I take Willie Rennie’s point that it is difficult to build on brownfield sites. That is one of the challenges that I have found. Does he agree that we need to enable our laws to support local authorities to do whatever they can to address brownfield sites?

Willie Rennie

Emma Harper is absolutely right. The challenge is what we do. To be blunt, some of those sites require extra money, because they would not wash their face financially if it was left to the open market. Will Government funds be used to incentivise companies to build in difficult-to-build areas?

That includes flats above shops. We would have thought that those flats would be full of people. There is nothing to stop those properties being developed, so why are they not getting done? That is because that is difficult and expensive, and there are security issues. There are planning restrictions on the frontage of the buildings that mean that developing them is more expensive. Rather than putting extra burdens and requirements on them, what will the state do to incentivise that development to happen?

We will produce more documents like NPF4 for decades on end, but nothing will actually change.

You must conclude, Mr Rennie.

Willie Rennie

I have a lot more to say, but I will stop.

We need to review the document. The ideals are brilliant, and I embrace an awful lot of them, but the deliverability will be an awful lot more challenging. That is the message from today, and I am sure that the minister, with all his passion, will be able to deliver.


Paul McLennan (East Lothian) (SNP)

I am delighted to speak in this afternoon’s debate as a member of the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee. The committee has held numerous evidence sessions, received many briefings and held many individual meetings during the past year or so. I thank the minister, Tom Arthur, for the open and consultative approach that he has taken to get the national planning framework 4 to this stage. I also thank the chief planner, Dr Fiona Simpson, and her colleagues for their support, as well as my fellow committee members and the committee clerks.

We cannot overestimate the impact of NPF4 on Scotland’s economy and its climate. I am disappointed that the Tories are not supporting the motion, as the committee’s approach has been very collaborative. Willie Rennie touched on the point that NPF4 is a document but there are many policies around it, such as HNDA and the minimum all-tenure housing land requirement, which we have talked about. The committee is aware of the process and its role in that, and the minister is also aware of that.

One of the key issues is how all of that fits into the national strategy for economic transformation, which states:

“Scotland has extraordinary economic potential. Our natural resources, heritage, talent, creativity, academic institutions and business base in both established and emerging sectors are the envy of many across the world.

Every citizen holds Scotland’s economic potential in their hands. Our economic growth and prosperity over many decades has been the result of entrepreneurial, talented and motivated workers in every sector”.

NPF4 has to give us the right balance to enable us to fulfil that. It is important to note that NPF4 will raise the framework for local development plans. That is the next stage and, again, it will drive forward local economies.

The foreword to the strategy goes on to say:

“This strategy recognises the opportunities and the challenges facing Scotland. It sets out how, over the next ten years, we aim to deliver economic growth that significantly outperforms the last decade, so that the Scottish economy is more prosperous, more productive and more internationally competitive.”

It says that the Scottish Government will do that

“in collaboration with ... other partners, building on our strengths in sectors like energy”

and housing, as we have heard. It also says that we will look out for new opportunities in

“technology, space and decarbonisation.”

To achieve the objectives that are set out in the national strategy, we need a national planning framework that sits alongside it and will help Scotland to become a more prosperous and greener independent country, and NPF4 will continue to do that.

I want to focus on a few issues in the time that I have left, and the first is renewables. Yesterday, the Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport, Michael Matheson, stated:

“We are at a pivotal point in Scotland’s transition to net zero and the strategy charts a clear course for the transformation of the energy sector—one of Scotland’s most important industries—to 2030 and beyond. That transition must be achieved in a way that delivers for the people of Scotland to enable us to embrace the opportunities of a green economy.

This is a time of unprecedented uncertainty in global and national energy markets. High energy prices are impacting people, communities and businesses across Scotland.”—[Official Report, 10 January 2023; c 48.]

I agree with him. We need to have energy security and to grow the sector, and the NPF needs to be able to support that.

Earlier, we heard from the minister about the endorsement of Scottish renewables. Scotland’s rich renewable resources mean that we can not only generate enough cheap, green electricity to power Scotland’s economy, but generate a surplus and open new economic opportunities for export. I believe that NPF4 will allow that through its support for renewables.

Fiona Hyslop (Linlithgow) (SNP)

The member is talking about a very important aspect of NPF4. Will he acknowledge the work that the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee has done to identify and provide additional advice and push the Government to support the renewables sector a bit further? Only this morning, that was supported by Claire Mack, chief executive of Scottish Renewables, when she gave evidence to the Economy and Fair Work Committee, which is also taking a keen interest in the issue.

Paul McLennan

Absolutely. One of the key aspects of our consideration of NPF4 was to seek input from other committees such as the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee, and the minister has taken a collaborative approach. I note the endorsement from Claire Mack.

The other important issue that I want to mention is climate change. Part 1 of NPF4, which is entitled “A National Spatial Strategy for Scotland 2045”, states:

“The world is facing unprecedented challenges. The global climate emergency means that we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the future impacts of climate change. We will need to respond to a growing nature crisis”.

In his opening remarks, the minister talked about the importance of tackling climate change in moving that forward, and he also talked about biodiversity.

The NPF4 goes on to say:

“Scotland’s rich heritage, culture and outstanding environment are national assets that support our economy identity, health, and wellbeing. Many communities benefit from great places with excellent quality of life and quality, affordable homes. Many people can easily access high quality local greenspaces and neighbourhood facilities, safe and welcoming streets and spaces and buildings that reflect diverse cultures and aspirations.”

We have already talked about 20-minute neighbourhoods, which the document also mentions. I believe that NPF4 gives us the opportunity to deliver the change that we need.

On Monday, I met the Royal Town Planning Institute to discuss resource. The RTPI previously gave evidence to the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee and it sent us a briefing for today’s debate. It estimates that, over the next 10 to 15 years,

“the planning sector will have demand for an additional 680 - 730 entrants into the sector”.

That additional resource would support not only economic development in our areas and in relation to housing, but the renewables sector, which is incredibly important. I know that the minister is well aware of those issues.

One of the key things that the RTPI talks about is the need for the Scottish Government to

“provide additional resource and enhanced support”.

It wants to ensure that planning fees, which the minister talked about, are ring fenced and used to support planning purposes. It also wants the Scottish Government to

“increase planning fees to ensure they meet ... costs, or introduce a subsidy for planning authorities to overcome this shortfall”.

I know that the minister recognises the need for additional resource and is engaging with the RTPI and others on that issue.

The minister also mentioned the committee’s desire to monitor NPF4 on an on-going basis. We are discussing with him how we can continue to monitor it over the next 10 years. It is a working document, so how we will monitor it and work with the minister on it is an important matter.

The national planning framework 4 will help us to deliver a more prosperous, fairer, greener and more inclusive Scotland, and I urge all members to support it.


Alexander Stewart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I am grateful for the opportunity to scrutinise the revised national planning framework 4. These are challenging and uncertain times, and Scotland is facing challenges from many different directions. With an on-going housing shortage, with the nature of our town and city centres continually changing and with the reality of the journey to net zero becoming clearer than ever, there has never been a greater need for an effective planning framework.

There will, no doubt, be different opinions from members across the chamber regarding the proposals. However, Parliament will be in agreement about many of the stated priorities in the framework.

It is surprising that certain important aspects of planning are not featured in the revised NPF4 as prominently as they should have been and as we thought they would be. For example, a successful planning framework should be clearer about how it will improve the form of buildings as well as their function.

