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Farm Diversification: Unlocking Opportunities Through the Planning System

For many farmers and farming businesses, making the best use of a farm’s assets to enhance farm income from sources other than conventional farm production makes sense. The majority of diversification projects will require some form of planning consent, be that through a full planning application or through the use of permitted development rights. As such, planning will be essential to most schemes.

 

The government recently introduced the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill to Parliament, with the bill including many changes to the planning system. One major change proposed is to limit the scope of local plans to “locally specific” matters, with “issues that apply in most areas” to be covered by a new suite of national policies.

 

A document accompanying the bill states that it will “require each local planning authority to prepare one local plan, with the content limited to locally specific matters such as allocating land for development, detailing required infrastructure and setting out principles of good design”.

 

It adds that “General policies on issues that apply in most areas will be set out nationally and contained in a suite of National Development Management Policies, which will have the same weight as Local Plans so that they are fully taken into account in decisions.”

 

This shift in power away from local authorities on non-local matters could benefit rural areas as policy support may be set out more clearly and positively for diversification projects in these National Development Management Policies.

 

Once the decision has been made to move ahead with some form of diversification, a review of the farm business is a logical first step which will highlight any potential opportunities, which may include:

  • Developing buildings – holiday lets, weddings, residential, workshops, office space
  • Adding value to farm produce – through on-farm processing and/or selling
  • Developing a new enterprise – for example, glamping, dog exercise areas, leisure and recreation activities
  • Energy generation – renewables or anaerobic digestion.
  • Habitat improvements – Biodiversity net gain.

 

It will also be important to be aware of any site-specific constraints, such as landscape designations (e.g. Green Belt, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty etc.), listed buildings, highways, flood risk and so on, and how these could impact on what can be achieved at the farm.

 

We are involved with a number of the projects outlined above. One area we are regularly appointed on involves existing buildings and the ever-controversial Class Q permitted development rights, which allow for the change of use and conversion of buildings from agriculture to residential by securing prior approval, rather than needing to apply for planning permission. It is now possible to provide up to five new dwellings on an ‘established agricultural unit’.

 

The maximum floor area for conversion was increased in 2018 from 450sqm to 865sqm, depending on how the dwellings are arranged. This significant permissible floor area provides a great opportunity for redundant buildings. We continue to hear that the Government is committed to providing new housing, but many rural housing developments would be contrary to planning policy. Therefore, Class Q is often the best chance of achieving a new home in a rural location. It is important to note that Class Q is not available for Listed Buildings or those buildings that fall within a Conservation Area, or other similarly protected sites.

 

Other stringent criteria must also be met, and applications will be assessed regarding transport, highways and noise impacts, contamination and flood risks. The building must be suitable for conversion to residential use without ‘rebuilding’, and structurally able to take the loading of the residential conversion.

 

Structural requirements have been debated at great length, with many Local Planning Authorities taking different approaches. However, some clarity was offered from the case of Hibbitt v Secretary of State [2016] and Government guidance, which ultimately confirms that if the extent of works required to change the use of the building amount to ‘rebuilding’ rather than ‘conversion’, then the proposal will fall outside the scope of Class Q. Overall, Class Q signals a supportive stance from the Government to landowners with redundant buildings. This is a positive step for rural areas and offers considerable opportunity to enhance income generation from rural buildings and to add value to existing assets.

 

A change of use application is the other route if the above criteria cannot be met. However, local authority planning policies tend to be less supportive and may require commercial uses to be explored first, often involving a marketing campaign to demonstrate a lack of demand from potential occupiers.

 

It is also important to highlight Class R permitted development rights, which allow for the change of use of buildings from agriculture to a flexible commercial use. The range of commercial uses available is wide and includes shops, financial and professional services, restaurants and cafes, offices, light industrial, storage and distribution, hotels, and assembly and leisure use.

 

Class R allows for the change of use of up to 500sqm per established agricultural unit.  Applications are assessed with regard to highways, noise, contamination and flood risk. There is no structural requirement, so Class R rights can be utilised on buildings that would not meet Class Q’s strict criteria.

 

There is so much scope to enhance value and income through the implementation of change of use permitted development rights, so Wilson Wraight’s advice would be to take stock of redundant buildings and unearth potentially untapped value.

 

Another area of diversification which Wilson Wraight are advising clients on is Biodiversity Net Gain. Developers who are unable to mitigate biodiversity net loss on site will either have to purchase biodiversity units locally or will be required to pay a cash tariff on their shortfall against net gain obligations set out in the forthcoming Environment Bill. This could provide an income stream for areas of land that perhaps aren’t performing as well as others and do not have the potential to benefit from the other opportunities outlined earlier.

