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National Planning Framework 3 - Main Issues Report and Draft Framework


3 A Natural Place to Invest

Our ambition is to respect, enhance and make responsible use of our natural and cultural assets

Map - A Natural Place to Invest

A Natural Place to Invest

Building on NPF2

3.1 NPF2 identified a number of issues relating to Scotland's environment and natural resources. Key objectives included protecting and enhancing natural, built and cultural heritage, strengthening green infrastructure and improving water, air and soil quality. Overall, the importance of the environment as one of Scotland's chief assets was emphasised strongly. The Central Scotland Green Network, which is promoting a step change in environmental quality across the most densely populated part of the country, was designated as a national development.

3.2 Some of the key themes emerging from our engagement in preparing for this Main Issues Report are:

  • recognition that the components of our environment are inter-connected;
  • strong support for the Central Scotland Green Network;
  • support for realising the full potential of recreational assets like canals and long-distance paths;
  • a high value placed on landscape, especially our most special landscapes, and attention to ensuring that new onshore wind farms reflect their quality; and
  • emerging ideas for national level ecological networks.

3.3 The National Planning Framework has played a significant part in the evolution of the environmental policy agenda over the past decade. Whilst the strong commitment to protecting designated sites and the wider environment remains, policies have increasingly emphasised the value of the environment to our economy, identity and quality of life. There has also been increasing recognition of the complex interrelationships which form and sustain our environmental assets, and the essential 'ecosystems services' they provide - including attenuation of flooding, storage of carbon, pollination of crops and opportunities for recreation, delivering both personal health and wider economic benefit to the community.


3.4 We recognise both the intrinsic value of our natural and cultural assets, and their importance in providing essential services, supporting quality of life and sustaining economic growth. We have already set out how we can make best use of our natural energy resources. This will involve challenges for the environment that need to be carefully managed, as well as opportunities for enhancement.

3.5 We propose that NPF3 continues this approach by:

  • identifying our key environmental assets;
  • identifying opportunities to enhance green infrastructure and environmental resilience. These opportunities also feed into to Section 4, where we consider the Central Scotland Green Network as an integral part of placemaking;
  • promoting sustainable tourism and recreation, including major events;
  • supporting sustainable resource management.

Key assets

3.6 Our principal physical asset is our land. The Government's Land Use Strategy, published in 2011, sets out key principles for the use and management of Scotland's land, and reflects its importance as an integral part of our ecosystem. NPF3 will be consistent with these principles, and they will also inform our review of Scottish Planning Policy.

3.7 Much of Scotland's population lives close to our most productive land. Demand for new homes and other development is often greatest in areas where our prime land is concentrated, especially in the east of the country (see Map 7). There is a role for NPF3 in supporting the food and drink sector. Opportunities for planning to help to reduce emissions from the food sector, contribute to health and increase long-term resilience were flagged up during early engagement, but the initiatives proposed tended to be relatively localised. We believe that the Proposed Framework should emphasise the continuing importance of prime land in supporting production, but go beyond this to reflect the importance of maintaining a high quality environment to support Scotland's food and drink sector.

3.8 Map 8 shows existing woodland cover. The Scottish Forestry Strategy aims to encourage sustainable management of existing woodlands, and promote an expansion of woodland cover. Scottish Government policy is to increase the rate of woodland creation to 10,000 hectares per year, which is consistent with the recommendation made by the Woodland Expansion Advisory Group in 2012 to create 100,000 hectares of new woodland over the next 10 years. This will help meet climate change targets and, as part of this, the Government has pledged to plant 100 million trees by 2015 - equivalent to 10,000 hectares per year. There will be a review of woodland creation targets towards the end of this decade, assessing what rates are needed in the 2020s to ensure we meet emissions reduction targets and other forestry and land use objectives.

3.9 Peatlands are an important habitat for wildlife and are a very significant carbon store, containing 1,600 million tonnes of the 3,000 million tonnes in all Scottish soils. Peat depth is shown in Map 9. The Scottish Government, with Scottish Natural Heritage and other stakeholders, is developing a programme of peatland restoration across Scotland to help reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and enhance biodiversity. Peatland is an important biodiversity and carbon storage resource requiring protection, and the potential impacts of development on it, in particular wind farms, are already being taken into account in the consenting process.

3.10 The draft Scottish Planning Policy indicates that assets like prime quality agricultural land, woodland and deep peat should be protected, and that this protection should be balanced against the need for new development and infrastructure.

3.11 The scenic qualities of Scotland's landscapes are a spectacular resource, contributing hugely to our quality of life, our cultural identity and the visitor economy. Section 2 of this Main Issues Report emphasises the need for major wind energy developments in particular to respect our most natural places - specifically National Parks, National Scenic Areas. The quality and iconic nature of our built environment, and the cultural distinctiveness of our landscapes, will continue to be protected, playing a key role in attracting visitors and reinforcing Scotland's image internationally.