We can all agree that principles such as ensuring a just transition, promoting local living and revitalising rural communities fully deserve to be placed at the centre of this important framework. Indeed, given the importance of NPF4, it is perhaps disappointing that stakeholders were not given more time to fully scrutinise the proposals. Certain stakeholders, such as the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers and Heads of Planning Scotland, have even suggested that the process has felt rushed. Planning authorities need clarity about the direction of NPF4, but it is important that stakeholders are fully involved at each stage of the process and that they are given enough time to fully reflect.

That being said, I welcome the fact that the revised draft includes improvements compared with the original draft that was published in November 2021. Those improvements were made in response to an array of stakeholder comments, as the minister acknowledged in his opening remarks. I particularly welcome the addition of a delivery programme for the framework, although, as stakeholders such as Scottish Renewables and Homes for Scotland have highlighted, much more still needs to be done on that. The programme has been recognised by many in the sector, but we need to think about what is planned.

Heads of Planning Scotland is right to highlight that the current delivery programme fails to provide enough clarity on issues such as funding for local councils and partner organisations. For example, there is still uncertainty about the resourcing of local authority planning departments. That point has already been raised by a number of members and I have no doubt that it will be raised again before we conclude this afternoon.

Heads of Planning Scotland has also stated that there are still “serious concerns” about resources. That has to be looked at in the context of the current situation. Our Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee has stated that the issue appears to be the biggest obstacle to delivery of NPF4 and that clear assurances are needed from the Government on how things will be funded.

NPF4 states that planning authorities will be key stakeholders in delivering the framework. That is correct. However, as things stand, it is not clear whether departments are equipped to step up to the role, which is disappointing, and addressing the issue has only made some of the challenges more fundamental.

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has set out that the Scottish Government’s most recent budget means that council services will be at breaking point. The risk that that will have a knock-on effect on the delivery of any future planning framework should be understood. Going forward, the onus will be on the Scottish Government to ensure that successful delivery of NPF4 is not hindered by local government funding cuts.

I will touch on how the framework might affect small businesses, and particularly those in the tourism sector. The Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers has pointed out that the traditional self-catering sector is already facing an increased burden due to the introduction of the short-term lets licensing scheme. Policy 30 and the further restrictions that it might impose on the sector risk adding a further regulatory burden. That is not where we want to be when we are trying to support small businesses.

In taking NPF4 forward, the Government must ensure that it carefully considers how policy 30 will work in practice and whether the self-catering sector will be able to properly thrive. Members on the Conservative benches have made it clear that NPF4 must be a framework that protects the interests of local communities. It must deliver on housing and on environmental and biodiversity goals, and it must achieve that while ensuring that businesses have the freedom that they need to fully prosper. They need to survive and thrive, and the framework should be there to ensure that they do that. However, certain areas in NPF4 are causing businesses real concern.

To support businesses, the Scottish Government must ensure that local government is properly resourced. It must ensure that it listens to the feedback of all stakeholders and businesses. Clarity is important when it comes to communities, which want to see the process work. Communities across the length and breadth of the country have engaged with the process, but they remain concerned that there is still some way to go.

Although the Parliament will, no doubt, have a role to play in improving the framework in the future, communities should be placed at the centre of the process. That is an important idea behind the framework. As things stand, however, more work still needs to be done and more communities need to be listened to. When the framework is delivered, it must be community led and it must be delivered according to the priorities that have been set. We are not yet sure that that will be the case.


Fergus Ewing (Inverness and Nairn) (SNP)

I start by warmly thanking the minister for his unequivocal reaffirmation of the Scottish Government’s commitment to dualling the A9 from Perth to Inverness and to dualling the A96 in my constituency. That commitment is very welcome, so I look forward to his ministerial colleagues coming before the Parliament in a matter of weeks to flesh out the details of how and when that dualling will be implemented. In exchange for the minister’s commitment, I will support the motion, just to allay any frisson of concern to the contrary that might exist in the whip’s office. [Laughter.]

Seriously, though, I have caveats. Without in any way to detract from the good work that the minister has done, which has rightly been recognised across the chamber, I will raise a serious matter that needs to be looked at carefully—certainly in implementation of the framework, if not in the framework itself—regarding some of the detail in the wording. The matter relates to rural Scotland—its housing, farmers, crofters and land managers.

In the NPF4, which I read this morning—I do not pretend to be an expert—I saw references to aquaculture, forestry, and life sciences in rural Scotland, and there is a lengthy section on tourism, which is welcome. The document says that those are really important to rural Scotland. However, there is one glaring omission: farming. I could find scant reference to it. In fact, I could see that farmers were mentioned once—although maybe I missed mention elsewhere.

However, perhaps more important is that there is no clear statement that we value what our farmers, crofters and land managers do. They look after the land and our soil, they conserve water, they produce healthy food and they are the caretakers of mother nature. Before the term became common parlance, they were conservationists. They did not realise it, but they were, and have been for centuries. Furthermore, they have the collective responsibility for looking after nearly 80 per cent of Scotland’s land.

The first point that I make to the minister is that there should be high-level recognition that we value farmers, that we value the food that they provide for us and that we value the contribution that they make to food security, which we can no longer take for granted. With war in Ukraine, Brexit and global disruption, we cannot assume that everything will be on our plate and that everything will be on the shelves of every supermarket every day. The world ain’t like that anymore.

I urge the minister to consider stating those high-level commitments. That would show farmers that we care and that we value what they do—I think that, by and large, that is the case across the chamber—because farmers feel beleaguered, at the moment.

Miles Briggs

During his time as cabinet secretary with responsibility for rural affairs, Mr Ewing will have been aware of the need for new entrants to enter the sector, often to replace older farmers who leave farming. I feel that that issue has been missed in the national planning framework. Does he support calls for the Government to do more work on that?

Fergus Ewing

There should be a greater emphasis on that. To be fair, it is mentioned in the detail of the section on rural places, but I agree that more needs to be done in that regard, although doing it is not easy.

As well as high-level commitments, some detail is needed. When I was not a humble back bencher, but an important person like the minister, I sought to ensure that we could do what is being done in England. We should be able to learn from England sometimes. In England, there are permitted development rights for every farm to have up to five houses. There are, I admit, caveats to that, but why do we not have that policy?

The average net worth of an owner-occupied farm in Scotland is £1.4 million, and the latest statistics that I have seen state that the average net worth of a tenanted farm is £373,000. There are 50,000 holdings in Scotland, so those figures amount to tens of billions of pounds of capital that is sleeping.

Will the member take an intervention?

Fergus Ewing

I would like to, but I do not have time.

Why not put that capital to work by allowing farmers, crofters, land managers and estates to use their land more flexibly and with less difficulty? In rural Scotland, development is the Cinderella issue. I have learned that over the course of 23 years of struggling on behalf of constituents who desperately want to do something with their land, their lives and their property to benefit their families, but are all too often held back by pettifogging matters that are of microscopic significance.

To be fair, the policy makes some progress, but I think that the restrictions are far too complicated. A farmer can erect housing on their farm, but only if it is affordable housing. What about mid-market rental housing? If farmers want to diversify, they have to prove that that will not harm the farming effort. How do they do that, and why should they have to do it, since diversification adds significantly to the income of farmers, raising it from £37,000 for a non-diversified unit to £53,000?

I hope that I have got my point across to the minister today. Again, I thank him for, and note the collegiate agreement to, the commitment regarding the A9 and the A96. It might be that I will mention that issue again in Parliament, before long.

