Sarah Baillie, a partner at Addleshaw Goddard, writes about the key role of the planning system in efforts to tackle climate change and meet net-zero targets in Scotland.

The planning system, as a custodian of land use, has been and will have to remain a critical enabler of meeting net zero targets in Scotland. To achieve a net-zero Scotland by 2045 and meet the interim emissions reduction targets of 75% by 2030 and 90% by 2040, the Scottish Government has recognised that an urgent and radical shift in spatial plan and policies is required.

The National Planning Framework is a long-term spatial plan for Scotland, produced by the Scottish Government, which sets out where development and infrastructure is needed to support sustainable and inclusive growth across the country.

A draft National Planning Framework 4 (NPF 4) has been promised and is expected to be laid before the Scottish Parliament this autumn – and there will be extensive consultation at the same time. It will guide spatial development, align with infrastructure investment, set out national planning policies, designate national developments and highlight regional spatial priorities.

The NPF's preparation and status has also changed as a result of recent planning reform. It's policies will be reviewed every 10 years and it now has the legal status of the development plan – basically it will now have a stronger role in informing day to day decision making in planning.

It is anticipated that NPF4 will look very different from its predecessors. Not only a longer time horizon to 2050, and improved alignment with wider Scottish Government programmes and strategies like the revised Climate Change Plan, it will likely embed the UN Sustainable Development Goals; Scotland's national outcomes; and will have the Place Principle as a key driver. Importantly, it is also expected that the long-term strategy will be driven by the overarching goal on tackling issues relating to climate change and that achieving net zero emissions will be the over-arching priority of the spatial strategy – taking forward proposals and policies to support the Climate Change Plan.

The Position Statement on NPF4, published in late November 2020, reflected information gathered during the Call for Ideas on NPF4 carried out earlier in 2020. It did not make definite proposals but had set out current thinking on the issues that will need to be addressed when preparing NPF4 which, it is expected, will focus on achieving four key outcomes: Net-Zero Emissions; Resilient Communities; A Wellbeing Economy; and Better, Greener Places.

Alongside the revised Climate Change Plan and Energy Strategy, NPF4 is a central pillar of the Scottish Government’s response to the climate emergency. The final content of NPF4 will only be established following consultation and consideration, and approval, of the draft revised framework by the Scottish Parliament.

It will no doubt fully embed climate change objectives into spatial policy making; and ensure that the planning system continues to plays an intrinsic role in facilitating net zero targets and addressing climate change. In the Position Statement on NPF4, the Scottish Government stated that it could not afford to compromise on climate change, and “some significant choices” would have to be made to meet targets such as net zero emissions by 2045.

With COP26 less than a month away and new Green Party ministers, it will be interesting to see what choices will be made.


COP26 and Climate Change

Find out more about the Society's work around COP26 and climate change