The latest planning policy document to be published by the Scottish Executive is Scottish Planning Policy 15: Planning for Rural Development, which updates and replaces NPPG15: Rural Development, published in 1999. SPPs provide statements of national policy on aspects of land use and planning matters and set out guidance on the approach and objectives that should underpin planning policies and assist local planning authorities in their determination of matters at a local level. They also operate within the over-arching planning principles of economic competitiveness and sustainable development combined with environmental quality and design set out in national guidance SPP1: The Planning System.

Recent research carried out by the Executive on rural planning guidelines identified support for a focus on sustainable rural development and the need for a more aspirational planning vision. The aim is to have a thriving rural economy, where the population is stable or on the increase, and where the community has reasonable access to good quality services. Authorities are encouraged to welcome rural development and diversification that reflects both the local surroundings and character and the wider social and economic aims.

New development

There continues to be a presumption against new development on green belt, with most new development likely to be in or close to existing settlements in the more accessible rural areas. Release of green belt for development should be part of long term strategic planning, although a review of national policy on green belts is currently in hand.

Where the area is more sparsely populated, it can be possible for planning policies to be more inventive, which may include harnessing renewable energy technology and encouraging recreation and tourism projects designed to assist the development of the local economy, while protecting against the creeping erosion of prime agricultural land.

Economic Development

Changing economic patterns in Scotland have an ongoing effect on rural life in Scotland, with increased access and developments in communications technology and the shifts in the socio-economic composition of rural communities all contributing to these changes. Planning authorities are encouraged to back a broad range of economic activities, from the fast-growing area of aquaculture, to more traditional areas of tourism and the leisure industry.


Diversification away from traditional areas such as farming is already a reality that impacts on the rural economy, and creative and sustainable uses of land and businesses that can benefit the economy and development of the land should be encouraged and supported.


General housing policy is contained in SPP3: Planning for Housing, and this SPP complements that policy in relation to rural housing development. Small clusters of development close to existing settlements, building plots and holiday homes and conversion of disused buildings to residential use should all be encouraged within the context of general settlement or rural housing policy, taking into account local factors including availability of services infrastructure and local facilities, and the relationship of such development to the surrounding landscape, as well as meeting appropriate design criteria.

Rural Accessibility

Housing, jobs, shops and leisure and other services should be situated at accessible locations and the availability of appropriate and sufficient access should be realistically assessed, particularly with reference to the availability of local public transport and the impact on the local road network. For small developments to remain viable, appropriate standards should be applied to access roads, and new development can be facilitated through seeking developer contributions. Where possible, community run services in remote rural and island communities should be encouraged.

Environmental Quality

The protection and enhancement of Scotland's natural and built environment must be integral to national planning policy and advice. Protected habitats and landscapes and the high environmental quality of rural Scotland should be cherished and preserved. New development within the rural landscape should be considered in terms of environmental impact, both in terms of suitable design and fit with the character of the landscape, although planning authorities are encouraged to approach modern innovative designs that are sensitive to the surroundings, in a positive way.


Areas in Scotland that are in need of improvement and economic invigoration can benefit from being highlighted in local development plans, with a view to influencing and helping to stimulate regeneration in run down areas. A long term strategy for regeneration which combines social, environmental and economic objectives can assist in opening up access to funding for enhancement.

Development Planning

The diversity of circumstances in any rural area should be acknowledged and taken into account in the formulation of any development plan, which should address the specialities and needs of different characters of areas.

A clear vision for a rural area should be expressed in terms that complement the needs of the area within the context of the national policy aims, with integration of development plan policies with other programmes for the area.

Public and Community Involvement

Greater public involvement is sought in relation to the formulation of development plans. Consideration should be given to the implementation of relevant parts of community plans within the priorities and strategy of development plans. A wide range of community views should be sought and local communities should be included in decisions that affect them.

The full text of SPP15: Planning for Rural Development is available from the Scottish Executive website at:

In tandem with the publication of SPP15, the Scottish Executive also published two planning advice notes that apply to rural development:

Planning Advice Note 72: Housing in the Countryside.

PAN 72 sets out important design principles which will help to create more good quality housing in the countryside, and provides guidance for planning authorities in connection with their preparation of development plans and supporting guidance, and in their determination of applications, taking into account the evolving circumstances of rural living.

Careful and sympathetic design is vital and where possible high quality modern designs in keeping with the local character should be developed, and inspiration drawn both from traditional buildings and new interpretation of traditional features.

PAN 72 can be accessed from the Scottish Executive website at:

Planning Advice Note 73: Rural Diversification.

Economic diversification teamed with environmental responsibility are recurring themes in much of the national and local planning policy considerations. Planning policy should support the changing economic structure of Scotland's rural areas by encouraging diversification to benefit communities and the environment, and ensure appropriate development on the ground.

PAN 73 provides advice for planning support of rural diversification by supporting rural economic development and providing opportunity and addressing issues of accessibility, infrastructure, scale and design.

The character of rural areas and the issues they need to address are widely varied across the country and therefore different policy approaches are needed in different areas. This PAN is predominantly concerned with development and diversification projects in and around rural villages and small towns, but is also relevant to urban outskirts and green belts.

Full details of PAN 73 are available from the Scottish Executive website at:

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