With the potential to increase your farming efficiency, open up new opportunities and future proof your business against whatever Brexit might bring, now could be a good time to invest in new buildings.
There has never been a better time to put up new buildings than now, according to Complete Land Management’s Matthew Berryman.
Favourable permitted development regulations (PDRs), the availability of cheap finance and the contribution that buildings in alternative uses to agriculture can play now and in the future to a rural business’ bottom line are prompting many to explore the options, he says.
“More buildings are definitely going up and this is entirely understandable. Assuming you meet the basic criteria and can provide the agricultural justification, it is possible to put up a structure of up to 1,000sq.metres under PDRs.
“These applications are simple and cheap – they cost hundreds rather than thousands of pounds – and stand a strong chance of being approved.”
This is thanks to the lenient treatment agriculture receives in terms of planning and development compared with other industries, as it has the potential to boost the viability of farms and estates and fosters rural communities, says Mr Berryman.
But farmers cannot take this for granted as a change of Government could threaten it, he warns.
“It is not impossible that all agricultural buildings could be subject to full planning rules in the future, which would mean far more regulations and conditions, plus make navigating the system more costly, complicated and slower.
“It is understandable that some farmers are delaying big decisions and any major spending ahead of Brexit, but putting up buildings can bring opportunities now and can pave the way for additional ones in the future.
“It can future-proof a business, regardless of whether agriculture’s prosperity rises, stays the same or falls after we leave the EU.”
With base rates still at a low 0.75 per cent, banks are keen to lend money to farmers because their asset bases are robust with landvalues at historically high levels, says Mr Berryman.
“Of course there has got to be a clear business strategy to do any work, but the finance case to put upa building is really strong. Nowadays, it is possible to put up a 500sq.m general purpose structure for about £50,000.”
Erecting a new building can also free up an existing one, he adds.
“Perhaps one that is or will soon become redundant – for reuse for non-agricultural purposes.
“An old grain store with low ceilings might not be suitable for today’s 16-20 tonne trailers, but it could be converted into workshops or office units and, under PDRs, potentially even into residential use. The new building could boost the farm’s efficiency because of its additional capacity and suitability for modern methods, but there are also potentially opportunities for new income streams from the old one.
“If you are in the right area, there is a massive demand for buildings for non-farming uses. As consultants and land agents working across southern England, we see a lot of opportunities for rental income near towns and cities. But elsewhere, as well, some farmers and estate owners are making a big profit from a relatively small turnover on rental income from buildings, while only generating a small profit on a massive turnover from crops and livestock.
“Even if you are a long way from a centre of population, but just near a busy road, it may be that someone in your area is looking for storage or a place to park their lorries.”
With any new building project, factoring in flexibility is key, says Mr Berryman.
“You might be putting up a building for 30 years or more, so as well as ensuring it has a low environmental impact, think carefully about its layout, size and location in relation to access and livestock and machinery movements. Run though all the scenarios about what might happen if your enterprises change and if you want to use that building for something else.
“I have never come across a farmer in my consultancy career of 25-plus years who has regretted putting up a building. There has never been a better time than now.”