Farmworker dwelling permission: What you need to know

Getting planning permission for a farmworker’s dwelling can be tricky as significant documentary evidence will need to be compiled to show the planning authority that there is a clear need.

This often hinges on the demonstration that it is vital to the success of the farming enterprise that a farm worker needs to be on site at all times and there is currently no provision for that.

Farmers Weekly asked chartered surveyor Vicky Price of Berrys what the key points are in making a successful application.

See also: Housing multiple staff: What farmer landlords need to know

Under what circumstances is it possible to get planning permission?

Every business is different and each one must be considered on its own merits when assessing the likelihood of success in obtaining planning permission for a farm or rural worker’s dwelling.

Examples of recent planning applications that have been successful are:

  • Poultry manager’s dwellings on existing and new units
  • Second dwelling on a livestock farm, which comprises pedigree cattle and sheep
  • Equestrian enterprise, including the breeding and training of horses

The latest national government guidance to planning authorities is broadly supportive of secondary dwellings, espcially where this eases succession.

How do you make the strongest case possible?

While planning policy is different for each local authority the main points to consider when applying for a worker’s dwelling include:

1. Show the functional need for a dwelling relates to a full-time worker.

Principally, the case for planning lies in establishing there is a genuine need for someone to live on the holding seven days a week.

The first step, therefore, in forming an application is to understand the background to the business.

It is vital to fully understand the day-to-day activities and all other scenarios that require the worker to be living onsite out of normal working hours, such as emergencies.

A planning decision may hang on demonstrating that the viability and existence of the business would be threatened if a worker cannot reside onsite.

For example, this may be for animal health and welfare issues when lambing or calving.

2. Demonstrate clear evidence that the business has been planned on a sound financial basis.

The local authority will usually require the business to have been profitable at least once during the past year three years.

Therefore, a full analysis of the past three years’ accounts should be carried out to understand, and be able to demonstrate, the business viability.

If there are fluctuations in the accounts, for example due to an investment, then plans and budgets should show how the business is on a sound financial basis going forward.

Things to include are:

  • Farm accounts, preferably for most recent three years
  • Investments in buildings, infrastructure, livestock
  • Staff wages

3. Can other accommodation fulfil the functional need

A comprehensive search of the residential market is required to check whether other properties are available to rent or purchase within the immediate surrounding area.

Consideration also needs to be given to any buildings that could be converted on the site.

Who do you make the case to?

An Agricultural Justification and Planning Statement is produced alongside the normal planning documents, such as the Design and Access Statement, which are then submitted to the local authority.

The financial information is submitted separately on a confidential basis.

What advice is available to help form that case?

In relation to local authorities’ advice, the majority offer a Pre-Application Enquiry service.

This involves submitting an overview statement to the council ahead of the full planning application to determine whether the proposed development is acceptable in principle.

Does permission usually come with restrictions such as agricultural occupancy?

Yes, you need to be prepared to accept that any planning permissions for rural workers dwellings will have an Agricultural Occupancy Condition and may be tied to the holding it relates to, as part of any planning condition.

Can these conditions be challenged or diluted?

Not really, you are asking for permission on the basis that someone need to be living onsite 24 hours a day seven days a week as part of operating that business.

You are unlikely to then have grounds to argue that the conditions imposed aren’t reasonable. There may be the ability to negotiate how much of the farm and land is attached to the planning permission.

What about business start-ups?

Where businesses haven’t been established for at least three years, it may be best to apply for permission for a temporary dwelling such as a static caravan or cabin.

This enables the applicant time to build up a sound financial business before applying for a permanent dwelling later.

A recent successful application made by Berrys for planning was a start-up equestrian unit.

I am now working closely with the business to make sure the financial details will enable us to apply for a permanent dwelling in a few years’ time.

What alternatives are there – such as permitted development rights to convert farm buildings into accommodation?

In some cases, it is possible to use permitted development rights for residential conversion of an existing farm building.

As part of applying for a new dwelling it is always important to consider whether it is possible to adapt existing buildings in the first instance.

This may be an easier route if you can tick all the boxes ie the building is structurally sound and can be converted into a dwelling without significant works being required.

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