As National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4) reached its first anniversary, the 2024 Charles Smith Memorial Environmental Law Lecture looked at its role in addressing the climate and nature crises.

The lecture was presented by Dr Fiona Simpson, the Scottish Government's Chief Planner, who led the preparation of NPF4, as well as its predecessor.

NPF – Role

Dr Simpson described the NPF as a key lever for operationalising objectives. It brings policies together into a coherent strategy. The long term, spatial perspective of planning has never been more important.


The first NPF was adopted twenty years ago, in 2004. The NPF has evolved over time, in response to the changing context.

NPF1 was very strategic; NPF2, adopted in 2009 during the economic recession, was bold and imaginative; NPF3 was a united vision for Scotland as a whole, including offshore areas.


NPF4 is a significant change. That is illustrated by Policy 1:

"When considering all development proposals significant weight will be given to the global climate and nature crises."

NPF4 contains the where/ what/ how. It has a regional perspective, but not based on administrative boundaries.

The spatial strategy will guide the preparation of local development plans by planning authorities. The single suite of national policy will mean fewer policies in LDPs, which can be more map/ place based.


Dr Simpson acknowledged that it will take time to realise the benefits of NPF4. Delivery is being monitored closely, with several policies generating lots of debate (policies 2 climate mitigation, 3 biodiversity, 11 energy, 16 quality homes, 17 rural homes, and 22 flood risk).

Delivery is being supported by continuing collaboration, preparation of guidance, further reforms such as new regulations and permitted development rights, and work on resourcing the planning system.

[The Charles Smith Memorial Environmental Law Lecture is presented by Brodies LLP in partnership with Edinburgh Law School]


Neil Collar