Q&A: Your rights on farm building conversion

Changes to Permitted Development Rights came into effect in May this year, offering an easier process for changing the use of buildings in England. Planning consultant Barry Davies gives answers to common questions

What are the new Permitted Development Rights (PDRs) all about and how do they affect me?

Changes to the PDRs came into force on 30 May 2013 and allow the change of use of small farm buildings in England without formal approval.

The changes apply to agricultural buildings with a floor space of up to 500sq m, which were in sole agricultural use as of 3 July 2013.

They can be changed to an alternative use without the need for detailed planning permission for that change of use.

Any building converted under the new rules after this date must have been in agricultural use for a minimum of 10 years to be eligible.

Note that the PDRs apply only to change of use – changes which physically alter the building may still need building consent or planning permission.

Also, for some changes of use to buildings larger than 150sq m, the local planning authority (LPA) will need to refer proposals to statutory consultees such as the Highways Authority and or the local Environmental Health Department.

Do the new Permitted Development Rights apply to all agricultural buildings up to 500sq m?

No. A change of use cannot be made if the agricultural building is listed, a scheduled ancient monument or part of a safety hazard area.

What changes of use are available to me as a farmer under this new PDR?

PDR change of use includes conversion of farm buildings into shops, restaurants, cafés, offices, light industrial units and hotels without detailed planning permission being needed. They also allow some farm buildings already in alternative uses to be changed to a further alternative use.

PDRs and other rural planning issues will be covered in detail at the British Institute of Agricultural Consultants’ annual national rural planning conference, which takes place on 10 October 2013 at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire. For more details, contact BIAC on 01275 375559 or visit www.biac.co.uk

What is the process for achieving change of use under the new rules?

In the case of a farm building with a total floor space of up to 150sq m (1,615sq ft), you simply have to write to your LPA providing details of the date when the change of use will happen, what the change of use will be for the building and a plan of the site showing the building in question.

For buildings with a floor area space of 150-500sq m, prior approval must be sought from the LPA. This involves obtaining a prior approval form, completing it and sending it back to the LPA, which then has 28 days to comment, ask for further details or object. If no response is received within 28 days then work can begin.

Can I change my agricultural building to residential use?

Not at present. The government opened a consultation on 6 August, which ends on 15 October, looking at the reuse of existing agricultural buildings for a dwelling house. These specific proposals are for up to an additional three dwellings with an upper limit of 150sq m for each dwelling.

If I change my building into an office, can I change it later on into a restaurant?

Yes. The new PDR is flexible, but each subsequent change of use needs to be checked with the council according to the floor area involved.

My farm is in Green Belt, where I have been refused planning permission several times – do the new PDRs apply in such areas?

The new PDRs apply to Green Belt areas, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and National Parks.

I would like to change the use of a small agricultural building I have to a retail farm shop – if I do this under these new PDRs would I not then be able to put up a new agricultural building (under 500sq m) under my existing PDRs?

There is no provision in the new PDRs (Class M) Order 2013 that would stop you still having your existing PDRs, for example to put up a building smaller than 465sq m (5,000sq ft).

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