Rural planning review must not harm tenant farmers

The Tenant Farmers Association has reminded the Government that tenant farmers could be badly affected by moves to relax planning controls in the English countryside.

The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is working in tandem with the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) to review the planning constraints on rural businesses and the current threshold for agricultural buildings to convert to residential use.

TFA Chief Executive, George Dunn said “The TFA understands that the Government wishes to create the right conditions for businesses to succeed and that it is committed to changing the planning system by reducing regulatory burdens making it more responsive to the changing demands of society and businesses. However it must ensure that it does not make life more difficult for tenant farmers as a result.”

Problems will be created for tenant farmers if their landlords find it more straightforward to obtain change of use for agricultural buildings either through easier to gain planning consents or wider use of permitted development rights. Under contracts of farm tenancy and the legislation which governs them, landlords will usually have rights to pursue Notices to Quit against tenant farmers on buildings upon which change of use have been obtained. The use of permitted development rights to create residential units also stops, by law, any further development of those sites for farming purposes which could impact negatively on continuing farming operations by tenants.

“The TFA supports proposals which encourage increased economic activity in rural areas and the removal of unnecessary, regulatory burdens on businesses. However, the TFA does not see that these objectives are achieved by replacing one economic use with another economic use as could occur in landlord/tenant situations,” said Mr Dunn.

“Indeed, the Government has already accepted the need to protect tenant farmers by disallowing landlords from using permitted development rights to change agricultural buildings into residential units without the consent of an existing or recently departed tenant farmer. Sadly this does not apply when the use moves to commercial – something which needs to be corrected. It is vital to ensure that these necessary protections for tenant farmers are respected in any reforms to the planning system which the Government decides to bring forward in England as a result of its review,” said Mr Dunn.

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