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Planning for farms and estates

There have been so many changes in the UK planning system over recent years; no doubt the initiative encourages diversification of our rural properties and businesses, but have they really opened doors? On the face of it permitted development rights facilitate rural diversification prospects but are the opportunities really within our grasp and has the planning landscape changed substantially. 

It would be reasonable to assume that changes in the planning system are providing land owners with many more opportunities than previously achievable. After all, local and national policies, and changes in planning legislation, are there to support the agricultural and rural economy. The introduction of the National Planning Policy Framework (central government’s principles for local authorities to follow), previously developed land, modernisation of Local Plans and the Permitted Development Rights should provide huge opportunities. But developments need to be planned properly.

Permitted Development Rights

For many years permitted development rights have allowed farmers to erect agricultural buildings in certain circumstances without going through the full planning process. As with many forms of “permitted development” it is necessary to submit a “prior notification” to your Council to confirm that you satisfy all of the required criteria. Although the Statute only requires new agricultural development to be “reasonably necessary for agriculture”, many councils require a robust agricultural justification demonstrating the development is more essential for agriculture.

Of course if the justification exists and all other criteria are met then it is necessary to deal with other considerations:

Siting - Explain the reasoning behind the siting of the building, is it for operational efficiency, perhaps utilising existing concrete aprons?

Design - What is specific about the building’s design which means that it will be fit for the purpose proposed - e.g. roller shutter doors are needed to secure the building, Yorkshire boarding is needed to provide adequate ventilation for livestock, the height is necessary to allow for the safe manoeuvring of agricultural vehicles.

Size - What is the floor area of the building and why is it needed? Maybe the farm produces x tonnes of grain which requires xx sqm storage, or the flock comprises xx head which require xx 1.5m x 1.5m lambing pens.

Materials and appearance - What consideration has been given to the colour of the materials to be used? If the building is in a visually prominent location have you considered providing additional landscaping or screening of some description?

Highways – is the existing access onto the road network suitable for the development? Will the proposal increase the number of vehicles accessing the site?

Amenity of neighbouring properties – will the grain drier cause unacceptable noise levels or will the housing of pigs cause an unacceptable odour? What mitigation measures have been put into place to avoid any conflict with adjoining properties?

New PRDs

New permitted development rights came into force for agricultural buildings in England on 6 April 2014; these introduced opportunities for conversion of agricultural buildings to commercial and residential uses. Class R is an underutilised mechanism for securing permission for commercial uses on agricultural buildings. There are limitations - for example, it is limited to providing 500sqm on each holding. The consent only applies to the change of use of a building, and does not extend to any building works to the external appearance. Where there is a material change to the external appearance of a building, planning permission is required. In many cases, where the change of use is not acceptable through applying local planning policies, it may be possible to secure the change of use through permitted development - and then submit a subsequent planning application for the physical appearance works required to the building.

Class Q permitted development rights provide a mechanism to convert agricultural buildings to houses; but in many cases this flies in the face of local planning policies. When these rights were first introduced many councils resisted and refused applications on the basis that the buildings were not in sustainable locations, therefore concluding that proposals were “impractical and undesirable”.

Thankfully the Government stepped in during March 2015 providing additional advice, but this was two-fold: 

• Clarity on the application of “sustainability” as a consideration in determination. We know there are not many agricultural buildings in “sustainable locations” and the Government clarified that this is not a consideration for permitted development. 

• At the same time they also provided further detail on the works whichare “reasonably required” to enable the conversion. This introduced the requirement that the building must be able to take the structural loading of the conversion.

In November last year a High Court ruling provided further thoughts on works “reasonably required”, where in it was found that converting an open sided barn by cladding the walls introduced structural elements that were over and above that which was “reasonably required”; this presents a further challenge to overcome! Notwithstanding this, since the revised advice there has been an increase in the permissions which are granted - but it is essential that applications are robust, and you ensure that the 13 predetermination criteria are met. 

Many applications still fail through basic errors which contradict the requirements, e.g. site plans showing the proposed curtilage of the building to be greater than the footprint of the building - which results in an immediate refusal. Furthermore, it is essential that you use the right type of permission. Although permitted development provides a way of securing consent for some uses, their use can preclude securing other consents in the future. For instance, if you obtain a new agricultural building through a 28 day notice, then you cannot use the Class Q Ag-to-Residential permission for ten years.

Being Strategic

Development can be driven by pressing immediate or short-term business needs, but these need to be balanced against more long-term or strategic considerations. In the current uncertain political environment, with the possibility of reductions to support for farming post-Brexit, there is no doubt that land and property values are levelling. With this in mind, developing a more resilient rural business is essential strategic planning. This means making changes to become less reliant on limited income sources, or to spread financial interests more evenly. 

There are potential opportunities to be realised from the current economic climes - for example it is anticipated that “staycations” will become ever more popular and present huge opportunities to service this market, from tourist-related attractions through to accommodation.

So, on the face of it revisions to the planning system provides great opportunities…. But it is essential to plan and identify the correct sequence of achieving developments. It is important that land and property are prepared, and measures are undertaken to enable higher value development to be realised whilst being aware and receptive to the overall positive and negative points of the development. Whatever you do, make sure that you make a plan:

• Find a solution that is complementary to your business

• Establish and maintain relationships with local stakeholders

• Ensure your land/property is set up before playing your hand

• Be aware of the fiscal considerations

• Be aware of the large and small - short, medium and long term opportunities,

• Be aware of the implications of using certain types of applications and knock on effects

• Be robust and make your business financially resilient

The best results are generally achieved where people stand back, look at the whole, assess the future of their business and their objectives, organise their tactics carefully - and don’t jump the gun!

Contact Details:

Company Name: Bidwells


Phone: 01727 223911

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