- Plan to have your say in review of permitted development rights - Kenneth Carruthers

Since 1947, the right to develop land in the UK lies not with property owners but with the state. Property ownership does not bring with it the right to develop land; permission must first be obtained from the local planning authority.

Kenneth Carruthers is a Partner, Morton Fraser.
Kenneth Carruthers is a Partner, Morton Fraser.

Central to this is the definition of “Development” for which planning permission is required. This is defined in the 1997 Planning Act as building, engineering, mining or other operations on land – physical works or operations of various kinds – and material changes to the use of buildings or land.

This broad definition captures a multiplicity of often minor operations and use-changes. Secondary legislation identifies types of development for which planning permission is deemed to be granted, with 90-plus classes of development identified in the General Permitted Development which may be undertaken without permission first being obtained. Classes of permitted development are varied and the list can change without having to amend the primary legislation.

Adopting this approach, a second recent Scottish Government review of the Permitted Development Order (PDO) is under way, with views invited by 3 August on a number of proposed changes to permitted development rights – including changes to electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure and changes of use in town centres.

EV numbers in Scotland could grow to as many as one million by 2030. The number of charging points needs to grow from around 2,100 to over 30,000. The installation of wall-mounted chargers and charging upstands within areas lawfully used for off-street parking are permitted under the current PDOs - but with conditions limiting their effectiveness. For example, permitted development rights don’t apply to sites of archaeological interest, national scenic areas, conservation areas, National Parks and World Heritage Sites. Bad news if you drive your family to such a location and find nowhere to charge your vehicle for the return journey. The consultation seeks views on whether locational constraints remain appropriate.

It also seeks views on increasing on-street charging provision and the erection of solar canopies and related battery storage and other equipment to power up charging points. Critics may argue this could impact adversely on the built heritage, visual amenity and movement more generally on roads and pavements. Against that, if charging point targets are to be met, the widest possible roll-out is likely to be necessary.

The consultation also considers how changes to permitted development rights and the related Use Classes Order (UCO) might be introduced to stimulate town centres. Currently, the UCO identifies 11 classes of different land use ranging from class 1 shops through to class 11 assembly and leisure. Generally, a change between use classes involves development requiring planning permission; a change within the same class usually does not.

Possible changes include creating a new town centre use class covering shops, financial and professional services, food and drink, business and possibly others. The effect could be quite radical; no planning permission would be necessary for changes of use within the town centre class and no means of controlling such activity would exist either by refusing permission or imposing conditions on consents granted. Greater liberalisation might stimulate economic activity in town centres, but at what cost to existing occupants and businesses? Views are invited.

Very topical in the current heatwave, a further proposal is allowing existing cafes and restaurants to extend tables, seating and other furniture into adjoining pavement areas without the need for planning permission. Many towns and cities in Scotland now enjoy a vibrant street economy in which alfresco eating and drinking can thrive and further liberalisation may well be supported.

Kenneth Carruthers is a Partner, Morton Fraser.

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