I am sure that you will, Mr Ewing.


Paul Sweeney (Glasgow) (Lab)

I rise to support in principle the idea of the national planning framework and what it is trying to achieve, but I cannot help but continue to feel that it is a bit of a missed opportunity, because a lot of what is described in it is not exceptionally different to what has gone before. In many cases, we see the same generalities; that is what worries me.

Although, on the face of it, nothing is desperately concerning, how the framework translates into local development plans will be the test of whether it is successful. That is where we still have great potential for NPF4 to fall flat, particularly given that the context is that it will be loaded on to planning departments that have already had vast cuts to their resources.

I am thinking in particular of Glasgow, which has had a headline budget cut of 10 per cent over the past decade. When that is projected on to the planning department, we see that there has been something of the order of a 60 per cent cut over the decade, because planning is the kind of back-office function that councils try to hammer first, in order to protect services such as social work.

I am worried that attempts to get the framework working will fall on fallow ground, in terms of resources. Although aspects of NPF4 are laudable, I worry that such things get hacked quite regularly by pretty canny developers. Within the national spatial strategy, a good example is the discussion of reusing vacant and derelict land, enhancing natural and built environments and protecting heritage assets. I declare an interest as a trustee of the Glasgow City Heritage Trust, and as someone who regularly spars with developers that are trying to destroy Glasgow’s built environment. The four definitions in NPF4 of what constitute permissible reasons to demolish a listed building are regularly abused and hacked by developers. I encounter that quite frequently.

Here is a good example. One reason is that a

“building is incapable of physical repair and re-use as verified through a detailed structural condition survey report”.

Those surveys are regularly produced by people who are in cahoots with the developer, who completely lack professional integrity and who will lay it on thick to justify demolition of perfectly salvageable buildings in order to maximise profit for the developer who wants to build something more cheaply. By doing so, they avoid incurring VAT at 20 per cent for renovation of the building, and instead incur 0 per cent VAT for demolishing it and building something new. That creates a perverse incentive. Frankly, there is a whole ecosystem of corruption around that, which militates against preservation of our historic environment. I am afraid that the four rules that are defined in the framework are so vague and loose that they are regularly hacked by pretty unscrupulous characters.

I encourage the minister to look at that matter in particular, and to engage to tighten it up. One example of how the system could be improved would be to ensure that surveys of buildings—on whether they are structurally capable of repair—are carried out by conservation-accredited structural engineers. Only two firms in Scotland are conservation accredited, but if that were made a statutory requirement it would immediately improve the integrity with which the process is carried out.

I sympathise with the point that the member is making about VAT and perverse incentives. Would he call on the United Kingdom Government to remove that perverse incentive?

Paul Sweeney

Absolutely. I regularly made that plea to the Chancellor of the Exchequer when I sat in the House of Commons. Certainly, there are other ways that the Scottish Parliament could address the issue. For example, I know that Historic Environment Scotland has been looking at ways to create an offset or VAT rebate scheme for buildings that are on the buildings at risk register. Perhaps there are targeted ways in which we could try to ameliorate that issue in Scotland.

An interesting proposal for a demolition levy—which Paul McLennan, a member for East Lothian, has been looking at—has been made by the Chartered Institute of Building. That levy could, at least, move the playing field the other way by ensuring that someone who wants to demolish a building would have to pay a fee. That would offset the perverse incentive. The institute suggests that the levy would raise a conservative estimate of £1.5 million per annum, which could supercharge Historic Environment Scotland’s heritage and place fund, for example.

There are things that we should be looking at. I encourage the minister to look at how we connect that suggestion to economic incentives and price signals in order to drive good behaviour and bake it into the standards that we set for local development plans. The provision of an overarching national framework, through something like a demolition levy, could help to reinforce what local authorities can achieve.

Similarly, that could be achieved through measures such as compulsory sale orders, as opposed to compulsory purchase powers, which actually represent a significant financial constraint on local authorities. They tend to pursue compulsory purchase only for buildings such as the Barclays complex in Glasgow’s Tradeston, where one of the minister’s predecessors, Patricia Ferguson, successfully protected the Beco building from Glasgow City Council’s attempt to demolish it about 20 years ago. That building has now been converted into Barclays Eagle Labs. The B-listed warehouse came off the buildings at risk register, despite the efforts of Glasgow City Council 20 years ago. That was done as a result of back-to-back compulsory purchase orders to clean up the messy ownership. There were 20 or 30 owners, some of whom were dead or living in the Virgin Islands or Cayman Islands.

In order to clean such situations up and get ownership packaged and transferred so that buildings can be developed, we need to start bringing such mechanisms into the system so that we achieve effective and positive outcomes and get buildings off the buildings at risk register. About 108 buildings in Glasgow are on the register. As we speak, there are 2,659 empty homes in Glasgow and, in the city centre, there are more than 3 million square feet of unused floor space and 450 vacant buildings, which is equivalent to the size of the Freedom tower in New York.

Glasgow city centre itself has the lowest population density of any city centre in the United Kingdom, with only about 30,000 people living there. Manchester city centre has more than 100,000. That low density introduces all sorts of problems when it comes to creating so-called 20-minute neighbourhoods. Therefore, to crack the issue, we need to get price signals sorted, which is where I think NPF4 does not connect properly. Although, on the face of it, the framework is good, we need to do much more to get price signals sorted, because there are so many perverse incentives.

I advise members that there is no time in hand, so members will have to stick to the time limits, including if they take interventions.


Ruth Maguire (Cunninghame South) (SNP)

As the minister said in opening, planning is not just about place but about people. The final national planning framework 4 makes it clear that Scotland will not compromise on the climate crisis and empowering communities. Although the document and this debate might not get much public attention, NPF4 is really important to how we live, work and play. It is a plan for the type of Scotland that we want to live in.

Welcome proposals in NPF4 include enabling more renewable energy generation to support the transition away from reliance on fossil fuels, while protecting national parks and national scenic areas and supporting emerging low-carbon technologies, such as hydrogen and carbon capture, and developments that unlock the transformative potential of offshore renewable energy. As the cabinet secretary laid out in his statement yesterday, the opportunity that that provides to grow Scotland’s highly skilled energy workforce and increase jobs in energy generation and the supply chain, while enabling communities and businesses to prosper, is vast and welcome.

Over and above protecting national parks and national scenic areas, which are, of course, very important, I am keen to see brownfield sites used for such projects, and I would welcome—as I believe would the majority of my Ayrshire constituents—the use of previously developed land that is not in use, rather than having new developments on land that is currently used for farming or leisure, wherever that is possible.

In the chamber, I have previously mentioned my constituents in Lylestone, who told me that they feel that they are in a David and Goliath fight with a company that is proposing to build a large solar farm on farmland next to their village. They expressed worry and anger about the fact that the company concerned was acting as though the project was a foregone conclusion. I sought and received reassurance from the Scottish Government that that is absolutely not the case, and that the concerns and objections of residents of the village who would be most impacted by the proposed development would be taken seriously. Impact assessment and mitigation remain vital to community wellbeing, and I note that NPF4 policies do not give a blank cheque to developers to build on wild land.

Community consent to large-scale renewables projects is important, and I think that there is more work to do in that regard, particularly around so-called community benefit. A few thousand pounds for a community council to distribute does not cut it any more, I do not think. Citizens should benefit from clean, green energy being produced.

