Planning can be a barrier to farm diversification. In 2014, the Government introduced a range of simplified planning permissions (known as permitted development rights) to enable the reuse of under-used or disused farm buildings and earlier this year these were extended. Details of the extended permitted development rights are set out below and the rights can be complicated to interpret, farm owners will find them useful to reduce some of the red tape surrounding diversification.
Agricultural Buildings to Residential
Whether to let permanently, sell or to create holiday lets, permitted development rights apply for conversion of existing farm buildings to up to three large (greater than 100sqm but less than 465sqm), or five small (less than 100sqm), dwellings (but with a total of no more than 1000sqm).
This right is two-fold. It is a right for a change of use and also a right for building works as are “reasonably required” for the conversion of the buildings.
So what does “reasonably required” mean? For something to be a qualifying conversion, it cannot go beyond that which could sensibly be called a conversion (Hibbitt and Another v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Rushcliffe Borough Council  EWHC 2853 (Admin)). This is reinforced by the Government’s Planning Practice Guidance Note which states: “this includes the installation or replacement of windows, doors, roofs, exterior walls, water, drainage, electricity, gas or other services to the extent reasonably necessary for the building to function as a dwelling house; and partial demolition to the extent reasonably necessary to carry out these building operations” (Paragraph 105). But, be careful, some are being caught out by buildings that are not structurally sound for conversion.
Agricultural Buildings to Flexible Commercial Use
It is permitted to change the use of a building and its curtilage to a “flexible” use within the following use classes:
-financial and professional services (A2);
-restaurants and cafes (A3);
-storage or distribution (B8);
-hotels (C1); or
-assembly and leisure (D2)
Unlike with agricultural to residential permitted development rights, there is no right to carry out any physical works that would ordinarily need planning permission.
Agricultural Buildings to State-funded School or Registered Nursery
A right exists to convert up to 500sqm of existing farm building into a state sponsored school or registered nursery. Again, this carries with it no right to carry out associated works. As such, it is difficult to see how this right will be widely utilised.
Other issues to consider
It is imperative that to be classed as permitted development, you must comply with specific conditions, several of which relate to building dimensions as well as submitting details of what you are proposing to do to the local planning authority and obtain their prior approval.
You must check that existing planning permissions, section 106 agreements or planning designations (such as a building being listed) will not stop the permitted development right from applying. You must also check that there are no covenants on the land preventing use other than agricultural.
If a local planning authority has introduced the Community Infrastructure Levy in its area, ensure you check whether development will be CIL liable, consider any mechanisms to properly reduce liability and submit the necessary paperwork at the appropriate time.
Although the system is simplified there are still procedures that need to be followed and pitfalls that must be avoided. We recommend that you engage a suitable professional to advise on the available options before committing to the cost of a project, or risk enforcement proceedings from the local planning authority or difficulties selling in the future.
Pictured: Chloe Glason, Associate, Birketts LLP