Potential Changes to the Use Class Order in Scotland

01 Jun 22

In Scotland, the proposal to create a new merged class is currently out for public consultation.

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Urban centres, from central business districts to local high streets, are vital assets which provide a focus for economic, cultural and social interactions. Scotland’s urban centres currently face significant and well-documented challenges. Many of these are long-standing, complex and have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

In mid-2020, the Scottish Government set up task forces to develop recommendations for our urban centres going forward. One of the recommendations was that the Scottish Government should consider creating a ‘general town centre use class’. This would bring together a variety of uses commonly found in town centres, but which currently sit in separate use classes. In effect, this would create an extension of Permitted Development Rights making it easier to convert between uses without the need for planning permission.

This idea is similar in nature to the introduction of the ‘Commercial, Business and Service’ use class – also known as ‘Class E’ – in England in September 2020.

So, what has the reaction been to this change in England?

One of the most contentious issues arising from Class E is that it has made it easier to convert commercial buildings on high streets to residential use, resulting in the uncontrolled loss of these uses and, sometimes, sub-optimal living environments. Additionally, concerns have been raised about the conversion of out-of-town office blocks to retail uses, with this seeming to contradict the UK Government’s ‘town centre first’ principle.

In Scotland, the proposal to create a new merged class is currently out for public consultation. The initial proposal from the Scottish Government is that this will include shops, financial & professional services, and food & drink (Classes 1, 2 and 3) within a single use class.

Notably, the Scottish Government have confirmed that business and residential (Classes 4 and 9) are unlikely to be included in any new merged class – apparently learning lessons from the criticism of the English system.

The Scottish Government hope that this will increase flexibility for business owners and developers, allowing for a more robust post-pandemic recovery while addressing some of the issues which have hampered Scotland’s urban centres for many years. Time will tell if the proposed changes are sufficient to enable a strong post-pandemic recovery for these areas while helping to address a housing crisis which continues to grow in severity.

At Iceni Projects, we will be closely monitoring the outcome of this consultation and advising our clients of any implications and opportunities for their assets. If you would like additional information on the public consultation or to discuss how the potential changes to Scotland’s Use Class Order might impact your own interests, please do get in touch. The consultation closes on 3rd August 2022.

Jack Miller Planner,Planning