NPF4 facilitates active travel infrastructure, low-carbon transport, and more green spaces, which is good news for the nation’s health and wellbeing.

Tom Arthur

To pick up on that last point, would Ruth Maguire welcome the introduction of a dedicated policy on community wealth building? From her part of the world, she will be very familiar with the tremendous work that is under way in community wealth building. Does she agree that that is a mechanism by which we can harness many of the economic benefits to come from increasing our onshore renewables?

Ruth Maguire

Absolutely. There is huge potential in that, and I welcome it.

NPF4 facilitates active travel infrastructure, low-carbon transport and more green spaces, which is good news for the nation’s health and wellbeing. We know that opportunities to be outdoors and active not only have a restorative impact on those with existing physical and mental health issues but can prevent ill health in the first place.

I note that, in developing active travel infrastructure, it is crucial to consider all users who will be walking, wheeling or cycling. The news this morning highlighted a shared space not far from us here, in Leith Walk in the capital, that does not seem to do that. That underlines the importance of meaningful consultation and dialogue and consideration of all citizens in developing our public spaces.

NPF4 adopts a planned and evidence-based approach to delivering good-quality and affordable homes that benefit communities. Good-quality affordable homes, as well as being good for health, support valuable local jobs. They are an excellent example of the wellbeing economy that we want to create. I note what colleagues have said about the targets within that, and I acknowledge that M stands for “minimum”. Evidence-based minimum requirements set an achievable starting point. I think that local development plans can be more ambitious, and it is locally that the knowledge about the scale and mix of housing that is required in our communities will sit.

A fairer and greener planning system can tackle long-standing challenges and inequalities to the benefit of all our communities in Scotland, the environment, and our economy. Better places will be an important part of our response to the strategic priorities of net zero, addressing child poverty, and growing a wellbeing economy that benefits all our citizens. Planning can also play a critical role in delivering the national strategy for economic transformation—and, again, the community wealth building that the minister mentioned.

At NPF4’s core lie measures that will reduce carbon emissions, tackle climate change, and restore nature while providing our communities in Scotland with sustainable, liveable, and productive places. It is time to get NPF4 in place and begin implementation at pace to the benefit of Scotland’s communities, environment, and economy.


Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

This fourth national planning framework comes at an absolutely critical time—2023 must be the year of transition and change, and of bold action to protect people, communities and our planet. Put simply, we cannot afford to waste any more time in making that transition. Of course, what we plan today could either lock us into climate pollution for decades to come or free us from fossil fuels over time.

It is therefore crucial that, for the first time, the climate and biodiversity crisis has been placed at the heart of the national planning framework. We have got a better strategy as a result, which will help us meet our targets on climate change and nature recovery in the years to come. It sets the groundwork. This is no longer a plan that prioritises only economic growth above everything else; our climate, our nature and our wellbeing are finally being considered on an equal footing in the planning system.

Critically, all planning decisions must now give significant weight to the climate and nature crises. Development proposals must minimise greenhouse gas emissions as far as possible, and they will have to contribute to biodiversity enhancement. This NPF is finally putting us on the right path. However, like previous frameworks, it of course sits alongside and in tandem with other strategies, including the strategic transport projects review, the biodiversity strategy and, of course, the new energy strategy that was announced for consultation only yesterday. Taken together, those strategies will chart the course for Scotland’s net zero future.

The NPF also sits alongside the fresh commitment that the Government has made to develop a net zero budget test to accelerate spending away from high-carbon and towards low-carbon capital projects. The picture here is that everything now must point in the direction of net zero, and NPF is a critical part of that landscape.

Let us consider energy policy in the NPF. We are in a climate crisis and we desperately need transformation. NPF4 lays the ground for significant expansion of renewables in Scotland. Onshore wind is the cheapest green energy source and it has a huge role to play in cutting emissions and our energy bills at the same time. Expanding our onshore wind capacity was a central commitment in the Bute house agreement. The onshore wind policy statement that was announced last year confirmed the ambition to install an additional 8GW to 12GW of onshore wind capacity, which would be a huge increase.

Scotland has an abundance of wind resources and this new policy will put them to use while ensuring that local communities and the whole country benefit from investment and green jobs. NPF4 will help us get there by transforming our planning system to facilitate the expansion of renewables while protecting our beautiful natural environment.

Paul Sweeney

Mark Ruskell is making a very important point. I want to ask him for more detail about district heat networks, particularly the potential for one building to meet the requirements by putting in air-source heat pumps but, in doing so, undermine the critical mass needed for a community district heat network. Perhaps more definition could be delivered in the local development plans to make sure that we do not undermine that potential and have a tragedy of the commons.

Mark Ruskell

That is a good point. I think that the member will be aware that the local heat and energy efficiency strategies that councils have been tasked to complete will be looking at that mix of installation of embedded renewables in buildings alongside district heating. It is an important thing that councils need to plan for at that level.

Development proposals for all forms of renewables, including solar and wind, will obviously be supported in the planning system. There will also be protection against inappropriate development in national parks and national scenic areas. All developments must minimise the negative impact on natural places, local landscape and wild land through improved mitigation measures. We are seeing an NPF that has been strengthened by a biodiversity policy that ensures that it pays attention to the biodiversity mitigation hierarchy and learns from a lot of the good practice that is out there. Developers must also minimise negative impacts on local communities and consider issues such as public access through the implementation of walking and cycling routes.

Those changes in planning have been recognised, in the words of the renewables industry, as “a remarkable ... step forward”. It is clear that acceptable renewable developments, in the right places, must be accelerated instead of being let to languish in the planning system for years on end. There is simply no time to waste.

NPF4’s success will be measured by what it delivers, not by what it says on paper. The review of the delivery plan after six months will be a critical checkpoint. To turn the vision into reality, we must support everyone who is involved in that delivery, as much in council planning departments as in our local communities. People must feel empowered to shape the spaces around them. We must also ensure that NPF4 facilitates the action that is needed to tackle the climate and biodiversity challenges. Those things do not need to be in conflict.

A number of members have mentioned the resourcing of planning authorities. That is an incredibly important point. Westminster also needs to understand the importance of renewable energy and to ensure that, in its planning systems, it is not approving developments such as new coal mines but is looking progressively at renewable energy sources such as onshore wind, which can make a lasting contribution to the UK’s ambitions to cut climate emissions and deliver energy security.

The Greens welcome this national planning framework. We welcome the scrutiny that Parliament has given it, and we welcome the progress and the action that are to come on the back of it.


Audrey Nicoll (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)

I am very pleased to speak in the debate in support of the fourth national planning framework.

I thank all the organisations that provided briefings for the debate, including First Bus, Scottish Land & Estates, Homes for Scotland, Scottish Renewables and others. For me, they were an extremely important additional source of reference. They also illustrated the breadth and reach of NFP4 in underpinning reform in our planning system so that we are positioned to play a key role in addressing the challenges of climate and nature.

The revised draft NPF4 reflects a range of changes that were made in response to the representations that were made during the consultation and the report that the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee prepared. I commend the committee’s follow-up report, which contains its response to the concerns that were raised about the original draft. I will come back to the work of the NZET Committee on NPF4 later in my speech.

I note the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee’s positive response to the significant improvements that were made in the revised draft: the new emphasis on climate and biodiversity, and the increased clarity and focus that that will offer decision makers. On the monitoring of NPF4, I am pleased to note the committee’s desire to hear from planners on their experience of applying climate change and biodiversity principles and the extent to which they have sufficient clarity and support to make their decisions.

