The long-awaited draft Fourth National Planning Framework - Scotland 2045 was laid before Scottish Parliament by Tom Arthur MSP on 10th November 2021. The Planning Minister and Chief Planner have both called it bold and ambitious and in a series of forthcoming blogs we will review the various parts of the draft framework and how it might affect different sectors and industries. In this article we focus on housebuilding and identify some matters which might be worthy of representations during the consultation period which runs until 31 March 2022.

Before delving into the draft NPF, it is worth reminding ourselves that one of the key reasons for reforming the planning legislation was to deliver higher levels of new good quality house building. The Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 introduced statutory obligations on housing targets and housing for older and disabled people, plus a requirement for Scottish Ministers to report every 2 years on how the housing needs of these groups are being met. The policy approach in NPF4 was to be designed with these matters in mind.

While it should be borne in mind that this is the first draft of NPF4 and there is more discussion to be had, at first glance it does feel that considerable changes will be needed if it is to deliver the ambition of Housing to 2040 for everyone in Scotland to have access to a warm, safe, affordable and energy efficient home that meets their needs in a community that they feel part of and proud of.

National development

Such was the importance being placed by Scottish Government on delivering more homes that one could be forgiven for perhaps expecting housebuilding to feature more prominently in the draft framework. A really bold move would have been to identify housebuilding generally as one of the 18 designated national developments.

Designation as national development means that the principle of the development does not need to be agreed in later consenting processes and for house building that would have removed the often heated housing land supply arguments and reinforced the recognised national need for new homes. Some of the national developments, namely Clyde Mission and Dundee and Edinburgh Waterfronts include new and/or upgraded buildings for mixed use and/or residential development within their designation, but could that not have been a pan-Scotland designation?

Targets or requirements?

The 1997 Act requires the NPF to include housing targets in all areas of Scotland and local development plans must include targets for meeting the housing needs in the relevant area, yet draft NPF4 Policy 9 changes this to "Housing Land Requirement" with the Explanatory Note claiming that reference to targets could be inferred as aspirational amounts that authorities try to achieve whereas a requirement must be met. The lawyers will have fun with that one!

The draft contains the 10 year Minimum All Tenure Housing Land Requirement (MATHLR) for all authority areas in Scotland which LDPs should at least meet. Authorities are entitled (rather than obliged or even encouraged) to consider their local housing needs and identify a larger housing land requirement within their LDP.

Higher still

At 207,692 units, the cumulative MATHLR is some 50,000 higher than the amount specified in the Method Paper issued in February 2021, but it falls short of the commitment given by previous Planning Minister, Kevin Stewart, to deliver 25,000 homes (all tenure) per annum.

Policy 9 retains the current national benchmark of 25% affordable homes in all new developments. Since recent research showed that most affordable housing is delivered as part of a larger mainstream development, and higher percentages can threaten the viability of a development, it suggests that NPF4 should aspire to doubling its MATHLR if the Scottish Government is to satisfy its desire to provide 100,000 affordable homes by 2031/2032.

City/town centre living

A further twist in the housing requirement tale is that Policy 27(a) requires planning authorities to provide an unspecified proportion of their housing land requirement in city or town centres. This is consistent with the focus on reuse of vacant and derelict land and the move away from greenfield development, but as was discussed in our recent webinar on city centre living, these are the most difficult sites to develop and are unlikely to deliver very quickly either the quantity or range of homes which are said to be needed. Current experience also suggests that for this policy to succeed, planning officers will need to rethink their approach to design criteria on single aspect flats, space standards and amenities and embrace build to rent and co-living developments in a way not yet seen in many cities or towns.

The measure of success

And how will we measure an authority's success in achieving its MATHLR? The need to maintain a minimum 5-year supply of effective housing land has gone and instead Policy 9(b) requires a deliverable housing land pipeline of short, medium and long-term housing sites. Where sites in the pipeline are not delivered as programmed and alternative delivery mechanisms are not possible, then later allocations can be pulled forward. And Policy 9(i) also permits new homes to be built on unallocated land if delivery falls behind.

The pipeline is to be managed by the Delivery Programme and Housing Land Audit, but it is not clear how this is to be done if no annual or 5-year requirement is specified. What are you measuring annual delivery against to know whether the pipeline has dried up and more sites/homes can be brought forward?

Additional assessments and considerations

Housing proposals for more than 50 dwellings will require to be accompanied by a statement of community benefit. There are other statements and studies which will be required, such as a whole life assessment of greenhouse gas emissions and a health impact assessment, and in the consideration of all development proposals, significant weight is to be given to the Global Climate Emergency, but no detail is provided on what that means in practice for applicants or authorities.

The 6 principles of successful place-making and the emphasis on the 20-minute neighbourhood and sustainable transport are embedded in Policies 6, 7 and 10. There is an increased focus on blue and green infrastructures in developments in Policy 12 and Policy 11 requires connections to a heat network or alternative low or zero emissions heating system.

Housing for older and disabled persons

The policies designed to provide appropriate housing for older and disabled people in line with legislative requirements are well hidden in the draft. Some had thought that the draft may include a percentage requirement along the lines of affordable housing; others hoped that it might establish housing-with-care as a form of housing. Instead, there are oblique references in Policy 9(c) to "diverse needs" and in 9(f) to accessible, adaptable and wheelchair accessible homes and homes for older people and other specialist groups. How planning authorities are to interpret those policies when faced with an application for new residential development is unclear.

Have your say

With 6 spatial principles, 18 national developments, 35 policies and 58 questions to answer, there is certainly a lot of reading in draft NPF4. Successful place-making is, of course, about more than numbers. It's about people and the way we live, work and relax. The climate emergency and COVID pandemic have highlighted that we all need to think and act differently. The planning process has a key role to play in effecting the changes required and NPF4 must provide a robust framework to ensure that bold and ambitious decision-making also happens at a local level so that it achieves its aim of a net zero, sustainable Scotland by 2045.

Public consultation on the draft NPF4 runs until 30 March 2022 and it will be important for all stakeholders to put forward their views on the draft before this date. The Scottish Government intends to lay a revised draft NPF4 before the Scottish Parliament prior to summer recess 2022.

This is the first blog in our current series discussing draft NPF4. You can read the other blogs on renewables and infrastructure.