On 10 November, the draft National Planning Network 4 was laid before the Scottish Parliament, as well as being published by the Scottish Government for consultation.

It sets out how approach our to planning will help to achieve a net zero, sustainable Scotland by 2045.

Sarah Baillie, Partner and head of planning and infrastructure consenting in Scotland at Addleshaw Goddard said: “Following recent planning reform, it now has enhanced legal status and will play a central role in day-to-day land use decision making. 

"The draft says that the country must ‘embrace and deliver radical change’ in order to tackle and adapt to the changing climate, restore biodiversity loss, improve health and wellbeing, build up the economy and create great places.

"The emergence of NPF4 during COP26 and especially on the eve of the Cities, Regions and Built Environment Day is no surprise given the strength of the green thread that runs throughout.

"There is a completely new approach to decision making with significant weight to the global climate emergency in development, to minimise emissions and to enhance biodiversity. This is also evident throughout its draft policies. 

“There’s a strong message of policy support for all forms of low carbon and green energy, not just wind and solar, for those wanting to develop net-zero energy transition assets in Scotland including hydrogen; energy storage; carbon capture, utilisation and storage; and floating offshore wind. Together with Strategic Renewable Electricity Generation and Transmission Infrastructure across the country to support this delivery. This all presents significant opportunities and confidence for those developing and investing in the energy sector in Scotland.

"What will take the mainstream development and real estate sector time to digest and consider is the vast transformational breadth and depth of its potential impacts. What’s immediately clear is that this framework could trigger a huge range of challenges and opportunities, as it seeks to change entirely the way our society and economy operates.

"Investors and developers will need to take savvy commercial decisions, making more extensive considerations on their climate change, environmental and biodiversity impacts of the location and type of proposed development. 

"With one of the six special strategies being the ‘just transition’, it's no surprise that there is emphasis on brownfield redevelopment, repurposing existing, or rejuvenating buildings, vacant or derelict sites. Those hoping to develop or invest in new out of town retail and leisure or on greenfield land perhaps will have to seriously re-think. 

"There is also a bit of a renaissance for a number of distinct places that have played a key role in their city and Scotland’s economic and social history such as the Clyde Estuary, Aberdeen Harbour, Dundee waterfront and Edinburgh waterfront. These are being recognised as national strategic development assets, having a key role to play in Scotland’s economic future and the transition to net zero.

"The cornerstone really is to create sustainable places. There is a real sense of an embedment of social policy with importance also being placed on human rights, engaging communities, collaboration and to use planning to support community wealth building."

Fiona Gordon, Managing Associate in the planning and infrastructure consenting team at Addleshaw Goddard, said: “The overarching message here is that where there is community, there is opportunity. Albeit those opportunities may well come in a very different form to business as usual for the development industry and investors. 

“NPF4 looks to redirect development towards vacant or underused brownfield sites in our cities and towns, while shifting the focus away from greenfield development. The sustainable credentials here are clear to see, particularly where the shift to a circular economy is being promoted. The real questions for Government and those involved in development in Scotland are how this quantum shift will be managed, and perhaps more importantly, financed.

“The ultimate goal is achieving ‘20-minute neighbourhoods’, sustainable communities where residents can walk to every service and facility needed to live, thereby minimising the need to travel. To effect this kind of revolution in housebuilding, commercial and leisure development Scotland will require massive investment in both new infrastructure and facilities. 

“This applies equally to new communities where the private car can no longer be deemed the default option, as well as to existing communities which will need to be retrofitted with enhanced local services and commercial opportunities to be truly ‘20-minute neighbourhoods’. 

“Covid-19 has exposed the real social inequalities which have long existed across Scotland, in urban and rural areas, and from one side of the central belt to the other. The Scottish Government sees the planning system as playing a major role in seeking to address these inequalities. By attempting to direct investment towards rural communities and incentivising the development of brownfield sites in urban centres, the desired outcome is the creation of better opportunities across the country. 

Sarah Baillie adds: 

"There are 18 ‘national developments’ – that are either distinctive, productive or liveable places. These are those that strongly support the delivery of the spatial strategy, i.e., are ‘needed’.

"However, there also needs to be a capital investment infrastructure programme working alongside NPF4 and a much-needed investment in both planning education and planning authorities to ensure we have the planners to deliver these ambitions. 

"If this progresses, our planning system would go through a huge step-change.

"Every page you turn – sustainability, net zero and the just transition are the obvious key drivers– and it indicates that Scotland is ahead of other planning jurisdictions in the UK, and perhaps globally, in terms of moving to effect those changes."