 

For further information on this and to discuss any planning related matters please contact our Head of Planning Dan Hewett – dhewett@wilsonwraight.co.uk

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West Suffolk Local Plan – Live Consultation

West Suffolk Council is working on a new Local Plan which will direct development in the district until 2040. They are currently consulting on the Preferred Options (Regulation 18) version of the plan which provides the opportunity for landowners and developers to comment on submitted sites and to put forward new sites for consideration to take this future growth.

 

This preferred options consultation draft of the local plan is the second opportunity for communities and stakeholders to get involved with preparing the new plan. A Submission draft local plan is expected to be published in May 2023. The final draft will then be examined by an independent inspector appointed by the Secretary of State.

 

https://www.westsuffolk.gov.uk/planning/Planning_Policies/local_plans/west-suffolk-local-plan-review.cfm

 

The deadline for submitting sites is the 26th July 2022 and we would be delighted to hear from you if you have land to put forward for consideration or if you wish to make comments on the Council’s preferred choices for development.

 

For further information on this and to discuss any related planning matters please contact our Head of Planning Dan Hewett

 

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Breckland Local Plan – Call for Sites Consultation

Breckland District Council is working on a new Local Plan which will direct development in the District until 2036. This consultation provides the opportunity for landowners and developers to submit sites for consideration to take this future growth.

 

All sites put forward will undergo a technical assessment to check whether they are suitable and deliverable. Housing sites should be capable of accommodating five dwellings or more and / or have an area of 0.25 hectares or more. Sites for commercial development or other uses should be a minimum of 0.25 hectares or be able to accommodate 500 sqm.

 

An initial Issues and Option consultation on the new Local Plan, including submitted sites, will be published for public consultation later this year. Further details can be viewed on the link below:

 

https://www.breckland.gov.uk/local-plan-review

 

The deadline for submitting sites is the 20th May 2022 and we would be delighted to hear from you if you have land to put forward for consideration.

 

For further information on this and to discuss any related planning matters please contact our Head of Planning Dan Hewett

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Recent Successes

The Wilson Wraight Planning Consultancy team has celebrated a number of recent planning successes in the last few months as the service continues to grow its client base.

 

Examples of these successes include the following:

 

  • Planning permission granted for an extension to the sales area for a property occupied by national retailer B&M.
  • Permitted development rights allowed by Braintree District Council for a new agricultural building adjacent to a Listed Building and Scheduled Ancient Monument.
  • Planning permission granted for stables and ménage adjacent to Listed Buildings.
  • Permitted development rights allowed by Breckland District Council for a new agricultural building.
  • Permitted development rights allowed by Great Yarmouth Council for irrigation related works on an agricultural holding.

To discuss any planning related matters please contact our Head of Planning Dan Hewett

 

Planning permission

B&M Elevations

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Wilson Wraight Planning Launch Party – 13th October 2021

Following a successful first year we were delighted to be able to host a launch party for our Planning Consultancy service at the Farmers Club in Bury St Edmunds on the 13th October 2021.

 

It was great to be able to welcome so many guests, introduce the team and share our excitement of what the new service can offer our clients over a refreshing drink and a selection of canapes.

 

We would like to thank all those who were able to attend, you made the evening a resounding success!

 

To discuss any related planning matters please contact our Head of Planning Dan Hewett

 

 

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Wilson Wraight Planning – Autumn Update

While the debate about the forthcoming Planning Bill rumbles on, a number of potentially radical alterations to the planning system have been introduced. Among these are the merging of many traditional town centre use classes into the single use class E, and the expansion of permitted development to cover conversions from class E to residential, upwards extensions and demolitions to create new housing.

 

The government’s policy allowing homes to be built on sites not allocated in a local plan under its new First Homes initiative, is arguably another radical alteration. Detailed in a written ministerial statement and explained further in planning practice guidance and the government’s response to its First Homes consultation, the policy has potentially significant repercussions.

 

First Homes are new build properties to be sold at a discount of at least 30 per cent to first-time buyers, the majority of which the government expects to be delivered via the planning obligations that developers undertake to mitigate the impacts of their schemes. The policy was brought into force at the end of June as a replacement to the previous ‘entry-level’ exception sites policy and offers a route to permission where sites have failed to gain support in the local plan. Unlike the entry-level exception sites policy, there is no upper limit to their size, and First Homes schemes can even include some market housing to assist viability.

