Rural Scotland is no longer an afterthought in NPF4

This blog is one in a series of guest blogs by members of the Housing and Place Delivery Forum reflecting on Scotland’s revised and soon-to-be adopted National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4).

Neil Clapperton (CEO, Lochalsh and Skye Housing Association) reflects on the revised version of NPF4 and the extent to which it addresses issues pertaining to rural Scotland.  

Planning is rarely a topic to make the pulse race, outside gatherings of policy wonks sheltering from the harsh light of day.  As policy goes, NPF4 is a huge brain dump, but even as a non-planner, I feel excited.

The original draft had several areas for improvement, not least the sense that rural Scotland was an afterthought. That is no longer the case and kudos to the civil servants who have included us.  Where principles challenge rural or island areas, like 20 minute neighbourhoods, the framework recognises that context will shape them. Scottish Government wants to engage with communities and encourage their contribution, so there’s an explicit invitation for places like Skye and Lochalsh to make aspects of planning like local living a reality, defining the “20 minute” concept for those living there.

There is an invitation to explore the planning role in preserving and developing the Gaelic language.  This is an area where local and national government needs to join up because Gaelic and the culture of the Gàidhealtachd need to be supported and developed using planning across all organs of government.  Road signs and logos are not enough.

I came across some Skye population statistics after picking up the revised NPF4.  Even with the Clearances, in 1841 the island supported twice as many people as it does today.  There is space.  Recent Skye-Connect research into the needs of employers and the private sector shows a huge demand for affordable housing and migration if your vision for rural Scotland is about a caring society, economic diversity and vibrancy. The “rural revitalisation” theme in the framework develops positive Scottish Government thinking on repopulation, hopefully reversing an unhealthy drift towards rural boomerificationTM and camper-van hell.

Allied to this is community wealth building, a phrase that feels washed out by over-use but, in reality, is critical to rural vitality and regeneration, especially the bit about socially productive use of land and property.  We need land reform.

If that all sounds a bit too optimistic, let’s recognise that NPF4 could have been more innovative, taken on board more suggestions from rural consultees, and explored the community engagement parts of the 2019 Planning Act.  I have high hopes for Local Place Plans (LLPs), as introduced by the Act. There is so much cynicism about planning and LLPs could be an antidote, designed to empower and make informing the Local Development Plan a civic and shared process. Unfortunately, they are conspicuous by their absence from NPF4.

Whatever the weaknesses, they are not critical.  Many reflect a lack of detail or guidance, for instance, around “infrastructure first”, where we need to be clear that dispersed rural infrastructure, by necessity, has to be designed differently.  I return to a glass half-full.  The principles are sound, the mood music is positive for rural planning, and there is an opportunity here for those interested in the future of remote and island communities to help influence and shape guidance and detail as it is written.  Sin ceart!  Tha e follaiseach!

On 24 April 2023, CaCHE, in association with the Housing and Place Delivery Forum, is hosting a conference entitled Delivering NPF4: What will it take? Register your place here.


Date: January 30, 2023 3:09 pm


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