Change of use planning rules offer opportunities

New planning measures allowing agricultural buildings to be converted to business uses without full planning permission will be introduced in the next few months.

These reforms are designed to boost rural communities but a further reform mainly aimed at urban areas will permit change of use of commercial buildings to residential. This could also provide further opportunities for farmers and landowners.

The new permitted development rights, as they are known, were announced at the end of last week and represent the latest move by the government to simplify the planning process, said Fenella Collins, head of planning at the Country Land and Business Association (CLA).

“Following persistent lobbying for nearly nine years the government has at last agreed to allow their change of use to other business uses without the need for planning permission. The government announcement suggests some of these new uses could be shops, restaurants, small hotels, leisure facilities and offices.”

The detail remained sketchy, Mrs Collins said. “Permitted development rights are developments deemed to have been granted planning permission by government through the Town and Country Planning Order 1995. However, they come with conditions and limitations which will be set out in the regulations.”

Agricultural building conversions over a certain size would still require a process known as “prior approval”, probably along the lines of that currently needed for agricultural buildings, to guard against unwanted impacts such as excessive traffic, noise and flooding, she said.

However, that route offered considerable savings in both time and money, with prior approval costing about £80 and which the Local Planning Authority has to acknowledge within 28 days, said Mrs Collins.

This compares with £385 just to put in a “normal” planning application without any additional survey costs and often months of work.

The new permitted development rights only cover change of use. “Any associated external developments that require planning permission such as access, drainage and exterior alterations are likely to continue to need it. However, that should still be much cheaper compared with the full planning procedure.”

“By simplifying change of use as permitted development it will help make things more straightforward and free up opportunities for farm diversification.”
Andrew Middleditch, Bletsoes

Some landowners could benefit from proposals to allow changes from office use to residential, she believed, a move mainly aimed at urban areas to allow empty offices to be converted to housing.

“From a rural perspective it could also prove useful. Some farmers struggling to find office tenants will view this change with relief.”

This reform is time-limited to three years. It will also be subject to protection against key impacts and only covers change of use – any further physical development will require planning permission.

Andrew Middleditch of rural consultant Bletsoes said the new measures presented good opportunities for the agricultural sector. “By simplifying change of use as permitted development it will help make things more straightforward and free up opportunities for farm diversification.

Although the agricultural development proposed did not allow a direct change to residential use, there could be an opportunity to convert buildings to offices first and then apply for residential use later.

“That would certainly appeal in some areas to provide a useful stepping stone to residential.

“However, we await the detail on this – it is likely there will be some stipulation on how long a building must have been in commercial use before it can be converted.

“We won’t know until the spring which areas might be affected.”

Whether agricultural buildings could be converted to holiday lets was another grey area and any change of use must be underpinned by a sound business plan.

Change of use could boost incomes

James Del Mar, head of Knight Frank Rural Consultancy, said the changes could offer significant opportunities on rural estates and farms with buildings which without conversion were not suitable for modern use.

“In the past it has been difficult and or expensive to obtain planning consent for change of use,” he said.

Opportunities included:

  • Extra income from redundant or under-used farm buildings via commercial rental income
  • Reduced maintenance liabilities on redundant buildings
  • Conversion of under-performing office buildings to residential use (rental or sale)
  • Enhancement of farm’s overall capital value

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