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Know the rules when it comes to building on a smallholding

Whether a small holding has been recently purchased or owned for some time, building developments may be at the fore-front of plans. Laura Bowyer gets to grips with planning rules in England with Herefordshire-based chartered surveyor and planning consultant James Spreckley.

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Q: If you have a small parcel of land - what are you allowed to build without planning permission?

If you have more than 5 hectares of land there are fairly wide-ranging Permitted Development rights, subject to detailed criteria.


These allow for the erection of an agricultural building, but specifically not a dwelling, of up to 465 square metres. All such buildings must be more than 25 metres from a motorway or other classified road, and any livestock building must be more than 400 metres from any dwelling - other than that of the applicant. These rights are subject to a requirement that the applicant must apply to the local planning authority for a determination as to whether prior approval of the authority is required as to the siting, design and external appearance of the building. This application must be accompanied by a written description of the proposed development and a site plan.


If you have less than 5 hectares, but more than 0.4 hectares, then the Permitted Development rights are much more restrictive. You can extend an existing agricultural building by up to 10 per cent of its cubic content, and you can alter an existing agricultural building, but not if this alters its external appearance, but in both cases not if the distance restrictions described above apply.

Q: How long does a planning application take to process?

A: An application for Prior Approval must be determined within 56 days. If the local planning authority fail to do so, then Permitted Development rights apply.

Q: If you bought a small parcel of land, is there any way you would be able to build a house on it?

A: Bluntly, no, unless there was an enterprise established on the land making it essential to be living within sight and sound for most times of the year, excluding dealing with emergencies or security, assuming there were no suitable and available existing dwellings which could serve the need.


The only other possibility is the conversion of an agricultural building to a residential dwelling. In this case the building must have been in agricultural use on March 20 2013, be structurally capable of taking the loading arising from the conversion and no more than 450 square metres, with no extension, subject to further detailed criteria.

Q: Are there any common misunderstandings around planning permission made by people owning agricultural property?

A: There is a common misconception agricultural buildings or the land they occupy would constitute brownfield land, and that this would in some way enable new residential development. This is not the case.

Q: Would you be able to advise any 'temporary buildings' which could be used at busy times on-farm? e.g. lambing time.

A: 'Temporary buildings' is a minefield. Generally speaking, if the building is physically attached to the ground, has a degree of permanence, or its construction constitutes a building operation (i.e. something usually undertaken by a builder) then strictly speaking it will require planning permission. There are however a number of temporary field shelter manufacturers who provide either pre-fabricated or kit form shelters on skids that they consider do not require planning permission.

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