Extended Permitted Development Rights

BEFS Director shares his observations about the extended permitted development rights consultation process, motivations and unexpected outcomes. 

New, extended permitted development rights (PDR) came into force on the 1st April 2021 following two years of consultation. The new rights apply to digital telecommunications infrastructure, agriculture, peatland restoration and active travel (bicycle storage). 

You can read a more detail account from the Scottish Government on this here. There are some observations worth making about discussions had during the consultation process, motivations and unexpected outcomes.  

In early meetings about telecommunications apparatus the prime driver was clearly to improve the speed of the roll out of apparatus by removing the need for planning permission which was clearly deemed an impediment by mobile phone providers. Yes, most of us are glued to our phones and look forward to the roll out of 5G but what seems to be of less concern is the impact of the apparatus on the public realm. The provision of infrastructure for daily life has a long and positive design history – think of drinking fountains, post boxes, lampposts, telephone boxes, cast iron manhole covers, tram rosettes. A number of these features are a valued part of cultural heritage and the name of some of the designers and manufacturers may trip of your tongue. Contemporary telecoms infrastructure looks unlikely to become as valued, and at best attempts to be invisible or disguised. There seems to be no aspiration by the providers or public authorities to create apparatus that enhances the public realm, or even amalgamates a number of required pieces of infrastructure. These components are necessary for contemporary life and could contribute to good placemaking but remain an opportunity missed. 

A repeated refrain across all elements of the extended PDR discussion was for designated areas to be spared from them. I found this a very difficult argument to make, not because I am against considered decisions for designated areas, but because I am against ill-considered decisions and inferior design everywhere else. Everywhere deserves good quality placemaking and infrastructure not just conservation areas, world heritage sites, the setting of listed buildings etc and arguing otherwise sounds like preferential treatment for some places, and therefore some people, over others. Is it preferable to have fewer or smaller masts within a conservation of the trade-off is taller/more masts outside a conservation area?  

The consultation on extending PDR for the residential conversion of agricultural buildings was also interesting. There was a slight urban perception that these were going to be rustic barn conversions or stone built steadings with delightful arcades when the reality could well be the conversion of steel sheds built before 5th November 2020 – it will be fascinating to see how this new right is actually used by land owners.  

There was broad support for PDR for cycle storage but one aspect still intrigues me. It was decided not to restrict the sizes of communal cycle stores to the rear of blocks of flats. That may be fine if the tenement has 8-12 properties but there are many tenements with far more and most properties would want to store more than one bike. Prepare for some big bike stores in your back green (and legal challenges over title deeds).  

The Scottish Government promised “more detailed guidance and advice early in the New Year, maybe it means 2022.