 

According to housing minister Christopher Pincher’s May 24 2021 written ministerial statement, the First Homes exception site policy is designed to “maximise the number of First Homes made available to those keen to get on the housing ladder”, allowing a route to approval for unallocated sites. It replaces the previous policy intended to allow exception sites for discounted market housing for first-time buyers or renters, known as the ‘entry-level’ exception site policy. However, it does not replace the policy allowing for rural exception sites, which provide affordable rented housing in rural areas for people with local connections.

 

This policy could represent a significant opportunity, and unsurprisingly, a number of land promoters and developers have registered interest in the scheme, while some planning authorities and countryside campaigners have expressed concern it could result in unsustainable large developments.

 

However, many traditional housebuilders are likely to be put off by the fact the vast majority of homes on First Homes exception sites would have to be sold at a not insignificant discount.

 

Unfortunately, the main obstacle to the policy’s success is currently national policy as the exception sites element of it was directly contradicted in the July update to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) even though it was published after the First Homes policy. This contained no reference to First Homes, instead referring not only to the previous “entry-level” exception sites policy that the First Homes policy is supposed to replace, but also omitting reference to the development size limits being abolished.

 

Further amendments to the NPPF are intended to resolve this contradiction in due course, but for the moment it remains unclear what an inspector would make of an appeal based on the ministerial statement.

 

A further stumbling block is the current lack of local policies to make clear how First Homes will be implemented by individual planning authorities. This is important, because the national First Homes policy gives councils significant leeway, allowing them (given appropriate evidence) to set larger minimum discounts than 30 per cent, introduce additional local eligibility criteria, control the amount of market housing permitted on such sites, and set rules on the size of exception site that is considered ‘proportionate’. These are all crucial points for potential applicants to understand when deciding whether to proceed with applications or whether to take land under Option on the basis of a viable strategy to progress such a scheme. At the moment you would have to work in a policy vacuum which is undesirable for landowners and promoters due to the inability to quantify risk.

 

As a consequence of this uncertainty, it is unlikely that there will be significant interest from mainstream developers at present, although this may be a more attractive proposition for affordable housing providers who are likely to encounter less competition in the marketplace for suitable sites.

 

For further information on this and to discuss any related planning matters please contact our Head of Planning Dan Hewett

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Recent Success

Planning Approved
Consent for New Agricultural Building

Wilson Wraight Planning has secured planning consent for a new grain store at Beccles Heliport.  As the address implies, the building was located close to an active airfield which meant it was not possible to take advantage of Permitted Development rules for new agricultural buildings under 1,000 sqm.

 

The new grain store is required to reduce the amount of transporting and double handling which currently occurs. This will result in a significant reduction in heavy goods vehicle movements through several villages in the local area.

 

The application was approved by South Norfolk Council within the statutory determination period.

 

Recent success new agricultural building

 

Recent success new agricultural building

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Rural Planning and Development Opportunities Update – May 2021

The recent national media speculation that a planning bill would be included in the government’s legislative programme over the next year was finally confirmed in the much anticipated Queen’s speech in May where Her Majesty announced that “Laws to modernise the planning system, so that more homes can be built, will be brought forward.”

 

The planning bill is intended to create a simpler, faster, and more modern planning system, ensuring homes and infrastructure can be delivered more quickly across England. This is big news for the sector which is expecting the bill to result in the biggest shake up of the planning system for 70 years.  According to the background briefing notes the bill is intended to “Transform our planning system from a slow document-based one to a more efficient and easier to use digital and map-based service, allowing more active public engagement in the development of their local area”.

 

The main elements of the bill as set out in this document will be:

  • Changing local plans so they provide more certainty over the type, scale and design of development permitted on different categories of land.
  • Significantly decreasing the time it takes for developments to go through the planning system.
  • Replacing the existing developer contributions systems with a new more predictable and more transparent levy.
  • Using post-Brexit freedoms to simplify and enhance the framework for environmental assessments for developments.

Ministers are expected to enact a radical shift in the way decisions are made on new developments by zoning land either for ‘growth’, where developers will be allowed to build homes and related infrastructure such as schools and hospitals without individual planning consents, or ‘protection’ where development will be restricted.

 

There is a concern amongst some planning professionals that rural areas are once again being left behind, whilst others are concerned that the proposed changes will result in a dramatic loosening of planning laws to create a housebuilding boom resulting in the destruction of large swathes of countryside.

