A Chance for Radical Change: National Planning Framework 4 Everyone

This blog is part of a monthly series about community-led housing in Scotland, jointly written by Mike Staples, Chief Executive at South of Scotland Community Housing (SOSCH), and Ronnie MacRae, Chief Executive at Communities Housing Trust (CHT). Between us we’ve worked with hundreds of communities across Scotland, facilitating well over 1,000 affordable homes.

Public consultation for the proposed National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4), the Scottish Government’s long-term plan for spatial development is open until 31 March 2022, and once adopted by Holyrood, will provide an overarching guide for local planning decisions through to 2045.

CHT and SOSCH and whole-heartedly welcome the introduction of community ownership, community wealth-building, and the wellbeing economy that appear throughout the NPF4. We celebrate the formal recognition of these ideas and see their inclusion in the draft framework as an important shift from existing planning policy.

Scotland’s approach to community land use and land reform is world class.

If we have a planning system that matches and follows up this approach, we can build a more equitable, sustainable, and diverse Scotland—just what NPF4 sets out to do.

We should not lose sight of this opportunity for big changes: to ensure communities are given priority in planning considerations.

At SOSCH and CHT, our work is already aligned to many of NPF4’s intended outcomes. The projects we support tackle the critical challenges of:

  • repopulation,
  • economic growth and diversity,
  • increased health and wellbeing, and
  • provision of local services

…that are laid out in NPF4. We would welcome an opportunity to introduce a framework that would allow us, and the communities we partner with, to do all of this work more effectively.

We know community-led housing builds the ‘great places’ NPF4 describes:

SOSCH supported the Wigtown and Bladnoch Community Initiative’s (WBCI) community-led redevelopment of a former bank in Wigtown into two affordable family homes and a community-owned bunkhouse. The project creates new housing options for local families who need it, but also generates income by providing visitor/tourist accommodation in the heart of Scotland’s Book Town. Maintenance of the bunkhouse will provide new jobs to the community. This project provides an excellent example of sustainable growth of key industries in the region, delivered through community wealth-building models that do not leave locals behind.

Before (photo credits: Hazel Smith)
After, featuring WBCI members

Taighean a’ Chaiseil in Staffin, Skye, was a community-led partnership between Staffin Community Trust, Communities Housing Trust and Lochalsh & Skye Housing Association. Six affordable homes, a new NHS Highland health centre, and new commercial space implement the principles of a 20-Minute Neighbourhood, but in a way that’s realistic for rural settings.

As a result, the development has helped retain the primary school; the population of Staffin has increased; there is improved and expanded health services for the area; the local economy is growing and is more diverse; and rental income for the community-owned units is reinvested in community projects. This also echoes the principles and practice of circular economies which we believe should be at the forefront of NPF4. 

Residents moving in, February 2022. Image credit: Staffin Community Trust
Site of Taighean a’ Chaisheil in Staffin during construction. Image credit: Iain Cumming

The concepts put forward by NPF4 should allow for clear understanding and interpretation by planners and consultees, to ensure consistency and efficacy – particularly in the approach to rural areas.

We need localised policies; we know that communities already do this well, in expressing their needs and aspirations. Spatial zoning may flatten and ‘box’ this expression, with little flexibility for future changes of use.

We believe that positive and inclusive language should be used for all proposed zones, to reflect how we value Scotland’s diverse residents.

The five broad regions and their priorities will be more effective and valuable on the ground if communities have central involvement in the transitions proposed.

An NPF4 that unequivocally supports community-led development could be radical for Scotland.

We could achieve positive community outcomes at a new scale, if our planning system succeeds in establishing preference for community ownership models over the market-based approaches that are failing us. With 27,571 households homeless [1], an estimated 25% of those who are housed living in inadequate homes [2], and 1 in 4 renters and mortgage holders worried about not being able to pay their housing costs [3], we urgently need a better national strategy.

NPF4 is an important opportunity to refresh our collective approach to housing, local development, and public participation. We recognise the need to make the most of it and we ask the Scottish Government to go boldly towards a more equitable, participatory, and sustainable future.

NPF4 can deliver the great places it envisions, if we use what we already know and let communities lead the way.

The consultation on Draft NPF4 closes on 31 March 2022. You can take part here.


1] Shelter Scotland: https://scotland.shelter.org.uk/housing_policy/key_statistics/homelessness_facts_and_research

2] Young, G. 2021: The right to adequate housing: are we focusing on what matters? : CaCHE (housingevidence.ac.uk)

3] 2021 research from Shelter Scotland: https://scotland.shelter.org.uk/media/press_releases/one_in_four_are_worried_about_not_meeting_housing_costs_in_2021