05 Apr 2022 | Planning

Does NPF4 deliver on planning reform?

We are all familiar with Section 25 of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997 which states that the determination of a planning application shall be in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise. We quote it every time we submit a planning application and rely on its strength to deliver us planning consents that we deem are in accordance with the adopted local development plan.  But this will soon change when NPF4 also becomes part of the statutory development plan. Its policies will have a pivotal role in both determining planning applications and in preparing local development plans. 

The Planning (Scotland) 2019 Act will change the nature of NPF4; it will set the Scottish Government's agenda for planning policy for the next 20+ years.  NPF4 will become our go-to planning policy bible as well as providing Scotland’s overarching spatial strategy and direction on housing delivery and targets on land for housing. It will also elevate the status of eighteen projects to that of National Developments, thereby fast tracking these for delivery.  

Importantly, NPF4 brings in the introduction of 35 Universal Policies which will apply to all planning decisions. Many of these have been transposed from SPP with added green and net carbon zero bells and whistles. Sitting alongside NPF4 will be the new style local development plans. Under the new legislative requirements introduced by the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019, many planning authorities will start to progress the preparation of these new LDPs within the earlier years of the NPF timeframe. But what exactly are these ‘new style’ local plans and how are they expected to implement the NPF4 policies for the development and use of land? The draft regulations state that these plans should be prepared in a different way, look different and be used differently to before. They are expected to be place-based with a greater emphasis on maps, site briefs and masterplans, with minimal policy wording. They are to be delivery focussed and place based but until we see them, we won’t know if in themselves they will provide sufficient detail and context to enable day-to-day planning decision making. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big advocate for the look and sound of these new LDPs, but they are a mountain away from many current LDPs, some of which are bulky policy documents issued in ring binder volumes! The draft regulations also state that the LDP must take account of the NPF; but ‘taking account of’ does not mean that it must ‘conform to’ NPF.  The Draft Guidance on Local Development Planning states that any policy wording included in the plan should focus on ‘adding value’ by providing any necessary detail not provided by the NPF or where national policy does not reflect local circumstances and local variation is therefore considered appropriate. 

What the development industry does not need is a regurgitation of policy principles expressed in NPF4 to be rewritten in every new style LDP across all planning authorities and then on top of this, for every new style plan to have additional policies to reflect local circumstances. 

We need the streamlining, the thinning down and simplification of the planning system that we were promised by the Scottish Government back in 2006 with the Planning etc (Scotland) Act. We need a much-simplified NPF4 document and delivery focussed LDPs that have the clarity, the succinctness and accessibility that the Scottish Government’s planning reform agenda set out to deliver. 

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Maria Francké Maria Francké Planning