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North and West coastal innovation

This page is part of a series of supporting content to the Draft National Planning Framework 4 (Draft NPF4).

On this page we take a closer look at the North West Coast and Islands and present some of the key evidence, maps and data that were useful in developing the Draft NPF4's Spatial Strategy. 

What does the area look like and what challenges does it face?

Within the Draft NPF4, the North West Coast and islands action area includes (in broad terms):

  • Shetland
  • Orkney
  • Na h-Eileanan Siar (Western Isles) 
  • Coastal areas of Argyll & Bute and Highland

We have set out below a selection of data insights related to this area, using maps and other key data.

These snippets of information are intended to give some insight into what makes this area unique. 

We also outline some of the challenges facing the area, and provide some additional background to Draft NPF4's proposed approach.

Carbon emissions

CO2 emissions are relatively low across the area, but emissions per capita are high

The map shows CO2 emissions, per kilometre squared for each Local Authority in Scotland.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the main greenhouse gas, accounting for about 81 per cent of the UK greenhouse gas emissions in 2018.

The map highlights that the Island authorities, Argyll and Bute and Highland all have relatively low CO2 emissions when compared to the central belt.

Net carbon dioxide emissions per kilometre squared

CO2 emissions per km2, in tonnes CO2

> 5 - 13.7

> 2.5 - 5

> 1 - 2.5

0 - 1

Map showing CO<sub>2</sub> emissions per km<sup>2</sup> by Local Authority

Carbon dioxide emissions by Local Authority

Local Authority

Emissions per km2 (tonnes CO2)

Net emissions (Kt CO2)

Shetland Islands



Orkney Islands



Na h-Eileanan Siar






Argyll and Bute






However, when mapped on a per capita basis we find that the three island authorities have higher than average emissions.

This means that the island authorities all emit more CO2 than we would expect based on the number of people who live there.

Carbon dioxide emissions per capita

CO2 emissions per capita, in tonnes CO2

> 13.4 - 21.7

> 6.8 - 13.4

> 4.8 - 6.8

3.1 - 4.8

Map showing CO<sub>2</sub> emissions per capita by Local Authority

Carbon dioxide emissions per capita by Local Authority

Local Authority

Emissions per capita (tonnes CO2)

Shetland Islands


Na h-Eileanan Siar


Orkney Islands




Argyll and Bute




Population change

Fewer people will live in the area in the future, and the population is growing older

The map shows the predicted change in the number of people living in each Local Authority between 2018 and 2043.

Na h-Eileanan Siar, Argyll & Bute, Shetland Islands, and Highland are all projected to have smaller populations in 2043, compared to today.

Predicted population change 2018 - 2043

Large growth (More than 10,000)

Moderate growth (between 1,000 and 9,999)

Steady population (change of less than 1000)

Moderate decline (between 1,000 and 9,999)

Large decline (More than 10,000)


Projected population change to 2043 by Local Authority
Local Authority Projected change Change as a percentage
Argyll and Bute -12,808 -15%
Na h-Eileanan Siar -4,288 -16%
Highland -2,290 -1%
Shetland Islands -1,411 -6%
Orkney Islands -362 -2%


We also know that by 2043 every Local Authority in Scotland will be home to more people aged 65+, compared to today.

For example the Orkney Islands is projected to see its older population grow by 38%.


Projected percentage population change, 2018 - 2043: Aged 65+

Projected growth in population

> 40% - 59%

> 30% - 40%

> 20% - 30%

11% - 20%

Map showing projected percentage population change to 2043, aged 65 plus by Local Authority


Projected growth in population aged 65+ to 2043 by Local Authority 
Local Authority Projected growth Change as a percentage
Highland 17,433 34%
Argyll and Bute 3,536 16%
Orkney Islands 2,002 38%
Shetland Islands 1,459 32%
Na h-Eileanan Siar 778 11%


Potential impact

These changes will affect the demand for infrastructure and services like housing, education, transport, and healthcare, and we must support these communities to prepare for and avoid the potential negative effects.


The economy

Fuel poverty is a challenge for many households in the area, and wages are below the national average

The map shows the percentage of households living in fuel poverty, for each Local Authority in Scotland.

