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Northern revitalisation

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 mainland of Scotland 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 mainland action area includes (in broad terms):

  • Highland
  • Arygll & Bute
  • Moray

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

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

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

It highlights that the Highland, Moray, and Argyll and Bute 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 net CO<sub>2</sub> emissions per km<sup>2</sup> by Local Authority

Carbon Dioxide emissions in the North Mainland
Local Authority Emissions per km2
(tonnes CO2)
Net emissions
(Kt CO2)
Moray 0.28 625
Highland 0.05 1,361
Argyll and Bute 0.04 267
Scotland 0.39 31,045

Emissions in the area are partially offset by the climate sequestration arising from land use and forestry, which act as a net carbon sink overall.

Emissions by sector in the North Mainland

(Kt CO2)

Argyll and Bute Highland Moray
Domestic 161 452 166
Industry 132 456 288
Commercial 45 134 110
Public Sector 16 52 51
Transport 184 581 154
Land use, Land use change, and Forestry -271 -314 -143



Although there are few sources of significant industrial emissions there are still opportunities to consider how carbon emissions can be further reduced.


Peatland restoration presents a key opportunity to offset carbon emissions

The north mainland of Scotland includes extensive forestry and peatland which acts as a carbon sink, contributing to the wider sustainability of the country as a whole.

The map shows areas of peatland in Scotland. Peatland stores vast amounts of carbon - twice as much as all the world’s forests.

Peatland restoration not only presents a key opportunity to offset carbon emissions, it also provides a strong basis for future generations of rural employment.

Areas of Peatland


Map showing the location and distribution of areas of peatland in Scotland

Connectivity and transport

Connectivity and access to services present key challenges

Many of the north of Scotland’s dispersed communities remain relatively dependent on the car and access to services contributes to social deprivation across the area.

The map shows the time that it takes to reach the nearest retail centre, using public transport.

It highlights using public transport for everyday tasks like shopping is not an easy option - for many in the area trips can take more than an hour each way.

Travel time to a retail centre, by Public Transport

Time to Retail Centre (in minutes)

More than 60 minutes

> 45 to 60 minutes

> 30 to 45 minutes

Less than 30 minutes

Map of Scotland showing travel time to a retail centre by public transport

Population change

Population decline is projected to continue in this part of the country

Some of the most remote parts of the area have experienced outward migration and loss of younger people. Further population decline is a future risk across much of the area, particularly towards the west.

This trend is projected to continue into the future.

For example, Argyll and Bute is projected to see its overall population decline by 12,808 people, by the year 2043.

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 in the North Mainland 2018-2043
Local Authority Projected change Change as a percentage
Argyll and Bute -12,808 -15%
Moray -2,554 -3%
Highland -2,290 -1%


High house prices can be a challenge in the Highlands

Many parts of the area have experienced increasing house prices, and anecdotal evidence suggests this has accelerated as a result of the pandemic and a more mobile workforce arising from the growth in remote working. 

Median House Price by Local Authority

Median price (houses sold in Q1 2021)

> £220,000 - £250,000

> £180,000 - £220,000

> £140,000 - £180,000

> £110,000 - £140,000

£90,000 - £110,000

Map showing median house prices by Local Authority

The table lists the median price of houses sold in Q1 2021.
Median house prices in the North Mainland Q1 2021
Local Authority

Median Price
(Q1 2021)

Highland £175,000
Argyll & Bute £150,000
Moray £159,250
National average £162,000

Fuel Poverty

Fuel poverty is a challenge for many households in the area

There is a clear overall pattern of higher fuel poverty in the north of Scotland.

Households in fuel poverty by Local Authority

The map shows the percentage of households living in fuel poverty.

> 29% - 37%

> 25% - 29%

> 22% - 25%

16% - 22%

Percentage of households in fuel poverty in the North Mainland
Local Authority Percentage of Households
Highland 33%
Moray 33%
Argyll and Bute 29%


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

What does the draft NPF4 propose for the area? 

The Draft NPF4 proposes that the priorities for the North mainland action area should include growing low carbon rural communities, capitalising on digital innovation and making the most of the exceptional natural and cultural heritage.

Highland, Argyll and Bute and Moray Councils have identified ambitions for their areas 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