National Planning Framework

The National Trust for Scotland campaigns for better protections for our cultural and natural heritage, and for communities to gain the maximum benefit from them.

Our planning system helps determine what gets built and where. The National Planning Framework (NPF4) is currently being revised, and presents an opportunity to create a more sustainable environment for all.

Preparing the ground for NPF4: a comparison of UK planning policies (2021) [an excerpt]

The Scottish Government are now consulting on the fourth National Planning Framework (NPF4), which sets out a long-term plan for what Scotland, as a place, should look like by 2050. The new framework will need to tackle both the climate change crisis and the biodiversity emergency.

Ahead of the draft NPF4 being finalised in 2022, the National Trust for Scotland has undertaken a a comparison of current planning policies across the UK nations. We have scored each nation on key features of the built and natural environment, identifying leading practice. In unpacking the scores given to each nation, we have included an ask or recommendation for where Scotland can improve its planning system.

Our research finds that Scotland currently falls short of our UK neighbours in protecting the beauty and scenic value of our iconic landscapes, with battlefields and National Scenic Areas in particular need of better management and protection.

Scotland is currently a leader in preserving Scheduled Monuments and protecting the features of internationally designated sites from inappropriate development.


The following scores represent our interpretation of planning policies currently in place and it should be noted even where a country has been awarded the maximum five stars this does not mean that there is no room for further improvement as policies are reviewed and updated.



The new National Planning Framework will determine what kind of Scotland we live in. Under the existing planning system, Scotland performs well on protections for the historic and natural environment, but as this brief comparison of our UK neighbours demonstrates there is room for improvement, particularly in the management of landscapes. The Trust would like to see a framework that not only maintains existing protections, but takes an ambitious approach to safeguarding these features for the enjoyment of current and future generations.

We are concerned at the possibility of existing protections being side-lined or opportunities to better protect key cultural and natural assets being overlooked in a framework which will be balancing the spatial and thematic planning policies for the first time in a single document.

At a minimum, NPF4 should maintain existing protections against developments in and around key natural and heritage assets. In responding to both the biodiversity and climate crises, it is not enough to simply maintain the status quo, which is why we are also calling for the following measures to be included in the next National Planning Framework:

  • Improved protections to prevent developments on or adjacent to battlefields
  • Recognition of the value of our National Parks and the prevention of inappropriate or major development in all but the most exceptional circumstances
  • Enhance the status of National Scenic Areas, with the use of management plans to protect their special features, and encouraging the establishment of new NSAs
  • Give greater recognition to the adverse impacts developments can have on SSSIs, and use nature networks to help secure protection of their special features
  • Encourage a proactive approach to the conservation of the historic environment, recognising the environmental benefits this brings

Download the pdf to read the report in full.