Nominations for Scotland's next National Park are to be submitted by 29 February 2024. We discuss the next steps and the implications.

New national park

The Scottish Government has committed to designating at least one new National Park in Scotland by the end of the parliamentary session in 2026. Nominations will be assessed using an appraisal framework.

Designation procedure

The National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000 sets out the designation procedure, which includes:

  • National Park proposal – prepared by the Scottish Government, setting out the area proposed for designation as a National Park, and the proposed functions of the new National Park authority.
  • Report - the Scottish Government have the power to require NatureScot or any other public body with relevant expertise to review and report on the National Park proposal (NatureScot or the public body are referred to as "the reporter", which has potential to be confused with DPEA reporters).
  • Local inquiry - "if they [Scottish Ministers] think fit".
  • Designation order - which is laid before Parliament.
  • Consultation - there are various consultation opportunities during these steps. 

The Scottish Government have provided a timeline for this process.

Statutory aims

The National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000 requires the following statutory aims to be collectively achieved in relation to the National Park in a co-ordinated way:

  • conserve and enhance the natural and cultural heritage;
  • promote the sustainable use of the natural resources of the area;
  • promote understanding and enjoyment (including enjoyment in the form of recreation) of the special qualities of the area by the public; and
  • promote sustainable social and economic development of the communities of the area.

In the event of a conflict, greater weight must be given to the first aim (referred to as "the Sandford principle"). The concern for communities is that conservation can trump social and economic development.

Planning responsibilities

The planning role of the new National Park authority will require consideration. The two existing National Parks in Scotland have different planning arrangements.

The Loch Lomond & The Trossachs NPA has full planning powers in its area, including deciding planning applications, and preparing the local development plan.

The Cairngorms NPA also prepares a local development plan, but planning applications within the Cairngorms National Park are submitted to the relevant local authority. There is an agreement between the four local authorities (Aberdeenshire, Angus, Highland and Moray Councils) whereby the Cairngorms NPA can call-in a planning application for its decision.

Implications for planning system

The statutory aims (above) will apply where the new NPA interacts with the planning system. That adds another layer of requirements about the weight to be given to the planning considerations.

For example, the Sandford principle was raised as one of the grounds in a legal challenge to the adoption of the Cairngorms National Park Local Plan 2010. The issue was the allocation of sites for development, mainly housebuilding. One was the An Camas Mor site, allocated for 1,500 houses.

It was alleged that the exercise of giving greater weight to the first of the statutory aims had not been carried through to the site-specific proposals of the local plan. That was rejected by the judge. He held the obligation to give greater weight to that aim had been expressly recognised in the Local Plan and carried though, by cross-reference, to the particular proposals on settlements and housing.

On shore wind

National Planning Framework 4 states that "Development proposals for wind farms in National Parks .... will not be supported" (policy 11).

The Scottish Government acknowledge in the nomination guidance there is a need to review how that would apply to the new National Park:

"All areas of Scotland are eligible to submit nominations to become a new National Park (including those that have current or potential onshore wind developments). To ensure any National Park addresses the climate emergency and supports progressive development, we will develop new bespoke planning policy on onshore wind to be applied in new National Parks. This means that a new National Park will be treated differently to existing National Parks with respect to NPF4 policy for onshore wind."