Last chance for planning reform to tackle the nature crisis

18 Aug 2022

A coalition of leading environmental charities has called on the Scottish Government to ensure imminent reforms to the planning system respond to the climate and nature emergencies.

Scottish Environment LINK has said that the draft National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4) falls short of the action required to reverse the crisis of nature loss.

1 in 9 species are at risk of extinction in Scotland [1] and, in a comparison of 240 countries and territories, Scotland is ranked as one of the most nature depleted countries in the world [2].

NPF4 is the Scottish Government’s long-term plan to guide where development and infrastructure in Scotland takes place. It will play a critical role to guide all planning decisions in Scotland for the next decade and beyond. It will also play a key role in supporting economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and addressing the climate and nature emergencies.

In response to the global nature and climate crises, the Scottish Government has set out ambitious targets to protect 30% of land by 2030 [4] and achieve net-zero by 2045. However, NPF4 does not yet go far enough to respond to the nature and climate emergency and meet these targets, nor will the current draft deliver the promised transformative change needed for Scotland’s planning system.

The Scottish Government’s proposed reforms of the planning system will require local authorities create “nature networks”, creating corridors of nature-rich landscapes, to reverse a crisis in biodiversity. However, environmental charities have said that the proposals lack a clear delivery mechanism and insisted that a joined-up, national approach is necessary.

Nature networks can play an essential role in delivering nature recovery by providing corridors for wildlife and natural regeneration, can provide multiple benefits for nature, climate and people, by creating and enhancing local spaces for nature.

We are told NPF4 will deliver this, but there is no description of what nature networks should be comprised of or how they will work in practice. There is little guidance for councils available, no duty to report their progress, and no sign of extra investment to support the work.

The final version of NPF4 will be laid before the Parliament by mid-Autumn. Minister for Public Finance, Planning and Community Wealth, Tom Arthur MSP, has confirmed that the Scottish Parliament will have at least six weeks to provide scrutiny. This is the last chance for the Scottish Government to ensure that the new planning system will deliver for nature.


Clare Symonds, Founder and Chair of Planning Democracy and Convener of LINK’s Planning Group, said:

Nature recovery is key to reaching net-zero and coping with the consequences of climate change.

“Scottish Environment LINK is pleased that there is recognition of the climate and nature crises and many of the policy changes are positive. However key aspects of the document remain incremental and fall short of the transformational approach required.

“We need real leadership and national coordination, with councils supported to deliver a joined-up, Scotland-wide network to restore nature. The planning system has the potential to play a key role in delivering meaningful change, but to do this planning policies need to be stronger to ensure wildlife and habitats are properly protected. To go further and enhance nature we need far greater commitment and investment.”


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