Councils will need green specialists to meet government ambitions

17 Jan 2023

Planning departments will need more expertise to deliver the environmental ambitions set out in the refreshed framework for planning policy, charities have said.

The call comes as the Scottish Government has published the final version of the National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4) which sets out a plan for Scotland to create sustainable, liveable and productive places to improve people’s lives.

Scottish Environment LINK, a coalition of leading environmental charities, welcomes the ’significant weight’ to be given to both the global climate emergency and the nature crisis in the final draft of the framework.

Protections for ancient woodlands and veteran trees have been strengthened, with the Government clear that developments will not be supported that impact on these habitats.

The final draft of NPF4 also includes proposals for Nature Networks to be created, which provide corridors for wildlife and natural regeneration. However, the framework fails to commit to providing additional financial resource to planning authorities to allow for the recruitment of more biodiversity officers within local authorities to work on the roll out Nature Networks at local level to contribute to a national Nature Network.

However, environmental charities have said that local planning authorities must be given adequate resources to officers with experience in biodiversity and ecological science to effectively deliver on the kind of planning system envisaged in NPF4.

A 2022 survey, conducted by CIEEM, of 26 Local Planning Authority (LPA) staff found that 22% of respondents have no current ecological resource or expertise available and one third said there had been cutbacks to ecological provision within their LPA over the past 5 years.

Without in-house ecological expertise in local authorities, proposals for positive effects for biodiversity put forward by developers cannot be assessed and delivered. To implement transformation in Scottish planning there is an urgent need for increased capacity and expertise at local levels.

Esmé Clelland, Senior Conservation Planner and Convener of LINK’s Planning Group, said:

“NPF4 offers a real opportunity for meaningful change in the planning system and a shift to development which helps meet or climate change goals and nature recovery aims.

“We would like to thank the Minister for Public Finance, Planning and Community Wealth and Scottish Government officials for their hard work and listening to stakeholder views to produce a document which puts climate and nature at the forefront of decision making.

“Every local authority needs adequate resources and planning staff who are supported by experts in specialist area such as biodiversity, protected species and trees.

“NPF4 will be a key consideration in every planning application decision in Scotland and will shape local development plans in the future. The way it is interpretated and implemented will be critical.

“LINK members will continue to monitor progress to see how NPF4 is being delivered on the ground and hope it will deliver for climate, nature and people.”




Editors’ Notes


Scottish Environment LINK is the forum for Scotland’s voluntary environment community, with over 40 member bodies representing a broad spectrum of environmental interests with the common goal of contributing to a more environmentally sustainable society.

Scottish Environment LINK Planning Group’s response to the draft NPF4 consultation


  1. State of Nature Report 2019
  2. Biodiversity Intactness Index
  3. Scottish biodiversity strategy post-2020: statement of intent


Image: Simon Jones

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