Scotland’s National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4), which incorporates new National Planning Policy (NPP), was approved by the Scottish Parliament on 11 January 2023 and, subject to the commencement of certain provisions of the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019, became effective as part of the statutory development plan on 13 February 2023.

NPF4 promotes active travel networks and green infrastructure, designates associated national developments, in the form of the Central Scotland Green Network and the National Walking, Cycling and Wheeling Network, and is generally supportive of developments that improve or enhance existing networks/infrastructure and help deliver the concept of “20 minute neighbourhoods”.

Disappointingly, however, despite ScotWays’ representations, it stops short of stating explicitly that access rights, rights of way and path networks are material considerations in planning decisions. Neither does it state that development proposals which adversely affect access rights, rights of way or path networks should only be supported, in exceptional circumstances, where it can be demonstrated, to the satisfaction of the relevant planning authority, that they will generate significant benefits that outweigh their impact on public access.

In that respect, it fails to offer clear and unambiguous protection from development for access rights and existing access routes, at a national level, leaving local development plans to safeguard access rights and core paths, including active travel routes, at the local level.

Furthermore, NPF4 offers little clarity on the provision of resources to support its implementation, in terms of funding, staffing levels in local authority access and planning teams and training; an issue raised in consultation by ScotWays and by several MSPs when NPF4 was before them for approval.