What farmers considering land development need to know

Submitting planning applications for new builds or agricultural building conversions can seem a difficult task but should be seen as an opportunity.

Landowners can develop their holdings into residential sites to sell or rent, take on a diversification project such as a farm shop or holiday lets, or create houses for family members or workers.

Farmers Weekly asked agents, consultants and surveyors for their top tips for farmers considering developing their land or submitting planning applications. Here’s what they said:

See also: So you want to… let land and property?

Analyse development potential

Ian Smith, director of planning department, Cheffins


  • How is the site physically related (or not) to existing settlements and what is the scale and nature of those settlements?
  • Are there any general planning or environmental protection policies in force? For example: green belts, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, valued landscapes, floodplains, or important ecological or historical assets.
  • Are there any physical constraints to developing the land, such as topography, contamination, inadequate access roads, bad neighbour uses, or utility wayleaves?
  • Are there any legal or similar constraints, such as covenants, multiple land ownerships, access rights or overage arrangements affecting the land?

Critically, what does the development plan for the area indicate at two levels: is it an area of restraint or growth and, site-specifically, what particular land use designations or planning policies apply to the site?

Utilise local authority plans

Sunita Burke, planning, Banbury, Brown & Co

  • Land can be submitted to be assessed for inclusion as a development site within the authority’s local plan.
  • Land is likely to be included when councils are planning growth for their regions or if it forms part of national strategy.

Planning permission is needed:

  • If you want to change how you use your land or buildings from farming to something else
  • If you want to build a house on the land or if you are applying for a grant to fund a project that needs a building or other development.

Planning permission is not needed:

  • To use buildings already on your land for farming purposes
  • To change the inside of a building
  • To make small alterations to the outside, such as installing an alarm box.

However, before starting work on a project, it is always worth checking what is required.

Communication and tax

Charles Birch, partner, Norwich, Brown & Co

  • Consider the fall-out with opposing views in the community and make plans to deal with these
  • Take accountancy advice early to plan for the tax structure of the development and VAT.

See also: 5 tips to speed up planning applications

Build a strong case

Cath Crowther, partner, rural, Bidwells

  • Think about your aims and objectives before you prepare an application. Do you simply want to increase capital value by getting planning permission and selling a site, or are you looking to generate a long-term income stream?
  • Consider overall farm strategy before making individual applications. Look at the wider farm as a whole before pressing on with a specific application, to ensure that the scheme will not prejudice future projects.
  • Ensure you have built your case. Providing a business case is essential to certain projects and will help demonstrate the benefits of the scheme.  

Think of planning as an opportunity

Scott O’Dell, associate planner at Fisher German

  • Planning is often seen as a barrier but can provide many opportunities to diversify and significantly add value to land and buildings.
  • Where planning permission is required, national and local policies are generally supportive of rural economic development through the re-use of existing buildings, including those which are of a modern portal-framed construction.
  • Achieving planning permission for residential uses in rural locations is usually possible through the re-use of traditional buildings or by meeting local needs, such as for an essential worker or to provide affordable housing on the edge of a village.
  • Professional advice early in the process is crucial.
  • Working closely with the local planning authority can be a significant benefit. Pre-application advice can add certainty to the process and help overcome barriers.

Planning process

Tristan Peck and Peter Moore, planning and development team, Bletsoes

  • Consider making a pre-application enquiry with the local planning authority.
  • Engage with your parish council and local ward councillor at the earliest stage. Explaining your application’s benefits may help minimise objections or build support for the scheme.
  • Be prepared to engage with the planning officer regarding planning conditions. The National Planning Policy Framework encourages parties to agree conditions in advance of a determination, and this can save considerable time.
  • Try to maintain regular contact with the local authority’s case officer and address any concerns as soon as possible.

Converting agricultural buildings to houses

  • Be aware that the local authority has 56 days to decide on the application
  • Although not essential, a structural survey can assist with the application
  • Ensure the agricultural building has necessary services, such as water and electricity. If not, explore the costs of connecting the building to these services.

See also: Main planning changes for farmers to know about

Class Q (allowing farm building conversion to residential use under permitted development rights)

Craig Ross, partner, planning architecture and development, George F White

  • The key thing to consider before rushing into the use of Class Q is what you want to achieve and to ensure that the use of Class Q is not “wasted” on development opportunities that could be undertaken through standard planning routes.
  • Although Class Q is meant to be a “simplified” procedure, local planning authorities still struggle to achieve consistency in decision making.
  • Common concerns include the last use of the building, what internal works are required and whether the building is structurally sound.
  • Ensuring applications are compiled robustly using relevant arguments, decisions and case law can negate this concern, helping the authority make a far quicker decision, to everyone’s benefit.

Things to be aware of

Tom Selby, director, Rostons

  • Applicants can now use permitted development rights for agricultural buildings or hardstanding up to 1000 sq m. Previously the maximum was 465 sq m.
  • Ensure all full planning applications have a detailed justification report relating to animal welfare (livestock housing only) and planning policy – this can make a difference.
  • Other planning applications that have been passed in the local area for similar buildings or dwellings can assist, as it proves the local council is in support of this.

Plan ahead

Jo Evans, surveyor, Morpeth, Strutt & Parker

  • Landowners seeking planning permission for residential development should first look at local and neighbourhood plans, which will outline settlement boundaries and set out the specific policies in place.
  • Planning authorities need to consider the impact of any development on the surrounding environment, but there are time constraints on when certain ecological and environmental surveys can be completed. So if farmers are hoping to apply for planning permission, it is best to plan well ahead to avoid delays.
  • Farmers looking to diversify into new farming enterprises, specifically pigs and poultry, are now required to consider the environmental impact of the livestock on nearby designated sites (for example Sites of Special Scientific Interest). Tree belts can be used to mitigate against emissions of ammonia and nitrates from the livestock.

Don’t give up

Stephen Locke, director, Stephen Locke Associates

  • Check out where the local development boundary runs. Don’t forget that development boundaries can change.
  • Make sure to take account of highway issues. Check the Class of road and who maintains it.
  • Applicants normally have three minutes to speak at the committee meeting – use them wisely.
  • If you have been refused, don’t give up – you can reapply or appeal.

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