My first blog of January 2021 touched upon the changes to Permitted Development Rights (PDR) for Digital Telecommunications Infrastructure, Peatland Restoration, and Active Travel, which will come into effect on 1 April 2021 under Phase 1 of the Scottish Government's reform of PDR.

Phase 1 will also see a significant increase in PDR for agriculture and aquaculture, which will be effective from the same date.


PDR remove the requirement to apply for planning permission, avoiding consent risk and delay.

There is a half-way house for some PDR, where prior notification must be served on the planning authority, who then have the opportunity to decide that limited aspects require their prior approval.

What is the purpose of the changes to agricultural PDR?

The Scottish Government's intention behind the changes to agricultural PDR is to support agricultural development and diversification, as well as the delivery of new homes (including affordable properties) in rural areas.  It is intended that the changes will complement the Scottish Government's Programme for Government 2020-2021, which 'puts the rural economy at the forefront of Scotland's economic and environmental recovery'.

The Government's intention at consultation stage was that the changes to agricultural PDR would support and protect the rural economy by permitting the increase in scale of agricultural buildings that may be erected or extended under PDR; allowing the conversion of agricultural and forestry buildings to residential and other uses under PDR; and providing greater certainty as to the planning status of polytunnels.

What do the changes look like now?

(These comments are intended as a guide only; the full picture can only be obtained by looking at the wording of the statutory provisions).

Increasing the scale of agricultural buildings

The Phase 1 changes coming into effect will increase the existing size limit for agricultural buildings erected or extended under PDR from 465sqm to 1,000sqm. The definition of what is currently considered to be a 'significant extension or alteration' to an agricultural building will be extended with a 20% increase in the permitted cubic content of a building before it becomes a significant extension or alteration.

All other existing conditions and limitations restricting the scale of agricultural buildings (for example, maximum building heights, minimum distances to trunk roads) will continue to apply.

Conversion of agricultural and forestry buildings

Currently a planning application is required to convert an agricultural/forestry building into another use.  New PDR will come into effect which will allow existing agricultural and forestry buildings to be converted into up to 5 dwellings (houses or flats) (none of which may exceed 150sqm); and up to 500sqm flexible commercial space.  The PDR to convert agricultural buildings to flexible commercial space will allow for change of use to a 'flexible' use falling within class 1 (shops), class 2 (financial, professional and other services), class 3 (food and drink), class 4 (business), class 6 (storage or distribution) or class 10 (non-residential institutions).

The new PDR also permit certain building operations that are 'reasonably necessary' in order to carry out the conversion, for example, installation or replacement of windows, doors, roofs, exterior walls.

Prior notification/approval is required in respect of any aspects of the development which relate to design and external appearance, transport, access, noise, contamination, flood risk and, in the case of residential conversions, the provision of natural light in habitable rooms.

There are exclusions: listed buildings or buildings situated within the curtilage of listed buildings, sites of archaeological interest, safety hazard areas or military explosive storage areas.  PDR authorising residential conversions do not apply to buildings on croft land.

Buildings constructed after 4 November 2019 are also excluded from the new PDR, unless used solely for agricultural or forestry purposes on that date, or for those purposes when last in use.


Phase 1 will see changes to aquaculture PDR in order to extend an existing class of PDR to enable the replacement of existing finfish cages (related primarily to farmed Atlantic salmon) with larger alternatives as a non-lethal solution to mitigate seal predation. This is to comply with new seal conservation measures introduced by the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020, which came into effect on 1 February 2021.

The changes will increase the maximum size of replacement or additional pens that fishfarms can install from 100m to 200m circumference for circular pens, and from a surface area of 796sqm to 3182 sqm for non-circular pens. There will also be changes to the permitted total surface area of the waters covered by the equipment.

What's next?

The Scottish Government is set to release more detailed guidance and advice on the Phase 1 changes in the Spring to coincide with the roll-out.

PDR changes for hill tracks (private ways) are included in Phase 3 of the reform, and may be of interest to agricultural clients. Phase 3 is due to commence in Spring 2021.


The new PDR have the potential for removing the uncertainty, cost and delays associated with planning applications.  That will help the agricultural and forestry sectors, both with expanding operations and diversification.  It will be interesting to see if there are enough suitable properties for there to be much take-up of the new rights to convert buildings into residential use.