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Farm buildings: New planning laws could turn old buildings into real assets

Increasing amounts of farms are investing in modern, more efficient agricultural buildings, which can often leave old livestock housing and farm buildings to go to rack and ruin.
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But new guidance announced by the Government earlier this month will allow farmers to turn unused agricultural buildings into homes.


Experts claimed this can turn a cost into a potential new revenue stream.


In a ministerial statement last week, planning minister Nick Boles announced reforms of the planning system under the National Planning Practice Guidance (NPPG).

Development rights

The NPPG includes provisions for new permitted development rights, which will allow agricultural buildings of up to 450 square metres (4,843sq.ft) to be converted into up to three houses.


Full details of the planning changes will follow through secondary legislation, but rural planning experts have said the proposals will provide a financial boost to many farmers and landowners.


Steven McLaughlin, rural partner at Carter Jonas, said: “The new Permitted Development Rights should give farmers the ability to turn redundant, obsolete farm buildings into potentially valuable assets.


“It could provide a welcome financial boost to many farmers, particularly where the redundant buildings have become a maintenance liability.”


Tim Bamford from estate agent Savills said for too long planning policy had leaned towards large-scale developments.


He said:”The new provisions will help struggling rural communities and provide a valid use for redundant buildings.”


These views were underlined by Stuart Thomas, planning consultant at estate agent Berrys.


Mr Thomas said the changes were a great opportunity for farmers to use building to help solve rural housing shortage issues.


The NPPG also advises planners to consider the size, location and quality of houses required for older people in future, and this provision was welcomed by the CLA.


President Henry Robinson said: “We are also pleased the vital need for housing in rural areas for older people has been recognised as it can be hugely difficult for households wishing to downsize to find smaller, more manageable homes they require.


But farmers in national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty are being urged to be cautious, as these areas are set to be exempt from the new proposals.


Richard Brogden, planning partner at Bruton Knowles, said: “In areas of outstanding natural beauty and national parks, the rules will remain more stringent, but the Government has indicated that communities in these areas need to grow and prosper.


“The planning rules are complex, but careful and thoughtful development is now possible.”

Change of use

Ashley Dodgson, from property consultant GSC Grays, said the ‘key test’ for change of use for agricultural buildings to residential dwellings is understood to include:

  1. The buildings are agricultural and are genuinely redundant, were constructed before the March 20 2013 and formed part of an agricultural unit at that date. (What constitutes an agricultural unit is still to be defined.)
  2. The dwellings are conversions.
  3. Prior approval is obtained from the Local Planning Authority for siting, design, access/highways, noise pollution, ecological/bat surveys, land contamination and flood risk. As such landowners are unlikely to have “free rein” to do what they like with their buildings.

Things to watch out for

If landowners choose to exercise permitted development rights for conversions this will mean they lose permitted development rights for new farm buildings. Farmers are being advised to consider when they are likely to erect new farm buildings under the Part 6 of the Town & Country Planning General Permitted Development Order 1995.


If permitted development rights were used to construct new agricultural buildings after the August 6 2013 no rights will be available for change of use to dwellings.


The Government’s proposals will also allow the conversion of farm buildings into state funded schools and registered nurseries of up to 500 square metres.


Carter Jonas has advised farmers to take professional advice before starting change of use developments to avoid potential loss of agricultural property relief from inheritance tax


The change of use conversations avoids problems without agricultural occupancy conditions (AOCs) which often underpin rural buildings.


AOCs prevent the sale of farm houses to owners unwilling to take on the land associated with the building for agricultural purposes.


The CLA has claimed the issues of unviable Community Infrastructure Levies (CIL) could undermine the good intentions of the NPPG. CIL is a new levy local authorities can charge on developments in their area.

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