Main planning changes in 2018 for farmers to know about

Housing and planning policies have a big impact on what farmers and landowners can build, where it can be sited, what it will look like and what it can be used for.

Keeping track of numerous changes as they make their way through the cycle of proposal, consultation, and legislation or rejection, can be hard work, so this list shows the major updates from 2018 in a one-stop shop.

Planning experts Brian Barrow and Henry Doble from Acorus Rural Property Services have picked out the most important changes for farmers to be aware of and explained exactly what they mean.

1. National Planning Policy Framework

The biggest planning policy change in 2018 has been the publication of the revised National Planning Policy Framework, introduced in July.

While much of the content is as it was under the previous guise, there are some important points to note.

Firstly, sustainability remains a key theme. However, the three strands to this – economic, social and environmental – are “objectives” rather than “roles”, as they were classed before.

Most notable, and sure to generate the most interest among rural businesses, is the change with regard to rural dwellings, and what is considered to be an appropriate isolated dwelling in the countryside.  

The relevant paragraph now sets out that isolated homes in the countryside for those taking a majority control in a farm business can be considered “essential” in certain circumstances, although there is no guidance as to what those circumstances are.

Some recent appeal decisions also appear to be softening the approach on the financial aspect of agricultural dwelling applications.

See also: How to avoid the tax pitfalls of development land

2. Permitted development rights – agricultural

Agricultural permitted development rights (PDRs) have been in existence for some time. These have allowed for the erection and repair of agricultural buildings and the installation of farm tracks and hardstanding, among other minor development, and subject to meeting necessary criteria.

In recognition of modern agricultural needs, 2018 has seen the expansion of these rights with regard to the area of building that is now permitted. This has increased from 465 square metres to 1,000 square metres.

The agricultural need for the building will still have to be justified however, and a prior approval process gone through with the local planning authority.

The main advantage of using PDRs over a normal planning application is it is a definitive 28-day process (compared to eight weeks under full planning) and the planning fee paid to the council is less than for a large building under full planning.

However, the erection of an agricultural building under permitted development can’t be used in conjunction with rights for change of use of agricultural buildings to dwellings. Essentially it’s an either/or situation, with the unused right being lost for 10 years.

This doesn’t preclude the erection of agricultural buildings under the full planning system.

3. Permitted development rights – non-agricultural

PDRs for the change of use of agricultural buildings to dwellings (Class Q) have also been expanded.

Generally speaking, this now allows for up to five dwellings and up to 865 square metres of floor space to be converted, as a mixture of “larger” (no more than 465 square metres and three such dwellings) and “smaller” dwellings (no more than 100 square metres each). 

This is subject to certain criteria being met and a prior approval process. This is, however, becoming a more complicated area of planning, especially proposals for more than one dwelling.

In addition, planning policy guidance has also been updated, which aims to address issues of internal works and structural integrity when considering whether a proposal complies with Class Q. The focus is now on convertibility of a building and not individual structural elements. 

See also: What you need to check before modifying old farm buildings

4. Local plans

There are still a number of local planning authorities across the country which do not have up-to-date local plans. 

Without an up-to-date local plan, an authority can at times be unable to demonstrate a sufficient land supply over the next five years (the statutory requirement) for the required new housing in the district.

Therefore a two-tier system of local planning has emerged: districts with and districts without up-to-date local plans and their five-year housing supply in place.

In the event of a lack of supply, planning applications should be considered against national planning policy and the presumption in favour of sustainable development.

This, coupled with a number of appeal and court case decisions in 2018, has meant that there is a real possibility in certain situations for housing schemes to be granted that wouldn’t have been previously. Location is, however, still the key consideration.

5. Planning fees

The start of 2018 saw an increase in planning fees (payable to the local planning authority) of 20%. This has had a significant impact on large agricultural developments and buildings where the planning fee is calculated on floor area.

This has resulted in planning fees being a key consideration at the outset of large projects, such as poultry units and large grain stores, and playing an important role in financial viability considerations and costings.

It should therefore be a consideration early on when considering such projects.

6. Conditions

The latest planning change for 2018 is the use of pre-commencement conditions.

A planning permission commonly has planning conditions attached to it. These are items that control the development, to ensure it is carried out in a certain way.

Sometimes they require additional information being submitted and approved, and this is often subject to being completed before the permitted proposal can commence, hence “pre-commencement conditions”.

In effect it is a secondary application to discharge the condition, thus incurring more time and expense.

The regulations came into force on 1 October and seek to address delays caused by such conditions. The regulations will require an applicant to give their consent to proposed pre-commencement conditions.

This will allow for pre-commencement conditions to be addressed during the application stage or removed or amended if not accepted.

This could be a useful tool for larger, more complicated schemes, but might delay approvals.

However, it could be grounds for refusal of the proposal should the applicant not agree and the removal (or amendment) of the suggested condition makes the proposal unacceptable to the local authority.