News  |  Posted February 7, 2023

National Planning Framework 4

What is it and why is it going to be so important?

If you are interested in planning, you have probably already heard of National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4) and the significant changes it will bring to the Scottish planning system. In the run up to the adoption of NPF4 by Scottish Ministers – scheduled for 13 February 2023 – David Wood (Planning and Policy Manager at PAS) sets out below key things to know.

Click here to access a copy of NPF4

What is National Planning Framework 4?

In the words of the Scottish Government, NPF4 is “a long term plan looking to 2045 that will guide spatial development, set out national planning policies, designate national development and highlight regional spatial priorities”.

Prior to the Planning etc (Scotland) Act 2006, there was no requirement for a Scotland-wide national spatial plan be produced. On the back of the 2006 Act – three successive National Planning Frameworks were produced. These were key reference points for the planning system, but arguably, planning legislation did not attribute to it a clearly defined status or role.


Big changes

The Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 introduced very significant changes to the status and role of the National Planning Framework.

As well as covering procedural matters relating to the production and status of the National Planning Framework, the Act sets out the following outcomes for it to address, with the expectation that these will be realised in NPF4:

  • meeting the housing needs of people living in Scotland including, in particular […] older people and disabled people
  • improving the health and wellbeing of people living in Scotland
  • increasing the population of rural areas of Scotland
  • improving equality and eliminating discrimination
  • meeting any targets relating to the reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases, within the meaning of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009
  • securing positive effects for biodiversity

As of 13 February 2022, NPF4 will become part of the Development Plan. This is extremely significant. In practice, this means that NPF4 will be the first thing that must be referred to in determining planning applications. Alongside NPF4, and as previously, the relevant Local Development Plan, and other relevant material considerations must also be taken into account.

Alongside the above, on 13 February the Scottish Government’s Scottish Planning Policy document will be retracted. The four current Strategic Development Plans in Scotland will also cease to exist (ie Clydeplan, SESplan, TAYplan and the Aberdeen City and Shire Strategic Development Plan).


What will I find in NPF4?

NPF4 contains 33 National Planning Policies – these allow it to function as part of the Development Plan and will be key reference points for approving or refusing planning applications Scotland-wide. NPF4 introduces new planning policy themes such as: Tackling the Nature and Biodiversity Crises, Community Wealth Building, Zero Waste, Local Living and 20 Minute Neighbourhoods.

NPF4 also sets out a Spatial Strategy for Scotland. This defines five areas under Regional Spatial Priorities: North and West Coast and Islands, North, North East, Central and South. A narrative on challenges and opportunities for each area is offered. For example, in the North East area, “just transition, to move industry and business away from the oil and gas sector towards a cleaner, greener future” is defined as a key priority. And in the South area, a key aim is to “increase the population by improving local liveability, creating a low carbon network of towns and supporting sustainable rural development”.

NPF4 follows on from previous versions in designating National Developments. These are defined as “significant developments of national importance that will help to deliver our spatial strategy”. The new Queensferry crossing was a previous National Development. The18 National Developments defined in NPF4 vary in scale and scope from a National Walking, Cycling and Wheeling Network to Strategic Renewable Electricity Generation and Transmission Infrastructure.

Under the 2019 Planning Act, NPF4 is also required to set “targets for the use of land in different areas of Scotland for housing”. Addressing this issue at a national level represents a significant change, although identification and allocation of sites for new homes will still happen on a local authority basis.


Also …

The 2019 Planning Act also sets the context for two non-statutory types of plan that will impact on the Scottish planning system but will not be part of the Development Plan.

Regional Spatial Strategies are to be prepared by two or more planning/local authorities, to plan on a regional basis for the long-term development of the specified area.

And of particular interest to PAS, Local Place Plans, are a new type of plan that can be prepared by local communities for their own area. If you would like to know more, visit the Community-led Plans section of our website.


We are here to help

Please get in touch or use our free planning Advice Service if you have questions or would like to know more.


In a follow up blog, we will look in more detail at NPF4 from the viewpoint of the individuals and community groups that PAS supports, and at how the aims of NPF4 will be monitored and delivered.