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UK/East Anglia: Planning reform ‘will help struggling rural economy’

06:00 18 March 2014

Sister and brother Kirstie and Nick Johnston at ForeLock & Load, Barrow, near Bury St Edmunds, created in a disused farm barn. It

Sister and brother Kirstie and Nick Johnston at ForeLock & Load, Barrow, near Bury St Edmunds, created in a disused farm barn. It's hoped more such uses will be helped by new planning rules

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Farmers and landowners have welcomed the Government’s overhaul of planning rules to allow them to make better use of redundant or under-used agricultural buildings.

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In a statement issued by planning Minister Nick Boles,this month, the Government anounced a series of planning reforms opening the door to change of use for redundant or under-used agricultural buildings, and increasing rural housing without building on the countryside.

Up to 450 square metres of agricultural buildings on a farm will be able to change to provide a maximum of three houses.

The changes are expected to come into effect this spring.

But the Government has come under fire from the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) for an exemption for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) which it says will mean many rural areas in the eastern region will not reap the benefits of the reform.

The Government said it recognised “the importance to the public” of safeguarding environmentally protected areas, so this change of use will not apply to national parks or AONBs.

“However, we expect national parks and other local planning authorities to take a positive and proactive approach to sustainable development, balancing the protection of the landscape with the social and economic well-being of the area,” Mr Boles said.

CLA East said the overhaul was “a big step in the right direction”, but expressed dismay at the exemptions from reform.

It said the measures “would breathe new life into dilapidated and redundant buildings by allowing change of use without a full planning application”.

CLA eastern regional director Nicola Currie said: “We strongly support the principle of these proposals. By allowing some agricultural farm buildings to be modified and reused will not only retain the heritage of these structures for further generations, but help provide more homes for people living and working in rural communities – reinvigorating those areas.

“It would also aid the provision of retirement homes so older people can pass farm holdings on to the next generation.

“This would help clear the tenancy logjam that is hampering the future of farming

“Planning Minister Nick Boles said Government would encourage planning authorities in the exempted areas to look positively on applications for change of use.

“We will be closely monitoring these authorities to make sure that this happens.

“Doing nothing with our built resource and heritage is not an option.”

James Pearson of land agents Savills’ Ipswich office said: “This is exciting news which will enable rural businesses to diversify further, providing sites for vital housing.

“For too long planning policy has leant towards large scale developments which is stifling the natural growth of rural communities. The new provisions will help struggling rural communities and provide a valid use for redundant buildings.”

The conversion of agricultural buildings to residential avoids the problems of new dwellings in rural areas being subject to an agricultural occupancy condition, he said.

“The amendments to the General Permitted Development Order for changes of use have not yet been published,” he added.

“These will contain the critical prior approval procedures and conditions for the change of use from agriculture to residential and importantly the date from when these changes will come into effect. As with almost all permitted development rights, the devil will be in the detail.”

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