Over 35% of households in Na h-Eileanan Siar live in fuel poverty, which is the highest proportion of any Local Authority, and there is a clear overall pattern of higher fuel poverty in the north west region of Scotland.

Households in fuel poverty by Local Authority

Percentage of households in fuel poverty

> 29% - 37%

> 25% - 29%

> 22% - 25%

16% - 22%

Percentage of households in fuel poverty by Local Authority
Local Authority Percentage of Households
Na h-Eileanan Siar 36%
Highland 33%
Orkney Islands 30%
Argyll and Bute 29%
Shetland Islands 27%


Wages also tend to be lower across the area, particularly when compared to the central belt.

The map shows the average hourly wage earned by residents of each Local Authority.  

Average hourly wage by Local Authority

Median gross hourly wage (home location)

> £15.90 - £20.20

> £14.10 - £15.90

> £13.10 - £14.10

£11.50 - £13.10

Map showing average hourly wage by Local Authority


Average hourly wage by Local Authority
Local Authority Average Hourly Wage
Shetland Islands £13.96
Na h-Eileanan Siar £13.85
Highland £13.73
Orkney Islands £13.26
Argyll and Bute £13.05
Scottish average £14.21


Aquaculture is an important part of the local economy

Aquaculture is an increasingly important industry for Scotland, helping to sustain economic activity in the rural and coastal communities of the north and west.

The map shows locations of both fish and shellfish aquaculture sites, which can be found across the country but are weighted towards the west coast and islands.

Aquaculture Locations

Built heritage

There are more scheduled monuments per person here than anywhere else

Historic Environment Scotland maintains a list of Scotland's nationally important historic sites, and the map shows the locations of these scheduled monuments.

Nationally important historic sites can be found across the entire country.

Locations of scheduled monuments

 Scheduled Monument

Map showing locations of scheduled monuments across scotland

However, it may be more useful to look at the data in a slightly different way - this time as the number of scheduled monuments compared to the number of people in each Local Authority.

When grouping scheduled monuments in this way, shown in the bar chart, we find that there are more scheduled monuments per 1,000 people in the Shetland Islands than in any other Local Authority.
The Orkney Islands, Argyll & Bute, and Western Isles also have high numbers of monuments, compared to the size of their populations.

Scheduled monuments per 1,000 people, by Local Authority

Bar chart showing number of scheduled monuments per 1000 people by Local Authority

The high number of scheduled monuments found in this part of the country gives an indication of the region's rich built and cultural heritage.


The area is rich in biodiversity, which must be protected

The map shows locations of Sites of Scientific Interest (SSSI) in Scotland.

You can also use the link above to view data on a range of other protected areas including Special Protection Areas (SPA) and Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar).

These maps highlight that large sections of land across the north west region have been identified as areas of rich biodiversity that should be protected.

Locations of Sites of Special Scientific Interest

Community ownership

There is a strong culture of community buyouts in the area

There is increased focus on community ownership in Scotland, but some communities have been more active in taking ownership of their local assets than others.

The map shows the number of assets that are currently held in community ownership and illustrates that a strong culture of community buyouts has developed in the Western Isles, the Highlands, and Argyll & Bute.

Assets in community ownership by Scottish Parliamentary Constituency

Number of assets

51 - 81

11 - 50

2 - 10

0 - 1


Assets in Community Ownership by Scottish Parliamentary Constituency 
Scottish Parliamentary Constituency Assets in community ownership
Argyll and Bute 81
Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch 77
Na h-Eileanan Siar 59
Caithness, Sutherland and Ross 52
Orkney Islands 30
Shetland Islands 27

What does the draft NPF4 propose for the area? 

The Draft NPF4 proposes that priorities for the North West Coast and Islands action area include making sustainable use of our coasts and islands to sustain communities and pioneer investment in the blue economy.

The island authorities, Highland and Argyll and Bute Council have begun to explore their strategic future in emerging indicative regional spatial strategies.

The Draft NPF4 aims to bring these visions together to set out a coherent plan that addresses the collective strengths and challenges for the area and set out strategic priorities of national significance.

You can use the link below to find out more by reading the full Draft NPF4.


Draft NPF4 logo

The Draft National Planning Framework 4

Read the draft on

Last Updated: 07 Jun 2023