Amendments to Scottish Planning System seeking to revitalise Town Centres

Legislation Update
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On Friday 31st March 2023, the Scottish Government introduced new legislation allowing shops, and the premises of financial services, and other professional services to be converted to office accommodation, light industrial units, restaurants, cafes, or car showrooms without applying for planning permission (subject to varying conditions being met).

The Scottish Use Classes Order was updated to combine former Use Class 1 (shops) and 2 (financial, professional, and other services) into a singular Class 1A (shops, and financial, professional and other services), therefore providing flexibility to move between the former uses without applying for planning permission. The Government’s Policy Note which accompanies the new legislation sets out that: “this new use class is intended to provide greater flexibility to change the use of buildings and/or for buildings to have multiple concurrent uses”.

Permitted development rights were also introduced under this new Use Class ‘1A’ allowing premises to be converted to office accommodation, light industrial units, restaurants, cafes or car showrooms without having to apply for a change of use (subject to restrictions).

This will come as welcome news to businesses, landlords and developers who will have far greater flexibility to switch between uses than was previously afforded, and who will be presented with new opportunities to bring vacant premises back into use. The new permitted development rights do however include some restrictions that will limit their usefulness within town centres: for instance the change of use to office and light industrial uses is only permitted for units up to 300 sqm in size (so will be limited to small-scale workspaces), the change of use to a car showroom is only permitted up to 235 sqm in size, and new Class 3 food and drink uses are not permitted when they are within 1m of an existing dwelling or if there are flats above (limiting the usefulness with town centres where there are often flats above commercial premises).  The Policy Note expands on this to confirm that the permitted development rights do not apply if:

–     Any part of a dwelling is located directly above part of a building that would change to class 3 (food and drink); or

–     A dwelling is located within 1 metre of a building (or part of a building) that would change to class 3. This measurement does not include any communal access (i.e. a communal passage, stairwell or landing).

The Policy Note further emphasises that the above restrictions should “not be taken as implying that changes of use to use class 3 adjacent to or directly below dwellings are inherently unacceptable in planning terms. Rather, it recognises that such changes of use may have impacts on residential amenity (e.g. as a result of cooking odours) that ought to be considered through a planning application and may require mitigation, for example through the provision of flues or ventilation systems”.

The rights also do not apply to hot food takeaways or bar uses, which continue to form their own separate Sui Generis uses and will continue to require change of use applications.

New permitted development rights have also been introduced for the placement of furniture on a public road (including the pavement) adjacent to class 3 (food and drink) premises, pubs and bars; however, relevant licensing controls will also continue to apply. Furniture is listed as the following:

1. Counters or stalls for selling or serving food or drink,

2. Tables, counters or shelves on which food or drink can be placed,

3. Chairs, benches or other forms of seating,

4. Umbrellas, ramps, barriers, heaters and other articles used in connection with the outdoor consumption of food or drink,

5. Decking structures for the purpose of creating a level surface on which items mentioned in sub-paragraphs (a) to (d) can be placed.

The updates to the permitted development schedule can be read in full at the link below:

The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development and Use Classes) (Scotland) Miscellaneous Amendment Order 2023 (

Generally, the changes are positive and should help to encourage regeneration in Scotland’s town centres. The approach taken by the Scottish Government is less bold than the approach taken in England, whereby restaurants, offices, professional/financial services, light industrial units, gyms and nurseries all fall within the same ‘commercial Class E’, and which are able to switch between uses or be within a mixture of these uses without any restrictions on the size of the unit or proximity to residential neighbours. Furthermore, the introduction of these relaxations by way of permitted development rights will also provide planning departments with the opportunity to introduce Article 4 Directions, where justified, which could further diminish their effectiveness.

For advice on these legislative updates, as well as more broadly the differences in regulations between Scotland and England, please contact Chris Jones or Sam Harper who will be happy to give advice.


Article by George Creamer