National Planning Framework 4 recognises the role that trees and woodland will play in helping to achieve net zero by 2045 through sequestering and storing carbon and providing essential ecosystem services for nature, people and the economy.
National Planning Framework 4 was adopted and published by the Scottish Ministers on 13 February 2023 at 9am. Policy 6 replaces the provisions in Scottish Planning Policy (SPP). The policy intent is to protect and expand forests, woodland and trees.
Local development plans
Local authorities will now begin work on preparing new local development plans. NPF4 states that LDPs should:
- Identify and protect existing woodland and the potential for its enhancement or expansion to avoid habitat fragmentation and improve ecological connectivity
- Identify and set out proposals for forestry, woodlands and trees, including the expansion of a range of types to provide multiple benefits
Forestry and woodland strategies
NPF4 indicates that LDPs should be supported and informed by an up to date forestry and woodland strategy.
There has been a legal requirement since 1 December 2019 for every planning authority to prepare a forestry and woodland strategy (Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997, section A159).
The strategy is to: (a) identify woodlands of high nature conservation value, and (b) set out policies and proposals, as to—
- the development of forestry and woodlands,
- the protection and enhancement of woodlands, in particular woodlands of high nature conservation value,
- the resilience to climate change of woodlands, in particular woodlands of high nature conservation value,
- the expansion of woodlands of a range of types to provide multiple benefits to the physical, cultural, economic, social and environmental characteristics of the area
The only procedural requirement is for the planning authority to consult the Scottish Ministers, such organisations as appear to them to represent those with an interest in the matters to be set out in the policies and proposals, and such other persons as they consider appropriate.
Planning applications/ appeals
Many forestry uses (including new woodland creation) and works are exempt from planning control. The NPF policies will only apply directly to planning applications for other forestry uses/ works, and non-forestry projects such as wind farms.
NPF4 policy 6 states that development proposals that enhance, expand and improve woodland and tree cover will be supported. The enhancement/ improvement/ planting of new trees must be integrated into the design.
Development proposals will not be supported where they will result in:
- Any loss of ancient woodlands, ancient and veteran trees or adverse impact on their ecological condition
- Adverse impacts on native woodlands, hedgerows and individual trees of high biodiversity value or identified for protection in the forestry and woodland strategy
- Fragmenting or severing woodland habitats, unless appropriate mitigation measures are identified and implemented in line with the mitigation hierarchy
- Conflict with Restocking Direction, Remedial Notice or Registered Notice to Comply issued by Scottish Forestry
Development proposals involving woodland removal will only be supported where they will achieve significant and clearly defined additional public benefits in accordance with relevant Scottish Government policy on woodland removal. Where woodland is removed, compensatory planting will most likely to be expected to be delivered.
The NPF4 Glossary includes definitions for: ancient woodland; veteran tree; and woodland.
As many forestry uses and works are exempt from planning control, the NPF might not have direct relevance. However, the approval of the NPF is likely to focus attention on the preparation of forestry and woodland strategies. It also emphasises the greater focus on woodland enhancement and expansion.