At the heart of this is the definition of “development” for which planning permission is required. This is defined in the Planning Act 1997 as construction, engineering, mining or other land operations – physical works or operations of various kinds – and significant changes in the use of buildings or land.
This broad definition encompasses a multiplicity of often minor operations and changes in use. Secondary legislation identifies the types of development for which planning permission is deemed to have been granted, with over 90 classes of development identified in general permitted development which may be undertaken without prior permission. The classes of permitted development are varied and the list can change without having to change the primary legislation.
Taking this approach, a second recent review by the Scottish Government of the Permitted Development Ordinance (PDO) is underway, with views invited by August 3 on a number of proposed changes to Permitted Development Rights – including changes to electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure and changes in usage in city centres.
The number of electric vehicles in Scotland could reach up to one million by 2030. The number of charging stations is to increase from around 2,100 to over 30,000. The installation of wall chargers and charging stations in areas legally used for off-street parking is permitted under current AOPs – but with conditions limiting their effectiveness. For example, permitted development rights do not 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 place and find nowhere to recharge your vehicle for the trip home. The consultation aims to determine whether the location constraints remain appropriate.
It is also seeking views on increasing on-street charging provision and erecting solar canopies and associated battery storage and other equipment to power charging points. Critics may argue that this could have a negative impact on built heritage, visual amenity and traffic flow more generally on roads and sidewalks. On the other hand, if charging point targets are to be met, the widest possible deployment will probably be necessary.
The consultation also examines how changes to permitted development rights and the related Use Classes Ordinance (UCO) could be introduced to boost town centres. Currently the UCO identifies 11 different land use classes ranging from Class 1 Shops to Class 11 Assembly and Recreation. Generally, a change between classes of use involves a development requiring planning permission; a change within the same class usually does not.
Possible changes include the creation of a new downtown use class covering shops, financial and professional services, food and drink, businesses and possibly others. The effect could be quite drastic; no planning permission would be required for changes of use within the town center class and no means of controlling such activity would exist either by denying permission or by imposing conditions on the permissions granted. Greater liberalization could stimulate economic activity in city centres, but at what cost for occupants and existing businesses? Views are invited.
Highly relevant in the current heatwave, another proposal allows existing cafes and restaurants to extend tables, seating and other furniture into adjacent sidewalk areas without needing planning permission. Many towns in Scotland now benefit from a vibrant street economy in which outdoor eating and drinking can thrive and further liberalization may well be supported.
Kenneth Carruthers is a partner, Morton Fraser.