Planning for the future; have rural developers been given a free rein?

On 6 April 2014 new planning rules come into force which will allow developers to make certain changes of use without the need to jump through the hoops of obtaining full planning permission. Under the new rules, impressively named the Town and County Planning (General Permitted Development) (Amendment and Consequential Provisions) (England) Order 2014, a “fast-track” system is introduced making it quicker and cheaper to develop in these areas.

Which changes of use will be affected?

The changes of use which will benefit from this new, relaxed system are known as “permitted developments” and will include:

  • Allowing agricultural buildings to become schools or nurseries;
  • Allowing agricultural buildings to be used for residential purposes;
  • Allowing a shop to become a bank, building society or credit union;
  • Allowing a shop or building used for provision of financial or professional support to become used for residential purposes.

From this list it is clear that the rules focus on the conversion of agricultural and commercial buildings into residential dwellings and supporting facilities, no doubt to help meet the ever increasing demand for housing and boost economic growth in rural areas. As such, the rules offer farmers and owners of commercial premises the opportunity to diversify and change the use of buildings which may not at present be providing much, if any, return.

How does the new system work?

If the change of use is a permitted development the developer does not need to go through the rigmarole of obtaining full planning permission from the local planning authority because it cannot, as a matter of principle, object to the change of use. That said, an application will still need to be made to the planning authority before any works start. The planning authority will then consider factors such as transport links, noise pollution and, in some cases, the design and external appearance of the building before giving approval for the works to commence.

It is hoped these new rules will create a quicker and cheaper process for developers. However, as a word of caution, planning authorities will still have the opportunity to attach conditions to approvals (as with planning permissions) which will, of course, need to be adhered to.

Are there any restrictions or limits?

Whilst the new rules lessen the burden on developers by disposing of the need to obtain full planning permission, each permitted change of use does come with its own conditions, limitations and restrictions. These are set out in the rules and can be extensive.

For example, in order for an agricultural building to be changed into a residential property the following conditions must be met:

  • The building must be situated on an established agricultural holding with floor space of no more than 450 square metres;
  • The building needs to have been used solely for agricultural purposes either on 20 March 2013 or, if it was not in use at that date, when it was last in use;
  • There has been no extension or alterations carried out to the building since 20 March 2013 or within ten years before the date of development, whichever is less.  In other words, you cannot erect or extend a building and then just convert it to residential use unless it has been used as an agricultural building      for ten years;
  • The works must be within the external dimensions of the original building;
  • Whilst fairly substantive works may be allowed, demolition and replacement will not be approved. The interpretation of this section will be essential and dependent on each local planning authority’s approach;
  • There can be no more than three dwellings per development;
  • The building is not listed.

(Please note this list is not exhaustive)

A free rein for development in rural areas?

The new rules are not a free rein for developers as there are still conditions to be met, restrictions to be adhered to and approval to be gained. That said, we anticipate they will provide a useful tool to those who have attempted development in the past, either being put off or scuppered by planning permission rejections, or wish to explore opportunities to diversify in the future.

If you would like to discuss these issues further then please contact Claire Trolove on 01733 898959 or send her an email.