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Scottish Planning System – Rural Update

Published: 27 May 2021
Time to read: 4 mins

The Scottish planning system is undergoing a period of extensive reform. Two sets of changes have recently been introduced which could affect the diversification opportunities in rural areas: one set that might assist diversification and another that has the potential to restrict it.

Conversion of agricultural and forestry buildings to residential and commercial use

The first is the recent review and extension of permitted development rights in Scotland. Permitted development allows certain development to take place without the need for full planning permission. The main source of this deemed planning permission is contained within the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Scotland) Order 1992 (known as the “Permitted Development Order”).

On 1 April 2021 amendments were made to the Permitted Development Order to extend the permitted development rights relating to agricultural and forestry land. These are intended to make development easier for agricultural landowners and tenants with the hope that this will allow increased diversification, strengthen the rural economy and improve housing availability in rural areas.

New rights have been introduced that allow a streamlined process for permitting conversion of agricultural and forestry buildings to residential or commercial use. It will be possible to convert such buildings into up to five dwellings (houses or flats) per agricultural unit. None of the homes can be larger than 150sqm. It will also be possible to convert agricultural and forestry buildings into a flexible commercial space no greater than 500sqm.

Before any works can commence to carry out the development, an application for prior notification/approval will require to be made to the planning authority in respect of certain matters, including design and external appearance, transport, access, noise, contamination, flood risk and, for residential conversions, the provision of natural light in habitable rooms. This process will not be as extensive as a full planning application.

In addition, there are some restrictions on when the new permitted development rights will apply. They will not apply to buildings that were constructed after 4 November 2019. This is intended to prevent agricultural buildings being erected for the purpose of future conversion. The rights also do not apply to listed buildings or buildings situated within the curtilage of a listed building, a site of archaeological interest, a safety hazard area or a military explosive storage areas, and, in respect of residential conversions, do not apply to buildings on croft land.

Short-Term Let Control Areas

The second recent change that also came into force on 1 April 2021 was the introduction of regulations that will allow local authorities to designate a ‘short-term let control area’ within their boundary. If a dwelling house (house of flat) within those areas is used for the purposes of commercial short-term letting, such as AirBnB style accommodation, then the letting is deemed to involved a material change of use in planning terms and will need planning permission.

If a local authority wants to designate a short term let control area then it will need to first carry out a consultation process on the plan, before submitting the proposal to the Scottish Ministers for approval.

Further regulation of commercial short-term lets is also expected later this year, with a licencing regime for short-term let operators expected to be announced in June 2021.

Across rural Scotland there are a number of previous residential properties converted into short-term lets, providing a new stream of income to the owner and also providing a tourism boost to the local area. At least initially, these regulations are unlikely to impact the majority of rural Scotland. However, it is foreseeable that short-term let control areas could be introduced in areas where there are particular pressures on local housing, such as Skye.

If you have any questions about the issues raised above or would like to discuss your own circumstances, please get in touch.



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