On farms up and down the UK there are many old agricultural buildings slowly crumbling away. Once used to house tractors, today’s farmers are now unable to use old barns and outbuildings to store modern machinery as farming equipment has changed and the buildings are just not large enough any more. As a result, the barns and outbuildings slowly fall into disrepair while perhaps being used as temporary storage space.
Alistair Millar, agricultural lawyer at Tallents in Southwell, explains how proposed changes in planning permissions might help farmers revitalise these buildings and increase their income.
In May 2013, there was a three-year relaxation of planning regulations which allowed landowners to covert farm buildings and barns, plus any land within the curtilage, to commercial uses, such as:
- financial and professional services
- restaurants and cafes
- assembly and leisure
“By not requiring the landowner to commit to the costs of submitting a full planning application, the government hopes that the money saved can instead be put towards the building renovations. However, there are caveats and there is a restriction on the size of the building being converted.”
What are the key planning changes?
- The changes apply to all buildings used solely for agricultural purposes before July 2012, which measure less than 500sqm.
- If the cumulative floor space within the building is less than 150sqm and the change of use is to one of the permitted commercial uses, then the building does not require a planning application. The owner is just required to notify the local planning authority (LPA) of the works that will be taking place.
- If the building measures between 150sqm and 500sqm, then there is a cut-down planning process that must be followed instead, which involves submitting a prior notification of the works to allow assess the LPA to assess the potential impact on: traffic, noise levels, contamination risks, flooding risks etc.
However, development cannot begin before the developer has received a written notice from the LPA confirming that prior approval is not required, or a written notice has been received confirming that approval is granted.
If Councils do not make a decision within 56 days then development can begin. If prior approval is refused, all is not lost, as the applicant has the option of an appeal to the Planning Inspectorate or to submit a full planning application as they would have done previously.
The government has just completed a consultation to assess whether the planning relaxations should be further extended to include conversion of agricultural buildings under 150sqm to residential use, without full planning permission. The government’s final decision is expected in spring 2014.
Although the government has gone a long way towards simplifying the planning application process for reusing agricultural buildings, it makes sense for landowners to contact an experienced agricultural solicitor in the first instance to ensure the process proceeds smoothly and efficiently.
There are significant caveats which still apply to the change of use from agricultural to commercial and those need to be fully understood to avoid costly errors and wasted time. Tallents has been advising farmers and landowners for 240 years and can provide significant agricultural legal advice.