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 to do so must first be obtained usually from the elected councillors making up the local planning authority or from senior officers with delegated authority.
Central to this arrangement 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 - in other words, physical works or operations of various kinds - and material changes to the use of buildings or land. The broad nature of this definition captures a multiplicity of often minor operations and use-changes. For this reason, secondary legislation identifies types of development for which planning permission is deemed to be granted. Over 90 classes of development are identified in the General Permitted Development which may be undertaken without permission first being obtained. Classes of permitted development are many and varied - and the list can be changed as societal changes dictate without having to amend the primary legislation.
Adopting this approach, the Scottish Government is in the course of a second recent review of the Permitted Development Order and views are invited by 3 August on a number of proposed changes to permitted development rights. Principal amongst these are changes to electric vehicle charging infrastructure and changes of use in town centres, the former intended to support the growth in e-vehicle use, the latter to stimulate town centres more generally.
Electric vehicle numbers in Scotland are expected to grow to as many as 1 million by 2030. To keep pace, the number of charging points needs to grow from around 2,100 currently to over 30,000. The installation of wall mounted chargers and charging upstands within areas lawfully used for off street parking are already permitted under the current permitted development order. But these rights are hedged with conditions limiting their effectiveness. For example, permitted development rights do not apply to sites of archaeological interest, to national scenic areas, conservation areas, National Parks and to World Heritage Sites. Bad news if you drive your family to one of these locations and find nowhere to charge your vehicle for the return journey. The consultation paper seeks views on whether these locational constraints remain appropriate.
The consultation also seeks views on increasing the amount of on-street charging provision and the erection of solar canopies and related battery storage and other equipment housing to power up the charging points. Critics may argue that this could impact adversely on the built heritage, on 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 paper considers also how changes to permitted development rights and the related Use Classes Order might be introduced to stimulate town centres within Scotland. 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.
Principal amongst the possible changes proposed is the consolidation of the shops, financial and professional services, food and drink, business and possibly other use classes into a new town centre use class. The effect of this 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 by imposing conditions on consents granted. Greater liberalisation might greatly 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.
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