Farming and the Law: Emma Coke explains new rules for farm building conversions

Emma Coke of Birkett Long.

Emma Coke of Birkett Long. - Credit: Archant

The General Permitted Development Order is the legislation that lets you put up a farm building without full planning permission.

Last year the Government extended these rights to allow offices to be converted to residential use and farm buildings to be converted to a range of commercial uses.

A new change of rules this year expands the legislation further, creating opportunities for agricultural buildings to be converted into a maximum of three dwellings, enabling some exciting opportunities for small scale development which would otherwise have required planning permission and all the bureaucracy that entails.

However, all is not plain sailing because even if you establish that your proposal can benefit from the rights a rigorous prior approval process will have to be undertaken. This follows two stages, the first in respect of change of use and the second in relation to any associated building operations.

The proposed building must not extend beyond the external dimensions of the existing building and if the building is subject to a tenancy then both landlord and tenant approval needs to be obtained.


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Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) will have to consider impact, design and external appearance, highways and flooding issues and contamination risks. LPAs trying to refuse prior approvals as a matter of principle will have to remember the Government’s recent diktat that they should not try to undermine reforms.

Of course the rights are subject to qualifications and there are certain circumstances in which permitted development rights will be inapplicable. For example, the rights do not extend to Conservation Areas, AONBs, SSSIs or listed buildings, so this will clearly exclude a number of agricultural properties.

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In addition, there is a 10-year rule for sites where agricultural buildings have been constructed under other permitted development rights since March 20, 2013. This will restrict developers from applying for a quick change of use for a recently erected building.

: : Emma Coke is a lawyer at Birkett Long LLP. For further assistance or to discuss how these new rules might apply to your farm, call 01206 217300 or email emma.coke@birkettlong.co.uk .

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