How to avoid the ‘postcode lottery’ on development rights

Until the guidance on permitted development rights for converting farm buildings to dwellings is sharpened, farmers will need to give their applications the best possible chance.

Jane Scott, senior planning consultant at Hobbs and Parker, offers her advice.

See also: Read more about the ‘postcode lottery’ on development rights

Is this plan right for you?

First, consider whether using Class MB permitted development rights (PDRs) is the right route for you.

Applying under this procedure removes your agricultural permitted development rights for 10 years from the date the development begins. Any new agricultural buildings would therefore need full planning permission.

Maximise your chance of approval

  • Give clear details of what you want to do
  • Make sure your building meets all the criteria
  • Land included with the building application must not exceed the footprint of the building
  • If making exterior changes, stay within its existing dimensions. A chimney or protruding rooflight would be refused.
  • Many refusals relate to lack of information on contamination – if your past or current use of the building could create contamination, get a report prepared;
  • Choose buildings carefully – those within easy walking/cycling distance of settlements with shops and services are more likely to succeed.

On the positive side, Class MB enables you to seek residential permission for buildings that previously would not have received such permission, thereby increasing the value of your holding.
Can you meet the key criteria?

Many refusals are due to not meeting the criteria. If you have constructed a building under your permitted development rights since 20 March 2013 or the building in question is in a designated area such as a National Park, you cannot use the PDR procedure for Class Mb.

The following points also apply:

  • Building must be solely in agricultural use and located on the farm
  • The building must have no more than 450sq m of existing floor space
  • There should be no more than three dwellings within your agricultural unit (some authorities are interpreting this to include existing dwellings, others are interpreting it as no more than three new developments)
  • If in a tenancy arrangement, agreement of both tenant and landlord must be obtained
  • External dimensions of the building cannot be increased
  • Land put with the building must not exceed the existing footprint of the building.

Consider suitability and gather evidence

Not every building is suitable for conversion to a dwelling, so it is worth thinking about what a planning authority will consider and the sort of evidence you can present.

  • Land contamination – does your past or current use of the building create potential contamination issues? Many refusals relate to lack of information on this. A land contamination report costs about £900 plus VAT, depending on location.
  • Traffic – is the proposed dwelling in an area already under pressure from heavy traffic? If so, it may be worth getting a traffic consultant to prepare a report.
  • Noise – would the occupants of the dwelling be exposed to unreasonable levels of noise from nearby activities? If this is a worry, get a report from a noise consultant.
  • Flooding – do not make an application without a flood risk assessment if your building is in a flood risk area.
  • Access to amenities – buildings within easy walking/cycling distance of shops and services are more likely to succeed. Include details of public transport, footpaths and cycle routes.

Consider limits on changes to buildings

Under PDRs you can ask to change the use of your building and to make exterior changes to its appearance.

External changes include replacing windows, doors, roofs and/or exterior walls and services which would be necessary for a dwelling. For external changes, there may be drawing preparation costs. Get several quotes, as prices can vary considerably.

Only partial demolition is allowed and existing dimensions of the building, including the roof, must be maintained.

How to apply

The application fee paid to your local planning authority (LPA) is £80 for change of use and £172 if external changes to appearance are planned.

The planning authority also needs:

  • A written description of your proposal – a letter or a short statement is fine. There is no requirement to complete a set form.
  • A plan showing the site and your proposed development
  • Your contact details

Be aware that if your local authority fails to respond with 56 days (once you have submitted and paid all of the above), the application is automatically approved.

What to do if your application is refused

Look carefully at the reasons given. If you have not met the criteria you can resubmit an amended application.

If you feel you have ticked every box, you can appeal without a charge, within six months of the decision. You must include the same documents as previously, but can include a statement about why you disagree with the planning decision.