The north-east is rightly positioning itself as a centre for energy transition. However, I believe that, to date, the debate on that issue has derived from an industry context. NPF4 now offers an important opportunity to refocus the debate on how our transition will impact our land use and development.

In my north-east constituency, planning continues to appear front and centre in constituent concerns and inquiries. For example, there is the transport infrastructure around the new south harbour that is under construction, which is featured in NPF4, and there are pollution concerns relating to an energy-from-waste plant that is under construction. Perhaps the biggest issue is the inclusion of a community green space for development in the Aberdeen City local development plan that is likely to be the subject of a future renewables planning application. Those are all significant projects, and they all are within metres of some of the lowest-standard council housing in the city.

Therefore, it is no surprise that local folk feel that, to date, there has been little evidence of a planning system that supports

“our quality of life, health and wellbeing”,

enables community benefit for everyone, and improves and strengthens

“the special character of our places”.

Those descriptors were included as suggested questions in the Scottish Government guidance for community events on NPF4 in order to stimulate thinking about how the planning system might be delivered.

Planning really matters to our communities—as others have highlighted—to our businesses, to public services and to the future wellbeing and prosperity of generations to come. I welcome the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee’s view that

“For NPF4 to succeed it is critical that communities are not only engaged in the planning process, but that their ambitions for the areas in which they live are realised. ”

Paul Sweeney

Does the member agree that the lack of accessibility of the planning system is a massive impediment? There are often huge, very complex documents to digest, and the onus is on communities to organise themselves to deal with all of that in fleeting moments. Does she agree that we need to look at making the process more accessible for communities?

Audrey Nicoll

Yes, I agree 100 per cent. I thank the member for his intervention. I totally agree with that, and I have had a lot of contact with constituents who have had that very experience. I wholly welcome anything that makes the process more accessible.

I am sorry—I have lost my place. As I said, those significant projects are all within metres of some of the lowest-standard council housing in the city. Therefore, it is no surprise that people feel developed on.

Earlier this week, the Scottish Government published its “Draft Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan—delivering a fair and secure zero-carbon energy system for Scotland”, which outlines Scotland’s transition away from fossil fuels. In its briefing, Scottish Renewables outlines that NPF4 provides a key opportunity to deliver a net zero-driven planning system that will support Scotland in reaching its net zero target while also supporting low-carbon investment, caring for our environment and, importantly, reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.

I will pick up on the point made by the NZET Committee about the delay and churn that are associated with the fact that applications take too long, which potentially puts projects at some risk. I have raised that issue in the chamber in the past, and I will monitor it closely going forward, so I am interested in any comment that the minister has on that.

You need to conclude.

I welcome the draft NPF4, and I look forward to hearing the minister’s response to the issues that are raised in the debate.


Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

It is an absolute pleasure to take part in the debate today. The very fact we are having the debate is down to amendments for which I was responsible and which were voted through during the passage of the Planning (Scotland) Bill in the previous parliamentary session. Members might do well to reflect on the fact that, if that bill was going through Parliament now, I do not think that those amendments would get through. However, it is good that they did.

Kevin Stewart was the minister responsible for the bill, and it was certainly a stressful time for him. We ended up with a bill that was better than it was at the start, although it was not perfect, and I think that that is where we are today with NPF4.

The first draft NPF4 was flawed in many ways. The final version is better, although it still has some holes in it. However, we have in Tom Arthur—for whom I have a lot of time—a minister who has listened and made changes for the better. Any minister who does that should be praised, and I do praise him, but in planning, as he knows, we can never please everyone.

I will start with the good bits. I strongly believe that the planning system has not been robust enough when it comes to protecting the environment, particularly in three areas: woodland, wild land and the green belt. Wording matters when it comes to planning policy, and woolly wording provides developers and landowners with loopholes that they can exploit. Paul Sweeney made reference to that. The first draft of NPF4 would have made it too easy for woods to be erased and for wild land to be built on.

I met the John Muir Trust and the Woodland Trust—of which I am a member—to discuss what we could propose to the minister to make the wording better. We came up with something, and I sent the wording to Mr Arthur. Mr Briggs and I then had a virtual meeting with him and one of his officials. I heard nothing after that, but the revised draft is considerably better and people are generally happy, because the wording is better than it was.

However, policy 6c is an example of the woolly wording that I referred to. It says:

“Development proposals involving woodland removal will only be supported where they will achieve significant and clearly defined additional public benefits in accordance with relevant Scottish Government policy on woodland removal.”

Canny developers will be able to argue that their fantastic scheme with footpaths and swing parks will achieve just that, when it will not.

Fergus Ewing

Does Mr Simpson acknowledge that forestry operations, including those relating to felling and planting, are very much controlled by forestry standards, which are not part of the planning system and ensure good practice, and that the ills that were committed in the 1980s relating to misplanting and so on cannot take place now? NPF4 does not set out to control the mischief that he is arguing exists; it is not the responsibility of NPF4 to do that.

Graham Simpson

I am sure that Mr Ewing is right, but I was referring not necessarily to forests but to areas of woodland, which are slightly different.

The policy goes on to say:

“Where woodland is removed, compensatory planting will most likely be expected to be delivered.”

Most likely? That is pretty meaningless and, in any case, compensatory planting will never be the same as what was there previously. The wording is better, but it is still not quite good enough for me.

The references to wild land are much better, and policy 8 on green belts looks pretty robust. However, in relation to Fergus Ewing’s earlier point about farmers, it should not be the case, as it is at the moment, that farmers have to pretend that new houses are being built for workers in order to get them built.

The planning system can play a huge role in helping to drive down emissions, and I note the gushing response of Scottish Renewables to Mr Arthur’s offering, but I will never agree with the Scottish Government’s view that nuclear should play no part at all in that.

Miles Briggs and others have mentioned the lack of policies to deliver enough housing of the right quality in the right places. A big debating point has been around targets, how to set them and how to ensure that they are then delivered. I have to agree with the house-building industry that there are flaws in NPF4, which will not deliver enough housing. As the RTPI has said, it is vital that enough resources are provided, because councils will have to deliver on all this.

The Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 introduced 49 unfunded duties on councils. Those duties could cost up to £59 million over 10 years to implement, but councils are not being given the money. How on earth are they meant to deliver all Mr Arthur’s exciting policies if they do not have enough planners? The NPF4 is good, but it could be better.


Katy Clark (West Scotland) (Lab)

The way in which we use land and the type of development that we allow are vital matters for all communities. The questions of whether we have industrial development, whether we build houses and how we construct them, and the issues around the demise of our town centres, the continuing closure of high-street department stores and the expansion of out-of-town shopping centres, are all affected by the decisions that we make here and the detail of NPF4 and local development plans. As has been said, the process transfers power from communities and local councils, so we need to get the detail right.

This is an important debate, not least because the planning system is imbalanced and communities do not have the same rights as developers to appeal planning decisions. As has been said many times in the debate, the resources that developers have create an imbalance also. A number of community campaigns with whom I have been meeting attempt to consider hundreds of pages of documents in order to respond to proposals that affect their communities. Hundreds of community and environmental groups back the campaign for equal rights of appeal, which are still absent from planning law in Scotland. That is an important aspect of the debate. I therefore welcome the repeated comments by the minister, the convener of the committee and many others about the importance of engagement and consultation.

