As we’ve observed in our blog several times this year, the coronavirus pandemic has changed how we relate to our built environment and, with that, the infrastructure needed to accommodate our changing behaviours. For example, we have seen pop-up bike lanes to facilitate an increase in cycling (on which, see our May Spotlights) and a boom in the market for houses with gardens. Related to the latter (as well as in response to the panic buying in the early days of the lockdown!), there has also been a surge of interest in opportunities for people to grow their own food, whether in their gardens, in community gardens, or on allotments. And, where there is demand for land for food growing, there is also often demand for structures such as sheds, greenhouses and polytunnels to support that use. The question that then arises is whether planning permission is required for any of this, and what might be done in planning terms to encourage more food growing, particularly in community garden and allotment settings?
The starting point here is that agriculture (which includes horticulture, fruit growing, and market gardens) does not constitute development for planning purposes, such that planning permission is not required for those activities. In addition, subject to certain criteria being met, buildings for use in connection with agriculture can often be constructed under permitted development rights, rather than having to apply for planning permission. For this to be the case however, the land in question has to be used for agriculture “in the course of a trade or a business”, which of course community growing sites and allotments generally are not.
Recognising that this presents a barrier to the development of much needed infrastructure on community growing sites and allotments, the Scottish Government is considering introducing new permitted development rights which would allow, for example, perimeter fencing, sheds, greenhouses, portable buildings, containers, communal huts, car parking, and/or accesses to be constructed on such sites without the need for a planning application. Under the current work programme however, specific proposals are not expected until Autumn 2021.
Meantime, as touched on in our October Spotlights, the Scottish Government has recently been consulting on proposed changes to existing agricultural permitted development rights, and one of the specific matters identified in the consultation is that the planning status of polytunnels currently causes uncertainty. However, despite the consultation document also recognising that polytunnels provide opportunities to extend a very short growing season in Scotland, thus helping to increase local food production and to reduce food miles, there are currently no proposals to create a new permitted development right to simplify the planning status of these.
In speaking about this with friends from Social Farms and Gardens – an organisation representing community growing groups across the UK – they commented on the lack of joined up thinking in this regard. In particular, they highlighted that the Scottish Government recently announced a £3.5m Community Climate Asset Fund which, amongst other initiatives, is intended to fund equipment or infrastructure to support community growing. However, due to an application timeframe of 4 weeks, groups were effectively excluded from applying for any infrastructure, including polytunnels, for which planning permission would be required (the target timescale for determining applications for local development such as this being 8 weeks).
To make it easier for polytunnels to be erected on community growing and allotment sites (and therefore to deliver the recognised benefits of polytunnel growing), our response to the recent consultation on proposed changes to agricultural permitted development rights suggested that there should be a specific permitted development right for these, and also that existing agricultural permitted development rights should be extended to all forms of agriculture, not just that which is carried out in the course of a trade or a business. The consultation closed on 12 November, and it remains to be seen what the outcome of that is.
Irrespective of that outcome though, we would encourage planning authorities to look favourably on proposals relating to food growing initiatives, including any associated infrastructure. In this regard, we are pleased to see that the Proposed Aberdeen Local Development Plan 2020 (which was out for consultation earlier this year) specifically recognises the benefits of food-growing projects, and states that opportunities for such projects in the city will be supported. It is also encouraging to see local authorities embracing the concept of food growing strategies (introduced by the Community Empowerment Act) and using these to set out a clear vision for food growing in our cities.
Demand for food growing spaces outstrips supply in many places, so there is still work to be done in that regard. However, it is hoped that proposed changes to permitted development rights, supportive local planning policies and more joined up thinking will sow the seeds for more local food growing on existing sites at least, making these more productive and better able to meet people’s needs as we adapt to the pandemic and look to the future.
Meantime, to find out how we can help with any aspect of the planning process, please visit our website or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, if you would like to see our other blogs or sign up for email updates, please click here.
Thanks for reading!
Pippa and Maggie