19th November 2020

Agricultural permitted development rights and new opportunities in Rural Planning

Recent changes have altered agricultural permitted development rights. Here’s what’s new – and what it means for farmers.

These are certainly uncertain times for UK agriculture. With the ongoing disruption caused by Covid-19, the potential of a no-deal Brexit and the phasing out of farm payments, many businesses are looking closely at the options available to them. A recent Defra report shows that around 62% of farmers are actively pursuing diversification strategies in order to maintain or increase profitability in an unprecedented commercial landscape.

Recent changes to agricultural permitted development rights (PDRs) are creating real opportunities for farmers and other agricultural businesses looking to update their assets and access other forms of revenue. Here’s a guide on what has changed and what it means for farmers going forward.

What has changed?

The big shift in recent months has been the adoption of lighter touch prior approval or prior notification processes for building renovation or conversion projects. There is less of a requirement for these kinds of projects to go through the full planning application process.

This is leading to an increase in both Class Q (residential conversion of farm buildings) and Class R (change of use of farm buildings to flexible commercial use), as farmers seek to either increase the value of their assets for sale or pursue entire new markets like retail or storage and distribution. In fact, new homes delivered through PDRs have accounted for around 60,000 new homes on the market in the last four years. This has, however, also led to a rise in legal challenges by neighbours and other third parties who oppose these developments.

What are the reasons?

There are several key drivers for this change, primarily updated government guidance around the issue. This has allowed local authorities and developers to have a much better understanding of the PDR process and how it relates to rural planning. This has combined with a rise in demand for smaller more flexible commercial units because of Covid-19, as many people look to operate in a more flexible and agile way.

Farmers are looking at diversification strategies and potential new income streams. Using some of their land and buildings for flexible commercial property provides a good opportunity to realise the value of some of their assets and generate additional revenue. This is especially important with the phasing out of farm payments.


What are the key issues for farmers?

The main issue for farmers looking to unlock the opportunities created by changes to PDRs is being able to satisfy the qualifying criteria. These can be quite complex.

Here is a list of the main factors farmers need to consider:

  • Being able to prove the use of the building on the relevant date (or when it was last in use if not in use on that date). That’s 20/3/13 for Class Q or 3/7/12 for Class R.
  • If your land is subject to specific designations such as SSSI, AONB or CA as these could impede your right to develop
  • Limitations on the area of the building to be converted and the need, in most cases, to demonstrate that there are no concerns in terms of adequate natural light, as well as things like highway and noise impacts, contamination and flooding
  • If the land is subject to article 4 restrictions that may remove your PDRs
  • Preclusive conditions or planning obligations in place that restrict further development
  • Restrictive covenants that may impede the implementation of a consent. Although restrictive covenants are separate to the planning regime, they may restrict access for certain uses or prohibit certain types of development.


Looking ahead

The main thing for farmers to be aware of in the near future is the introduction of the National Space Standards (NSS) for all new homes proposed under PDRs from 06/04/21. A consultation on PDR homes to be covered by new local design codes has also been proposed. This will create the potential for further complication for farmers looking to diversify. The question remains as to whether PDR rules in Wales will be brought into closer alignment with those in England.

The raft of changes with the introduction of the new Environmental Bill is also likely to have some effect on rural planning generally. Among the measures being considered as part of the new legislation is the creation of a new biodiversity net gain requirement in England. This would require all planning projects to deliver a 10% net gain for at least 30 years.

Learn more about the future of farming

If you would like more information on the topics raised in this article, or on any other agricultural issue, please contact Alex Madden amdden@thrings.com

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