A recent planning appeal decision, which granted planning permission for a Costa drive-thru development, raises the question of whether the Local Development Plans that councils currently have in place are sufficient to meet net-zero ambitions.


In 2021, Trilogy (Leamington Spa) Ltd (a franchisee of Costa) applied to City of Edinburgh Council for planning permission to construct a coffee shop with drive-thru facilities in the car park of supermarket Morrisons on Ferry Road, a major thoroughfare. The application was initially reviewed by a Planning Officer, who advised that the application be granted in accordance with the Council's planning policies. However, the Council's Planning Committee rejected the application in December 2021 on the basis that granting permission would, in their view, be contrary to policies contained within the Edinburgh Local Development Plan (ELDP), and with reference to the Edinburgh City Mobility Plan and Scottish Planning Policy.

On appeal, the Reporter considered the Council's reasons for rejection within 4 main issues, namely the impact on amenity and air quality, sustainable transport, road safety, and parking. Moreover, he took into account the Council's City Mobility Plan 2021, which details the Council's approach to sustainable travel and seeks to increase trips by active and sustainable modes of transport and reduce emissions from road transport. His conclusion was that none of these issues would be significantly impacted as a result of the proposed development, and that the Council did not provide sufficient evidence that the drive-thru element of the proposal would increase car use. As a result, the Reporter could not find that allowing the development to proceed would be detrimental to neighbouring amenity through increased traffic. Further, no evidence was provided to substantiate the Council's contention that increased idling at the drive-thru would impact on air quality. In the absence of material considerations, the Reporter concluded that the application should be granted in accordance with the ELDP.

Do LDPs live up to net-zero ambitions?

This decision raises questions about whether local development plans, some of which have been in place for a number of years, are sufficient to meet councils' net-zero ambitions as they relate to planning policy. Planning decisions in Scotland are "plan-led", meaning that they need to be made in accordance with local development plans unless material considerations apply. In practice, this means that even if an application is contrary to a position that is held by all members of the Planning Committee, this holds little weight unless that position can be justified by reference to the LDP that applies.

Drive-thru facilities, in their encouragement of car journeys and use, do not necessarily align with an emerging policy consensus that the number of car journeys taken should be reduced if emissions are to fall to a level at which net-zero targets can be met. Around 38% of Scotland's total emissions are attributed to transport, with approximately 68% of these coming from car emissions. However, without policies in the LDP designed to address this directly, councils can be left to rely on policies relating to air quality, neighbourhood amenity, road safety, and sustainable buildings if they seek to apply an emissions-reduction logic in deciding applications such as this one. This was the case in this application, and on appeal the Reporter confirmed that despite "widespread support through both national and local policy for the reduction in private car use", nothing in the ELDP prevented the granting of permission for a drive-thru from an emissions-reduction perspective, particularly as the Council did not provide evidence that the drive-thru would increase car trips and emissions contrary to the City Mobility Plan 2021.

The impact of NPF4

It is worth noting as a final thought that the outcome of this planning application, and appeal, may well have been different were National Planning Framework 4 in force. As discussed elsewhere, changes brought about by the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 will mean that the National Planning Framework will be viewed as part of the development plan, and if parts of that plan come into conflict, the more recent of these will take precedence.

In this case, the ELDP came into force in 2016. If NPF4 had been in force, it is possible that Policy 2: Climate emergency, which requires significant weight to be given to the global climate emergency and that development be designed to minimise emissions, would have provided the Council with a more effective tool with which to reject the application and to do so in accordance with the development plan.


Neil Collar


Jack Barratt

Trainee Solicitor