1. In November 2021 NatureScot published draft guidance aimed at helping those dealing with local development applications to enhance them for biodiversity, alongside The Scottish Government’s consultation on the draft Fourth National Planning Framework (NPF4). This report provides an overview of the responses received on the Guidance’s consultation. Responses can be viewed in the pdf document at the bottom of this page.
2. Draft NPF4 includes a range of policies that will contribute to delivering the six outcomes now required by the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997. One of these outcomes – “securing positive effects for biodiversity” – is supported by Policy 3(e) on the Nature Crisis. This requires local development (other than householder, farmed fish and shellfish applications), to include measures that will enhance biodiversity if the application is to be supported.
3. To aid understanding of the types of measures required by Policy 3(e), NatureScot consulted on draft guidance, Developing with Nature, from 23rd November 2021 to 4th March 2022. The consultation was promoted through the NatureScot and Scottish Government websites, social media posts, e-newsletters, emailing key organisations, webinars and meetings organised by stakeholders.
4. The consultation attracted 38 responses, over half of which (22 responses) were from planning authorities (PAs). The remaining responses comprised ten environmental and fishery non-governmental organisations (NGOs), three developer interests (all infrastructure providers), two professional / research organisations and one agency.
Stakeholders submitting responses on the draft Guidance:
- Scottish Environment Protection Agency
Professional / Research
- Chartered Institute of Ecology & Environmental Management
- UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology
- Amphibian and Reptile Conservation
- Fisheries Management Scotland
- Galloway & Southern Ayrshire Biosphere
- Inner Forth Futures - Natural Heritage Working Group
- RSPB Scotland
- Scottish Wildlife Trust - Lothians Group
- Wester Ross Area Salmon Fishery Board
- Woodland Trust Scotland
- Aberdeen City
- Argyll & Bute
- City of Edinburgh
- Dumfries & Galloway
- Dundee City
- East Dunbartonshire
- Glasgow City
- North Lanarkshire
- Perth & Kinross
- Scottish Borders
- Shetland Islands
- South Lanarkshire
- West Dunbartonshire
- West Lothian
- SSE Networks Transmission
- Scottish Power Energy Networks
- Scottish Water
5. The consultation posed three questions
i) The list of measures and features identified in the guidance - are these the appropriate ones, and are there any others that should be included?
ii) The level of detail provided on each of the individual measures and features – is there adequate information set out to inform understanding of the range of biodiversity measures that can be incorporated in a development?
iii) The clarity and accessibility of the guidance - as a means of a) informing project design, and b) decision making on the measures to be included in individual applications?
6. A number of issues raised related to matters outside the scope of the Guidance itself. These are noted in the final section as they are relevant to understanding how the Guidance will be applied.
7. Responses were full and considered, addressing both the generality and detail of the draft Guidance. The analysis presented here provides an overview of the range of comments made and key issues raised. Where recorded the number of responses and sectors offering particular views is indicative rather than precise, as responses invariable express issues in a number of different ways.
General conclusions from the consultation
8. From all the responses to the three questions posed in the consultation, we have drawn these broad conclusions.
i) Appropriate measures have generally been identified, but the Guidance needs to address more clearly development types other than housing, be applicable to ‘more-rural’ sites, and deliver greater biodiversity ambition.
ii) Appropriate information has generally been provided, that can be improved through consideration of the detailed comments provided in responses, and that understanding will be greatly enhanced through the use of images and design.
iii) Views on application and usability of the Guidance vary, but there is a widely shared view that this will be limited in the absence of a common approach to assessing positive effects and continuing need for ecological expertise.
Overarching comments on the Guidance
9. At a very general level there was broad support for the Guidance from many responses, albeit most suggested improvements or raised some reservations. From across the range of respondents concerns include:
- that it will not enable the level of ambition required to be delivered (4 PAs, 2 NGOs);
- questioning the audience for the guidance, and whether the content and level of detail is right for either the lay or professional audience (3 PAs, 2 NGOs); and
- the need for ecological expertise to be applied regardless of the content set out in the Guidance.
10. On the position of the Guidance in the planning system:
- 8 PAs and 1 NGO sought clarification on the status that will be accorded the Guidance in the planning system, and whether the finalised NPF4 would refer to it (some PAs noted that it could not be a replacement for existing Supplementary Planning Guidance and similar guidance); and
- 2 responses sought clarity on NatureScot’s future advisory role in relation to application of the Guidance.
11. On presentation of the Guidance and its accessibility, many recognised that it would be considerably improved with the use of images and diagrams. Several noted the benefit of including case studies to better convey what the measures comprised and how these could be achieved in practice. A number considered the guidance as lengthy and too wordy, which would be daunting for the non-professional audience. There were diverse views on the level of technical content presented, that was considered both too technical and not detailed enough.
Comments relating to Section 1 and Section 2 (other than the specific Measures)
12. Section 1 of the Guidance provides background to its preparation and some explanation of biodiversity enhancement, and sets out who the guidance is for and its scope. Section 2 provides context for consideration of the measures before describing each of the measures in turn (comments on the specific measures are addressed in the following section).
