But all is not well. Our nature is in crisis. The collective impact of the way we live our lives means huge amounts of nature is declining at a dramatic rate, with one in nine species in Scotland at risk of extinction. This could mean that for our children, spotting hedgehogs, red squirrels, porpoises and other fascinating creatures could become a very rare event.
In order to save Scottish nature and tackle the climate crisis, we need significant change across Scottish society, in the way we manage our land, seas and coasts, protect our wildlife, run our economy and build our houses.
That’s why Scotland’s new National Planning Framework is so important – it holds the power to determine how our towns, cities and rural areas will transform up until 2050. With the right level of ambition from government this new framework has the potential to support changes and much-needed investment to help reverse declines in nature and reduce our climate impacts, from encouraging a rollout of renewable energy to creating new, accessible woodlands for all to enjoy.
Particularly in this year when COP26 talks are due to take place in Glasgow, it is essential that Scotland’s planning system delivers for the planet and people. For example, planning proposals should be assessed against the government’s twin national objectives of protecting and enhancing Scotland’s wildlife and habitats and reducing greenhouse gases. The framework could also establish a Scottish Nature Network to ensure that green spaces across the country are connected, creating pathways for wildlife to move from one area to another and strengthening ecosystems.
An ambitious National Planning Framework could also have the potential to transform our day-to-day lives, including by increasing access to green spaces and making walking, cycling and wheeling around our cities and towns easier. Many of us have experienced the importance of nature to our mental health over the last 15 months of lockdown restrictions, with a walk in the park or swim in the ocean offering much needed opportunities to recharge and rest. But access to nature and green spaces is unequal, adding to health inequalities across the country. A new planning policy that delivers for nature and climate could also play a key part in addressing some of the most pressing health and inequality issues in Scotland.
And we need to give communities a bigger say in planning decisions that affect them. Research shows that most people think they have no influence over the planning system. The new planning framework is a chance to change this perception by creating and funding easier routes for local communities to get involved.
The new National Planning Framework will play a key part in determining what kind of Scotland we live in for decades to come. It’s a true ‘once in a generation’ opportunity, and we need to make the most of it. It is key that as the Scottish Government drafts up and consults on the new National Planning Framework in the next few months, the voices of the communities across Scotland calling for a step change are heard. A recent LINK survey shows that most people in Scotland want a green recovery out of the pandemic. Only with a transformed planning system will efforts to save nature and tackle the climate crisis be successful.
Anne Funnemark, Advocacy Officer for Scottish Environment LINK