In November, the Scottish Government published its draft Planning Guidance on Biodiversity. The guidance sets out the Scottish Ministers' expectations for implementing national planning policies which seek to improve biodiversity in Scotland and accelerate nature recovery.

The guidance

The guidance is a living document and has been designed to assist planning authorities and developers with implementing national planning policies on biodiversity enhancements and the creation of nature networks. It will be updated as practice beds in across Scotland. Securing positive effects for biodiversity is a cross-cutting theme which runs through National Planning Framework 4 and all development plans and proposals are required to be guided by the principles of climate change and nature recovery.

The planning system has a critical role to play in ensuring that efforts are made to address the urgency of the challenge to restore and protect nature: whether that is through local development plans and policies, regional spatial strategies, and development proposals which design and integrate nature and nature recovery.

The eight principles

The guidance sets out eight principles which can help secure biodiversity enhancements and create more pleasant and enriching places to live, work and spend time. These are:

  • Apply the mitigation hierarchy;
  • Consider biodiversity from the outset;
  • Provide synergies and connectivity for nature;
  • Integrate nature to deliver multiple benefits;
  • Prioritise on-site enhancement before off-site delivery;
  • Take a place-based and inclusive approach;
  • Ensure long term enhancement is secured; and
  • Additionality.

NPF4 policies

The guidance highlights NPF4 policies which are particularly relevant in securing positive effects for biodiversity. Most notable is Policy 3 – Biodiversity – which applies to all development proposals. Major or national developments, or those requiring an EIA, must demonstrate that biodiversity, including nature networks, will be in a 'demonstrably better state' than without the intervention. This requires best practice assessment methods to be used, although NPF4 does not specify any particular approach: whether qualitative or quantitative. A number of guides and existing toolkits are referenced within the guidance, including NatureScot's Developing with Nature guidance, which includes simple and widely applicable measures which can readily contribute to biodiversity enhancement.

What next?

Whilst a Scottish metric is being developed, a flexible approach is required by developers in demonstrating that they have taken account of habitats and environmental conditions as part of their proposal, and by planning authorities in determining whether the policy requirements of NPF4 are met so as to ensure decision making is not delayed.

The flexibility that is being encouraged through the guidance is welcome, and whilst it serves as a helpful reminder of national policy requirements and existing best practice, it remains to be seen what benefit the guidance will have in ensuring biodiversity enhancements are delivered.


Arlene Gibbs