10. In the more accessible and densely populated rural areas most new development will continue to be in, or adjacent to, existing settlements. Green belts will continue to presume against most new development and play a key role in maintaining the setting and separation of towns and cities. Any proposals to release land for development which is currently designated as green belt should be part of a longer term strategic settlement policy and set out in the development plan. A review of national policy on green belts is currently underway. The natural and historic environment also has to be protected
. However, if the national vision is to be realised, planning policies will have to enable development in some areas which, hitherto, have not been considered suitable for development. More opportunities, appropriate in scale, kind and location, should be identified by planning authorities. In the more heavily populated areas there is potential to accommodate some small-scale housing development and businesses may be able to diversify further into new activities. Designing Places sets out the Executive's policy on design and quality in new development. Its aim is to improve the quality of new developments irrespective of size, both within settlements and elsewhere in the countryside. Additional advice is included in PAN 72 5 .
11. In the less populated areas there should be greater scope for more innovative planning policies. Scottish Ministers see considerable potential for encouraging diversification, distinctiveness and individuality e.g. promoting new ways of working from home, using renewable energy technologies, delivering tourism and recreation projects and developing activities such as aquaculture, equestrianism and many others. Small towns should be self sufficient and able to maintain their function in the local economy. They have a key role in providing services to the wider catchment population. Agriculture and forestry will continue to be important defining elements of rural life. Prime quality agricultural land should continue to be protected and should not be eroded in a piecemeal way but only used to meet strategic development objectives e.g. as part of a long term settlement strategy set out in the development plan. In crofting areas there is a need to make more land available in appropriate locations for a range of developments.