If you are a landowner, developer, or local resident in Aberdeenshire, your views are now being sought by Aberdeenshire Council on three new topic papers it has published as part of its preparations for a new Local Development Plan, due for adoption in 2028. These topic papers cover biodiversity, natural places, and trees and woodlands. By responding to the consultations, you can contribute to the evidence that is being gathered by the Council and ensure that the right information is being considered by it as part of its Evidence Report.

These consultations are likely to be of particular interest to landowners and developers who are considering development in Aberdeenshire, particularly in rural and out of settlement areas, as it provides an early opportunity to engage with the planning authority on these important issues and how they are likely to be addressed through the spatial strategy.

Why is this n

As part of the new development planning process, planning authorities are now required to prepare and submit an Evidence Report to the Scottish Ministers. This report sets out the basis upon which the eventual spatial strategy for the area will be formed. There are a range of topics which must be considered in an Evidence Report: housing need and availability, health and education, and the physical, cultural, economic, social, and environmental characteristics of the area.

By considering and gathering evidence on these topics, the Evidence Report will ensure that the planning authority has a deeper understanding of its area as a place, its characteristics, and its residents' needs. This in turn will ensure that the Local Development Plan is place-based, people-centred, and delivery-focused, which is ultimately the aim of the reformed planning system.

National Planning Framework 4

Tackling the global climate and nature crises is the foundation of National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4), with its policies designed to protect and enhance the natural environment. To accord with the aims of NPF4, planning authorities are required to ensure that their spatial strategies will reduce emissions and promote nature recovery and restoration in its area (Policy 1).

To support the development of sustainable places, NPF4 requires development proposals to minimise greenhouse gas emissions (Policy 2); contribute to the enhancement of biodiversity (Policy 3); ensure there is no unacceptable impact on the natural environment (Policy 4); and enhance, expand, and improve woodland and tree cover (Policy 6).

The three consultations currently being undertaken by Aberdeenshire Council support this requirement and the conclusions derived from an assessment of the existing evidence base and from the consultation responses will inform a methodology which will be used by the planning authority to appraise sites for allocation and inclusion in the new Local Development Plan.

What are the topics?

  • Biodiversity and Nature Crisis

This topic paper focuses on biodiversity renewal, restoration, and regeneration. It seeks to identify where there are land use implications for Aberdeenshire and the important and high value habitats which may be affected by the impact of development. This is particularly so for rural or out of settlement developments. This topic paper sets out the strategic considerations for the Local Development Plan in preventing further loss of biodiversity and connectivity between habitats; and ensuring development proposals include nature-based solutions to address the biodiversity and nature crisis. To support this, four criteria are proposed to be incorporated into the site selection process: mapping natural environment constraints, an assessment of properly designed and integrated nature-based solutions, the implementation of long-term positive effects for biodiversity, and ecological connectivity.

  • Natural Places

This topic paper focuses on protecting natural habitats, identifying natural solutions to flood risk, and natural places for recreation and play. Natural places are recognised as environmental, social, and economic assets such as woodland, peatland and wetlands which not only support the climate and nature crises but also provide public health benefits. These places are to be identified in each Local Development Plan and are to be protected through the plan's spatial strategy and allocation of land for development. Policy 4 of NPF4 (Natural Places) seeks to ensure that natural assets are protected, restored, and enhanced. The topic paper identifies that sensitive locations such as Special Landscape Areas (SLA) are to be reviewed. Currently 26.7% of Aberdeenshire has an SLA designation. This topic paper identifies the connection between rural development opportunities, renewable and low carbon technology, and the impact they have on natural places and protected landscapes, recognising that these impacts may be difficult to resolve. A number of settlements in Aberdeenshire are identified where site allocations may be impacted by the need for nature conservation, and it highlights the settlements in Aberdeenshire which are currently within Special Landscape Areas. Whilst not precluded from development, the scale, massing, and location of development proposals in these areas will be considered in the context of protecting Aberdeenshire's natural places and the impact of the proposed development on its surrounding landscape.

  • Forestry, Woodland and Trees

This topic paper focuses on the distribution of forests and woodlands across Aberdeenshire; and analyses the implications of the site selection process on protecting and enhancing all woodland types. Trees and woodland are recognised as significantly important resources in the climate and nature crises. Policy 6 of NPF4 (Forestry, Trees and Woodland) seeks to protect and expand forests, woodland and trees. This coincides with Scottish Government policy which seeks to see an increase in woodland cover across Scotland. The topic paper makes a connection between the opportunities for woodland expansion in Aberdeenshire and the impact this will have on rural development. The settlements in Aberdeenshire where high value woodlands have been identified, which will have an impact on development opportunities, particularly in rural locations. The topic paper highlights that there are limited circumstances where compensatory planting will be acceptable and during site selection developments which aim to enhance and expand existing forests, woodland and trees through planting will be given extra weight.

Each consultation seeks views on the existing data which has been identified for the particular topic and whether there are other datasets the respondent is aware of that should be considered by the planning authority. There is also an opportunity to provide comment on the conclusions which have been reached and the site selection criteria for the spatial strategy.

Engaging in the plan process is the best way to make your views known at an early stage.

The consultations close on 15 March 2024.


Arlene Gibbs