Planning as vision: reflecting on NPF3

Scottish parliament, Edinburghby Greg Lloyd, School of the Built Environment, University of Ulster

In late June 2014 ‘Ambition, Opportunity, Place’, Scotland’s third National Planning Framework (‘NPF3’) was published by the Scottish Government – affirming a distinctive feature of Scotland’s approach to modern land-use planning.

The idea of a national planning framework (‘NPF’) to set the context for development planning and the spatial development of Scotland as a whole, which was devised in the processes of modernisation which resulted in the Planning etc (Scotland) Act 2006, has been highly acclaimed. (1)

The NPF concept was given statutory authority and is seen as the means by which Scotland’s development priorities could be articulated together with a catalogue of supporting national developments. A second NPF followed – refining the strategy and setting out progress. (2) NPF3 was laid in the Scottish Parliament on 23 June 2014. This iteration affirms the Scottish Government’s support for 14 ‘national developments’ (including major regeneration schemes at Dundee Waterfront and Ravenscraig, carbon capture and storage schemes in Peterhead and Grangemouth and support for improvements at Scotland’s main airports) of strategic importance. (3)

The focus of NPF3 is organised around the higher level political ambitions of creating Scotland as a successful, sustainable place, a low carbon place, a natural, resilient place, and as a connected place. Each is considered in terms of a vision with detailed spatial priorities for change. Its target is on supporting sustainable economic growth and the transition to a low carbon economy. It is well illustrated with sharp, clear articulations of spatial priorities across Scotland. An Action Programme sets out the conditions for implementation. The NPF3 points to where there are perceived opportunities for growth and regeneration, investment in the low carbon economy, environmental enhancement and improved connections across the country. It paints a canvas for the city regions, rural areas and coastal towns and a separate initiative asserts the wild land strategy.

Reflecting contemporary thinking in economic and infrastructure debates, the NPF3 states that Scotland’s seven city regions will continue to be a focus for investment. Attention is paid to the importance of the quality of city centres particularly with respect to sustainability, resilience of the built environment and the wider public realm. Alongside the city regions there are Enterprise Areas and national development priorities at Ravenscraig and the Dundee Waterfront. Key actions are asserted together with a timeline for implementation and monitoring – this captures the diverse nature of contemporary planning.

What is important about the NPF3?

First, it represents a maturing of a strategic approach to planning in Scotland, provides a material context for the associated cascade of development plans, informing the Scottish Government’s Land Use Strategy and providing a visible assertion of the importance of positive planning. This stands in marked contrast to evolving approaches elsewhere – especially England and Northern Ireland. In the Republic of Ireland, for example, its vaunted National Spatial Strategy is being recast along the lines of a National Planning Framework.

Second, the NPF is now situated in a very deliberate hierarchy of planning layers – being the deliberate spatial articulation of the Economic Strategy, being aligned with the 2014 Single Planning Policy Statement (‘Scottish Planning Policy’), and providing the context for community planning, strategic development plans, and local development plans. The economic strategy is a sound starting point – seeking to share the benefits of growth by encouraging economic activity and investment across all of Scotland’s communities, while protecting natural and cultural assets. Such an explicit link between economic thinking and land-use planning stands in marked contrast to the positions in the other devolved states. NPF3 is part of a clear map of national institutional and organisational responsibilities– itself an assertion of acknowledging the need for consistency and continuity at a time of ongoing economic uncertainty.

Finally it is clear that new thinking is required for the future – in order to address the nature of the current economic malaise, the distorted economic geography created, the insidious impact of austerity on communities and individuals, and the tendency to equate nostalgia with resolve. (4) It is also time to assert the role of government in taking the lead in managing and orchestrating large-scale change and thinking which for too long has been overlooked, misunderstood and denied. (5) The NPF3 would suggest a new confidence in planning practice and for this reason alone is to be warmly welcomed. The next challenge is backing it with the appropriate resource – now it is up to political leadership and bravery.


This article originally appeared in our journal Scottish Planning and Environmental Law, No 164 (August 2014).

Professor Greg Lloyd will be a keynote speaker at this year’s Scottish Planning and Environmental Law Conference on 26 September 2014. The full programme and booking information are now available.

 

References

(1) Lloyd G & Peel D, National Planning Lessons for the Future? (2007) Scottish Planning & Environmental Law, No 120, pp 32-33.

(2) Lloyd G & Peel D, The National Planning Framework 2: consultation and action (2008) Scottish Planning & Environmental Law, No 125, p5.

(3) See also (2013) Scottish Planning & Environmental Law, No 157, p 51

(4) Richard Florida (2011) The Great Reset. London, Harper.

(5) Mariana Mazzucato (2013) The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths. London, Anthem Press.

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