Like many others in the chamber, I have spent literally hours with campaigns, community organisations and individuals in trying to get their voices heard in the planning process. Sometimes, they have been successful with their campaigns. I listened with interest to what Mark Ruskell and Ruth Maguire said in relation to planning applications for renewables, because one of the local community campaigns that was successful focused on the proposal for the Rigghill wind farm near Skelmorlie, which almost every part of the community for many miles around opposed and which took many years to defeat. Most of us would agree that it is only when constituents have something happen near them that they begin to realise the importance of the debate that we are having today, NPF4, the local development plans and all the work that goes into those documents and how they affect people’s lives.

I welcome the fact that the Government has looked again at the initial proposals that came forward. All the representations that have been made say that considerable improvements have taken place in the documents that we are considering today. However, much needs to be done to improve our planning process. Several references have been made to the cuts to staffing levels in planning departments, which is a real issue that affects councils up and down the country. The real-terms cuts to local government core revenue budgets will obviously not help in ensuring that adequate resources are put in place around the issues.

We all know that we are in the midst of a housing crisis. At any time in this country, an estimated 112,000 properties are unoccupied, nearly 30,000 of which have been empty for more than a year, and more than 130,000 people are homeless or on housing waiting lists. Homes for Scotland has pointed out that

“There is still no mechanism for fixing an under-delivering land pipeline if longer-term sites cannot come forward to fill the gap”.

I know that a different approach exists in England, where there are proactive attempts to get building in certain places. Given that we are talking about local development plans that are set to last for another 10 years, the position that we are in is concerning. We need to seriously consider how we can intervene to ensure that land is available for housing development where it is needed. That is the case in areas where we have brownfield sites and on islands such as Arran, where a shortage of land for housing is a major problem.

It is welcome that the Government has made changes to the draft NPF4. I note everything that has been said about the incorporation of climate change and environmental standards, which must, of course, dictate the operation of the planning regime. However, we must also consider how we ensure that the voices of individuals and communities are far stronger in planning processes and that it is not a top-down system that does not reflect what communities say. Communities often know what is best for their locality, and we must ensure that they have a strong voice in the process.

As we move forward with the framework and the local development plans, we must consider how we can ensure that the voices of individuals and communities are heard strongly when individual decisions are made.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

The final speaker in the open debate will be Emma Harper. We will then move to the closing speeches, for which everybody who has participated in the debate will be expected to be in the chamber.


Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

I am pleased that we are having this debate on national planning framework 4, which clearly focuses on empowering communities to make change, and I support the motion.

The revised draft NPF4 lays out sustainable policies to guide Scotland’s net zero planning approach for the next decade. I have been actively involved in NPF4 in two specific areas, which I will focus on in my speech: vacant, abandoned and derelict sites, especially in our rural towns, and permitted development rights. The minister has been very supportive of my position on both of those matters.

I will turn first to vacant, abandoned and derelict sites, which is an issue that I brought to Parliament’s attention just before the recess. The legacy of Scotland’s industrial past means that almost a third of the Scottish population currently live within 500m of a derelict site. There are 11,000 hectares of derelict land, which is equivalent to 9,000 football pitches. The Health, Social Care and Sport Committee took evidence on the fact—research shows this—that living near an eyesore or a blighted or derelict site affects the mental health of a community, so the benefits of addressing derelict sites are obvious. The Scottish Land Commission says that heels are being dragged when it comes to bringing about the change that is needed. It also says that the task of addressing derelict sites has been dumped on the “too difficult” pile. It is interesting that the commission believes that the issue is seen as being too big, too complex and too expensive to fix. That simply isnae true. We need to stop telling ourselves that it cannot be done, and we need to recognise that transforming derelict sites is a massive opportunity.

Paul Sweeney

As 1,000 of the football pitches that Emma Harper mentioned are in Glasgow, it is a big issue for my city, for sure. Does she agree that we need to look at ways in which we can communicate to the owners of such sites the negative way in which they transmit blight to a community? Perhaps we could do that through a punitive rates charge, for example, so that such owners are forced to do something with the site or sell it on to someone who will.

Emma Harper

Paul Sweeney makes a great point. I will come on to issues around owners.

Many proposals in NPF4 make reference to policies that will address derelict sites, such as incentivising brownfield regeneration, including for derelict sites, which will allow brownfield sites to be transformed into housing, community spaces or whatever the community chooses. I can give two examples of regeneration: the Clyde gateway project, which the minister visited recently, and Cunninghame Housing Association’s transformation of the vacant primary school in Lockerbie into a community hub. I would be happy to facilitate a visit by the minister there, too.

The revised NPF4 makes it clear that Scotland will not compromise on the climate crisis and empowering communities. We have many derelict sites in Dumfries and Galloway and in the Scottish Borders, such as the George hotel and the east pier in Stranraer, the Interfloor/Gates factory in Dumfries, the Central hotel in Annan, the Mercury hotel in Moffat and the N Peal and Glenmac buildings in Hawick, as well as many others. In trying to address those sites, I have faced numerous challenges with the owners and local authorities. Councils respond to me by saying that they have limited powers, and it is hard even to elicit a response from registered owners. One of the challenges is in figuring out what we can do about that.

I want to highlight what local authorities can do, and then I will show how that is enhanced by NPF4. Local authorities can issue a waste land notice that requires an owner or a responsible person to take specific action on a site. If the responsible person refuses, the local authority can carry out the work itself and claim back the cost from the owner under the Town and Country (Planning) (Scotland) Act 1997. Under the Building (Scotland) Act 2003, councils can issue a dangerous buildings notice. Additionally, the local authority or community can make a compulsory purchase of a building or land under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. Those are not unsubstantial powers, and the Government is committed to introducing compulsory sale orders in the future.

Miles Briggs rose—

Emma Harper

I do not think that I have time to take an intervention from Mr Briggs. I am sorry.

NPF4 will be powered through significant public and private investment, with cross-Government co-operation. It will identify funding streams through the infrastructure investment plan and the place-based investment programme. It will open up the possibility of local authorities and private investors accessing funding streams, which could allow the transformation of our derelict brownfield sites. That is welcome, but I ask the minister to clearly communicate with local authority and private sector partners regarding what the funding possibilities are and how NPF4 can transform our derelict sites.

I will turn briefly to permitted development. I welcome the fact that NPF4 will address a legal loophole that has caused numerous issues in my region. Shooting activity, including shooting using high-velocity weapons of up to 50 calibre, is currently allowed to take place without planning permission because permitted development rights are used. Permitted development rights for class 15 of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Scotland) Order 1992 allow the temporary use of land for a different purpose for up to 28 days in a calendar year, other than as a caravan site or an open-air market. The 28-day rule has been capitalised on for a range of shooting activities. I thank the minister for listening to me on that matter and for the commitment in NPF4 that permitted development will be reformed. I look forward to seeing progress on that.

NPF4 marks a turning point in Scotland’s planning system and a boost to our just transition journey. It is time to get NPF4 in place and begin implementation.

We move to closing speeches.


Mark Griffin

In my opening speech, I said that NPF4 is not the finished product. I made it clear that we will give our approval at decision time but will look for the minister to make good on his commitments to deal with the issues that we feel are outstanding. We still do not have the confidence that we should have that the framework will be enough to end the housing crisis that is gripping our country, which is particularly affecting young people, who are largely ignored by the HNDA figures. We think that fewer starter homes that families can rent or purchase as their first home will be built as a result of their being ignored in those figures.

