Permitted development rights - phase 1 priority development types: consultation

Consultation on draft proposals for changes and extensions to Permitted Development Rights (PDR) in Scotland for the priority development types selected for inclusion in Phase 1 of our programme. Consultation closes on 12 November 2020.

6. Peatland Restoration


6.1 The primary benefit of peatland restoration is in relation to climate change and storing carbon, though it has many other benefits including providing an internationally important habitat, improving water quality and reducing flood risk. The National Peatland Plan (2015) indicates that, in total, peatlands cover over 20% of Scotland's land area. However, estimates point to as much as 80% of Scotland's peatland landscape having been damaged. The Scottish Government's Climate Change Plan sets targets to restore 50,000 hectares of degraded peatland by 2020, increasing to 250,000 hectares by 2030.

6.2 In February 2020, the Scottish Government announced a substantial, multi-annual investment in peatland restoration of more than £250 million over the next 10 years. Currently, Scottish Government funding for peatland restoration is administered largely through Peatland Action, but also Forestry and Land Scotland, the national park authorities, and Scottish Water. There is also an International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) mechanism – the Peatland Code – for validating schemes seeking private funding.

6.3 The Scottish Government's support for peatland restoration and what it can mean for the environment, and the above commitments, are confirmed in a number of strategic documents, including the Climate Change Plan, the Scottish Government's response to the report of the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery, and the Programme for Government 2021-22.

6.4 As far as planning is concerned, peatland restoration activity does not appear to have been regarded, on the whole, as a matter requiring planning permission despite the definition of 'development' including various engineering and 'other operations'. Currently there are in the region of 70 restoration projects started each year, but only in a small number of cases have planning authorities sought a planning application from restorers before projects can proceed.

6.5 In future the scale and number of projects is expected to increase, in order to meet the annual target of 20,000 hectares of peatland restoration per annum. Such increases will likely affect the extent to which projects would be regarded as needing planning permission – that is as scale or the use of machinery and more intrusive works increases, especially in large areas of open, uncultivated or undeveloped land.

6.6 The intention with permitted development rights (PDR) in this regard, is to provide clarity on the planning position for peatland restoration projects.

6.7 The questions in this section on peatland restoration PDR will focus on each aspect of the PDR in turn – the definitions, the basic grant of planning permission, the restrictions and conditions that apply to it. There will then be a general question on the proposed peatland restoration PDR as a whole.

The General Approach to PDR for Peatland Restoration

6.8 Whilst the aim of policy on peatland restoration is for the number and size of peatland restoration projects to grow, and for the funding streams to diversify, the expectation is that for the foreseeable future the majority will continue to depend on public sector funding. Where a project is not relying on public funds, then it is likely to be registered and validated under the Peatland Code.

6.9 Currently Peatland Action[13] delivers the bulk of projects for peatland restoration across Scotland that use funds provided from the Scottish Government. Its officers are hosted within NatureScot and a number of partner organisations, including Scottish Water and the National Park Authorities. As part of their work in authorising funding they carry out an assessment of projects to ensure compliance with legislative requirements and good practice.

6.10 The Peatland Code[14] is a voluntary certification standard for UK peatland projects wishing to market the climate benefits of peatland restoration. It is administered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the world's largest network of environmental experts.

6.11 To access these voluntary carbon markets buyers need to be given assurance that the climate benefits being sold are real, quantifiable, additional and permanent. The Peatland Code is the mechanism through which such assurances can be given. The Peatland Code is currently a standard for verifying greenhouse gas emissions, and is not a general code for restoration good practice. It can require projects to demonstrate how they have planned their restoration in line with best available guidance, such as from the IUCN[15], as well as other specific guidance on peatland restoration and archaeology available from statutory agencies for the historic environment.

6.12 The overall approach proposed is therefore that, given for the foreseeable future the majority of peatland restoration projects are likely to require support through the Peatland Action programme, with some using the Peatland Code approach to attract private finance, there are unlikely to be projects proceeding without a significant degree of scrutiny, wide ranging PDR can be granted for such projects.

Q.49 Do you agree with the general approach to PDR for peatland restoration, (i.e. wide ranging PDR given the likely oversight via Peatland Action and via the Peatland Code)?

If you do not agree please explain why.

Defining the Permitted Development Rights for Peatland Restoration

6.13 There is no single, overarching approval process for all peatland restoration projects to which PDR can be attached. While there are maps of peatland areas, we do not believe they are sufficiently formal in nature to allow PDR to be legally attached to them – that is, they are not, for example, maps of legally designated areas, with boundaries and which are subject to formal procedures for being changed or updated.

