Highland Council voices concerns over net zero credentials of draft NPF4

Highland councillors have expressed concerns that the Scottish Government’s new national planning strategy and policies could fall short on delivering regional priorities for the region and in achieving Scotland’s transition to net zero.

Highland Council voices concerns over net zero credentials of draft NPF4

At a meeting of The Highland Council’s Economy and Infrastructure Committee members took the opportunity to discuss the council’s emerging response to Scottish Government’s Draft National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4), currently out for consultation until March 31.

NPF4 will be a long-term plan that will guide spatial development, set out national planning policies, designate national developments and highlight regional spatial priorities. It will also play a key role in supporting economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and addressing the climate and ecological emergency.

The Committee members and the council’s planning officials see it as a vital opportunity to raise Highland’s profile and to recognise the area’s unique assets and resources and the ongoing contribution this will make to national outcomes.

This follows the council developing its ambitious 30 year vision to inform the preparation of NPF4 during 2020 and 2021, including Highland’s Indicative Regional Spatial Strategy.

Councillor Trish Robertson, chair of the Committee, highlighted the importance NPF4 will play but also pointed out that the report discussed by the committee raised a number of important concerns regarding the current draft.

She said: “This is a huge opportunity to build on our strengths and support our journey to net zero but it appears to be very biased towards urban areas of the country and as a result the huge amount of work already underway in many parts of the Highlands is not captured. This means the potential and exciting opportunities for growth will not be accurately captured and vast geographical areas and many of our more remote communities not considered.”

The concerns raised by officers presented in the report members discussed include:

  • A lack of detail on how the priorities for Scotland’s rural areas will be addressed, which compromises the national ambition for rural repopulation.
  • A significant underplaying of Highland’s integral role in the national spatial strategy, including its ongoing contribution to the national transition to net zero.
  • Visually there is an impression that Draft NPF4 is biased towards supporting Scotland’s most urban areas and leaves Highland rural and urban areas in a less certain and supported position, for example in addressing inequalities in access to services.
  • While elements of the national spatial strategy are supported there is less evidence of Highland’s Indicative Regional Spatial Strategy having shaped it.

An online Members Workshop focussing on the Draft NPF4, to which all council members have been invited, is to be held on February 25.

Together with the council’s consideration, the outputs from the workshop will inform officers’ further working up, supplementing, refining and finalising of the council’s response to the Scottish Government.

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