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28 Mar 2022

Stronger planning regime still needed

A stone memorial cairn stands in a grassy area with trees and hills in the background
Our review of Scottish Government proposals for the Scottish planning system finds that there is more work still to be done to give the nation’s historic and scenic landscapes proper protections.

Our charity’s policy experts carried out an analysis of the changes proposed in the Scottish Government’s draft National Planning Framework ahead of the public consultation closing on 31 March to see how these would impact on Scotland’s most important places of nature, beauty and heritage, including Culloden Battlefield, Glencoe and the UK’s only Dual World Heritage site at the remote St Kilda archipelago.

Cliffs and sea
St Kilda

We then compared these with the policies in place in the other home nations and concluded that the new system in Scotland will not provide as strong safeguards for important natural and cultural assets as they have in England and Wales. The weakest area overall was scenic landscapes.

Head of Public Policy for the National Trust for Scotland, Diarmid Hearns said:
‘Scotland is globally renowned for the beauty of our landscapes and our iconic buildings. It is our natural and cultural assets that help make Scotland, and it is our planning system that will determine whether we develop these in a positive or negative way.

‘The new National Planning Framework is our opportunity to ensure that the places that matter to us and make Scotland what it is are protected now and for future generations.

‘Overall, we find that Scotland is currently behind England when it comes to protections for our natural and cultural assets, on a level with Wales, and ahead of Northern Ireland.

‘This can be remedied with a few small changes and we hope the Scottish Government will be guided by our concerns and strengthen the framework for the benefit of everyone who loves our landscapes and historic places.

‘As the requirement to deliver more resilient, nature-positive places is brought into ever sharper focus by events at home and abroad, the Trust will also be calling for areas of wild land to be better protected from onshore wind developments, and a greater appreciation of the role beauty plays in creating sustainable places within its own response to the Scottish Government’s consultation.’

Steep mountains with a road winding through the middle

Scotland could equal England in terms of protections, or even surpass it, with only a few small changes to policy:

Battlefields – in England, development on historic battlefields is permitted only in ‘wholly exceptional’ circumstances; England also has management plans in place for some of its battlefields, helping ensure the sympathetic management of these sites.

Gardens and Designed Landscapes – Scotland and England both benefit from these landscapes, but in England a grading is used to identify those of exceptional importance and therefore a priority for protection.

Scenic landscapes – in England, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty have equal status with National Parks and therefore the highest level of protection, including management plans, which allows them to qualify for the international goal of protecting 30% of land for nature by 2030. England continues to develop its network of scenic landscapes, with a national review in January 2022 highlighting how these can be used to meet nature restoration targets. By contrast, Scotland’s scenic landscape designation, National Scenic Areas, currently have a lower status than National Parks, and no management arrangements in place – as a result they are not currently recognised as protected land internationally. Scotland’s National Scenic Areas have not had a review of their performance since 2009.

 A lush green garden on the banks of a loch
Inverewe Garden