Scotland’s planning system

The planning system is a vital public service and one that affects our everyday lives.

Planning is not an abstract concept – it is what we do with the land in our towns, cities and countryside and how we shape our communities. It’s about whether we walk or use the car, about creating better spaces for children to play, growing vegetables or protecting ancient monuments, as well as a vital component in tackling climate change.

Whether applying for permission for a home extension or facing problems with a next door neighbour building a high fence, planning can affect us on a personal level. But beyond our own property, issues on a wider scale can have a great impact upon us and our communities. Proposed developments such as telephone masts, new housing developments, factories, supermarkets, roads, bridges, homeless shelters and even whole new towns, can provoke strong emotions. The planning system has to strike a balance between many competing demands and values. Indeed, there is a growing awareness in Scotland of the benefits that independent mediation could bring to planning.

Yet planning is not just about objecting to change. It is also a positive force for good, enabling people to improve their local community. Planning positively supports economic growth while protecting the environment and helping to improve the quality of life for all. As a result, planning straddles diverse sectors and professions, from housing and regeneration, to economic development, the environment, health, culture, poverty and social justice. Indeed, our planning system reflects the kind of society we want for Scotland, now and in the future.

Scotland recently took on the huge task of reforming the planning system with the Planning etc. (Scotland) Act 2006. This Act, and subsequent secondary legislation, is the biggest reform to our planning system for 60 years and is characterised by a strong emphasis on community engagement. A series of information sheets explaining just what these changes mean in practice is available on the advice section of the Planning Aid for Scotland (PAS) website at

Planning and Your New Home

What type of planning issue might you encounter when moving into your new home? This could be anything from extending the property to converting an attic, or installing your own renewable energy equipment, such as a wind turbine. In many situations, you will not necessarily have to apply for planning permission, because the type of development in question may fall under the remit of The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Scotland) Order 1992 – often referred to as the GPDO.

The GPDO sets out the developments for which planning permission is deemed as granted. These are generally known as ‘permitted developments’.

For any property, it is a good idea to get confirmation of permitted development rights from your local planning authority for any specific project you are planning. It should be noted that permitted development rights do not apply to flats, while for listed buildings and properties within conservation areas, permitted development rights are highly restricted.

The various ‘classes’ of permitted development cover a wide range of domestic planning issues – enlargement, improvement or other alteration of a dwelling house, huts and outbuildings, and the erection and maintenance of walls, fences and gates. The GPDO permits such developments, subject to a number of criteria. For example, you may be able to extend your property without applying for planning permission, provided you do so within the constraints set out by the GPDO. As with any rule, a number of exceptions exist, notably with regard to advertisements, listed buildings or if you live in a conservation area.

The Planning etc. (Scotland) Act 2006 paved the way for a reform of the planning system in Scotland, to create a more inclusive and efficient system. Major changes to the development management system have already taken place, and the Scottish Government is now reviewing and updating the GPDO, with the aim of making householder-permitted development less complex in future. Since 2010, some forms of renewable energy micro-generation projects are now classed as ‘permitted development’ for domestic properties, thus making it easier for householders to install their own small scale green energy equipment. PAS offer help and support with permitted development issues through its free advice helpline on 0845 603 7602.

How can Planning Aid for Scotland help?

PAS is an independent and impartial organisation, working to help people shape their communities and improve the way people engage with the planning system. PAS is a Scotland-wide, not-for-profit organisation.

Recent reforms to the planning system in Scotland aim to make the system more inclusive, efficient and accessible. Everyone in Scotland should be able to participate in planning - but not all of us have the understanding and tools to do so. This is where PAS can help.

The organisation operates a free and impartial planning advice service that can be accessed through the website or a local-rate helpline number. The service is open to individuals, local voluntary groups, community groups, community councils, tenants’ associations and residents’ organisations. PAS can also provide some support for charities, social enterprises, development trusts and, more recently, business start-ups.

PAS’s volunteers – all professional planners – give free advice on any planning issue, from home extensions to wind farms, schools, public spaces, new shopping centres and roads. They can advise you on how to support or object to planning applications, how to get planning permission and how to get involved with development plans. They can also help with questions about planning appeals, enforcement and other relevant issues.

To find out more about how PAS can help you, visit:

or call the helpline on 0845 603 7602