Why Scotland needs to plan for the long term - John Watson

By the end of 2023, we will be creeping up to the halfway point of a decade in which Scotland has set ambitious targets to be met by its end. These targets span a variety of portfolio areas, including our economy, environment, transport sector and overall health and wellbeing.

John Watson, Chief Executive of Crosswind Developments. Image: Peter Sandground
John Watson, Chief Executive of Crosswind Developments. Image: Peter Sandground

The Fourth National Planning Framework (NPF4), which is due to be debated in the Scottish Parliament tomorrow (11 January) takes a slightly longer-term view, in that it envisages the type of Scotland we will live in by 2045. That said, there are key targets set out in NPF4 which need to be hit in just seven years’ time. These include a substantial reduction in emissions from homes, falling by 68 per cent from 2020 levels, and a commitment to halting biodiversity loss by 2030 as well.

My hunch is that NPF4 won’t yet be met with much general recognition or comprehension, which is understandable given where public focus has been over the past few years. Perhaps it never will because, as a concept, it is not the catchiest. But its development has already spanned a lengthy period of time, going back to pre-Covid days, and incorporating a manner of consultations, research and draft measures.

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And what we have before us now, to be discussed in the Holyrood chamber this week is, to my mind, a critical step forward in how we can plan and develop large scale projects that are befitting Scotland as we move towards the mid-21st Century.

In terms of how we live, work and play, NPF4 is hugely significant. It seeks to address how Scotland’s distinctive natural environment can be protected and enhanced, whilst positively impacting housing delivery, in terms of availability, affordability and energy efficiency. It could, if implemented properly, achieve all of this whilst also creating jobs and enhancing economic growth. It will also be important that agendas for planning deliberations and decisions reprioritise NPF4 key areas to ensure they rank ahead of traditional matters like roads and transport, which have typically driven planning decision making.

One of my key interests, as Chief Executive of Crosswind Developments, is NPF4’s stated intent to maximise brownfield development and promote a “brownfield-first approach” in this regard. This means that Scotland would prioritise the regeneration of previously developed land not currently in use and seek to repurpose it for new projects.

I am sure we can all think of examples near where we live of disused land crying out to be developed. In our case, the Elements Edinburgh site on the city’s western periphery is completely aligned with the core strategic aims of NPF4’s National Spatial Strategy. It will provide net zero energy solutions including extended heat networks, pioneer low carbon, resilient 20-minute neighbourhoods, five hectares of open green space, whilst targeting economic investment and building community wealth.

All of this will support one million square feet of space dedicated to business, and an inter-generational residential area including a minimum of 625 affordable housing units, thereby creating exactly the kind of sustainable, productive places Scotland needs. And because there is no link to or overlap with issues at any other sites, work could begin immediately and advance at speed.

NPF4 shows that Scotland has the right plans, heading in the right direction, with the right desired outcomes. What we need this year is tangible, demonstrable progress that ensures these aspirations become reality. I believe that involves turbo-charging existing plans for innovative new developments and furthering Scotland’s position as one of the best places in the world to live.

- John Watson is chief executive of Crosswind Developments