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Top tips for obtaining planning permission for farm-based developments

View profile for Charlotte Lockwood
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Charlotte Lockwood, Associate in the Planning team at Roythornes solicitors, takes a realistic look at what farmers can do to stand the best chance of obtaining planning permission for farm-based developments, particularly those in sensitive areas such as National Parks.

With the continued uncertainty surrounding Brexit and the future of subsidy payments, many farmers are looking at farm-based development opportunities to try and assist in protecting the future of their businesses for the next generations.  However, obtaining planning permission for such schemes can often be a tricky and convoluted process, particularly if a proposed scheme is situated in the Green Belt, a National Park, Conservation Area or contains Listed Buildings.  Whilst Government has sought to extend the types of agricultural development which can be carried out without the need to submit a formal planning application, by virtue of the permitted development rights granted under the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 (the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 for development in Wales), these rights are subject to conditions and limitations and often do not extend to developments proposed in sensitive areas such as National Parks. 

Greater protection is afforded to protecting the natural environment within areas such as National Parks and the Green Belt which is contained in both national and local planning policy.  The National Planning Policy Framework (February 2019) (NPPF) places a high burden on applicants seeking to obtain planning permission within these protected areas, in providing that: “Great weight should be given to conserving and enhancing landscape and scenic beauty in National Parks, the Broads and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which have the highest status of protection in relation to these issues”. It further provides that the scale and extent of development within these designated areas should be limited.  However, these policies need to be balanced against other national and local planning policies which promote rural developments. For example, the NPPF also provides support for development which sustains the rural economy.  In particular for:

“a)  the sustainable growth and expansion of all types of business in rural areas, both through conversion of existing buildings and well-designed new buildings;

b)  the development and diversification of agricultural and other land-based rural businesses;

c)  sustainable rural tourism and leisure developments which respect the character of the countryside”.

Whilst the development of homes in isolated rural locations is often restricted, policy support is provided for such developments where it can be justified in specific circumstances:  

“a)  there is an essential need for a rural worker, including those taking majority control of a farm business, to live permanently at or near their place of work in the countryside;

b)  the development would represent the optimal viable use of a heritage asset or would be appropriate enabling development to secure the future of heritage assets;

c)  the development would re-use redundant or disused buildings and enhance its immediate setting;

d)  the development would involve the subdivision of an existing residential dwelling; or

e)  the design is of exceptional quality, in that it:

- is truly outstanding or innovative, reflecting the highest standards in architecture, and would help to raise standards of design more generally in rural areas; and

- would significantly enhance its immediate setting, and be sensitive to the defining characteristics of the local area”.

Support may be provided on paper for such development but, in practice, it can often be difficult to demonstrate to Local Planning Authorities why the proposed development should be permitted, particularly if those with properties that adjoin the proposed site are against it.  So what steps can you take to give you the best chances of a successful outcome?    

Practically speaking, preparation and early liaison with the Local Planning Authority are key when seeking to obtain planning permission.  Depending upon the type of development you are proposing, it is always worth spending some time looking at the land you control and considering which location is more suitable for siting the proposed development.  Consider whether or not there are sites closer to existing buildings which would be suitable or whether or not you have existing barns which could be converted to other uses.  Look at the surroundings of the proposed site for the development.  Is it close to other residential properties?  Will screening be required to protect the amenity space around those properties?  If the proposals are significant and are likely to cause noise and/or odours, consider what steps will need to be taken to reduce these potential impacts.  These considerations need to be viewed against the relevant national and local policies applicable to development within your area.   

Discuss your proposals with the Local Planning Authority, whether this be through a formal pre-application service or informal discussions with a planning officer; make best use of the planning services they provide.  Most Local Authorities have a duty planner available to assist with general queries relating to development who will give some general pointers on your proposals and the steps that will need to be taken to submit the application.  Some pre-application services do require payment of a fee, however this can assist in obtaining the Local Planning Authority's views on what type of development might be acceptable in any given location.  Also consider discussing your proposals with the Parish Council for your area and any adjoining landowners.  Seeking their views on your proposals early can assist in preventing objections which may prevent planning permission being granted.  If the Parish Council or neighbouring landowners express concern about the proposals, consider if these concerns can be addressed through minor alterations to the proposals or through the provision of screening or other landscaping measures.    

From experience, it is easy to assume that the Local Planning Authority will understand how your agricultural business works and the pressures you face, however this if often not the case.  Modern farming practices are ever-changing and those not actively involved in the sector are often not aware of the resources required to support the efficient running of an agricultural business.  With this in mind it is important, particularly when seeking permission for agricultural development, to spend time detailing how the proposed development will assist the future growth and sustainability of your business.  This may require providing as much detail as setting out the day-to-day activities of the farming enterprise. A recent client of Roythornes was surprised to learn that the Local Planning Authority (dealing with his application for a new grain store) was not aware that the grain store would be in use outside of the harvest period. Explaining how your business works and how the proposed development will support the future growth of that business will assist in justifying the need for the proposed development.

Finally, make sure that when submitting your application, you have complied with all necessary requirements contained in the Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) (England) Order 2015 (the Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) (Wales) Order 2012 in relation to applications in Wales) and the local requirements of the Local Planning Authority. The application may be rejected if all relevant material has not been submitted.  Most Local Planning Authorities have a checklist of requirements available from their website to ensure that applicants are informed of the documents required to be submitted. Therefore, it is best practice to ensure that all plans and drawings are to scale, the appropriate fee has been paid and that the correct land ownership certificate has been signed within the application form.  

If you require any further information or advice in respect of your development proposals, please do not hesitate to contact the Planning Team at Roythornes, whose members have considerable experience of such matters.

Our specialist Planning Team helps land and property owners achieve their strategic goals, whether it be obtaining planning permission for a new development or assessing the impact of major infrastructure schemes on their land and interests.  We have considerable experience in contentious planning and environmental judicial review matters, planning appeals and legal challenges, including Court of Appeal and Supreme Court litigation.