National Planning Framework 4 was adopted by the Scottish Ministers on 13 February 2023. Section 36 applications are decided by the Scottish Ministers, so those decisions are a useful indication of how the Ministers consider the NPF4 policies should be applied.


NPF4 has undoubtedly had a big impact in its first year, especially in relation to renewables.

Recent section 36 decisions

In Scotland, applications for electricity generating stations exceeding 50MW are determined by the Scottish Ministers, under section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989.

So far in 2024, the Ministers have issued decisions on seven section 36 applications – four wind farms, and three battery storage schemes. Only two applications were refused – the Narachan and Lethen wind farms.

Public inquiries were held for the Narachan and Cairn Duhie projects; a PLI was not required for the Lethen project, because the planning authority objection was submitted late, and the Ministers exercised their discretion not to hold a PLI.

Landscape and visual/ wildland

A key feature of NPF4 is the lack of significance placed on localised landscape and visual impacts, and also on impacts on wildland. There are numerous examples showing those types of impacts are no longer reasons for refusal – most recently, the Bunloinn, and Cairn Duhie decisions.


NPF4 policy 3 introduced a requirement for biodiversity enhancement. In the Shetland BESS decision, although the development was not supported by policy 3, because of the lack of biodiversity enhancement, the Ministers concluded the development was supported by NPF4 when read as a whole. That is a much more powerful statement than the alternative of granting permission as a departure from the development plan.

The site circumstances were unusual: there was already a concrete platform, so the development did not result in adverse ecological impact. The Ministers therefore concluded it was not necessary or justified to impose a planning condition requiring mitigation of a non-effect by the enhancement of biodiversity.

Approaches to biodiversity enhancement are still emerging. In November the Ministers issued draft planning guidance. Naturescot are consulting on a biodiversity metric. Although the Court of Session upheld the approach taken by the Ministers when consenting the Clashindarroch II wind farm, Wildcat Haven have appealed that. 

Economic/ financial benefits

NPF4 policy 11c) refers to maximising local and community socio-economic benefits. In the Bunloinn decision, the Ministers rejected the proposal by the planning authority for imposition of two conditions seeking to guarantee economic/ financial benefits.


Although the NPF4 policies strongly support renewable energy projects, it is inevitable that some will be refused consent on the grounds of unacceptable impacts.

In the Narachan decision, the Ministers decided that the benefits of the project did not outweigh the adverse effects of the aviation lighting on the special qualities of the North Arran National Scenic Area. They did not accept that a condition could be imposed restricting commencement of development until an ADLS system was installed, because of the lack of certainty that a system would be installed within the usual 5 year implementation period.

In contrast, in the Lethen decision, the Ministers decided that the significant adverse effects on the integrity of the National Park would be outweighed by the environmental and economic benefits of the development; but the consent was refused because of significant adverse impacts on the integrity of the setting of a scheduled monument.


These decisions are a reminder that the application of NPF4 policies is inherently site-specific. However, the overall thrust is broadly supportive – particularly the Shetland decision, which concluded the development was supported by NPF4 when read as a whole, despite non-compliance with policy 3.

The Shetland and Bunloinn decisions suggest the Ministers are taking a cautious approach towards imposing conditions to promote NPF4 policy requirements.


Neil Collar