In his speech, Miles Briggs alluded to the fact that, this morning, the Royal Town Planning Institute Scotland issued its verdict on NPF4. It welcomed the framework but said that success depends on there being planners to do the job and that new resources to support the delivery of NPF4 are required, and it gave the stark reminder that planning department staff have been cut by a third since 2009. Speaker after speaker in today’s debate has hammered home the fact that those cuts have consequences.

The waiting time for the processing of major housing development applications, of which there are not enough to tackle our housing crisis, was an average of 54.3 weeks last year. That number has spiralled in a way that is probably inversely proportionate to the number of staff we have in local authorities to deal with applications.

The institute says that planning authorities are overstretched and that

“significant upskilling of the planning workforce”

is needed. It says that the delivery programme, which is still wanting and needs to be made fit for purpose, should include

“a comprehensive skills and resource strategy”.

According to the RTPI’s research, the profession already has a stretched pipeline and more than 680 entrants into the sector will be needed over the lifetime of the new framework. Given the 49 unfunded duties for local authorities, which could cost almost £60 million over the same period, planning departments are creaking at the seams. That will have a huge impact on the delivery of many laudable ambitions that we support and would like to come to fruition.

I have asked the minister about that in the past. He told me that he is working closely with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and Heads of Planning Scotland to make sure that there is a common understanding of the pressures that planning services face. Fees have increased, but it is the opinion of planners that they do not stretch far enough.

I echo the points that were strongly made by a number of members about progress on promoting and protecting our natural environment. The extent of nature depletion in Scotland over recent decades has been frightening, so it is right that priority is given to the nature and climate crises throughout the document.

Many speakers welcomed measures in that regard. The RSPB has also welcomed the measures and thinks that the framework can deliver positive effects on biodiversity. However, the RSPB has outstanding concerns about a key area: the wording of policy 4(b), which relates to European sites. If the issue is unresolved, the RSPB thinks that there could be significant risks for our most important protected sites for nature; it thinks that the wording should be tightened.

I have had representations from West Lothian Council, which expressed concern that its local nature reserves, which have statutory designation under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, are not included. Given that such sites will be key nodes in the make-up of nature networks and delivery of the 30 by 30 target, that should be rectified.

The proposed natural environment bill presents an opportunity to bring in a legal requirement to enhance biodiversity. In England, the Environment Act 2021 has established targets and created a step change in attitudes to and action for biodiversity in planning and construction.

As I said, NPF4 is by no means a finished product. There are outstanding issues to do with guidance and monitoring and there is a need for a proper delivery plan and resources. Scottish Labour will approve the framework at 5 o’clock, but we look to the minister to deliver on his commitment to deal with the outstanding issues. He has his work cut out.


Douglas Lumsden (North East Scotland) (Con)

I thank all members for an interesting debate. I also thank the organisations that emailed helpful briefings to all members over the past couple of weeks.

I congratulate the minister on two things. First, it is obvious that he listened to concerns about the previous draft and came back with an improved version. The revised draft is better, but it still falls short in key areas, as we heard from previous speakers. Secondly, I congratulate him on his foreword to NPF4, where he admits that planning is “fully devolved” but says that everything would be better if we were independent, thereby showing, in black and white, that this SNP-Green devolved Government will take any topic and try to turn it into an independence debate.

Emma Harper rose—

Douglas Lumsden

I first encountered NPF4 as a council leader at COSLA, where many concerns were raised. To be fair, it is heartening to see that many of those concerns have been addressed.

I agree with Graham Simpson that the planning system has not been robust enough when it comes to protecting the environment and that there remains a disconnect between local communities and residents, and our planning system. I recognise that the NPF4 attempts to bridge that gap, but only time will tell whether it will be successful or not.

I welcome the fact that the minister will come back with details on how 20-minute neighbourhoods can work in rural areas. It is too simplistic to ask communities to abandon their cars and move to public transport when no public transport is available, or when there is, it is unreliable, slow and often uncomfortable. Roads will still be important.

Does Douglas Lumsden have any idea what a 20-minute neighbourhood is? Because I do not.

Douglas Lumsden

The member raises a very good point. I hope that we will find out more when the minister responds.

As Fergus Ewing once said, we should be anti-emission, not anti-car. I welcome the fact that the minister said that his Government is committed to fully dualling the A9 and A96. I remind him that the commitment was to fully dual by 2030. Like Fergus Ewing, I will remind the minister and his colleagues about that commitment. I note that The Press and Journal is reporting today that the free ports will be in the Forth and in Cromarty, so the A96 dualling will be vital for the north-east.

One place we will not need a road to is drive-throughs, because it seems that the devolved Government wants to ban drive-throughs. Once again, the junior partner in this coalition of chaos is pulling the strings. The ban seemed to come from left field, with no opportunity for the affected businesses to give comment, because the policy had never appeared before.

Will the member give way?

Douglas Lumsden

No, I will not.

The minister may not like drive-throughs, but they bring jobs, pay rates, bring investment and provide a service, so the policy is just plain wrong. I welcome the minister’s earlier comment about a potential U-turn, but we should not be in this situation.

Tom Arthur

I am conscious of the reports following the publication of the revised draft of 8 November. To be categorical and absolutely clear, there is no ban on drive-throughs. I have been very grateful for the opportunity to meet representatives of the sector, and my officials and I will be undertaking work with the sector to make sure that the transitional guidance and the guidance on local development plans are clear.

Douglas Lumsden

As I said, I welcome that, but surely we should not be in a situation where many organisations feel that a ban is coming. I hope that the minister can clear that up.

I agree that we should have a town centre-first approach, but I am concerned that the framework will make it hard for businesses such as garden centres that need to be out of town to be granted permission. Time will tell on the interpretation, but I would have liked to see guidance issued on what out-of-town development will be permitted.

Will the member give way?

Douglas Lumsden

I do not have time; I am sorry.

Another area of concern is housing. I have been a member for 20 months now, and housing is a topic that comes up time and again. We have a housing crisis, but this Government continually misses its housing targets. We need to build good-quality, affordable and energy-efficient homes, and we need to build them faster, but to do that we need land to build on. I do not see enough in the framework to solve our housing crisis.

As Miles Briggs told us, there are 28,000 homeless households, and Mark Griffin said that the actual number could be a lot higher. Miles Briggs also pointed out that land that is earmarked for housing is occupied by car dealerships and the like. Where will those businesses be sent?

Willie Rennie and Emma Harper mentioned brownfield site issues. It is not easy to develop on those sites, and it is expensive. What incentives or, as was also pointed out, penalties may be put in place to encourage those developments?

I was up on my feet earlier attempting to intervene. We have talked about derelict sites, and Paul Sweeney made a valid point on VAT. You said that planning is completely—

Through the chair, please, Ms Harper.

The member said that planning is completely devolved, but VAT isnae, and it is an inhibitor for developing sites. Will the member reflect on that?

Douglas Lumsden

I will reflect on that; let us see what comes forward in the future.

Another issue that I want to raise—and it has been raised time and again during the debate—is the capacity of councils to deliver the changes and the policy. When I looked at this as a council leader at COSLA, we asked over and over whether extra resource would be available, but we have seen cuts to local government in successive budgets. Colleagues such as Alexander Stewart pointed out that that will be an issue with the framework. The SNP-Green devolved Government continually pushes more burdens on to local government by removing its funding and capacity to deliver. In the words of a COSLA resource spokesperson, council services are “at absolute breaking point”.