Map 7 - Agricultural Land Classification

Map 8 - Forestry and Woodland Cover in Scotland

Map 9 - Peatland depth

Map 10 - International and National Natural and Cultural Heritage Designations

3.12 Our biodiversity, as illustrated in Map 10 which shows our internationally and nationally protected sites, requires continuing protection. Green infrastructure and ecological networks have been proposed as national developments by a number of organisations. Some have suggested that these should be based on a network of protected sites, land being managed or restored for conservation aims, and other environmental assets. We regard this as an excellent long-term aspiration.

3.13 As we want to prioritise action to achieve measurable outcomes in the coming years, we do not consider that such a broad suite of measures, reliant as they are on land management practices, the Scotland Rural Development Programme and other mechanisms, is appropriate for designation as a national development in the third National Planning Framework.

3.14 A range of initiatives, such as peatland restoration and the various landscape partnerships around Scotland, already aim to achieve some of the elements of the national developments which have been proposed. The Scottish Biodiversity Strategy sets out policies to protect and enhance the health of the natural environment, including measures to tackle the fragmentation of habitats and develop connections between protected areas.

3.15 We will continue to work to ensure that NPF3 and our strategies in policy areas such as biodiversity and land use are co-ordinated to achieve multi-dimensional, cross-sector objectives. A good example of this is the pilot regional land use frameworks we are setting up in Aberdeenshire and the Borders, in partnership with these local authorities. These will show how a more joined-up approach to land use and planning could work at a local level.

Question 7: Can NPF3 do more to support sustainable use of our environmental assets?

Should NPF3 propose any specific actions in relation to the role of land use in meeting climate change targets, for example for woodland expansion, peatland or habitat restoration?

Should the strategy be more aspirational in supporting the development of a National Ecological Network? If so, what should the objectives of such a network be?

3.16 In addition, there is potential to complement our aspirations for nationally significant new infrastructure development around the Firth of Forth with strategic habitat and landscape enhancement. The RSPB Futurescapes project is an example of this. To help take this forward, a collaborative approach around the Forth, expanding the scope and remit of the area for co-ordinated action identified in NPF2, could be helpful. We therefore propose to highlight this objective in NPF3 and identify key actions within the NPF Action Programme. We think this should also be a priority within the wider objectives of the Central Scotland Green Network (see Section 4).

Question 8: What should NPF3 do to facilitate delivery of national development priorities in sensitive locations?

Would it be helpful for NPF3 to highlight the particular significance of habitat enhancement and compensatory environmental measures around the Firth of Forth? Which projects can deliver most in this respect?

Are there other opportunities for strategic environmental enhancement that would support our wider aspirations for development, or could potentially compensate for adverse environmental impacts elsewhere?

Tourism, recreation and the visitor economy

3.17 As noted above, Scotland has a wealth of natural and cultural assets which support our quality of life and our visitor economy. As well as the National Parks, which were highlighted in NPF2, NPF3 could highlight other areas where tourism potential could be further developed, such as the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere Reserve and Dark Skies Park; the hubs for outdoor sports that have grown in places such as Fort William and across the South of Scotland, for example at Glentress in the Scottish Borders; the Clyde and Ayrshire Coasts; our canals network; and key tourist destinations like Glasgow, Edinburgh, St Andrews and Perthshire.

3.18 Our preferred strategy is to protect, enhance and use these assets responsibly, and to make our existing infrastructure work harder to deliver more benefits - and support further sustainable economic growth - by ensuring their use can be shared across many sectors. As noted in the draft Scottish Planning Policy, we also expect development plans and planning decisions to reflect these shared infrastructure objectives.

3.19 VisitScotland is preparing a Tourism Development Plan for Scotland which will give guidance on priorities for new tourism development. The first draft of this suggested a need for:

  • hotel accommodation, especially in the cities but also in towns and rural areas;
  • conference facilities in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen;
  • more berths for sailing on the west coast;
  • improved infrastructure on our most scenic routes (as discussed in Section 5); and
  • an enhanced network of long-distance paths.

3.20 As also noted in the draft Scottish Planning Policy, we expect development plans and planning decisions to support these and other objectives in the Tourism Development Plan. At a strategic level, Section 5 identifies ongoing improvements to our transport infrastructure including international gateways and key tourist routes.

Long-distance routes

3.21 Long-distance routes for walking and cycling are a key recreational resource and a significant tourism opportunity. Many of these iconic routes already provide a unique visitor experience in their own right, as well as access to Scotland's most scenic landscapes and valued natural and cultural heritage. There is wide enthusiasm for developing the coverage of this network, and a number of proposals for national developments have focussed on this. We see a key opportunity in recognising the importance of existing long-distance routes and trails and core path plans prepared by local authorities, and actively enhancing these networks to create a unique, marketable resource. This could benefit not only tourism and recreation, but also help to provide opportunities for everyday cycling and walking. Whilst Map 11 shows some of these key assets, it is not possible to identify specific new routes or links to prioritise on the basis of the proposals we have received to date.

Map 11 - Long Distance Routes for Walking and Cycling

3.22 Scottish Natural Heritage, with Sustrans and other partners, could lead a project which would bring together existing long-distance cycling and walking routes, set out a long-term vision for such a network and identify, as a priority, the most important 'missing links' which could be prioritised and delivered over the next 5 years or so. We think there would be merit in giving such a suite of priority projects national development status in NPF3.