13. Key comments are on providing greater clarity and more information on the broader approach that should be taken to delivering positive effects. These include:
- stronger emphasis on considering the existing biodiversity on site and its safeguard from the outset (7 PAs, 1 Agency);
- greater clarity and emphasis provided on applying the mitigation hierarchy (15 PAs, 2 NGOs, 2 Professional / Research bodies);
- additional content on the consideration of connectivity, and the contribution of positive effects to NPF4’s nature network;
- more detail on how rare / protected species issues should be dealt with in the approach (5 PAs); and
- suggested inclusion of a set of underlying principles to deliver positive effects (1 NGO, 1 Professional / Research).
14. Responses also provided a range of more detailed comments including clarifying and strengthening content on the importance of soils, the opportunity for engaging schools and the wider community, and discouraging use of pesticides amongst others.
Comments relating to Section 2 Measures
15. The consultation asked two questions on the 23 individual measures for delivering positive effects. Question i) addressed the range of measures identified, and Question ii) the adequacy of the information provided on each of the measures. In answering these questions most responses provided a lot of additional comment relevant to the Guidance more generally, and many offered detailed suggestions and edits on the text of the measures themselves (these detailed comments are not specifically addressed here but have been considered in revising the text).
16. 22 respondents (including 16 PAs) offered a general view that the measures identified were appropriate ones, and one respondent suggested many of the measures could be combined. But a number also offered reservations on the measures selected, noting that:
- the measures are predominantly small scale and do not address the need for larger scale and more strategic interventions;
- many are considered simple ‘wildlife gardening’ measures, difficult to enforce and secure longer term;
- most are considered primarily suitable for housing and more urban contexts, with limited consideration of what might be required for other types of development and in more rural settings; and
- some are considered to be measures for mitigation rather than enhancement.
17. Several additional measures were proposed, including brownfield / open mosaic habitat, homes for amphibians and homes for reptiles. Recognising opportunities in allotment and other food-growing spaces, and including more ‘traditional’ mitigation measures was also suggested.
18. 16 respondents (including 11 PAs) were broadly supportive of the level of detail presented, while 4 (2 PAs, 2 NGO) considered it was too generic. The standard format used for each of the measures did not raise concerns. Comments on the use of hyperlinks to further information were mixed, a number welcoming this but some noting concern with their large number and questioning the usefulness of those linking to information prepared for different purposes.
19. Many and varied detailed comments on the content of 21 out of the 23 measures has been provided. Measure 4 (Trees, scrub and woodland) received the largest number of responses, and the Managing Water with Nature section also attracted significant comment. A number of responses also suggested strengthening content on some cross-cutting issues, such as species selection, avoiding the use of invasive species, recognising wider benefits and carbon sequestration. New content on buffers, retrofitting, structural diversity, mitigation and protected species was also suggested.
Comments relating to Section 3
20. Section 3 of the Guidance sets out advice on how to select measures that are appropriate to the development, the information required for the planning application, and determining the scale of enhancement to be delivered. Several responses suggested that much of this content would be better if it was presented earlier in the Guidance, and before the much longer section 2 presenting information on the individual measures.
21. The section on selecting appropriate measures was widely felt to require improvement, and provide more clarity. A number of respondents (7 PAs, 1 NGO, 1 Developer, 2 Professional / Research) noted that decisions will still depend on ecological expertise, and that the Guidance does not replace this need. Table 1 was considered confusing, several respondents interpreting it as a means to select measures by calculating an overall ‘score’. Table 2 was received more favourably, but several respondents have suggested a number of other issues that could be considered.
22. While the recognition and use of Local Biodiversity Action Plans (LBAPs) and other strategies to inform decisions was welcomed by some, others noted limitations with this approach. This included their incomplete coverage across Scotland, the age of some documents, and their different focus and intended purpose when they were prepared. Several respondents also noted the absence of any discussion of off-site offsetting.
23. The content on the information to be provided was welcomed by several responses, but some wanted more clarity and greater detail provided (such as providing a template for use). One PA felt individual authorities will need to determine the information to be provided. The potential for including information in the Design Statement received mixed views.
24. The section on determining the scale of enhancement received mixed comments, both welcoming it and seeking further guidance on this aspect. Several PA , NGO, Developer and Professional respondents raised concerns with applying this aspect in the absence of a more quantified metric and / or target against which this can be judged.
25. Several respondents highlighted the need to provide more clarity in the Guidance on monitoring, enforcement and ensuring long term retention and management of the measures being implemented. Some raised wider concerns about the planning system being adequately resourced and able to address these aspects.
Issues wider than the content of the Guidance
26. Respondents also recorded a number of issues related to the Guidance and its content, that fall outside its scope and the matters that are the focus for this consultation. These include:
- seeking clarity on the intent of Policy 3(e) and whether development is required to leave the existing baseline in an enhanced condition;
- seeking clarity on the scope of Policy 3(e) and whether it applies to all local development other than the exceptions noted;
- proposing that the Guidance should be applied more widely, encompassing both smaller (householder) and larger (non-local) categories of development;
- proposing that broader guidance addressing other aspects of Policy 3 is required alongside, or encompassing, this Guidance;
- advocating the need for some form of measure or metric in order to determine positive effects and deliver the intent behind Policy 3(e); and
- advocating the need for planning and ecological capacity in planning authorities to be adequately resourced if the policy is to be delivered.
27. These are matters for Scottish Government and others to consider.
28. All responses have been carefully considered and used to improve the Guidance. The revised Developing with Nature Guidance will be published on-line, on NatureScot’s website, when Ministers have adopted the finalised NPF4.
Please note the attached pdf is not an accessible document.