Cafes, bars and restaurants will be able to put tables and chairs on the pavement outside their premises without first obtaining planning permission, under changes expected to be introduced next month.

Business leaders have welcomed the relaxation of the rules, which is likely to be approved by MSPs, with the Scottish Retail Consortium saying it could "give people a little more reason to spend time and money on our high streets."

Other measures likely to come in from March 31 include a relaxation of planning rules for converting some properties into cafes, restaurants or small-scale offices, along with measures to make the installation of larger electric vehicle charging equipment in car parks easier.

The changes have all been backed in a consultation carried out by the Scottish Government.

However, council chiefs will retain powers to prevent and deal with obstructions which make it difficult for people such as wheelchair users or families with young children in pushchairs to access the pavements safely.

Renfrewshire South MSP Tom Arthur, whose constituency stretches from Johnstone to Barrhead, has welcomed the new measures, which he said will provide welcome support for businesses.

"More flexible use of outdoor space can help the hospitality industry recover from the pandemic and cost crisis, while making town centres more attractive and welcoming," added Mr Arthur, who is also Scotland's planning minister.

"The important safeguards for councils seek to ensure that no-one should be prevented from using pavements and visiting town centres safely.

"A more streamlined approach to changes of use can help businesses respond more rapidly to shifting circumstances, support reuse of vacant premises and encourage the return of workers and shoppers.

"Simplifying planning rules for electric vehicle chargers will support the rollout of infrastructure as part of our commitment to tackling climate change and making Scotland a net-zero nation.

"These measures will help deliver our ambition to create a fairer, greener and wealthier Scotland by making places more attractive for people to live, work and visit."

David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said the changes "should allow eateries to get on and do what they do best – serving customers.

He added: "These new flexibilities on outdoor seating are encouraging. Hopefully, they will give people a little more reason to spend time and money on our high streets.

"This is especially important at a time when footfall remains below pre-pandemic levels and one in six stores still lie vacant."