September 2012

Bike Shed Bans

[Update 20 December: Breakthrough on garden bike storage  see Dec 19 news item].
Different sections of Edinburgh Council are pursuing policies which conflict with each other, and Spokes is asking for a compromise so that cycling policies don’t lose out…

Oct 31 update [click here]:  Colonies consultation and Hit-and-Miss Bannings

This year Spokes has been contacted by no fewer than 7 households who have been refused permission for bike sheds in front gardens, or told to remove existing sheds.  If we have heard of 7, there will be many more, and there will be yet more people who have been deterred by the hassles, the application costs, and the chances of rejection, from getting a bike shed – and bikes – in the first place.

In some of these cases there is no realistic alternative for family bike storage other than carrying commuter and school bikes, sometimes wet and mucky, through kitchens and other rooms.  Businesses have also been refused permission for bike shed proposals.

Whilst Spokes appreciates the need for conservation rules, they are going too far – for example, low dark-green bike storage units and well kept wooden sheds totally invisible from the road have been ordered to be removed.

The council has planning policies – but it also has transport policies, including a hugely ambitious target that 10% of all trips will be by bike in 2020.   A compromise is needed so that planning policies are not allowed totally to over-rule transport policies, as is now happening.  The council is telling people how great it is to get about by bike – and then it is preventing them from doing so!

Spokes has made a submission [pdf 108k] to the Council’s Planning Guidance consultation, pointing out this council policy conflict and asking for the council to come up with a sensible resolution.

Apart from the serious negative effect on council transport policies, the rules are in some cases causing severe stress and unhappiness.   The council’s reputation with these families and their friends is also suffering badly.  Families have told us…

  • I have long been a committed cyclist and have encouraged the same practice in my children … I recently arrived from Australia and I was delighted at the apparently strong commitment of Edinburgh Council to environmental matters and to the promotion of cycling, in particular.  However, in my experience, the reality is very different … The policies of the Planning department ought to be reviewed and developed to reflect both conservation and transports needs of a modern city.”
  • My husband wants to cycle to work. I want to get my kids cycling properly and I want to be able to cycle again myself …  My husband has already had his bike stolen from the front of our garden – surely we are not expected to house 4 bikes in our living room at the front of the house.
  • Access to the rear of the property is through the house and down a twisting flight of steps and so the only option is the front garden
  • In terms of the character of the area, my bike unit is far less visible and far less unsightly than the unregulated cars parked at the front of my property.
  • [cost and uncertainty for people on low incomes]  “Every one else in our stairwell uses bikes to go to and from work. This is a good sign but it means my boyfriend and I cannot fit bikes at the bottom of the stair well, as there are so many others – and our flat is one bedroomed and no room for them in there … The planning department say they are charging £180 for permission to put up a small bike shed!!  And  no guarantee that it will be granted.  There are a lot of these sheds in the surrounding neighbourhoods and the front and back gardens along my street. £180 plus the price of the shed is a lot of money for me!!
  • It seems ludicrous that I have chosen to provide my own solution (at significant
    cost) to bike storage – a noted problem in Edinburgh and disincentive to taking up or continuing with cycling –  and positioned discreetly beneath a mature high hedge – and I am being actively pursued to prevent this.
  • I contacted the Councillors standing for the elections asking them what they would / could do to help. I only got a reply from the [deleted] candidate.  He now has my vote!!
  • We have had a number of bikes stolen from our front garden and have tried a number of methods to keep our bikes safe and finally decided to put up a shed …  The council have now contacted us to and are insiting we take the shed down (with a the threat of a £1000 fine if we dont …   We have no car and feel that as a family trying to live without one we should be encouraged to cycle.
  • Shouldn’t the council have some sort of policy that if neighbours have an issue – they should try and sort it out first together, rather than the council taking it up immediately? … We didn’t even get a chance to talk to the council face to face to explain our issues with the enforcement – until I was personally served with the actual papers, by which time it was too late …
  • The Council are happy enough for cars to be parked all day outside my house, despite their supposed commitment to increasing cycling …  Some communal storage should be put nearby so that cyclists have at least some equity with cars and vans.”
  • This has been a really really horrible period for us – and it’s not over yet. We want the City Council to make their policies much clearer and fairer – there are clearly conflicting views within the council itself.

More positively, the council is working on an an innovative pilot scheme for onstreet overnight bike storage in tenemental areas [October 2011 news item] – but it is taking ages to get started, and if implemented on a wider scale will doubtless encounter planning problems in the same sort of areas as the bike shed problems.   Meanwhile, people in flats and tenements can also get ideas from our Spokes factsheet How to be a Cycling Flat-Dweller.


If you have bike shed permissions problems – or if you have had problems in the past – please write now to your councillors, explaining how you are or were affected, and asking for a change in the rules.  Please write soon, as this is currently being discussed at high levels, thanks to the Planning Guidance consultation and also the efforts of Cllr Jim Orr and Cllr Gavin Corbett.

The more evidence that goes to councillors, the more chance of improving the rules.  Find your councillors [you have either 3 or 4 councillors] at  If possible, copy your email to Spokes.

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October 31 update 1:  Colonies consultation

Edinburgh Council is consulting on whether the city’s ‘Colony Housing’ should become Conservation AreasCouncil document [pdf 2.6MB].   Our Spokes Colonies response [pdf 109k] requests no restrictions on garden bike storage.   A similar point was made by the  Flower Colonies residents association  [doc 33k].

October 31 update 2:  Hit and Miss Decision-Making

Can you install bike storage – or any garden shed or storage container – in a front garden?  Thanks to feedback to our campaign, the decision-making process is becoming a little clearer.

  • Many people install sheds/containers without getting planning permission – and in many (most?) cases they don’t know planning permission is needed, or think about it
  • In conservation areas planning permission is required [we’re not sure about other areas] but permission is unlikely to be granted, even if the household has no other realistic option for storing bikes
  • The council is aware that there are very large numbers of sheds/containers which don’t have planning permission, but which would have been refused had they applied
  • The council is very unlikely to take any action unless a complaint is made.   The householder does not usually know who has made the complaint.
  • If a complaint is made in a conservation area the council is likely to say that the storage must be removed.
  • You can appeal.  The appeal goes to a government inspector (‘Reporter’), but the council only gives the Reporter one side of the story – they don’t tell the Reporter about the council’s very ambitious targets for cycle use.
  • If at any stage the person who lodged the original complaint changes their mind, this will not stop the process.
  • In one case the anonymous complainant said they were objecting because the container was made of metal [although it was a dull green and surrounded by shrubs] but would not have objected if it was wood.   In another case an anonymous complainant objected to a wooden shed – some months later, seeing the resulting distress and time-wasting, they withdrew the complaint – but the council’s enforcement process continued.

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