Planning to Tackle Climate Change in Scotland: An Overview of the Scottish Planning Framework

13 Dec 2023

Cornerstone Climate

Johanna Boyd

In the first of two blog posts, associate member Johanna Boyd, who is the Chief Executive of Planning Aid Scotland, outlines the approach to tackling climate change from a Scottish perspective. 

How things are done differently in Scotland

On 6 November, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Cornerstone Barristers Planning Day 2024, during which I gave an overview of the planning system in Scotland. I focused on the critical role planning is expected to play in tackling the climate and biodiversity crises.

In two short blog posts, I share a summary of my speech.

Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 (the 2019 Act)

The 2019 Act is the key piece of planning legislation in Scotland which defines the purpose of planning as being, “to manage the development and use of land in the long-term public interest”. The ‘public interest’ is defined as anything which contributes to sustainable development or achieves the National Outcomes.

The National Performance Framework (not to be confused with the National Planning Framework) sets 11 National Outcomes for Scotland and is based on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. This includes the twin outcomes that people in Scotland (i) “live in communities that are inclusive, empowered, resilient and safe” and (ii) “value, enjoy, protect and enhance their environment”.

One of the ways in which Scotland aims to deliver the National Performance Framework is through the Place Principle which was originally adopted by the Scottish Government (SG) and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA). Its key aim is for partners across the public, private, third sector and communities to overcome organisational and sectorial boundaries, encouraging collaboration for the delivery of better place-based outcomes. It is collaborative to the core and the opposite of siloed working.

The Place Standard is an example of a tool to help deliver both the Place Principle and the National Outcomes and allows people to assess the quality of the places they live in through a series of structured questions to facilitate discussion. In our engagement and facilitation work with communities, Planning Aid Scotland often uses (and trains others on) the Place Standard Tool. For an interesting example of pioneering the Place Standard Tool with a Climate Lens in a community action plan, see here.

The Development Plan in Scotland

Prior to the 2019 Act, the statutory Development Plan (DP) in Scotland comprised the Local Development Plan (LDP) and the Strategic Development Plan (SDP). The 2019 Act scrapped SDPs (Clydeplan, SESplan, TAYplan and the Aberdeen City and Shire SDP which were limited to the four city regions and did not cover the whole of Scotland) and significantly strengthened the role of the National Planning Framework (now NPF4).

The DP in Scotland now consists of NPF4 and LDPs. LDPs are moving from a 5-year to a 10-year cycle and major changes are underway as to what they must address and how they are to be prepared. Detailed LDP guidance can be found here.

Local Place Plans and Regional Spatial Strategies

Local Place Plans (LPPs, similar in purpose to England’s ‘Neighbourhood Plans’ or Welsh ‘Place Plans’) and Regional Spatial Strategies (RSS) sit outside of the DP but can still count as material considerations to it.

LPPs were introduced by the 2019 Act and can be prepared by ‘community bodies’. Planning circular 1/2022 provides guidance to communities and planning authorities on the preparation, submission and registration of LPPs.

LPPs are community-led plans setting out proposals for the development and use of land. They must have regard to NPF4, any LDP and/or locality plan which covers the same area.

The weight to be given to elements within an LPP is a matter for the planning authority to decide in preparing its LDP. Spatial elements or those that relate to development will be the most influential in the preparation of the LDP.

Planning Aid Scotland has a rich history in supporting communities across Scotland over two decades to deliver community-led plans including LPPs and Community Action Plans.

The 2019 Act introduced a new duty requiring the preparation of RSSs by a planning authority (or authorities acting jointly). These plans will represent the long-term spatial strategies for the strategic development of an area and whilst not forming part of the statutory DP will have an important role to play in informing future versions of the NPF and LDPs.

In the second part to this blog, I will consider how NPF4 aims to ensure that Scotland’s future communities will be net zero, nature-positive places that are designed to reduce emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change, whilst protecting and restoring our environment in Scotland.