Field Notes: Planning matters!

Campaigns Co-ordinator Mel Nicoll on the Scottish Government’s new National Planning Framework – and your chance to be involved

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Most weeks we receive notification of a planning proposal that we need to examine before deciding whether it raises any issues of concern for the Trust and whether we will object/engage. That means we have a continually evolving list of applications at various stages in the planning system.

We generally focus on large-scale projects because many smaller-scale developments can - with careful attention to design and siting - be built without significant adverse impact on wild land. We also recognise that rural communities are often fragile economically and demographically, and that landscapes can accommodate sensitive development which has little ecological or visual impact, nor that such landscapes should remain frozen in time. We want to protect and sustain wildness with people and nature at the heart of that process.

One of our main concerns in recent years has been the impact of large-scale wind farms on wild land, although we also consider other developments including, for example, power transmission lines and hydro schemes both small and large.

Because our focus is on wild land – extensive areas that are characterised by ruggedness, remoteness, physical challenge and a lack of large-scale man-made structures - we only object to a very small minority of applications that are in the planning system across Scotland as a whole.

Many of the eventual decisions on which of these developments get planning permission are led by strategic planning documents. This is why this year we are giving particular focus in our work to the Scottish Government’s preparation of its new National Planning Framework.

The National Planning Framework is the long-term spatial planning strategy for Scotland, so it’s a crucial document in setting the parameters within which planning decisions are taken and applications are approved. Crucially for the Trust, the current National Planning Framework includes important references to Scotland’s wild land. One of our aims is to ensure that the new National Planning Framework continues to provide protection for wild land. We are also keen to show that Wild Land Areas are not just places that should be protected from large-scale, industrial development but that they are also places that have the potential to deliver multiple public benefits.

Many areas that are classified as wild land have suffered serious ecological degradation over the centuries as result of felling, clearing, burning and overgrazing. By reversing that damage through repairing and rewilding the land, we could bring these areas back to life, for people and nature, and turn them into major centres of carbon storage as we grapple with the climate emergency.

These large areas of wild land - be they mountains and moorland, undeveloped coastline or peat bog – are also vital in sustaining Scotland’s appeal to visitors, and, importantly, are also often the homes and livelihoods of remote and rural communities.

Read our January news piece for more information about the Scottish Government’s preparation of its new National Planning Framework, including opportunities to get involved through the Scottish Government’s public engagement events. These continue throughout Scotland until the end of March. This is also the deadline for sending in responses to the Scottish Government which is looking for the public to contribute to early debate on key issues to be addressed by the new National Planning Framework.

Take action

The Scottish Government has five “big” questions - asking what you think Scotland will be like in 2050 and what changes are needed to get us there. Take a look at the key points the Trust thinks need to be reflected in the National Planning Framework and consider sending in your own thoughts here Deadline now extended to 30 April. 

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