As we enter Spring, a year on from the adoption of National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4), we consider the impact of this, as well as reflecting generally on what the first quarter of 2024 has meant for the world of planning at a national level, and for the key sectors in which we operate.

NPF4 – a year after NPF4 was adopted (on 13 February 2023, as covered in our March 2023 Bulletin), many have been reflecting on the impact it has had, and whether it is achieving what it was intended to. Prior to the adoption of NPF4, we highlighted concerns about whether it would have the ‘teeth’ to deliver for nature, climate and communities (see our blog, Draft NPF4 – a plan for all seasons?), and similar questions are still being raised now. In particular, while NPF4 introduced new requirements for all new developments to deliver biodiversity enhancements, promised guidance to support the biodiversity aims of NPF4 has yet to be adopted, and associated work on approaches to measure biodiversity still ongoing (as set out in our December 2023 Bulletin).

And of course, we are still awaiting the outcome of the challenge to the Scottish Ministers’ decision to refuse planning permission for proposed residential development at Mossend in West Lothian on the basis of it being contrary to Policy 16 of NPF4, even though a ‘new style’ Local Development Plan with a deliverable housing land pipeline had not yet been adopted (PPA-400-2147, further detail on which is provided in our September 2023 Bulletin). This is significant in terms of supporting NPF4s aspiration to encourage, promote and facilitate the delivery of more high quality, affordable and sustainable homes, in the right locations.

On a more positive note, though, our personal experience suggests that NPF4’s support for renewable energy related development is smoothing the way for the delivery of the renewable energy infrastructure that is needed to address the climate crises we are currently facing, which is to be welcomed. And, with time, we hope that the other ambitions of NPF4 will be delivered too.

Can solar targets for 2035 be achieved? – while NPF4 may be facilitating the delivery of renewable energy related infrastructure in Scotland, a study published earlier this year suggests that UK wide targets to increase the amount of electricity generated from solar specifically are not likely to be met. This is of course not just a planning issue, with the study pointing to a combination of inflation, supply chain disruption, spiralling interest rates and delays in connection to the National Grid as creating ‘a perfect storm’, and undermining hopes of achieving the UK Government’s target of increasing the country’s solar energy capacity to 70GW by 2035 (a fivefold increase by then). But a more supportive planning framework clearly has an important role to play in terms of reducing delays, making it easier to align the timescales for obtaining and implementing planning consent with those for connecting to the grid, and providing much needed certainty, and so we would like to see other devolved nations following Scotland’s lead in this respect.

Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing Economy, Net Zero and Energy – in February, the First Minister announced a Cabinet reshuffle, including the creation of a new Cabinet Secretary position bringing together economic growth and climate change/net zero portfolios into a single post, held by Mairi McAllan. The creation of this post signals the Government’s recognition of the economic opportunity for Scotland offered by green energy, with a focus on talking climate change whilst delivering well-paid jobs and sustainable growth. And although the new Cabinet Secretary is not responsible for planning (which remains with Joe FitzPatrick as Minister for Local Government Empowerment and Planning), planning will play a crucial role in delivering these objectives, with NPF4 being clear that the principles which our future places will be planned in line with include a just transition to net zero, rebalancing  development to both ensure opportunities and investment in areas of past decline and to manage development sustainably in areas of high demand, and rural revitalisation.

National Planning Improvement Framework – in our June 2023 Bulletin we noted the appointment of Craig McLaren as Scotland’s First National Planning Improvement Champion.  Since his appointment, Craig has been seeking views on what a high performing planning system looks, like culminating in the publication of Planning Ambitions: Findings from the Call for Ideas on Planning Performance in February, which in turn will inform a new planning performance assessment and improvement framework due to be piloted in 2024/25.   Perhaps not surprisingly, there was no consensus on what successful planning looks like, with different stakeholders having different priorities. There was, however, agreement on the need for planning authorities and statutory consultees to be adequately resourced, including reinvesting income generated though planning fees to support planning services, something we have long advocated for.  And reflecting the pertinence of the RTPI’s “It Takes Planners &” campaign that we reported on in our December Bulletin, the report identifies the need to change the perception of planners and planning as a key challenge. Perhaps most importantly though, the report highlights a desire and imperative to work collaboratively across sectors to tackle the challenges facing planning, with this having informed the “collaboration for action” concept underlying the new improvement framework, including a peer review process involving stakeholders from all sectors. We look forward to seeing the new framework and what we can all do to help improve both the planning process and the outcomes of planning.

New national park – in our December 2023 Bulletin, we reported on the call for communities to put forward nominations for a new national park for Scotland, with a commitment by the Scottish Government to designate at least one new park by 2026.  At the start of this month, it was announced that five areas had been nominated in the Scottish Borders, Galloway, Lochaber, Loch Awe and Tay Forest, and the Government is now appraising each of those proposals with further consultation to be held once a preferred site is identified (expected to be in the summer of 2024). It is not yet clear what the implications of this will be for planning, given that each of our existing national parks have different planning arrangements, and so we will await further details with interest.