National development

Long-distance paths and trails

Why it is needed

To support recreation, tourism and active travel


New and improved links to further develop a national network of long-distance paths and trails.

3.23 We think the vision should be a linked network, connecting our main centres of population, key tourist resources and public transport hubs. The foundation of this should be our existing routes and trails supported, where appropriate, by shared infrastructure to help ensure the quality of the visitor experience. We also believe the canals network could make a very positive contribution to this, as may some rivers. We ask SNH, now, to engage with Sustrans, Scottish Canals and other partners with a view to submitting a joint response to the consultation on this Main Issues Report, setting out proposals for the long-term vision and an initial suite of priority projects to be considered for national development status.

3.24 Consideration is given to low carbon transport for everyday use in Section 5.

Question 9: Can NPF3 do more to support sustainable tourism?

What are the key national assets which should be developed to support recreation and tourism?

Should a national network of long distance routes be designated as a national development? What new links should be prioritised?

How can we ensure that best use is made of existing supporting infrastructure in order to increase the cross-sectoral use of these routes, and enhance the quality of the visitor experience?

Sustainable resource management

3.25 An adequate supply of locally sourced minerals for construction will continue to be important for new development and infrastructure, particularly in the Central Belt. The scale of our ambition for the low carbon economy suggests a need for construction materials to be sourced locally wherever possible. There is also a continuing need for sources of coal for our remaining coal-fired power station at Longannet, and for carbon capture and storage infrastructure. There are also sources of shale gas and coal bed methane in the Central Belt which have the potential to contribute to our energy supplies. Section 2 of this Main Issues Report deals with our potential reserves of renewable heat sources. The draft Scottish Planning Policy indicates that these resources should be safeguarded from sterilisation and used in a sustainable manner.

3.26 The NPF2 Monitoring Report notes that Scotland's Zero Waste Plan was published in 2010, requiring significant behavioural change and the provision of new waste facilities and infrastructure to meet its goals. An Annex to the plan was also published, setting out regional capacity requirements totalling 3.6 million tonnes, of which 1.98 million tonnes will be required for the sorting of recyclable materials. Energy from waste continues to be recognised as having the potential to make a contribution to low carbon energy and waste management targets.

3.27 In 'Safeguarding Scotland's Resources' (2012) the Government consulted on opportunities for making sustainable use of material resources. Key measures included reducing resource use, sustainable sourcing of materials and efficient use of resources to preserve their value and progressively design waste out of the economy wherever possible. The waste sector has significant potential to grow as a source of employment and expertise, and it is important that waste itself is recognised as an economic resource, and an opportunity, as opposed to a problem. Small-scale district heating schemes using energy from waste and other technologies are also supported by the spatial strategy outlined in Sections 2 and 4.

3.28 Some have suggested that NPF3 could go further than NPF2 on waste, by providing a more specific steer on the locations and types of nationally significant facilities that will be required.

3.29 There is, of course, a requirement for specialist level waste management projects related to the decommissioning of nuclear power stations at Dounreay and in the South of Scotland. However, for domestic and commercial materials more generally, the fast pace of change in technology and in the value of waste means that identifying individual major waste management facilities of national importance for the longer term, or a network of more regional scale facilities, may not be appropriate. We expect that much of our material resources will be handled in small scale facilities, and nearly all of it in facilities which raise planning issues that are no different to those for many other industrial uses. We consider that there is a need to maintain a flexible, market-driven approach to provision for the waste and resource management sector, as set out in the draft Scottish Planning Policy.

3.30 Water resource management is also important, and highlighted as a priority within the Land Use Strategy. Over the long term, there may be opportunities for a strategic approach to sustainable flood management linked with other measures including woodland planting and peatland management.

3.31 Appropriate water and drainage infrastructure is needed to allow communities to adapt to the future impacts of climate change. Over time, we expect that management of the water environment and infrastructure could become more challenging. A proactive approach that facilitates strategic adaptation will be required. The Metropolitan Glasgow Strategic Drainage Plan (MGSDP) was identified as a national development in NPF2. It is a nationally significant project spanning seven local authority areas and aims to improve infrastructure, facilitate large-scale regeneration and build resilience to changing weather patterns. Our preferred approach is to designate an updated version of MGSDP in NPF3 as a national development, to reflect its significant role in sustainable catchment management and urban renewal and the scope it provides to demonstrate best practice.

National development

Metropolitan Glasgow Strategic Drainage Plan

Why it is needed

To reduce flood risk and support regeneration and economic development in the Glasgow conurbation.


New and replacement infrastructure for drainage and water management.

Question 10: Can NPF3 do more to support sustainable resource management?

Should NPF3 support a decentralised approach to provision for waste management or should NPF3 make provision for more strategic waste facilities?

Should the Metropolitan Glasgow Strategic Drainage Plan be retained as a national development in NPF3 or should we replace the focus on it with a broader, national level approach to sustainable catchment management?