9 November 2001

ADVICE FOR FREE!

DEFRA finally announced the launch of its free planning

advice in mid-September. But how will it work in practice?

Three of those involved in the setting up of the scheme –

Gary Larkman, Barry Davies and William Tew – answer

some likely questions posed by David Cousins

Whats the background to this?

DEFRA (or MAFF as it was then) first suggested that it would provide a days free planning advice at the launch of the England Rural Development Programme back in October 2000. The scheme was ready to roll in March 2001, but foot-and-mouth delayed its launch until September 2001.

Why the generosity?

Whatever farmers think of the idea, DEFRA sees diversification as one of the key ways forward for our troubled industry. Most diversification schemes will involve getting planning permission, a prospect that can put many farmers off in a big way.

Equally, the government knows theres no point in farmers flooding the already-overloaded local authority planning system with thousands of applications that are never likely to gain planning permission.

So the free planning advice ensures good, viable schemes with a fighting chance of success get an initial leg-up.

Funding for the free planning doesnt come from ERDP funds, so its not a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. However, only farmers wishing to pursue a viable diversification scheme under the Rural Enterprise Scheme (RES) will be able to get free planning advice.

Is it only applicable to England?

So far, yes, though similar arrangements are being put in place in Wales. Guidance on planning issues in Scotland can be obtained from the Scottish Executive.

What do I have to do to apply for the free advice?

1 – Ring up your local DEFRA office and ask for a copy of the guidance notes and an application form. Fill it in and send it back to them. The form and guidance notes are also available on DEFRAs web-site (see box).

2 – They will either approve or reject it depending on whether it is eligible – in principle – for RES funding.

3 – You will then be authorised to approach any member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), British Institute of Agricultural Consultants (BIAC), Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) or Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) who has at least five years of rural planning. DEFRA says it will provide a list of phone/fax/email details of the four organisations. You will then have to go to these for details of suitable local consultants.

4 – You select the person you want and book them. They will come for one day, provide relevant advice, do a feasibility study and present you with a bill.

5 – You pay the bill and then claim the cost back from DEFRA.

Theres a local chap who knows a lot about barn conversions. Can I use him?

Yes, provided hes a member of one of the four organisations listed and has at least five years of rural planning experience.

What should I expect to get from my chosen consultant?

The one-off site visit should yield two things. One is a feasibility study (whose length will depend on the complexity of the proposed development); the other is site plans and sketches.

The feasibility study should consider whether the proposed project is in line with government planning policy, whether its likely to chime with the local authoritys local plan and whether it is likely to fall foul of road access or environmental regulations.

Though site plans and sketches will be provided, they are not designed to contain the sort of detailed measurements that would make them suitable for handing in to the local authority with your planning application.

I gather that DEFRA is funding up to £800 (excluding VAT but including expenses) of the

chosen consultants costs. If my project is a complicated one, might I have to pay extra for a lengthier report?

Good question. Few of these free planning visits had been carried out at the time of going to press (Oct 15), so everyones still learning. DEFRA says that the consultants bill should not be more than £800. However, in exceptional circumstances DEFRA may agree to a longer period of consultancy. This would have to be applied for at the outset.

How long is the scheme

expected to last for?

Its not set in tablets of stone, but DEFRA says the plan is to keep the free advice available until the ERDP closes in 2006.

Gary Larkman works in the Rural Development Division at DEFRA, William Tew is director of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) rural faculty and Barry Davies is chairman of the rural planning division of the British Institute of Agricultural Consultants (BIAC).

Guidance/forms

on the web

Both the guidance notes and application form for free advice itself can be downloaded from DEFRAs web-site, though finding them involves a lot of steps. Keying in www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/regulat/forms/erdp/res/fdpa1.htm takes you straight to the application form, while www.defra.gov.uk/erdp/guidance/resdet/reshow.htm#planning takes you to the guidance notes. Sorry for the lengthy web addresses!