Environmental issues impact planning policy on rural land in Scotland
Via the National Planning Framework (NPF4), Scottish government has essentially given green the light to the development of renewables projects, in principle. However approval is far from guaranteed, and detailed consideration of design and local objections will still feature in assessment of planning applications at local level.
Philip Graham of Savills Planning said: “The ‘environment-first’ planning policy is new for everyone including planners, policy makers, developers and landowners: as such there will no doubt be growing pains until Local Authorities have time to catch up, particularly with new Local Development Plans (LDPs). If you are planning a project, early engagement will be key, and those with a robust sustainability case will fare best”.
Richard Thompson, head of strategic land at Savills is already seeing an uptick in demand from various parties. He said: “As the Scottish economy transitions from fossil fuels, we are seeing an increase in demand for land for renewable energy production. Land with scope for an extension to an existing scheme, or where schemes were refused in past are worth prioritising.
“Along with relatively novel uses like battery, EV, solar and wind projects will be given a new lease of life in some locations. Anaerobic digestion (AD) and biomass schemes continue to be of interest to investors and developers, and ‘waste to energy’ schemes are catching the interest of local planning authorities who are looking at sources of energy to drive district heating systems.
“If you think you have an opportunity, the first step is to instruct a high level assessment of the site to find out what the prospects are”.
Scottish Government’s Scotwind project will certainly bring new opportunities. These will likely come from securing a planning change for rural land to ‘commercial use’ to allow for in-shore manufacture and assembly as part of a project’s supply chain requirements.
Similarly, NPF4 will undoubtedly support opportunities for landowners to work with developers looking for land to create natural capital enhancement, carbon sequestration and biodiversity projects and, to this end, Savills has established an Environmental Exchange to facilitate links between parties.
The Scottish government is supportive of development aimed at supporting employment and bolstering rural local economies. There is also encouragement of new ways of working, including remote working, homeworking and the development of community hubs. However, rural tourism appears to be more challenging moving forward; proposals require to outline their sustainability criteria and to avoid negative impacts on existing communities.
Commenting on the situation for housing delivery under the new policy, Phillp suggested NPF4essentially removed the right to challenge the effectiveness of housing delivery. He said: “This really means allocation is king – for land that is not allocated the prospects of any form of permission appear bleak. New housing sites are to be infrastructure-led and sustainable and liveable places. I anticipate that more up-front consideration will now be needed to translate land into a housing allocation via a Local Development Plan.
“Most Local Plans, however, do not yet comply with NPF4. Where they are under review, there are opportunities to promote your land for development now. Early engagement is key – speak to your local authority, get on their radar, and think about the infrastructure and sustainability case.
“Look at your asset as a whole: can you deliver environmental benefits alongside your proposal? Thinking about multiple benefits is key to success in the new NPF4 world.
“If you or a client are sitting on allocated land, be aware that this will be under scrutiny more than ever before. If it has not yet come forward, take steps to secure the land – particularly if it is on greenfield and/or prime land”.