Scots call for clarity on Covid-19 planning law change

Farmers and landowners have urged the Scottish government to clarify planning rules on temporary, alternative land use to help boost rural businesses.

The rules, known as permitted development rights (PDRs), allow farmers to use land for a non-agricultural purpose without having to apply for full planning permission.

In normal circumstances PDRs extend to just 28 days in any calendar year.

But last year governments across the UK doubled the period to 56 days to help rural businesses recoup income lost during the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.

Farmers who took advantage of the extension established pop-up campsites that netted an average of £12,000 in extra income for each business.

Recognising the success, both the UK and Welsh governments have already confirmed that the extended 56-day limit will be applied again in 2021.

But Scotland’s chief planner, John McNairney, is yet to officially follow suit.

In January Mr McNairney suggested that a policy of non-enforcement above the statutory 28 days would be in place during 2021.

See also: How to go about diversifiying into farm pop-up campsites

While the landowner body Scottish Land Estates and NFU Scotland have both welcomed the move, the organisations say businesses have been left unsure and needing firmer guidance.

Both bodies have called on Mr McNairney to state definitely that PDRs will match England and Wales with an extension to 56 days until the end of the year.

A joint NFUS/SLE statement said this would give greater security to land businesses and farms which were diversifying to get through difficult economic times. 

Without a stated extension, there is a concern that the policy of non-enforcement could end abruptly, making planning difficult, they added.

Gavin Mowat, SLE policy adviser, said a 56-day period would boost incomes while Scotland’s wildlife would also benefit from staycations that were offered on managed farmland.

With more sites offered by land managers there would be a reduction in so-called “dirty” or wild camping, which was an eyesore that had far-reaching environmental impacts, Mr Mowat suggested.

“During the pandemic, land managers and farmers have been able to ameliorate the impacts of dirty camping by setting aside parts of their holdings to allow for visitors to camp safely and in a way that respects nature,” he said.

Gemma Cooper, NFUS head of policy, said extending PDRs to 56 days in 2021 would provide much-needed certainty and security.

“The relaxation proposed by SLE and NFUS ahead of summer is timely and it is our hope that the chief planner can work with us in this regard,” she said.

“Wild camping has been a real problem in some areas and relaxation of planning to help farmers and landowners be part of the solution to this issue would be welcomed.”

Northern Ireland’s chief planner is also yet to state that there will be a 56-day PDR limit in 2021.