6.14 As far as a definition of 'peatland' is concerned, these can be highly technical or not necessarily helpful for the purposes of readily identifying peatland. Consequently, the intention is that PDR will rely on a general understanding of what constitutes peatland.

Q.50 Do you agree with the approach to PDR for peatland restoration that relies on a general understanding of what will constitute peatland?

If you do not agree please explain why.

6.15 Our proposed approach is to apply PDR to 'peatland restoration' without further definition.

Q.51 Do you agree with this approach to a blanket PDR for 'peatland restoration'?

If you do not agree please explain why.

Conditions and restrictions on PDR for Peatland Restoration

Designated Areas

6.16 The principal concern identified in the sustainability appraisal relating to peatland restoration was the potential loss of, or damage to, archaeological and cultural artefacts. The sustainability appraisal suggested mitigation in the form of prior notification/prior approval in designated areas, particularly those designated for cultural heritage or archaeological assets.

6.17 Designations for natural heritage, namely Sites of Special Scientific Interest and European Sites have their own safeguards, that is, respectively the requirements on 'potentially damaging operations', and under the Conservation (Natural Habitats &c.) Regulations 1994. Built heritage designations, other than listed buildings and scheduled monuments, normally rely on controls under legislation on the granting of planning permission.

6.18 Peatland Action, in its planning, application and assessment process, considers historical, cultural and archaeological interests. This is one of the many aspects Peatland Action cover that ensures projects are completed in a professional manner, within tight time constraints. Peatland Action have also been working with Historic Environment Scotland to ensure that undesignated features and the effects of restoration are fully considered and understood in the future.

6.19 Under the Peatland Code applicants are required to prepare statements that cover restoration and management activities and statements of environmental and social impact. This could include considerations of historical, cultural and archaeological heritage.

6.20 We therefore do not propose to have restrictions or requirements in particular designated areas regarding peatland PDR.

Q.52 Do you agree that as peatland restoration projects will likely be subject to oversight from Peatland Action, or validation under the Peatland Code, there is no need for additional controls on related PDR in designated areas?

If you do not agree please explain why.

Access Tracks (Private Ways)

6.21 Where peatland restoration sites are remote from existing roads and tracks, peatland restoration projects may require a new access track. Given the imperatives around climate change, we are interested in people's views regarding the issue of PDR for temporary access tracks necessary to carry out peatland restoration.

6.22 The 2019 Sustainability Appraisal identified the likely significant positive and negative environmental, social and economic effects of PDR for peatland restoration excluding access tracks. We will ensure that all statutory assessment obligations are met before any new proposals for PDR in respect of access tracks for peatland restoration are progressed, including any obligations arising under the Environmental Assessment (Scotland) Act 2005.

Q.53 Do you think there should be PDR for new temporary access tracks (private ways) which may be necessary to carry out peatland restoration projects?

Please explain your answer.

Q.54 What sort of time limits and restoration requirements do you consider should apply to any PDR for temporary access tracks (private ways) for peatland restoration projects?

Please explain your answer.

Q.55 If possible, should any PDR for temporary access tracks (private ways) for peatland restoration only apply to projects which have been approved for funds provided by the Scottish Government, through Peatland Action or other bodies?

Please explain your answer.

Other Conditions and Restrictions

6.23 As indicated by the proposals, the aim is to be very wide ranging in the PDR for peatland restoration. Given that approach, there is a risk that planning permission could be granted, however inadvertently, for inappropriate development.

6.24 One issue is where peat is transferred for the purposes of peatland restoration. The intention is that the transfer of peat within a restoration site, for the purposes of restoration, should be allowed under PDR. Also the bringing in of peat to a restoration site for the purposes of peatland restoration. However, the extraction of peat outside the restoration site would not be granted permission by the peatland restoration PDR, nor would removal of peat from the restoration site.

Q56. Do you agree that the peatland restoration PDR should allow for the transfer of peat within the restoration site and for peat to be brought into the restoration site?

If you do not agree please explain why.

Q57. Do you agree that the peatland restoration PDR should not grant permission for the extraction of peat outside the restoration site or for removal of peat from the restoration site?

If you do not agree please explain why.

Q.58 Are there any other forms of development which could be granted planning permission by the PDR for peatland restoration as proposed, which should be restricted or controlled?

Please explain your answer, setting out what sorts of development you consider should be restricted and why.

Q.59 Do you have any other views or points to make about the proposed PDR for peatland restoration?



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