Act now on changes to permitted development rules

Farmers and landowners are being encouraged to take advantage of a change in the planning rules over permitted developments before it is too late.

Mike Lord from the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation (AMC) says opportunities may not be around for ever. While changes allowing the conversion of farm buildings to dwellings, announced in March this year, are open-ended, earlier legislation is not.

“This particularly concerns the conversion of agricultural buildings to other commercial uses such as office space, which was only given a three-year timeframe when it was introduced and could potentially end in Spring 2016,” says Mr Lord.

Whilst this seems a long time away, in reality it is not long in the context of moving from an idea for improving the farm to turning the key on a finished project,

He says that developing existing or redundant buildings to create diversified income streams could help strengthen some agricultural businesses for the long term. Being clear about the detail of the permitted development regulations is important when considering your options and drawing up a business plan.

“Many AMC customers have taken advantage of historically low interest rates as a means of cost effectively converting redundant buildings into very successful B&Bs, farm shops, commercial buildings or light industrial units,” he adds. And the current regulations offer further opportunity for more farmers to do the same.

Planning specialist David Long from south of England-based rural property consultants BCM says that while the regulations have been eased, certain restrictions also remain in place for those thinking of converting.

“Barns and agricultural buildings suitable for conversion need to have been in genuine agricultural use, must not be listed, and should be outside any protected land designation,” he explains.

“Pursuing a conversion into a shop, restaurant, office*, storage or even a hotel, with a floor space of less than 150m2, is altogether simpler, with the local authorities needing just a start date, the intended use and a plan to give the go ahead.

“Larger developments – the maximum permitted is 500m2 – will need additional approvals for some of the environmental aspects such as transport or highways, and the potential for land contamination and flooding.”

Mr Long adds that landowners should also consider residential conversions as the government has drawn up legislation to allow up to three units with a cumulative footprint of no more than 450m2.

“One must assess highway impacts, flood risk, contamination and noise, but at last the burden to reuse agricultural buildings for appropriate housing is beginning to lift. Overall, it is important to consider which uses are going to best suit your business, your tax situation and the funds you can draw down for the project – and to act promptly.”

* Office use is restricted to class B1(a): an office other than a use within class A2 (financial and professional services
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