Today, we have heard concerns from Fergus Ewing about the impact that this policy will have on farming and rural communities. It lets them down and it lets down our towns and cities and our Government partners. I look forward to seeing how this will progress in future, as it will need to improve.


Tom Arthur

I begin by thanking colleagues across the chamber for their measured and thoughtful contributions this afternoon and all colleagues who have engaged with me—directly or through the work of the committee—during the long process of getting NPF4 to the state in which we are considering it today. I thank the committee for its diligent work, which was highly constructive throughout the process and strengthened the NPF4 that we are considering today. I also thank the more than 740 people who responded to our consultation following publication of the draft NPF4 in November 2021 and all those who engaged with our original call for ideas and responded to the draft position statement that was published in November 2020.

I want to give two other, particular, thank yous. I thank the chief planner, Fiona Simpson, and her team in the Scottish Government, who have been absolutely magnificent and have delivered an incredible piece of work. It has been a mammoth undertaking, much of it carried out against the backdrop of Covid, which—as it did for every other facet of government—led to huge challenges for our planning system. I commend all the officials in the Scottish Government who worked so hard to deliver NPF4.

Finally, I want to pay a very personal tribute to and thank my predecessor as planning minister, Kevin Stewart, who initiated the process. Without his hard work, both in piloting the Planning (Scotland) Bill through and in setting the ball rolling on the draft NPF4, we would not be at this point.

A number of issues have been raised during the debate, and I am afraid that time will not allow me the opportunity to respond to them all in detail. I will try to cover as much as I can, as well as respond to some specific points that members raised.

Housing is one of the most contentious areas in the planning system; we all recognise that. In planning, we really learn what the meaning of opportunity cost is, because a piece of land can be used only once. There are those who would favour a more liberal approach and those who would prefer a more regulated approach. Through the NPF4 process, and in fulfilling our statutory commitments under the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019, we have sought to ensure both that we have a plan-led system for housing in Scotland that is suitably flexible and dynamic enough to respond to circumstances and that planning plays its role in delivering the houses that we need.

I suggest that planning has a role to play, but planning alone does not make up the totality of factors that enable housing to be delivered. There are a range of factors, and all members will be conscious of the significant impacts on the construction sector caused by supply chain difficulties, challenges in labour recruitment and escalating costs due to the cost crisis—indeed, there are challenges in market appetite for housing as a consequence of rising interest rates. A number of factors come into play in ensuring that we develop the housing we require.

Miles Briggs

I understand what the minister is outlining, but is he not concerned that there is no mechanism for fixing underdelivery in the land pipeline, and that NPF4 should have taken that forward? Will he commit to outlining how that will be monitored, because we need those homes.

Tom Arthur

The member is absolutely correct to recognise the importance of monitoring. I met Homes for Scotland shortly before Christmas to discuss the issue in detail. He will know that I gave an undertaking at committee that my officials would engage with Homes for Scotland on its proposals for review of the HNDA system. That is important because, ultimately, the proof of NPF4 will not be in the high ideals that it embodies but in its delivery—that will be the imperative. Monitoring will therefore be important.

Guidance and clarification could be used to respond to any issues raised through monitoring. Local development plans have a significant role to play and there will be provision to allow for the amendment of NPF4, should that be required.

However, in the first instance, it is important that we observe carefully what is happening on the ground following NPF4’s adoption—subject to Parliament’s agreement this evening.

Will the minister take an intervention?

Very briefly. I am pushed for time.

Fergus Ewing

I have one simple point to make. Does the minister agree that, if farmers are allowed more flexibility to provide housing, such housing could be provided at scale and without any significant cost to the taxpayer because the cost will be met by the farmers, using the capital that is tied up in their landholdings?

Tom Arthur

It is important to clarify two points. Agriculture is not classified as development for the purposes of planning. The existing permitted development regime that we have in Scotland is almost identical to what exists in England, which is not about the construction of houses but about the conversion of agricultural buildings into homes. However, I am more than happy to meet the member to discuss these important matters in detail, because rural repopulation and the retention of the rural population are key policy imperatives.

The incredibly important issue of communities was raised. Our new local development plans will play a key role through the evidence-gathering process in advance of the gate check that precedes actual development and proposed plan creation. The local place plans will also be an incredibly important improvement. That is something that I encourage all members to engage with their constituents on. Provisions on local place plans were commenced last year, but, as we move to the new-style local development plans over the coming years, and as local authorities and planning authorities take them forward, I encourage members to engage on that area.

The issue of resources has come up time and again, and I repeat the commitments that I have already given Parliament. This is not something that lends itself to any easy or quick fix. It will be challenging, but part of our broader work on developing a partnership agreement and a fiscal framework with local government will provide tools that will help us to ensure that our planning authorities are resourced to the required level, There is also the work that we do directly with the planning profession through the high-level group, the RTPI and the Improvement Service on the future planners project.

On the specific point that Willie Rennie asked about with regard to permitted development rights, that will happen early in the year. I still need to take forward the regulations from the phase 2 review, which I know will be of interest to members. Phase 3 will follow on shortly from that, but it will happen in the first half of this year. I am happy to engage with any member on that.

On state support, we are already providing £325 million across this parliamentary session through the place-based investment programme. There is also the £50 million vacant and derelict land programme, which is supporting areas across Scotland to remediate existing derelict land. That can help with a range of things, including community activities and green infrastructure, and can de-risk and incentivise private investment. Again, I am happy to discuss those matters in more detail if any member would care to do so.

It has been a privilege to lead this process on behalf of the Scottish Government. I hope that I have lived up to the commitments that I gave to liaise closely with the Parliament and its members and to engage meaningfully with planners and local authority representatives and with so many people and interests across Scotland.

I am especially grateful to Scotland’s planners and planning community for giving so generously of their expertise and their time. They have embraced the call and the need for change, and I am acutely aware that delivering on the framework’s policies and aspirations will fall largely to them. I am determined to support them to do that, and to help foster a new generation of planners to create a system for the future that faces up to and addresses the greatest challenges of our time. We will chart this new direction together.

NPF4 is to be Scotland’s development plan, making sure that, in our actions and decisions, we stand up for our commitments to climate and nature recovery, for our towns and countryside, for greater community wealth and for our transition to a wellbeing economy.

However, increasingly, we also recognise the global significance of the decisions that we make through planning and how we must act positively and responsibly in relation to interests that extend well beyond our own borders. There is much international interest in the approach that we in Scotland are taking, with many keen to follow us.

Likewise, in NPF4’s implementation, I want us to continue learning from best practice elsewhere. The framework sets out how choices that we make in planning can, and must, guide Scotland’s development on our journey to net zero by 2045. That has been our guiding light throughout the preparation of the plan, and it will continue to be so in the plan’s delivery.

It has been suggested that the fourth national planning framework represents the biggest change to our approach to planning in Scotland in 75 years. Indeed, NPF4 marks a turning point for planning: it is not a general policy update; it is about change and planning with courage and determination to make some of the difficult decisions that may lie ahead.

We have had the 75th anniversary of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1947, which gave birth to our modern planning system. NPF4 is the biggest change that we have seen to our planning system since then, and it will change the wellbeing of our people, our businesses, our places and our communities. It will help to make Scotland a fairer, greener and more prosperous country. I hope that members will vote to approve it. In doing so, they will give a resounding statement from Scotland’s Parliament about how we embrace change and plan places for the future.