Staff blog: New Planning Bill ‘little to say’ on natural assets

Helen McDade, Head of Policy, reflects on the implications for wild land in the Scottish Government’s autumn Planning Bill

New eagle and hill leaf green 2 detail

This autumn, a new Planning Bill will be presented to the Scottish Parliament, followed by a period of debate and amendments, before the legislation comes into force.  

We’ll be fully engaged in that process because these policy documents will establish the framework for protection, or otherwise, of wild land and the natural environment. Crucially, too, these policies set the bar for people’s ability – whether local communities or communities of interest – to engage and be heard meaningfully in the planning process.

Previous documents in the planning review have been characterised by a lack of references to the natural environment. This doesn’t square with the explicit recognition given to the importance of Scotland’s landscapes in current planning policy.

In this latest round of consultation we’ve looked at what the Planning Bill could mean for wild land. We remain concerned that – in spite of a few general references – the planning statement has little to say about how the proposed changes will affect or protect Scotland’s natural assets. 

Wild land – including the official Wild Land Areas (WLAs) – thankfully does get a mention.  But it’s only a mention – we need to see actual references to the value of wild land, as well as an acknowledgment of the protection that exists in current planning policy. The wording of important documents such as these is crucial in the battle to save wild land. We’ve seen that time and again at Public Local Inquiries where developers challenge the wording of clauses in their attempts to push through contentious developments.

The ambiguity about the status of wild land and the protection it should be given is in stark contrast to the references in the document to National Parks (NPs) and National Scenic Areas (NSAs), as well as to regional and local landscapes. All these are singled out as important and worthy of special attention. Surely it is vital that the Wild Land Areas map is referenced as a significant spatial tool which must be considered in environmental assessments and when considering effects of the government’s Planning Bill proposals?  If not, the impacts of proposed developments on Wild Land Areas will be under-estimated, a very worrying prospect.

Three years on from the introduction of the Wild Land Areas into Scottish Planning Policy 2, there is still a lack of understanding and consistency of interpretation among planning professionals and decision-makers when considering Wild Land Areas in planning matters. 

We need far greater clarity in the Planning Bill. Specifically, there needs to be a change brought in with the Planning Bill that properly and unequivocably reflects the Scottish Government’s previously stated aim of continuing “our strong protection for our wildest landscapes – wild land is a nationally important asset” (National Planning Framework 3, paragraph 4.4).

This could readily be achieved if the Planning Bill were to explicitly identify Wild Land Areas as areas where industrial-scale wind developments would be unacceptable. (NPs and NSAs already benefit from that in planning policy). Our call for similar protection for Wild Land Areas is something we are calling for through our “Keep it Wild” campaign and which is reinforced by the strong public support shown in our recent YouGov poll.  This found that 80 per cent want to keep Wild Land Areas free of major development. 

In 2014 the Scottish Government adopted significant and crucial references to wild land in NPF3 – “We (also) want to continue our strong protection for our wildest landscapes – wild land is a nationally important asset.”  We fought hard when NPF3 (and SPP) were being drawn up to ensure wild land was properly recognised.  The Trust will campaign hard to ensure the Government delivers on that commitment.

Read our response to the Position Statement “Places, people and planning”

Find out more about the YouGov poll and how you can support our campaign

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