Since 1947 the right to develop land in the UK has not rested with the landowner but with the state. Land ownership does not entail the right to cultivate land; The first step is to obtain approval from the local building authority.
Central to this is the definition of “development”, for which a building permit is required. This is defined in the Planning Act 1997 as any construction, engineering, mining or other intervention on land – physical works or interventions of any kind – and significant changes in the use of buildings or land.
This broad definition encompasses a variety of often minor operations and changes in use. Secondary legislation identifies types of development for which planning permission is considered granted, with more than 90 classes of development listed in the generally permitted development that can be undertaken without the need for prior approval. The permitted development classes are varied and the list can be changed without having to change the primary right.
Following this approach, a second review of the Permitted Development Order (PDO) by the Scottish Government is recently underway, allowing for up to 3 changes of use in town centres.
The number of electric vehicles in Scotland could grow to one million by 2030. The number of charging points must increase from around 2,100 to over 30,000. The installation of wall-mounted chargers and charging stations within areas lawfully used for off-street parking is permitted under current PDOs, but with conditions that limit their effectiveness. For example, approved development rights do not apply to sites of archaeological interest, national scenic areas, nature reserves, national parks and world heritage sites. Bad news if you are driving to such a place with your family and cannot find a place to charge your vehicle for the return trip. The consultation seeks views on whether site restrictions remain appropriate.
Opinions are also sought on improving the provision of street chargers and the construction of solar canopies and associated battery storage and other devices to power charging points. Critics may argue that this could have a negative impact on built heritage, visual amenity, and locomotion on streets and sidewalks in general. On the other hand, in order to achieve the targets for charging points, a roll-out that is as broad as possible is probably necessary.
The consultation also looks at how changes to approved development rights and associated Class of Use (UCO) regulations could be introduced to stimulate city centres. Currently, the UCO identifies 11 classes of distinct land use, ranging from Class 1 business to Class 11 assembly and leisure. A change between the usage classes is usually a development that requires a building permit; usually not a change within the same class.
Possible changes include the creation of a new use class for the city center that includes shops, financial and professional services, food and beverage, shops and possibly others. The effect could be quite radical; No building permit would be required for changes of use within the town core class and there would be no way to control such activity, either through denial of permits or conditional approvals. Greater liberalization could boost economic activity in inner cities, but at what cost to existing residents and businesses? Views are invited.
Another suggestion, very timely given the current heatwave, is that existing cafes and restaurants can extend tables, seating and other furniture into adjacent sidewalk areas without planning permission. Many towns in Scotland now enjoy a thriving street economy where al fresco dining and drinking can thrive and further liberalization may well be encouraged.
Kenneth Carruthers is a partner, Morton Fraser.