You don’t have to venture far into the Scottish countryside to see signs of the glamping boom that has arisen in recent years. Among the traditional offerings of bed & breakfasts, country house hotels and camp sites, new breeds of accommodation – including eco-lodges, glamping pods, cabins, shepherd huts, tipis and wigwams – can be spotted. As many of these structures can be constructed quickly and easily, it is understandable that landowners with suitable ground might be keen to diversify and operate self-catering accommodation businesses. But before embarking on any glamping venture, it is worth considering the regulatory regimes that apply.

Small scale use If you are planning on buying a glamping pod to use as additional space at your home, such as a garden room, studio or extra bedroom, then planning permission isn’t normally required. For installing structures such as a cabin or shed, permitted development (PD) rights exist for houses (not flats) meaning relatively minor works can be carried out without planning permission. The extent of PD rights depends on the size and height of the structure, the size of the garden and the distance from the property boundary. Greater restrictions apply to listed buildings and properties in conservation areas. Occasional use of a cabin or shed as accommodation within the grounds of a property would also not tend to be considered a material change of use requiring planning permission.

Where this level of use increases, for example if the cabin or shed is regularly let as a self-catering unit, there could be an argument that the cabin is now being operated as a business and planning permission may be required. For these holiday let-style operations, each case needs to be considered on the individual circumstances – it is a legal grey area where use of the accommodation moves from being residential to commercial short-stay.

Type of structure While glamping units come in a range of different designs, sizes and materials, the majority of off-grid cabins and huts will likely be moveable and so fall within the broad legal definition of a caravan:

“a structure designed or adapted for human habitation which is capable of being moved from one place to another (whether by being towed, or by being transported on a motor vehicle or trailer)”.

For units that can be classed as caravans, no planning permission is needed for the structures whether they comprise huts, tipi tents, log cabins or the traditional metal box on a chassis base. However, a caravan/camping licence will likely need to be obtained from the local authority, if you plan to site multiple moveable units on your land. Such licences contain conditions regulating the operation of the accommodation including: the maximum number and type of units on site, toilets and shower facilities, waste disposal, water and electricity supply, fire safety, roads and accesses.

For units that fall outside the definition of caravan, if they can’t be readily moved due to construction methods, foundations or connection to a water and/or electricity supply, they will usually require planning permission to be obtained for their placing. The following factors are relevant to the likelihood of planning permission being granted: siting and design appropriate to location; impacts on amenity; impacts on the environment; roads and access; traffic and parking; designations applying to land (such as listed buildings status, conservation areas, National Parks, SSIs) and relevant planning policies regulating rural diversification and tourism developments.

Use Even if planning permission is not required for the structures you are intending to install, it will likely be needed for the change of use of the land. In some cases, this will be obvious, such as putting a row of wigwams on a field previously used for grazing. Other circumstances are less clear cut, such as the conversion of agricultural buildings to form holiday lets. Even if only limited building works are required to make the buildings habitable, planning permission will still be required to authorise the new use.

If your structures fall within the definition of a ‘caravan’, in addition to a caravan/camping licence you will likely need planning permission for the use of the site and also any permanent supporting infrastructure such as a site office, toilet and shower blocks and roads or footpaths. Where cabins are non-moveable, a single planning permission can cover the structures, supporting infrastructure and use of the site as glamping accommodation. It is also worth bearing in mind that moving from short-stay letting to full-term residential use as a separate dwelling of a single or multiple cabins will likely also require planning permission for change of use.

In essence, regardless of whether your proposed cabins are at the luxury end of the market with en-suite facilities or a low-tech, back to nature experience, both moveable and fixed, and off-grid and on-grid accommodation will require some form of authorisation before you start operating; either a caravan licence or planning permission.

Services Depending on how services are to be offered on site, the landowner will also need to think ahead to formalising access, water, drainage and any other services required to serve the site. If access to the site is not owned entirely by the landowner it may be that servitude rights of access need to be obtained from a neighbouring proprietor. Similarly, for supplies of water, drainage and electricity, if pipes need to cross land belonging to others, then appropriate consents should be obtained with the costs factored in, to assess whether the diversification proposal is viable.

Franchising There are some glamping franchisers on the market offering support, ranging from simply providing the equipment to offering full marketing and operational activity. Franchising is an attractive business model for landowners with no prior experience. But be mindful, to minimise your risk and control your future costs, the underlying contracts do need careful scrutiny and professional advice.

Undoubtedly, forward planning is key to make sure that the legal issues outlined above are addressed at the outset. This should help to ensure that the viability of any new business is properly scrutinised before it is too late. Following the correct channels to formalise services to the site and comply with planning regulations should lessen the risk of neighbour disputes, complaints from business competitors and threats of the planning authority taking enforcement action.