Budget cuts for planning – the 2024-25 budget for Scotland was passed by the Scottish Parliament at the end of February, with the Royal Town Planning Institute reporting that the budget for housing and planning had been cut by 43%. That is clearly a concern for planning authorities and others involved in the planning process, particularly given the findings of the call for ideas for the new Planning Performance and Improvement Framework outlined above, which emphasised the need for planning authorities and statutory consultees to be adequately resourced. And as highlighted by the RTPI in its response to the budget, planning authorities are increasingly taking on additional duties and responsibilities with less resources to do so. It is therefore hoped that some progress can be made in allowing planning authorities to reinvest income from planning fees.

Scottish Government Consultations – there are a number of consultations to look at between now and the end of May, including (in order of deadlines):

– Enabling powers for Scotland’s Environmental Impact Assessment regimes & Habitats Regulations – the Scottish Government is seeking views on proposed enabling powers that would better allow for future amendments to Scotland’s EIA regimes and Habitats Regulations (the requirements of both of which often need to be addressed as part of the planning process). No changes to the relevant legislation are proposed immediately, but proposed enabling powers would help ensure this can remain fit for purpose in future by replacing powers lost as a result of the UK’s exit from the European Union. Further information and details of how to respond is available here, with the deadline for responding being 13 May 2024.

– Development plan amendment regulations – views are also sought on the proposed approach to regulations on the process for amending the National Planning Framework and Local Development Plans, with it envisaged that the amendment process will be a responsive and streamlined version of the full review process, whilst balancing the need for due process (including appropriate justification and consultation on the proposed amendment). Given that these documents comprise the Development Plan against which all planning applications need to be determined, and the importance of the Development Plan being up to date and relevant in order to ensure the planning system delivers the development we need, it is clearly important to get the approach to reviewing and amending these right, and this consultation should play an important role in this respect. We would therefore encourage you to respond to this consultation before the deadline of 22 May 2024.

– Masterplan consent area regulations – the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 introduced Masterplan Consent Areas (MCAs) as a new upfront consenting mechanism, intended allow planning authorities to take a place leadership role by proactively consenting the type and quality of development they wish to see and incentivising high-quality development by providing a streamlined consent process. A MCA scheme can include roads construction consent, listed building consent and conservation area consent, as well as planning permission, and means that development does not require an application to be made, as long as it is in line with the agreed scheme. The current consultation relates to the detailed procedures to enable planning authorities to use this new consenting mechanism, including asking whether or not there should be limitations to the types of development able to be included in a MCA, or the location of MCAs, as well as how often planning authorities should consider preparing a MCA scheme, and the process for doing that. The deadline for responding to this is 22 May 2024.

– Investing in Planning – continuing the theme of resourcing planning, the Scottish Government has published a consultation exploring a range of solutions to that, including short- and medium-term actions that could improve the capacity of the planning system by helping to build resilience and strengthening cross sector collaboration. Given the importance of having a well resource planning service to achieve positive outcomes we would again urge you to response to this consultation, with the deadline for doing so being 31 May 2024.

Renewable energy related developments – this quarter has again seen a number of notable planning applications for renewable energy related developments either submitted or approved (and in some cases then refused), including:

– Inverness Caley Thistle battery farm – in early February, Inverness Caledonian Thistle Football Club was granted planning permission for a 50MW battery energy storage system which, as well as storing excess energy for use in periods of high demand, would also generate income to support the Club’s community outreach programme. The decision was made by Councillors contrary to officer’s recommendation, which recommended refusal of the application due to concerns relating to noise pollution and loss of greenspace. However, the decision was overturned by the full Council only a few weeks later. The Club has said that it will now appeal that decision.

– Wellbank solar farm, Angus – we are pleased to have assisted our client Greentech to secure consent for a 25MW solar farm at Wellbank Farm in Angus.

Scottish Planning Innovation Awards – consistent with the need to improve the perceptions of planning, we were keen to recognise the winners of the Scottish Government’s relaunched Scottish Planning Innovation Awards, announced this month. As stated by the Planning Minister, award winners represent excellence in innovative planning and that it something which should definitely be celebrated. The overall winner was Live Life Morven, a community driven initiative, supported by Planning Aid Scotland, to prepare a community vision and action plan for the development of Morven for the next decade. We were also delighted to see our home town of Aberdeen’s City Centre and Beach Masterplan win the People’s Choice Award. Details of all winners are available here.

On us – having submitted a Proposal of Application Notice in respect of changes to the Sutherland Spaceport in November 2023 (as noted in our December 2023 Bulletin), a personal highlight for us this month was submitting the planning application for the revised scheme, designed to further reduce the environmental impact of the project, with the Spaceport ultimately aiming to become the world’s first carbon neutral spaceport. This was of course very much a team effort, and could not have been achieved without close collaboration within a multi-disciplinary team, so thanks are due to everyone who has played a part in this, and we are looking forward to continuing to work with all involved as the application progresses to determination.

Meantime, to find out how we can help with any renewable energy infrastructure or emerging technology related developments, or if you are a charity or community group looking for assistance, then please visit our website or email us at Or, if you would like to sign up for email updates, please click here.

Thanks for reading!

Pippa and Maggie





Back to blog and bulletins