October 2020

Bike sheds breakthrough?

Nov 1 update: Finalised Spokes submission here

After nearly a decade of lobbying, the Scottish Government at last appears to be seriously considering allowing families to install a modest front garden bike storage shed without the hassle, uncertainty and £200+ cost of seeking planning permission. However, their proposals need tweaking or we will get a substandard solution which leaves many householders choosing between an inadequate facility or going back to the uncertainties and costs of planning permission.

The government is consulting on whether to grant permitted development rights (PDR) for bike sheds or containers in front gardens, provided they are under a certain size (and perhaps meet some other criteria such as colour). At present, planning permission is required for any such ‘ancillary building’ in a front garden – indeed it is arguable that a small dog kennel or even a hedgehog house needs planning permission!

In contrast, a couple of garishly coloured SUVs sitting in your driveway or your paved-over front garden for 95% of the week? – No problem, fit in as many as you can, no charge, no hassle!

We greatly welcome the proposed PDR, which would mean that planning permission is no longer needed for modest sheds meeting specified criteria.

However, we do have one serious concern over the government’s proposals, namely, the proposed maximum dimensions: 1.2m height, 2.0m width, 1.0m depth in conservation areas (1.5m depth elsewhere).

The dimensions we propose (1.5m height, 2.5m width, 1.2m depth, or possibly greater depth in non-conservation areas) would not make a big difference visually, but would make all the difference in useability for the average household, particularly as regards height. Our proposal is also in line with dimensions which have been used for years by Edinburgh Council as a factor in deciding whether to grant planning permission (more details on this in ‘the story so far’ below).

We do appreciate that these dimensions are unfortunately insufficient to fully cater for some cargo bikes, adapted bikes, trailers etc, all of which are rapidly increasing in use. Nonetheless for front gardens there will inevitably be a compromise with conservation requirements. Of course, even assuming that PDR is, hopefully, granted for front garden sheds of the size we recommend, this does not preclude householders seeking planning permission for larger sizes – albeit with the associated uncertainties and financial and administrative costs. For people in flats or houses with back gardens, the consultation proposes further easings which should cater for most such equipment.

What You Can Do

It is very important to respond to the consultation, for two reasons…

  • Some councils and others may object to the principle of PDR even for modest front garden sheds, so it is vital to support introduction of PDR
  • As explained above, the proposed maximum dimensions need tweaked, to make them adequate for the average household

Please respond to the consultation – a.s.a.p. but by 12 November at latest – as follows…

  • Read the Spokes submitted response here.
  • Find the consultation at consult.gov.scot/planning-architecture/programme-reviewing-extending-pdr
  • Go to the Active Travel section. The questions on bike sheds are Q60 to Q70. You can ignore all other sections unless they interest you
  • Q60 and Q61 are the most important ones, concerning bike shed dimensions in non-conservation and conservation areas respectively. The yes/no is ambiguous as you may agree with the principle of PDR but not with the proposed dimensions – we decided to answer ‘no’. Enter your views in the text box – hopefully strong support for the principle of PDR, but a request to increase the dimensions.
  • Q62 to Q69 concern other aspects of and locations for bike sheds. You can leave these questions blank if you prefer, but if you have views do enter them. Have a look at the Spokes answers first.
  • Q70 is an open question. You could use this space to explain the importance of domestic bike storage, and any personal experience. You could also urge for PDR to be implemented as rapidly as possible, to encourage more people to own and use bikes for daily travel whilst the pandemic is here (and beyond).
  • Help publicise the consultation by retweeting our tweet and/or telling interested friends, particularly those who might be affected
  • Email your MSPs – ask if they will complete the consultation and support your views. Let us know of any replies.
The Story So Far

In the early 2010s Spokes, along with local councillors, notably Cllr Gavin Corbett and Cllr Melanie Main, assisted a whole series of householders who had fallen foul of garden shed planning conditions, for one reason or another. This led to orders to remove sheds, threats of huge fines, lengthy and distressing appeals, and major time-wasting for council officers – sometimes even a government inspector. Here are just a few quotes from written appeals by some of the people we helped…

  • It seems ludicrous that I have chosen to provide my own solution (at significant cost) to bikestorage – a noted problem and disincentive to taking up or continuing cycling – and positioned discreetly beneath a mature high hedge – and I am being actively pursued to prevent this.
  • This has been a really really horrible period for us – and it’s not over yet.
  • 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 and are insisting we take the shed down (with the threat of a £1000 fine if we don’t) … We have no car and feel that as a family trying to live without one we should be encouraged to cycle.

To minimise such problems, Spokes worked with the Council to produce a factsheet which gives criteria under which planning permission is likely to be granted for front garden sheds. The factsheet was approved by the Council Planning Committee of 3 October 2013 and is now referenced in the official Council Guidance to Householders (page 15).

The dimensions in the factsheet are 1.5m height, 2.5m width, 1.2m depth. As far as we are aware every planning application since 2013 which has complied with these criteria has been approved with no hassles, suggesting that these dimensions are absolutely fine in planning terms.

Whilst this was hugely successful in halting the previous distress and time-wasting, nonetheless even the smallest sheds or containers still need planning permission – currently at a cost of over £200, whether or not permission is granted. The Council has done all it can do legally – only the Scottish Government can change the requirement for planning permission.

Thus in 2015 we began a campaign to persuade the Scottish Government to grant PDR for front garden bike sheds meeting specified criteria including size.

Although supported on several occasions in Parliament by MSPs, notably Alison Johnstone MSP, the 5 years between 2015 and 2020 have been a painful catalogue of obfuscation and consultation after consultation – an object lesson in how the simplest proposal to enable greener and healthier lifestyles can get bogged down in a mire of bureaucracy. What can we say about the Minister’s assurance in 2016 that tackling PDR was a “priority key action?” Spokes has made around ten substantial interventions in these 5 years, including responding to an astonishing five government consultations relevant to this topic [most are detailed on this page].

Ironically, just like Spaces for People, which has revolutionised government interest in segregated cycle routes, it is the Covid pandemic which has pushed cycle storage high up the agenda. The government is now urging people to travel by bike – and, hopefully, at last realises it must therefore stop making it difficult or impossible for many people to own a bike!

The Mire of Bureaucracy

The start of our 2018 letter

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