Reflections on NPF4 Position Statement

BEFS Policy & Strategy Manager offers her thoughts on the Scottish Government’s NPF4 Position Statement released November 2020.

Rarely is a Statement released that so frequently states, reiterates, and supports, BEFS own policy positions made in previous responses to consultations.

A clear understanding of both the existing built environment as multi-faceted assets – capable of continuing to support our economic, environmental and social needs – but also as an essential part of the character and identity of places. This Statement takes into account the totality of our places, not just those considered special enough for Listing, Scheduling, or being part of a Conservation Area.

There is a strong thread of appropriate re-use, adaptation and appreciation of embodied carbon, an appreciation of our existing environment as part of our infrastructure. All the while being mindful of both the national strategy for the Historic Environment (OPiT) and giving the Historic Environment Policy for Scotland its appropriate policy role.

Aspects such as the UN-Sustainable Development Goals sit front and centre along-side the National Performance Framework and the aspiration for planning to support a Wellbeing Economy.

If there is an appropriate strategy or national plan – it is name checked, connected to this position statement, and the desire to ‘align’ strategic thinking across a raft of proposals is consistently reiterated. The Statement covers how it needs to link/interact/align to the following (this list is merely those that come to mind instantly… not all, by any means):

Infrastructure, Travel, Heat in Buildings, Place Principle, Place Standard, Housing, Developer Contributions, Health, sustainable Tourism, Climate, Nature and the Natural Environment, our Coasts, the Culture Strategy, Circular Economy, Rural Scotland, Town-Centre approaches, 20min Neighbourhoods Localism, and Design principles.

This Position piece is a veritable nirvana of built environment policy. Improved, well-designed, places enabling 20min neighbourhoods, building back our local and national economies for a carbon-neutral future, with infrastructure fit for the time-ahead we can only imagine.

Of the detailed, 45 page document, a scant two and a half pages are spent on Delivery of this appealing vision. This is understandable, it is a position statement -it is not the NPF4 – that, we are told, will come with a Delivery Programme.

For the future to look as bright as this document enables our dreaming to be, the ‘ground work’ needs to be started imminently. The evidence bases, appraisals, and skilled agents of all kinds across the planning, assessment, community and design sectors need to be in place, and resourced so any of these excellently intended plans can move past the ‘drawing board’ stage.

The final paragraph of the Delivery section, and the final part of the document not addressing the consultation it starts, leaves us with Masterplan Consent Areas – they remain presented as a useful, proactive tool; and perhaps this hints at the where the onus may lie in terms of delivery. Are Planning Authorities resourced to deliver the scale of vision set out here?

The numerous strategies and national plans mentioned demonstrates a real leap of connected – and connecting – thinking. This is what numerous organisations have been calling for, over many years. If it comes to fruition, it could enable our place (be that local or regional, rural, or city centre, coastal or mountain top) to fulfil its potential delivering both preventative-spend benefits, but tangible improvements to the lives of every citizen.

This statement suggests so much, perhaps too much. Whilst, the importance of planning cannot be understated, how the hierarchies of strategies/plans and investment shake-down in reality could leave planning with too much of the economic heavy-lifting, without it itself being resourced and skilled appropriately across the social, economic and cultural facets it seeks to deliver.


BEFS looks forward to working with Members in relation to the consultation on this in the new year.