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Year of the Family Farm - Rural housing

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A chronic shortage of rural housing and sky-high rents can make finding a house in the countryside difficult.

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For farmers, their family and staff, living in a rural location is a necessity not a lifestyle choice, yet finding a place to call home can be tricky.

 

Rural houses are 20 per cent more expensive than urban homes on average, with some significant regional differences, most notably in the Midlands where the average price in rural areas is £78,000 more than urban residences, according to Halifax bank.

 

Meanwhile, farm businesses need to sweat their assets, and this can mean looking at redundant buildings or unused plots to create a new dwelling.

Current stock

Alister King-Smith, head of planning services at Stags, says: “A good place to start is to look at current building stock available on the holding and assess what is available for conversion. “Providing there is something which would qualify for conversion to a dwelling under permitted development rights, this is often a sensible option to look at.”

 

Permitted development rights (PDRs) were expected to increase the rural housing stock by transforming disused barns and buildings into homes. However, about 50 per cent of applications are still being refused and only 226 were approved between April 2015 and March 2016, Government figures show.

 

Mr King-Smith says: “If there is nothing suitable, examine the viability of applying for full planning permission to convert more traditional buildings into a home. “Sometimes the amount of work and finances required to convert an older building into a home may make a new build a better option.

 

“The advantages of a new build can be the building can be more fit for purpose and in a better location.” The success, or otherwise, of an application to convert or create new dwellings is often a case of suitability.

Making the case - Permitted development

Applications to convert redundant buildings into dwellings still require an application, but is not exposed to the rigours of the full planning process. Typically local authorities will look at:

  • Typically local authorities will look at:
  • Transport and highways impacts of the development
  • Impact on noise in the surrounding area
  • Contamination risks on-site
  • Flooding risks on-site
  • Design or external appearance of buildings
  • Whether the location or siting of the building makes it otherwise impractical or undesirable for the building to change from agricultural

Permitted development rights - Common pitfalls

  • Is the farm an agricultural unit? If the application is for a farm worker or family member who works on-farm, fulfilling the criteria of the building being related to an agricultural unit is usually straight forward. Diversified businesses, such as equestrian facilities, may need further evidence.
  • What was it last used for? According to permitted development policy, the last use of the building intended for conversion must be ‘solely agricultural’, the definition of which may be open to interpretation.
  • What is classified as a unit? There is some uncertainty over what happens when one holding number covers several sites which could be miles apart and it is worth investigating the local authority’s view prior to application.

Considerations - New builds

  • Getting permission
  • Justification
  • Adding houses to the holding
  • Location and space

Case study: On-farm staff housing

Top tips

When considering applying for planning via the installation of a temporary structure

 

  • Consider the structure’s
    siting and how it may affect
    the farm’s future
    development
  • Give yourself time, as it is
    not a fast process
  • Do not give up

Attracting good employees is key to the success of any dairy business, says Devon-based dairy farmer Di Wastenage

 

After purchasing Seven Acre Farm in the Dartmoor National Park in 2007 as a greenfield site, the infrastructure of the farm was planned and put in place, including buildings, a parlour and cow tracks, with the first cows milked in 2009.

 

Di Wastenage says: “We needed somewhere for a farm manager to live, not only to aid the running of the farm, but also for security reasons, following large investments made at the site. Most importantly, the manager was needed to manage the welfare of cows. “We milk 380 cross-bred cows at the site on an extended grazing system.

 

This farm now employs two full-time employees, and the rest of the work is carried out on contract.” Along with her husband Pete, Mrs Wastenage farms multiple satellite units across the South West, with 100 miles between their two furthest sites.

 

For this reason it is important they attract reliable, trustworthy staff, and to do so they must provide appropriate benefits to keep these people. After looking at options for housing at the farm, the couple chose to install a ‘twin-unit park home’, at 20ft wide and 38ft long with three bedrooms.

 

It sits on caravan legs and recycled paving slabs which once lined Exeter high street. They could not concrete the base as the structure must be classed as temporary, and be in position for three years to show the viability of the business to warrant the construction of a permanent structure.

 

They now have two other similar buildings on different sites, but to cut costs they decided to build to their own layout. The buildings are fully plumbed and have electricity.

 

After living in the temporary building for some years, farm manager Nick Tucker and his family now live in a four-bedroom house on the other side of the road to the yard. The whole process took six years from installation of the cabin to completion of the house.

 

Although in a National Park, Mrs Wastenage explains the local authorities have been supportive in the process, allowing a modern style house to be built at the farm.

 

She adds: “Investing in the build when the price of milk was on the floor was hard, but it was always part of the plan and ensures we now have suitable accommodation for the farm manager and his family.”

Expert opinion

Beware jeopardising validity of insurance by failing to comply with security and safety standards

 

Gaining additional income through the residential letting of farmhouses or cottages may appear an attractive proposition, but can turn into an expensive exercise if owners fail to comply with minimum security and safety standards. When considering the rental of property for residential use, it is essential to establish and fulfil the necessary safety requirements, certificates and inspections to avoid rendering insurance policies invalid and even running the risk of criminal prosecution.

 

There are some more obvious requirements, such as making sure all gas and electrical equipment, including fixed wiring, is safely installed and maintained, providing an energy performance certificate and generally keeping the property safe and free from health hazards.

 

But the devil is in the detail, and the very nature of farmhouses, and indeed their appeal, is there will likely be bespoke items and features which will need to be included in the insurance.

 

On perhaps a smaller scale, but no less important, it is the responsibility of the landlord to ensure window locks and doors comply with minimum security conditions. A small issue you may think, but failure to comply with landlord responsibilities could render an insurance policy void and could potentially lead to heavy losses, or even a custodial sentence in the event of a major incident in which the landlord has failed to uphold obligations.

 

It needs to be remembered that this is a commercial activity and should be treated as such. A landlord has a duty of care to the tenant, in the same way as they do for their employees. Case study: On-farm staff housing Beware jeopardising validity of insurance by failing to comply with security and safety standards Expert opinion Attracting good employees is key to the success of any dairy business, says Devon-based dairy farmer Diane Wastenage

 

By Steve Corton, farm insurance consultant, Farmers & Mercantile

ABP

 

NSF

 

Volac

 

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