RTPI: Scottish Government must plan for a ‘different’ Scotland post COVID-19

The development of Scotland’s new National Planning Framework (NPF) provides a unique opportunity to plan, prepare and provide a route map for a different Scotland in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Royal Town Planning Institute in Scotland.

RTPI: Scottish Government must plan for a ‘different’ Scotland post COVID-19

In a formal response to the Scottish Government’s call for ideas on what should be contained in NPF4, RTPI Scotland has set out 10 ‘Big Ideas’ to help guide its format, shape and content.

Key to the success of NPF4, says the Institute, is the adoption of a long-term vision to promote active and sustainable travel, prioritise climate action and champion decision-making to promote the well-being of future generations.

Irene Beautyman, convenor of RTPI Scotland, said: “The current situation regarding COVID-19 shows the need to elevate the role of planning and the need to plan, prepare and provide a route map for a different Scotland when the pandemic is over.

“There is a need to agree that we need a new normal and how we achieve this. RTPI Scotland believes that the National Planning Framework provides an opportunity to shape Scotland’s new normal, to give a national context to proactive change that serves people, planet and equity and, in doing so, achieve net zero carbon by 2045 and tackle health inequalities.

“Our 10 ‘Big Ideas’ aim to help guide the development of NPF4 to provide that vision and ensure that it is delivered.”

The current National Planning Framework, known as NPF3 was published in 2014 and will remain in place until NPF4 is adopted by Scottish Ministers.

A draft of the new framework is due to be laid before Parliament in 2021and will incorporate Scottish Planning Policy (SPP).

Changes to the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 mean NPF4 will be different from previous versions.

For example it will have a longer time horizon to 2050, contain fuller regional coverage and improved alignment with wider programmes and strategies, such as infrastructure and economic investment, and will also take into account regional spatial strategies.

Ms Beautyman said the COVID-19 emergency had highlighted a number of issues that will have an influence on the way our built environment must change in the future. These included issues around how to ensure people have equal access to shops, green spaces, leisure and jobs, how the built environment will be changed by the new behaviours and how communities will engage with institutions and one another.

To ensure all these issues are taken into account NPF4 should provide a long-term vision of what Scotland should be like in 30 years’ time and set out clear milestones to provide the pathway to achieving these ambitions.

The RTPI’s 10 ‘Big Ideas’ are as follows:

  1. NPF4 embeds the new purpose of planning - Ensure that the National Planning Framework embeds the purpose of planning, to “manage the development and use of land in the long term public interest” and, as part of this, recast the measures of planning performance to be more focussed on outcomes.
  2. NPF4 is supported by a capital investment programme - Ensure that NPF4 is accompanied by a 10-year capital investment programme with buy in from across government.
  3. NPF4 is a “First Minister’s document”.  Ensure that NPF4 is a key corporate document that influences Scottish Government decision making and has buy in from all Cabinet Secretaries in supporting their Post Covid-19 recovery ambitions and as a vision piece on planning for the ‘new normal’.
  4. NPF4 contains milestones that are tracked transparently.  Ensure that NPF4 includes short-, medium-, and long-term milestones and establish a delivery oversight group (which should include representatives from younger generations) to report annually on progress being made and implications of changing contexts. 
  5. NPF4 prioritises climate action and tackling health inequalities. Structure the NPF around outcomes which are tied into planning authority performance assessment frameworks and priority strategic themes on achieving climate action, delivering a net zero carbon Scotland and improved health and wellbeing.
  6. NPF4 promotes active and sustainable travel.  Include large scale improvements to active and sustainable transport networks across Scotland as a national development.
  7. NPF4 embeds the Reuse First Principle.  Ensure that the reuse first principle - where previously used land, buildings, places, materials and infrastructure are given preference to new - is applied across all of planning for places.
  8. NPF4 promotes decision making based around the well-being of future generations.  Ensure that NPF4 adopts and embeds the principle of planning decisions that provide long-term positive impacts to prevent persistent problems such as poverty, health inequalities and climate change and which meet the needs of future generations.
  9. NPF4 becomes The National Plan for Scotland. Position the NPF as the spatial articulation of the Scottish Government’s National Outcomes - much as development plans are the spatial articulation of Local Outcome Improvement Plans - which clearly sets out relationships between the planning at national, regional, local and community levels.
  10. NPF4 embeds and champions the Place Principle and Place Standard Themes Embed “Place and Wellbeing” themes from Place Standard and ensure collaborative implementation of the NPF through the place principle.
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