The Scottish Government published National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4) almost 12 months ago. How is it bedding down?


The big advantage is we have (only!) 33 national policies, each expressed concisely (approx 2 pages). Policy principles and objectives for LDPs are identified.

The slight downside is the need to remember all the new policy numbers…


NPF4 has undoubtedly had a big impact: it feels as though we've not been speaking about anything else all year. 

For example, for renewable energy, it has resulted in recommendations for refusal being changed to recommendations for approval. 

In contrast, numerous housing applications and appeals are in limbo, pending the outcome of the legal challenge to the approach taken by the reporter and Scottish Ministers in the Mossend appeal to the interpretation of NPF4 policy 16 f). 

The embodied carbon issue has not perhaps made as much impact as might have been expected. 


Inevitably interpreting the new policies has thrown up difficulties. There are new words and phrases - the drafters might not have anticipated the practical difficulties of using those. The glossary of definitions (page 144) is an important reference source. The Chief Planner also issued guidance on transitional arrangements. 

For the first time, planning authorities have to interpret and apply a development plan document which they did not prepare, which has added to the uncertainty. 

The introduction of a new policy document always involves a difficult transitional phase. Well-known, and perhaps well-loved, approaches are not easy to give up. There are awkward issues about how far to apply the new policy to applications submitted under the previous policy. Hopefully that transitional phase will end soon.


NPF4 says the policies should be read as a whole (page 98). That could encourage an approach which requires all policies to be satisfied, rather than focusing on key outcomes. The court decisions indicate that a proposal can accord with the development plan even if it is contrary to some parts of that plan.

Policy 1 states that when considering all development proposals significant weight will be given to the global climate and nature crises. That is the only indication of an overarching approach; otherwise, outcomes are identified for each individual policy, not for the policies as a whole.

A criticism might therefore be that NPF4 is not clear enough about the outcomes it seeks? Table 1 (page 5) indicates how the policies align with spatial principles and national outcomes, but inevitably there are and will be conflicts between policies and between national outcomes.


The statutory provisions state that if there is an incompatibility between NPF4 and the LDP, the later one in date prevails. Some planning authorities have produced helpful lists of LDP policies they consider to be incompatible with NPF4. 

There are instances where planning officers have been too quick to ignore their LDP on the grounds of incompatibility. It can often be possible to read the NPF and LDP together, without there being enough of a conflict to create incompatibility. It can't be long before the Court of Session is asked to rule on the meaning of "incompatibility". 

Weight to be given to NPF4

It is understandable that significant weight is given to NPF4. It is an up-to-date part of the development plan. However, it should be borne in mind that the law still allows for applications to be decided contrary to the development plan. Planning decisions should consider whether material considerations justify taking a different approach from NPF4. 

NPF4 itself acknowledges that "authorities can add further detail including locally specific policies should they consider to be a need to do so, based on the area's individual characteristics" (page 98). The statutory provisions go further - if an incompatible LDP is adopted after NPF4, it is the LDP which prevails. That holds open the possibility that local circumstances might justify taking a different approach to NPF4. Robust justification would be required to convince the reporters carrying out the LDP examination. 


Neil Collar