The future of the workplace is a big topic at the moment. The Scottish Government's draft National Planning Framework 4 is its vision to 2045. What does it say about workplaces?

Size matters

Workplaces which generate significant footfall, eg. large offices, are to be located in town centres (policy 26). This continues the town centre first focus in the current Scottish Planning Policy, promoting accessibility by a range of sustainable transport modes. Sustainable transport is therefore a key focus for planning policy on business and employment development.

Smaller sized businesses are also addressed: the draft also continues the encouragement in the SPP for home-working, live-work units and micro-businesses (policy 16).

20 minute neighbourhoods

The draft NPF4 introduces the new concept of the 20 minute neighbourhood. Although the focus is about planning housing with schools, community centres, local shops, greenspaces, and health and social care, there is mention of opportunities for business and employment uses:

"20 Minute Neighbourhoods are however an opportunity to rethink how housing, service provision, city, town or village centres could be re-configured to support new ways of working, homeworking and community hubs in line with localism objectives and reducing demand for motorised travel."

That is consistent with a recent report that two thirds of home purchasers take working from home in consideration, highlighting a need for the planning system to take account of this change in housing needs. 

It must be remembered that, in some circumstances, running a business from home, such as a personal training studio, might require a separate planning permission. That sort of uncertainty is a potential barrier to small businesses, and planning applications involve cost and delay. 

Rural areas

Policy 31 supports development proposals that contribute to the viability, sustainability and diversity of the local economy in rural areas. That includes the diversification of farms, crofts and other land use businesses, and small scale developments that support new ways of working such as remote working, homeworking and community hubs. 

Diversification has already been supported by the introduction of permitted development rights for changing the use of agricultural buildings. 

Wellbeing economy and green jobs

Policy 16 also promotes a "greener, fairer and more inclusive wellbeing economy", without explaining what that means.


It is disappointing that the draft NPF4 does not provide leadership and direction on the future of the workplace. The reference to the opportunity provided by 20 minute neighbourhoods is useful, but does not give local authorities a strong push to explore that opportunity. Yet again, it seems that the planning system is relying on the market to bring forward proposals, without providing a clear indication of what will be acceptable.

For a more general discussion of the draft NPF4, watch our Planning Live


Neil Collar