Otaining planning permission may be the biggest hurdle to overcome when developing dairy units, but careful planning means it can be easier than you think.
Joanna Smith, a practitioner at Berry Bros, says permission is required in almost every circumstance where agricultural buildings are being developed.
Depending on factors such as the history of the holding, the proposed use and scale of the building, permission can be obtained via either prior notification or a full planning application.
The planning system is designed to be simple to use, but has in recent years become a much more prescriptive and process-led system.
Detailed information on the planning process, requirements and people to contact as well as application forms can be obtained from the Planning Portal online or alternatively your local authority should be able to point you in the right direction, both online and over the telephone.
“Rather like a minor household development, some developments for agricultural buildings are permitted under the General Permitted Development Order 1995 (PD), subject to the prior notification of the proposed works to the local authority,” says Ms Smith.
“This process is essentially the way in which the local authority will control the extent of development that is undertaken under the PD rules.”
To obtain prior notification, an application form showing the location, size and a brief description of the building, together with its use and justification, must be submitted to the local authority. The council then has 28 days to request that a full application be made.
If the council does not respond within that time, or if it feels enough detail has already been given, the build can go ahead without any more information being provided.
“While the rules are slightly more complicated, in order to be eligible for Prior Notification, the proposed building must not exceed a total floor area of 465sq m, be within 25m of the highway or exceed 12m in height,” adds Ms Smith.
“However, where the building is to be erected for the housing of livestock, it cannot be situated within 400m of a dwelling – other than the farmhouse – at which point a full application must be made.”
Full planning application
Consent for most larger-scale buildings and developments is achieved by submitting a full planning application to the local authority.
Planning applications require the submission of application forms, detailed drawings and a planning statement from the local authority.
Once a council receives an application, it has eight weeks to consider the proposal.
“When considering making a planning application, the requirements of the business should be the first priority,” says Ms Smith.
“The broad location, size and scale of the building should meet the specific needs of the business and, once established, can then be tailored to meet the planning requirements.”
In agricultural applications, the local authority will primarily be concerned with the siting, design, layout, access and justification for the proposed building, Ms Smith adds.
Try and speak to planners before you start, particularly if it’s a large building, says John Mogg of the Dairy Design Company.
“Get an idea from the council planners what they might want in place, particularly around things like roof colour, ceiling and height.
“Whether you can get that information depends on the planners, but with a major build it is worth going to see them and even trying to get them on-site to see where the development might go.”
Mr Mogg says going to the local authority from the offset with a rough block plan showing where the development will be can also help save time and money.
“It’s a good idea to see if they might approve the concept, otherwise you might spend a lot of money to find they reject it anyway. It also speeds things up massively,” he adds.
In many respects, seeking planning permission for a dairy building is the same as any agricultural building. But there are certain features which are worth paying careful attention to when preparing to submit an application, says Mr Mogg.
“Lighting, both internal and external, is important – particularly with open-sided cattle buildings where the light flows out.
“It’s quite useful if you are doing something the planners might view as unusual to make your argument on welfare grounds.”
For example, some planners might not favour open-sided cattle sheds with roller curtains as they are not attractive, but stressing the importance of good ventilation and space for cattle on welfare grounds can help win a case, he adds.
“It’s getting to know what guidelines and welfare regulations you should be following. I would always design buildings that exceed any welfare regulations, because you don’t know how the rules might be tightened up in the future.
“It’s worth pointing out to a planner that’s what you’re doing. Always send in notes explaining why you are doing things and try to involve the local authority at every stage.”
Trevor Lloyd, Anglesey
Trevor Lloyd farms 360 Holsteins in partnership with his parents on their 242ha holding in Anglesey.
He has carried a two-phase redevelopment of his dairy unit, starting with a 220-cow cubicle shed on a green field site next to an existing shed and parlour.
“Gaining the initial planning for the new cubicle shed was actually the most traumatic part of the whole process, as we had three neighbours who objected.”
“I used experts to design the technical aspects such as ventilation, layout and position, but I undertook the planning stage myself by going to the planning office, writing the access statement and speaking to the officers.”
Despite being recommended for approval by the local authority planning officers, pressure from neighbours meant Mr Lloyd’s local councillor got involved and the application got called in before committee.
“I had tried to talk to the neighbours and had talked to them about the plans from the outset, but they just decided they couldn’t live with the building,” says Mr Lloyd. “The plans were very thorough though and actually addressed all of the neighbours’ concerns, so it got passed by the committee easily.
“We have done a good job of creating a well-manicured bund to disguise the shed and we get on with the neighbours fine now.”
Once the cubicle shed was completed, the herd’s performance was improved so greatly he decided to redevelop the old parlour to bring both buildings up to the same standard.
“We wanted to raise the old shed to the ground to make way for a 100-cow cubicle shed with a new parlour area, dairy and washroom and collecting yard.
“Even though the development is on a green field site, the planning officers and the council were actually very much on side.”
Mr Lloyd says speaking to planning officers from the outset was the most important part of securing support and obtaining permission for the developments.
“Establishing who is the key decision-maker and keeping them informed really helps. Make sure you are logical, reasonable and keep your head, as that helps to keep them onside.
“I would also suggest having a plan A, then submitting a plan B that is slightly more extreme.
“I initially wanted a 10.75m-high shed for ventilation reasons, but the council asked me to take it down by a metre. I’m sure that adjustment was so they could say the size had been reduced.”
And despite their objections, speaking to neighbours was also key, he adds.