 

Is there a danger the changes brought forward through the planning bill will result in many rural areas being washed over with protection policies as part of this new zoning approach? There is much more detail needed to understand the implications for rural areas, but in the meantime, Local Plan consultations are still going ahead. Local Authorities are required to prepare and maintain an up-to-date Local Plan which is designed to guide future development within their District. These consultations provide opportunities for landowners to put land forward for consideration as future housing or employment sites.

 

Not all land will be suitable and the main factors to consider include proximity to existing settlements, size of settlement, suitability of available access, flood risk, potential impact on nearby heritage assets, and presence of protected species. The promotion of land to Local Plan consultations can be a slow burn, which is something the planning bill is looking to address, but other recent changes to planning legislation have improved shorter term opportunities for development in rural areas.

 

Class Q in the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 2015 (GDPO), for example, allows for development consisting of a change of use of an agricultural building to a use falling within Use Class C3 (dwelling houses). A further amendment to the Act increased the number of dwellings permitted from three to five.

 

Class Q signals a supportive stance from the Government to landowners with redundant buildings. This is a positive step for rural areas and offers considerable opportunity to enhance income generation from rural buildings and to add value to existing assets.

 

Class R of the GDPO also allows for a change of use from an agricultural building and land within its curtilage under PD rights, but this time to a ‘Flexible Use’ falling within various commercial Use Classes. These flexible uses include shops, financial and professional services, restaurants and cafes, offices, workshops, storage or distribution, hotels, leisure and community uses.

 

Another recent amendment to the GPDO has increased the maximum floor area of new agricultural buildings to 1,000 sqm on agricultural units of five hectares or more. The amendment also allowed for buildings on units of less than 5 hectares to be extended by up to 20%, to a maximum of 1,000 sqm. An additional benefit is that there is a substantial reduction in planning fees for applicants. For example, a 1,000 sqm building would incur a planning application fee of £3,696, whereas a prior notification for an agricultural building has a flat fee of £96.

 

These measures allow development in rural areas to come forward and can be a way of avoiding the often restrictive policies of local planning authorities and highly politicised planning committee decision making process. It will be interesting to see the detail of the planning bill and how it is interpreted by planning officers and members. Either way, there will continue to be a busy appeals process in operation.

 

A transcript of the speech in full can be viewed here

 

The background briefing note can be downloaded here

 

For further information on this and to discuss any related planning matters please contact our Head of Planning Dan Hewett

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Canterbury City Council – Call for Sites 2021

Canterbury City Council is working on a new Local Plan which will direct development in the District until 2040. This consultation provides the opportunity for landowners and developers to submit sites for consideration to take this future growth.

 

All sites put forward will undergo a technical assessment to check whether they are suitable and deliverable. A Strategic Land Availability Assessment (SLAA) will be produced later this year listing all sites and will be used to inform decisions on which sites should be included.

 

The draft Local Plan, including submitted sites, will be published for public consultation in 2022. Further details can be viewed on the link below:

 

https://www.canterbury.gov.uk/info/20014/planning_and_building/313/new_local_plan_2040/2

 

We would be delighted to hear from you if you have land to put forward for consideration.

 

For further information on this and to discuss any related planning matters please contact our Head of Planning Dan Hewett

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Oxford to Cambridge Expressway Project Cancelled

Construction of the Oxford to Cambridge expressway has been cancelled as analysis shows the benefits the road would deliver are outweighed by its costs.

 

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced on 18 March 2021 the cancellation of the Oxford-Cambridge (Ox-Cam) expressway, after analysis confirmed the proposed project was not cost-effective. Highways England had been developing potential options for a road link between Oxford and Milton Keynes. However, following close work with local partners since 2014, recent analysis shows that the benefits the road would deliver are outweighed by the costs associated with the project.

 

The Department for Transport (DfT) will now investigate the need for more targeted road interventions in the area, recognising the vital role that transport investment has to support sustainable growth in the region

 

The East West Rail scheme remains a firm commitment, with it seen as being key to not only improving connectivity but also bringing new jobs and opportunities to the area. In January, the government announced a £760 million funding commitment to deliver the next phase of East West Rail, which will create 1,500 skilled jobs and reinstate direct rail services between Bicester and Bletchley for the first time since 1968.

 

See link below to the Government’s full announcement from the Department for Transport and Highways England:

 

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/oxford-to-cambridge-expressway-project-cancelled-as-transport-secretary-looks-to-alternative-plans-for-improving-transport-in-the-region

 

For further information on this and to discuss any related planning matters please contact our Head of Planning Dan Hewett