Today, RSPB Scotland submitted a response to the Scottish Government’s fourth National Planning Framework (NPF4), which will guide planning decisions and development in Scotland for the next decade. Planning must play its part to ensure developments help tackle the nature and climate emergency by being net-zero and nature-positive.

Sometimes, standing up for nature requires hours poring over policy documents and writing recommendations. This week, RSPB Scotland submitted a response to the Scottish Government’s consultation for the fourth National Planning Framework (NPF4). Contrary to how it may sound, this is the most important document where development is concerned. Once NPF4 is approved by the Scottish Parliament later this year, every decision made about development proposals across Scotland must take account of NPF4’s policies. RSPB Scotland is calling on the Scottish Government to ensure the nature crisis is given equal weight to the climate emergency in planning decisions, as nature boosts wellbeing, and provides services and multiple benefits for people and climate.  

aerial image of glasgow showing housing, parks and urban trees

We’re pleased and encouraged that NPF4 recognises the climate and nature crises and the need for planning to play its part in these urgent issues. We have welcomed the inclusion of planning policy focused on delivering ‘positive effects for biodiversity’ alternatively known as biodiversity enhancement. We are also pleased that the importance of nature in the economy and for wellbeing is recognised.

However, in other areas we are disappointed.

Looking more closely at the policy wording, it is not strong enough or clear enough to ensure that planning ensures nature’s recovery. Throughout the currently drafted NPF4, there is a lack of clarity and detail as to how long-term, meaningful action for nature, climate and people will be delivered. We are also frustrated that a mapped Scottish Nature Network has not been included as ‘National Development’ in the draft. Nature networks are mentioned throughout the draft NPF4, but there is no description of what they should be comprised of or how these will be delivered in practice. This is a significant missed opportunity for the Scottish Government to show their commitment to tackling the loss of nature and improving the health and wellbeing of people in Scotland by creating and enhancing local spaces for nature.   

Illustration of wildflowers with butterfly

We believe this is what people want too. In a recent series of twitter polls, there was clear and obvious desire for more wildlife and nature-rich spaces in urban areas. The polls also highlighted that people are concerned about the risks that poorly planned developments pose for nature  and want government, councils and developers to do more to protect and enhance nature.. Overall, more than 80% of the people polled want to see the Scottish Government taking more action to address the nature crisis.

To deliver the promised, and needed, transformative change, NPF4 must be more than just positive aims. It must be accompanied with long-term investment in resourcing and staff capacity for local authorities. Otherwise, it will be impossible to deliver meaningful action on the ground. We hope that the Scottish Government will make the necessary changes to NPF4, and that Parliament vote to ensure that planning does deliver a net-zero, nature positive future.

Following today’s consultation deadline, the timescales are unclear as to when we will see a final version of NPF4. Given the concerns we and other stakeholders share regarding the detail and delivery of NPF4, we hope there will be further opportunity to shape the draft before it is approved by the Scottish Parliament.