NPF4: can it transform our transport systems?

21 Mar 2022

By Malachy Clarke, Public Affairs Manager for Friends of the Earth Scotland and a member of LINK’s Planning Group.

Transport is Scotland’s biggest source of climate emission, accounting for over one-third of all emissions. It will be impossible for the Scottish Government to meet their proposed 75% reduction in emissions by 2030 without taking radical action to change our transport system. Encouraging walking, wheeling and cycling through an integrated transport system that encourages public transport and doesn’t give priority to cars will be key to achieving this goal.

The Scottish Government is beginning to accept this and has made some welcome changes, such as expanding free bus travel to under-22s. However, they have not gone far enough. Public transport should be free to all at the point of use, segregated cycle lanes are a necessity for ensuring people feel safe enough to use the roads. The Scottish Government must commit to increasing active travel infrastructure and bold ideas to reinvent our transport system and move people out of private cars and into public and active transport.

Already it has committed to reducing car km usage by 20% by 2030.This is a truly bold and ambitious target and one that Friends of the Earth Scotland welcomes. To meet these goals the Scottish Government will need to reverse a trend of increasing car usage that has gone on for almost 50 years. This will require radical change across our entire transport network.

The routemap for achieving 20% reduction makes it clear that new fourth National Planning Framework needs to play a big role in these changes. NPF4needs to reduce car journeys and make it easier to use sustainable transport. However, neither the plan for reducing car km, nor the current draft of NPF4, are clear on what actual tangible changes will be made to our planning system to achieve this.

There is a huge responsibility on this document but there are no significant details on how the Scottish Government or the NPF4 will meet these needs.

There are a number of measures that could be included to reduce car km usage and increase public transport. Such as:

    • Help councils bring buses back into public ownership
    • Requirements on density within urban areas
    • A robust ban on out-of-town retail parks and any developments that are entirely car dependent (for example, the drive-thru coffee shops we’re seeing pop up across Scotland have to become a thing of the past.)
    • A halt on new road building
    • Increased bus infrastructure
    • Redress the cost imbalance. Public transport costs have consistently risen across Scotland while the cost of motoring has dropped.


The Scottish Government could also make commitments on ending the construction of new trunk roads and diverting the funding into improving walking and cycling and helping councils start new publicly-owned public transport operators as a means of meeting their 20% car km reduction goals.

The Scottish Government is proud of their commitment to ’20 minute neighbourhoods’. However our politicians have yet to grapple with the reality of this commitment. Many communities have lost their only bank branch, and some areas of deprivation don’t even have an ATM. How can we help people use only local services, which they can walk or cycle to, when private companies have abandoned so many communities? The Scottish Government must take a holistic approach to supporting communities across Scotland by supporting high streets, community centres and local clubs to ensure local neighbourhoods are robust and thriving.

The Scottish Government can use the NPF4 to take radical action to tackle climate change and make our neighbourhoods safer, cleaner and more livable. Unfortunately the current draft of the NPF4 fails to do so in any meaningful way.


This blog was written by Malachy Clarke, Public Affairs Manager for Friends of the Earth Scotland and a member of LINK’s Planning Group.

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